The “Arranging of the Psalms Was an Exegetical Act”: Further Biblical Evidence for Seeing Arrangement in the Psalms

puzzzleIf I were to put forward one article in defense of reading the Psalms as an intentionally arranged and ordered book, it might be this one by Yair Zakovitch, “On the Ordering of Psalms as Demonstrated by Psalms 136–150,” in The Oxford Handbook to the Psalms (New York: OUP, 2014), 214–227. In it, he shows how the Psalms are not a collection of songs. They are instead songs with hooks and refrains that fit together like puzzle pieces.

In fact, in his chapter Zakovitch provides exegetical evidence for the ordering of the Psalms by excavating the words of Psalms 136–150. Due to space, he only focuses on these fifteen psalms, but his exegetical work provides proof from every one of these fifteen psalms, that their arrangement is not accidental. In fact, just the opposite: careful attention to the Psalms shows how meticulous they are in demonstrating order—something that we should observe as we read and interpret the Psalms.

On this point he writes in his introduction,

The writing of the 150 psalms that constitute the book of Psalms was a long and protracted process, and their arrangement and redaction into five books occurred in stages over many years. The order of the individual psalms within the Psalter did not happen by chance but is evidence of deliberate design. This order may even reveal something of the early development and growth of the Psalter. Similarly, the act of arranging the psalms was an exegetical act: The meaning of a single, isolated psalm differs from the meaning it draws from its context, from our reading it in light of the psalms that precede and follow it.

Form critics, disciples of Hermann Gunkel, were not inclined to question the ordering of the psalms since their interest lay in revealing the poems’ preliterary Sitze im Leben, the sociological contexts in which they were composed and in which they functioned before being put in writing. Interest in the arrangement of the individual psalms grew with the development of redaction criticism and the various aspects of inner-biblical interpretation.

Continue reading