It’s time for a little bible study. Now, it’s been a few years since bible college, so give me a break if I’m not the razor-sharp seminary student of a “few” years ago. This won’t be a doctoral dissertation; it won’t even be tight enough to be a college paper. This is a shoot-from-the-hip cursory study that might just illuminate a biblical truth or two that perhaps you haven’t seen before.
Biblical Hebrew poetry uses devices not seen a lot in English poetry; one of those devices is the chiasm. It’s a form of parallelism basically setting two thoughts or ideas in either contrast or complement. This parallelism can occur in a single verse, a group of verses, or whole chapters. Look at Psalm 101:7
He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within my house:
he that telleth lies shall not tarry in my sight.
This one is pretty simple. “He that worketh deceit” is parallel with “he that telleth lies,” and “shall not dwell within my house” is parallel with “shall not tarry in my sight.” The arranged comparison is a device for emphasis, the overall message being that liars will not enjoy the presence of God.
In larger parallelisms, verses are arranged to emphasize a message or idea. It would look something like this:
In this case, verses (vv.) 1 and 7, and 2 and 6 are complementary, either emphasizing a thought or illuminating a contrast. Further, verse (v.) 3 is the peak of the poem, and stands as the overall idea of the whole poem. So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at Psalm 118.
Something that is immediately evident is that v 1 and v 29 are almost verbatim, which is a good indication that the whole psalm might be a parallelism. In verses 15-17, which is about halfway through the psalm, we see this:
15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous:
. the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.
. 16 The right hand of the LORD is exalted:
. the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly.
17 I shall not die but live, and declare the works of the LORD.
We have parallels at the beginning and end, and a fairly obvious parallelism and peak in vv15-16, and see that the overall theme or point of the psalm is “the right had of the LORD is exalted.” Interesting, so let’s see how the rest of the psalms parallels, and what we can learn from it. Either WordPress won’t let me, or I’m not smart enough to figure out how to split a post into two columns. Instead, I will put the verse followed by its parallel verse. (It’s not the best format; I hope it doesn’t make it too difficult to understand.) This isn’t rock solid, but some of these pairings make for some interesting results, others maybe not so much, but hopefully this will give you some new ways of regarding this and other scriptures. Author’s comments below in brackets.
Verses 1 and 29: 1 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever. — 29 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. [The beginning and the end of the psalm, the first clue that this is parallelism.]
Verses 2 and 28: 2 Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. — 28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. [Verse 28 is the crux of Israel’s relationship with God.]
Verses 3 and 27: 3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever. — 27 God is the LORD, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar. [The house of Aaron refers to the Aaronic priesthood who performed the sacrifices and other religious duties of the temple, and v27 speaks of the act of making such a sacrifice.]
Verses 4 and 26: 4 Let them now that fear the LORD say, that his mercy endureth for ever. — 26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD: we have blessed you out of the house of the LORD. [“Them now that fear the LORD” means the faithful, righteous Israelites of that time. Verse 26 is a prophetic reference to the coming of Jesus, the fulfillment of the priestly office.]
Verses 5 and 25: 5 I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me, and set me in a large place. — 25 Save now, I beseech thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. [Both verses are calls to the LORD for rescue. In v5, God answers by setting the psalmist in a large place, i.e. a place free from distress and anxiety–“breathing room” if you will. In v25, the psalmist calls not just for rescue, but for God to advance/prosper him.]
Verses 6 and 24: 6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? — 24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. [Why fear when God is on my side? Rather, I will use my time on this earth to praise him.]
Verses 7 and 23: 7 The LORD taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me. — 23 This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. [
Verses 8 and 22: 8 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. — 22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner. [Verse 22–another prophetic reference to Jesus. Rather than putting one’s faith in unstable man, one’s faith is better placed upon the immovable rock of Christ.]
Verses 9 and 21: 9 It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes. — 21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation. [Instead of hoping in the temporal power of princes, the psalmist rejoices because his petitions have already been heard and his answer already sent by the God, the King of Creation.
Verses 10 and 20: 10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD will I destroy them. — 20 This gate of the LORD, into which the righteous shall enter. [The enemies surrounding the psalmist will be destroyed, perhaps he will pass through them as easily as he passes through a gate.]
Verses 11 and 19b: 11 They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the LORD I will destroy them. — 19b I will go into them, and I will praise the LORD: [When combined as a parallel, these verses give the impression that the psalmist will walk into the midst of his enemies and praise the LORD, the ultimate act of faith in God and his providential protection.]
Verses 12 and 19a: 12 They compassed me about like bees; they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the LORD I will destroy them. — 19a Open to me the gates of righteousness: [Not sure what to make of this parallel. The imagery used is interesting, however. He is surrounded by enemies as if he were being swarmed by bees, but their capacity to harm him is brief, flaring up like a dry bush that catches fire quickly and expires just as quickly for lack of fuel.]
Verses 13 and 18: 13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the LORD helped me. — 18 The LORD hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death. [An obvious parallel here–in v13 the enemy has attacked the psalmist with the intent to destroy him, but God intervened on his behalf and preserved him. He was “chastened sore”–disciplined harshly by God for his transgression, but God would not allow him to be destroyed.]
Verses 14 and 17b: 14 The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation. — 17b and declare the works of the LORD. [The Lord is the psalmist’s song, with which he declares the Lord’s deeds.]
Verses 15a and 17a: 15a The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: — 17a I shall not die, but live [Perhaps a parallel within a parallel here. Rejoicing and salvation are heard in the tents of the righteous, and because of righteousness, the psalmist will not die.]
Verses 15b and 16b: 15b the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. — 16b the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. [A parallel of identical thoughts, which highlight the theme of the psalm.]
Verse 16a: The right hand of the LORD is exalted: [Here is the theme of the entire psalm. Throughout, the psalmist has declared the works of the Lord and how over and over again the Lord has preserved the psalmist by the mighty works of his right hand.]
This isn’t an exhaustive study of this psalm; some students of the bible may even disagree with my analysis, and have a different one all together. That’s fine; the bible is a living word that speaks to the heart of whoever reads it. My goal here is to help you see some of the additional layers of meaning that are in scripture that we don’t usually hear about in your usual Sunday sermon. Whatever the case, if you take a little extra time to read and reflect on God’s word, you will begin to see deeper meaning and a more personal application to your life.