Psalm 25: Absolute Integrity   Leave a comment




Psalm 25


The Hebrew acrostic poetic form occurs in the Book of Lamentations and in nine psalms.  Psalm 25 is one of those texts.  Interestingly, the psalm omits two Hebrew letters and repeats two Hebrew letters in the acrostic pattern.  This curious fact may indicate revision of the text in antiquity.

Many people around whom I live think of the Bible as a collection of texts dictated by God.  Their attitude ignores the reality of extant ancient copies of the same Biblical texts that differ from each other, sometimes subtly.  There is also the matter of the “seams” in Genesis-Judges.  One can recognize the “seams” of the editing of different texts together if one pays very close attention.  But what does fundamentalism have to do with facts?  The attitude of those who regard Biblical authors as glorified secretaries would have been foreign to ancient Hebrews, who edited and revised texts.  The last great editor, my reading tells me, was Ezra, whom we can thank for the current form of much of the Hebrew Bible.

Another fascinating tidbit is that Psalm 25:16 is the last time until 142:5 that a psalmist claims to be alone.  We read a personal lament.  The psalmist is alone, in human terms.  He pleads with God and has many enemies.  The psalmist prays for the forgiveness of his sins and affirms the hesed–steadfast love–of God.  The psalmist trusts in God.  He is not alone; God is with him.

What will preserve or watch over the psalmist?  Comparing translations proves helpful in answering that question.  Mitchell J. Dahood and TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures read:

integrity and uprightness.

Robert Alter’s translation reads:

uprightness, wholeness.

Alter, preferring to maintain the rhythm of the Hebrew text, proposes that the synonyms, bracketed together, convey one concept.  He identifies that concept as:

absolute integrity.

Psalm 25 concludes on a national focus:

O God, redeem Israel

from all its distress.

–Psalm 25:22, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Such a turn from the individual focus to the national focus occurs frequently in the Book of Psalms.  The individual’s troubles are real.  They are also a microcosm of the problems of the collective.  Yet the interpretive difficulty in Psalm 25 comes into sharp relief with verse 22.  The text is the lament of a pious individual through verse 21.  As other parts of the Hebrew Bible attest, such assertions of piety cannot apply to the people as a whole.  So, we find more evidence of editorial alteration in antiquity.

Nevertheless, the placement of the ills of the individual within the context of the community makes sense to me.  I cannot be whole in a sick and divided community.  The actions and attitudes of others affect me, just as I influence my community.  Also, the decisions of others may restrict or expand my options, regardless of the scope of my talents, abilities, and ambitions.  So, the ills of the community are my problems, too.

May we–both individually and collectively–revere God and take care of each other.  May we, by grace, build up and maintain the common good.  May we encourage all our members and enable them to achieve their full potential.  May God’s absolute integrity, protecting us, inspire us to lead lives of absolute integrity, both collectively and individually.







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