Introduction to the Psalms
They tell the experience of the human race.
They are the voice of the human race in its suffering, groaning, dying, rising again, singing, living on the edge of eternity. All churches and synagogues use them for every occasion. The psalms speak to the heart of all human beings, in all languages. Their purpose is to interpret God’s word to all people: for 2000 years Jews and Christians have lived through persecutions, wars and other tragedies accompanied by the Psalter which kept alive the hope that the world’s final redemption would come one day. Jews and Christians read and lived the psalms, which are not texts alongside our life, but which are our life, our suffering, our exile, our cross, our faith. Hebrew is a Trinitarian language: each word is built on a three-letter root. Hebrew verbs - at least in Biblical Hebrew - have tenses where present, past and future overlap and are not a major consideration: facts matter, but time barriers are removed. The real is universal and is never considered absent. People are constantly woken up by stark facts which remain as living symbols for all time. The Psalter has a thousand images but only one doctrine, one teaching: the psalms are an apocalyptic text, i.e. they reveal the true connection between visible and invisible reality. The Psalter is a weapon against the apocalyptic beast. Each word is a sword against the demons.
From the outset we are faced with a world which excludes indifference. There are two ways. Not three or four or whatever you wish. We have been warned: the world is split in two. A choice is necessary. The split demands it, imposes a risk. The way of darkness and the way of light own between them all reality. We are on the threshold of a science which knows itself to be the truest and the most exhaustive. The two ways are unequal. They are enemies. but they coexist in time and space. They determine the borderline in a war. On that borderline the rifts of history find their place. The fulness of time, the fulfilment of the messianic promises alone will bring to an end the murderous struggle in which the innocent one is kept hostage.
The Psalter in this way is the memorial of Israel’s history. It is the universal book of all liberations. Each psalm has been conceived both as an action, and as an illustration of the drama which begins at the first day of creation, unfolds in history’s exiles and calvaries, and will end in the glory of the Parousia. The scene is the whole universe; the heavens, the earth, the abysses and hell. Time connects with eternity and the action takes place between the beginning and the end of the world. A sublime author animates the drama where what is at stake is the human race’s fulfilment and liberation. There are two actors in this duel on the borders of life and death. Their confrontation lasts from the beginning until the end. Those actors are the Innocent One and the Insurgent.
Both say No. One refuses the way of light; the other, that of darkness. One says No to the iniquity of the world; the other, No to the eternity of God. Their refusal is the place where the source of the tragedy is situated. The conflict between two contradictory refusals, made possible by the existence of freedom, situates the pivot where horror assails and wounds joy.
On the way of iniquity we soon meet the Prince of Darkness. The Psalter provides him with a fearful identity card with no less than one hundred and twelve names, labels, titles and qualities. Essentially he is the evil one, the one who cannot face the judgment of God, the Reprobate. Not one particular man, but the essential nature of evil under all its faces. The father of desolation is the incarnation of inadequacy, a void, and his work is like him. Each word of his achieves a lie, each gesture of his brings violence. The whole Psalter describes his actions. He is presented from Psalm 1 like the chaff, which the wind scatters; like chaff he is lightweight, unstable, dry and sterile. Without roots, without weight, he locks himself within the confines of time whose prisoner he is. The whole of his science amounts to the denial of God. There is no God - such is the source of the dissatisfaction of his spirit, of his insatiable greed, of his anguish. He is a wounded creature, which nothing can fill. His truth must therefore coincide with the inadequacy of which he is an incarnation. He does not settle for acceptance of an illogical, untrue existence limited to the secular. At his most lucid, he knows himself condemned to live and die in anxiety and in the dark. He lives behind closed doors. He must reject the joy of an illusion of rest which his cursed outlook forbids him to attain. He is true to himself in choosing the world, although his choice deprives him of any rest.
The Psalmist shows us his screwed-up face, the sneer on his lips, the movements of his tongue as it fabricates illusions and torment. He denies and calumniates, lies and insinuates; theft is his justice; depravity is his pride; his pleasure is imprisoned within the self-imposed limits of this world; he is all jeering and gnashing of teeth. insatiable, he amasses in order to have a good time but can only amass: his own torment becomes what he enjoys, his imprisonment he calls his freedom, his darkness he calls light, his death, the measure of all life. His will to power spreads itself, without rule or measure, within the boundaries to which he has enslaved himself. But in his hands power and justice become instruments of oppression and enslavement. He distorts justice, pronounces as false what is true, and true what is a lie. He is his own measure and projects on everything he encounters the shadow lands he has made his own prison. As the incarnation of evil, whose works multiply like black hair on those he seduces and subjugates, the evil one comes up against the only limit which can show him up: the Innocent One reveals to him the timeless reality he refuses to acknowledge and whose actuality upsets the short-sighted limits of his world.
And the Psalter is filled with the noise of this war. We see the Reprobate absorbed in his manhunt. He spies on his enemy, surprises him at the most unexpected place along the way. He spreads every imaginable confusion and inflicts every kind of torture to enslave. Death is the true shepherd of the damned. For their punishment, god arises like a man of war. The individual or collective judgments of which the Psalms give an account are but the image, the prefiguration of the ultimate judgment which will consummate the defeat of the Seducer. Being Almighty, God appears to exercise his justice in favour of the poor and the innocent. Every man carries within himself the face of the Rebel.
The Righteous One is at the centre of the way of eternity. The Messiah is the cornerstone of the teaching of the Psalms. Already in Psalm 2 we are warned that the two ways are definitive and their relationship takes the direction of the triumph of God’s elder Son, the King he has chosen. Psalm 89: 27-28, he shall call me, Thou art my Father, my God and my strong salvation. And I will make him my first-born, higher than the kings of the earth.
The Psalter is the great messianic prophecy: it was wriiten as the prophecy of the triumph of the king of Glory. The suffering Messiah is the Righteous One struggling with his night, confronted with the attack of the Reprobate, and he offers his blood out of faithfulness to God, while he is abandoned by all, even his own. But at the end of the night there is dawn. Death is overcome and the way of the Reprobate vanishes like a nightmare. The seed of David blossoms again and his hour is elevated into the heaven of redemption. David’s earthly kingship prefigures the rule of his son. The whole earth will be submitted to his sceptre, he will reign from one sea to the other, from the river to the extremities of the earth; his hand will stretch over the ocean, his right hand over the seas. All the kings of the earth will fall down in worship before him; he will be the king of a cosmic brotherhood.
It has been said that these are earthly ambitions. In fact, the disappearance of the way of perdition, finished off forever, encloses the whole creation within God’s eternity. The abyss which separated earth from heaven is filled in by the redemption. Everything is resplendent with the original unity. God says to the king: you are my Son, and the king, the first-born-son calls him my Father. The king of glory will live eternally; from generation to generation, he will be seated on the throne before God; he will be venerated as long as sun and moon last: his eternal name will flourish in the gold of the sky. God has sworn and will not repent; the king-messiah will be priest forever after the order of Melchisedek; he will judge in righteousness and truth. The innocent, forever, by him, in him, will be rehabilitated. Seated at the Lord’s right hand, he will reign for eternity in the fullness of peace.