Learning to read is, in some ways, more difficult than we might at first think. Yes, some find it more difficult than others to learn the alphabet and the art of proper pronunciation (especially challenging in the south!), to say nothing of determining which set of ink blotches go together to create meaning. I am, however, not thinking about the act of reading itself; rather, I am thinking about the art of interpretation.
When I was taught how to read by my parents and teachers, I don’t recall them supplementing their lessons with lectures on the principles of literary interpretation. Not until a few years later, when it was time to learn to write about what I was reading did it dawn on me that something called interpretation (though I didn’t know that word yet) was an essential part of reading. And, as I have grown and become an incrementally more careful reader, I have also tried to become a more competent interpreter. With respect to the Psalms in particular, I have found that improving my reading of this book is both challenging and fascinating. Challenging because of its richness and depth; fascinating because of what it reveals.
Approaching Psalm 8, it’s interesting to note that this is one of only 3 psalms in the first book (Psalms is divided into 5 books: Pss. 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150) that mention God’s creation of the world: Pss. 8, 24, 33. This fact alone may not grab your attention, so let me peak your interest further by telling you that each of the 3 creation Psalms is immediately followed by an acrostic Psalm. An acrostic Psalm is a psalm that uses each letter of the Hebrew alphabet (the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew) as the first letter for each line in the poem – a bit like a poem in English where the first line begins with a word starting with “a”, the second line beginning with a word starting with “b”, and so on.
So what’s the purpose? Truthfully…no one knows (sorry!). Some, of course, guffaw that this detail should even be considered meaningful. Others, however, believe that this is further evidence that should drive us deeper into the study of the Psalms because it shows that meaningful and thoughtful editing has been applied to what is now the final form of the book.
What do I think? I wonder if it may be that the editor(s) has deliberately juxtaposed creation Psalms with carefully crafted poems (acrostics) to show us that the God who shaped the world (creation psalms) is the God who shapes the word (acrostic psalms). This connection resonates well with the perpetual association between world and word throughout all of Scripture. Furthermore, it would serve as another reminder that even amidst the trouble described throughout the rest of Pss. 1-41, the God who shaped the world and the word is the God who can restore shape / order to our lives.