Psalm 119:89-93 – Syntactical Analysis


Another paper from my Hebrew Exegesis class last semester on Psalm 119:89-93.

Introduction

This paper will analyze the syntactical elements of Psalm 119:89-93 so as to properly identify each element and explain the exegetical importance of each element in preparation for preaching the text. The focus will not be on exposition but will rather focus on a phrase by phrase discussion about the elements which are exegetically significant.

Verse 89

לְעוֹלָ֥ם יְהוָ֑ה

Preposition (לְ) + anarthrous noun ms (עוֹלָם) followed by a proper noun ms
(
יהוה). First it must be observed that each line in verses 89-96 of chapter 119 begins with a ל, because the author wrote the psalm using an alphabet acrostic.[1] So in observation, care must be taken not to make too much of the use of the lamed, but rather focus on the word order. Holladay asserts that עוֹלָם preceded by the preposition לְ functions adverbially and means “for ever.”[2] The adverbial nature of this phrase is seen in the context as telling the reader how long the LORD’s word has stood firm in the heavens.

The proper noun ms יהוה can be translated “LORD” or transliterated as the divine name “Yahweh.”[3] In the context this word serves as the object of direct address, telling the reader who is being addressed and to whom the 2ms pronominal suffix refers to in the following word.

דְּ֝בָרְךָ֗ נִצָּ֥ב בַּשָּׁמָֽיִם׃

Noun ms (דָּבָר)s+ 2ms pronominal suffix (ךָ) followed by Nifal participle ms (נצב) followed by preposition (בְּ) + articular noun mp (שָׁמַיִם). The noun functions as the subject of the Nifal participle, hence the action of the verb, which is passive, is being performed on the noun. According to Holladay דָּבָר means “word.”[4] The 2ms pronominal suffix is in a genitive of possession relationship with the noun explaining whose word it is.[5] Also the pronominal suffix refers back to the object of direct address (יהוה).

Since the participle is Nifal, it is passive and therefore does not explicitly identify who or what is acting upon the subject.[6] Holladay asserts that the Nifal of נצב conveys a meaning of “standing firm”[7] while Swanson sees “established” as the meaning, citing this verse specifically.[8]

The preposition בְּ introduces a prepositional phrase that functions adverbially in the context answering the question of where the word stands firm and therefore should be translated as “in.”[9] שָׁמַיִם is the object of the preposition and can be translated “heavens” according to Holladay.[10]

Verse 90

לְדֹ֣ר וָ֭דֹר אֱמֽוּנָתֶ֑ךָ

Preposition (לְ) + noun ms (דּוֹר) followed by coordinating conjunction (וְ) + noun ms
(
דּוֹר) followed by noun ms (אֱמוּנָה)s+ 2ms pronominal suffix (ךָ).

Holladay defines phrase דּוֹר וְדּוֹר as meaning “generation to generation;”[11] Koehler states that the construction means “for ever.”[12] While both these sources do not include a specific citation that includes the preposition לְ exactly as in this context, the lamed speaks of the duration of God’s faithfulness.[13] Swanson confirms this construction to be a grammatical unit meaning “through all generations,” citing a similar text in Psalm 10:6.[14]

The noun ms אֱמוּנָה according to Koehler means “faithfulness.”[15] And the 2ms pronominal suffix ךָ is in a subjective genitive relationship with the noun explaining that the object of direct address in the passage (יהוה) is the subject of the verbal idea in the noun אֱמוּנָה.[16]

There appears to be verb gapping in this passage, therefore, grammatically, the verb נצב in the previous phrase should be repeated in translation for clarity.[17]

כּוֹנַ֥נְתָּ אֶ֝֗רֶץ וַֽתַּעֲמֹֽד׃

Polel perfect 2ms (כון) followed by noun fs (אֶרֶץ) followed by Qal wayyiqtol 3fs
(
עמד). The Polel perfect 2ms verb means “established”[18] referring back to יהוה as the subject of the verb and making אֶרֶץ, which is translated “earth”,[19] the direct object.

Based on the context, the wayyiqtol is classified as a consequential wayyiqtol,[20] with the first phrase (כּוֹנַ֥נְתָּ אֶ֝֗רֶץ) describing the action and וַֽתַּעֲמֹֽד describing the logical consequence of the main verb’s action.[21] Also, even though the verb is 3fs, it can be translated as neuter in English as common usage would dictate, because in English the word “earth” has no gender. Therefore the וְ should be translated as “so”[22] and the verb as “it stands.”[23]

Verse 91

לְֽ֭מִשְׁפָּטֶיךָ עָמְד֣וּ הַיּ֑וֹם

Preposition (לְ) + noun mp (מִשְׁפָּט)s+ 2ms pronominal suffix (ךָ) followed by Qal perfect 3cp (עמד) followed by an articular noun ms (יוֹם). The preposition (לְ) introduces the cause or reason[24] why all things stand today, mainly by the “decision”[25] of יהוה.

