The purpose of this little guide is to help you work your way through the Psalm in a deliberate way. If you will follow these steps, I think you will find things you may not have realized had you only read it.
The Cursory Reading
Read through the Psalm a couple of times and note anything that stands out or speaks to you. Why do you suppose that particular portion stands out/speaks to you?
Here you are merely LOOKING at the Psalm, i.e. not so much the content as such but simply identifying features of the Psalm
*Note the Address. What do you notice about it?
*Identify the Complaint, the Petition, the Praise (Expression of Assurance/Confidence), the Vow.
*Make note of any metaphors. Shifts in the tense of verbs. The person of each line or stanza. (i.e. 1st, 2nd, 3rd person) Who is the agent of the action? Who is the object of the agent’s action?
* Note parallelisms. What kind are they? How do 2nd or 3rd lines work to enlarge, focus, or counter the claim of the first line in the parallel lines?
* Note any sudden shifts in the Psalm.
The Deep Dive
Here you are getting into the actual content of the Psalm.
Stanza 1 (verses 1 & 2)
1. The most obvious thing in the Psalm is the repeated question: “How long?” Clearly that is a reference to TIME. However, from our perspective, TIME is always associated with SPACE. We are always in some space or place at some particular time. Do you think that the time question “How Long?” is synonymous with another question people ask: “Where are you?”
2. What else seems inherent to the question of how long? Do you think the Psalmist has been down this road before around the particular issues he raises? Or, do you think that this is the first time he has prayed about this?
(Verse 1) “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever?”
“How long…………….., will you hide your face from me?”
3. What is the difference between ‘forgetting me” and “hiding your face from me?” How does line 2 expand upon line 1? (Hint: you might think about how we forget about things,)
What does the phrase ‘How long….will you forget me forever?” imply? (Hint: Is he asking “how long will you forget me? Forever?” or is he asking “how long will you forget me forever?” What’s the difference?
(Verse 2a) “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and
every day have sorrow in my heart?”
(Verse 2b) “How long must my enemy triumph over me?”
- Notice: (Verse 2a) this is a compound question. The first two were not. What two domains of human experience do these two lines address? What benefit is there in including those two lines together as opposed to just one or the other?
(Verse 2b) This line shifts the focus from those two domains of life (verse 2a) to another domain of life. What is that domain?
- Scan verses 1 & 2. What are the 3 domains of life that the Psalmist addresses? What does the inclusion of those 3 domains together?
Stanza 2: (verses 3 &4)
(verse 2 &4) “Look on me and answer, O Lord my God,
“Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,‘
my foes will rejoice when I fall.”
- Notice how the image of God looking is a petition relates to God hiding his face. (1) What does light to his eyes have to do with his living? (c.f. Matthew 6:22-23)
2. Notice the parallelism at the end of verses 3b-4. Try reading it from bottom to top. (words in italics) Does it tell a little story? How do these verses trade on the 3 domains mentioned in verses 1 & 2?
Stanza 3: (verses 5 & 6)
(verses 5 & 6) “BUT I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.”
1. Notice the tenses. Which ones are represented?
2. Why do you suppose this Psalm has this sudden turn? Was his petition answered immediately? Was there some intervening time? Is the Psalmist expressing his trust that God will act or has acted? If he has acted, when?…in response to this Psalm or is the Psalmist referencing all the ways God has been to him in the past, including Israel’s past?
The Deep Reflection
- In what way(s) does David’s Psalm speak to you? What emotions or memories were evoked as you studied it?
- What Biblical/Theological lessons did you pick up from reading this Psalm? After all, we are not only about Learning TO Lament, we are open to Learning (FROM) Lament!