Theology of the Psalms

By Hans-Joachim Kraus; Keith Crim | Go to book overview

6. The Individual
in the Presence of God

Three categories of psalms comprise the primary material for consideration under the theme “The Individual in the Presence of God.” They are the prayer songs, the songs of thanksgiving of the individual, and the wisdom poems (in which problems of human existence are considered).

The structure of the prayer songs of the individual may be sketched briefly. These psalms usually begin with an invocation of Yahweh (in the vocative). This invocation may be repeated several times. It is accompanied by cries for help, statements in which the one offering the prayer describes his needs. Elements of the main body of the prayer can also occur in the introduction, especially descriptions of troubles, petitions, and wishes. In the main part of the prayer the one praying says that he wants to “pour out” his

(nephesh, “soul”) before Yahweh. Then there is a narration or description of the troubles being suffered. They mainly involve legal problems (persecution of an innocent person), sickness, the feeling that one has been abandoned to the powers of destruction ( , Sheol), or has been abandoned by God, or the feeling of guilt. The prayer song is permeated by pressing questions, “Why?” “How long?” These questions often border on being reproaches and complaints against God. Then the sufferer pleads for Yahweh’s gracious intervention and a turn for the better in his destiny. Alongside the petitions, there may be wishes, expressed in the jussive of the third person. A basic note of trust and confidence can often be heard through the petitions and wishes. Also, reasons are given why Yahweh should intervene. The prayers appeal to God’s mercy, honor, or faithfulness. In detail, the statements are characterized by motifs drawn from the specific situation. The conclusion may include a vow of thanks. The one praying vows that he will bring Yahweh a thank offering and praise his name.

At this point we can begin to understand the song of thanksgiving of the individual

The one praying finds himself in the situation toward which he was looking when he made the vow of thanks. That is the Sitz-im-Leben pf the prayer song of the individual, as it looks back and makes the troubles seem present reality again, with the accounts of suffering and the petitions. But the turning point has been passed. The one who has been rescued praises the grace of the God who comes to our aid. The point of view is made clear in Ps. 22:22, 25: “I will tell

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