The noun mp, translated as “decision” is in construct, in a subjective genitive relationship, with the 2ms pronoun, making it the LORD (which the 2ms pronominal suffix refers to) the subject of the verbal idea of “judging” contained in מִשְׁפָּט.[26]

Conveying the simple present (as determined by the context by הַיּ֑וֹם), the Qal perfect has a 2ms pronominal suffix that refers to הַכֹּ֣ל in the next phrase, and for clarity can be translated as “all things.”

Because יוֹם has the article, rather than meaning “day” it should be translated “today” and also gives the previous verb a context of specific time confirming the simple present nuance of the verb.[27]

כִּ֖י הַכֹּ֣ל עֲבָדֶֽיךָ׃

Conjunction (כִּי) followed by articular noun cs (כֹּל) followed by noun mp (עֶבֶד)s+ 2ms suffix (ךָ). The conjunction is causal, telling the reader the reason why all things stand today by the decision of the LORD.[28] Therefore it should be translated as “because.”[29]

In light of the fact that כֹּל has the article, it can refer to all of something previously mentioned, or, as it does in this context, it can refer to the whole of creation.[30] So, in this context translating it as “all things” is the best choice. It also functions as the subject of the substantive predicate in the clause.

עֶבֶד is in construct, in a possessive genitive relationship, with a 2ms pronoun,[31] and functions as a substantive predicate, conveying a classification or description of the subject כֹּל.[32] Therefore in English translation a linking verb is required.[33]

The pronominal 2ms suffix refers back to the object of direct address, the LORD.

Verse 92

לוּלֵ֣י ת֭וֹרָתְךָ שַׁעֲשֻׁעָ֑י

Conjunction (לוּלֵא) followed by noun ms (תּוֹרָה)s+ 2ms pronominal suffix (ךָ) followed by noun ms (שַׁעֲשֻׁעִים)s+ 1cs pronominal suffix. לוּלֵ֣י is the protasis of this unreal conditional clause because it is followed by a statement of consequence and is therefore translated as “if not.”[34]

תּוֹרָה is in construct, in a genitive of possession relationship, with a 2ms pronoun[35] and serves as the subject of the substantive predicate.[36] The substantive predicate is שַׁעֲשֻׁעָ֑י and therefore a “to be” verb must be added in the English translation of the Hebrew.[37] The best translation for שַׁעֲשֻׁעִים is “my delight,” because it is in construct, in a substantive genitive relationship, with the 1cs personal pronoun, making the personal pronoun the subject of the verbal idea contained in the noun.[38]

אָ֝֗ז אָבַ֥דְתִּי בְעָנְיִֽי׃

Adverb (אָז) followed by Qal perfect 1cs (אבד) followed by preposition (בְּ)s+ noun ms (עֳנִי)s+ 1cs suffix. אָז functions as the apodosis (introducing the statement of consequence) of the unreal condition in the previous clause and is translated as “then.”[39]

Because of אָבַ֥דְתִּי placement inside the apodosis, a translation of “I would have perished”[40] is acceptable, since it conveys what would have happened if the previous condition was not true.[41]

בְּ Introduces a prepositional phrase that functions adverbially in the clause, modifying עֳנִי and tells the reader where the author would have perished. Holladay asserts that עֳנִי should be translated as “affliction.”[42]

Verse 93
לְ֭עוֹלָם לֹא־אֶשְׁכַּ֣ח פִּקּוּדֶ֑יךָ

Preposition (לְ) + noun ms (עוֹלָם) followed by a negative particle (לֹא) which negates a Qal imperfect, active, 1cs verb (אֶשְׁכַּ֣ח) followed by a suffixed (2msx) mp noun (פִּקּוּדִים) which serves as the direct object of the noun. is literally rendered, “to forever” but in correlation with the verb אֶשְׁכַּ֣ח negated by the negative particle לֹא pushes the negation to an emphatic degree. So rather than just “I will not forget,” it is to be rendered, “I will never forget.” פִּקּוּדִים is suffixed by a 2msx (ךָ) referring back to the object of direct address (the LORD), saying that it is the LORD’s “instructions”[43] that the author will never forget.

כִּ֥י בָ֝֗םָ֗ם חִיִּיתָֽנִי׃

Conjunction (כִּי) followed by preposition (בְּ) with a 3mp suffix (הֵם) ending with Piel perfect active 2ms verb (חיה) with a 1cs suffix (אֲנִי). The conjunction is causal; introducing the reason the author will not forget the LORD’s instructions.[44] The preposition בְּ introduces a prepositional phrase that functions adverbially, modifying the following verb, describing the means by which the LORD preserved the author. The Piel perfect 2ms verb with a 1cs suffix takes a simple active nuance and therefore acts much like the Qal, making the translation “you preserve me.”[45]

Syntactical Analysis Conclusion

Clearly in these verses, the LORD is the main subject of focus. It is because of Him that everything has stood in the past, presently stands, and will continue to stand – as long as He wills it because of His own faithfulness. We see the strength of the LORD (verses 89-91) contrasted with the weakness of the psalmist (verse 92), who must rely on something outside himself for strength, whereas the LORD leans on nothing but himself. There is also a hint of the amazing aid that the LORD gives to those who love his law, in that the psalmist is sustained in the midst of affliction by his delight in the law, a provision of the LORD to man (verse 92-93).


[1] Wilfred G. E Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, Dept. of Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield, 1984), 192-94.

[2] William Lee Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 1971), 267.

[3] R. Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980), 210.

[4] Holladay, Lexicon, 67.

[5] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a(2).

[6] Ibid., §2.1.3a.

[7] Holladay, Lexicon, 243.

[8] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), DBLH 5893, #7.

[9] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, eds., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic ed., rev. by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm, trans. and rev. by M.E.J Richardson (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1999, c1994-1996), 103.

[10] Holladay, Lexicon, 375.

[11] Ibid., 69.

[12] Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, 217.

[13] Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, 192-194.

[14] Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages, DBLH 1887, #5.

[15] Koehler, Lexicon, 62.

[16] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a(1)

[17] Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry, 48.

[18] Holladay, Lexicon, 153.

[19] Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, 90.

[20] Robert B Chisholm, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 144.

[21] Ibid., 144.

[22] Harris, Wordbook, 229.

[23] Holladay, Lexicon, 275.

[24] Ibid., 169.

[25] Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, 651.

[26] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a(1).

[27] Holladay, Lexicon, 131.

[28] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §3.3.5.

[29] Ibid., §3.3.5.

[30] Harris, Wordbook, 441.

[31] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a(2)

[32] Gary A Long, Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew: Learning Biblical Hebrew Grammatical Concepts Through English Grammar (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 131.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Harris, Wordbook , 471.

[35] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a(2).

[36] Long, Grammatical Concepts, 131.

[37] Ibid.

[38]Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.1a.

[39] Harris, Wordbook, 471.

[40] Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, 2.

[41] Harris, Wordbook, 471.

[42] Holladay, Lexicon, 278.

[43] Koehler and Baumgartner, Lexicon, 959.

[44] Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §3.3.5.

[45] Holladay, Lexicon, 102.

Bibliography

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Barnes, Albert. Notes on the Old Testament; Explanatory and Practical. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955.

Bowling, Andrew. “לוּלֵא.” In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 470. Electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980.

Bridges, Charles. Psalm 119: An Exposition. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Elliger, Karl, and W. Rudolph, eds. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 5th ed. New York: American Bible Society, 1997.

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Hildebrandt, Ted A. “Proverb,” in Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting Literary Genres of the Old Testament. 245. ed. by Sandy, D. Brent, and Ronald L. Giese, Jr. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

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Kevin Cawley. “Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid.” University of Notre Dame Archives, http://archives.nd.edu/latgramm.htm [accessed on September 21, 2007]

Koehler, Ludwig, and Walter Baumgartner, eds. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. 4 vols. in 1. Electronic ed. Rev. by Walter Baumgartner and Johann Jakob Stamm. Trans. and ed. by M. E. J Richardson. Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999, c1994-1996.

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Long, Gary A. Grammatical Concepts 101 for Biblical Hebrew: Learning Biblical Hebrew Grammatical Concepts through English Grammar. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002.

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Payne, J. Barton. “הָוָה.” In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 210. Electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980.

Putnam, Frederic Clarke. Hebrew Bible Insert : A Student’s Guide to the Syntax of Biblical Hebrew. Quakertown, PA: Stylus Publishing, 2002

Sandy, D. Brent, and Ronald L. Giese, Jr., eds. Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting Literary Genres of the Old Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

Schaefer, Konrad. Psalms. Berit Olam. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2001.

Scott, William R. A Simplified Guide to BHS: Critical Apparatus, Masora, Accents, Unusual Letters & Other Markings. N. Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 1995.

Scroggie, W. Graham. The Psalms: Psalms I to CL. Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1965.

Soll, Will. Psalm 119: Matrix, Form, and Setting. Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1991.

Spurgeon, C. H. The Golden Alphabet of the Praises of Holy Scripture: Setting Forth the Believer’s Delight in the Word of the Lord ; Being a Devotional Commentary Upon the One Hundred and Nineteenth Psalm. London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1898.

Swanson, James. Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament). Electronic ed. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.

Weber, Carl Philip. “וָ.” In Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 227. Electronic ed. Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980.

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