Inclusio (Psalm 73)

Preaching from the Psalter presupposes a familiarity with the common literary techniques of Hebrew poetry, by which the psalmists have made their poems and songs beautiful. On the one hand, they use imagery to enhance the impact of their psalms; on the other hand, they use techniques such as parallelisms and acrostics to focus the reader’s mind around the ideas they wish to impart.

A secondary device they often use is inclusio, which “involves repetition in a poem in a way which binds its parts together” (Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms, 107). These repetitions may include using the same sentence (Ps 8:1, 9 or Ps 145:1–2, 21), altering a word or phrase (Ps 69:1, 35), or bringing two concepts/themes together (e.g., Ps 1:1 with Ps 2:12). The ultimate effect of an inclusio is to show what the author believes is of first importance. There are a number of examples of inclusio (such as that of Pss 1, 2) that are extremely indispensable when reading the Psalter. As well, observing such literary techniques enhances our understanding (as well as our preaching), as in Psalm 73.

Psalm 73 traces the thought pattern of Asaph as he struggles to come to terms with what he sees in this world. Despite what seems quite to the contrary, he begins his psalm with the confident assertion (v. 1),

Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!

He knows and believes this, but he envies the prosperity of the wicked and the ease of life for the boasters. Moreover, he even sees his own people abandoning the way of truth to follow the way of the world, which causes him to question whether following and worshiping God is worth it.

Yet, coming into the presence of God (v. 17), he reorients himself to the proper perspectives: (1) the ultimate end of the wicked and (2) the continual presence and protection of God, his refuge. It is here that we see the artistry of the psalmist in his conclusion (v. 28):

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.

circle.gifThus, by repetition of the word “good” the author has brought us full circle, and this is ultimately his point. God is good. For Asaph, this goodness was found in the sanctuary, in God’s presence. What is ultimately “good” for us is God’s perpetual presence in our life. It is there that we find our confidence in a world that seems like it’s upside down.

And to think, this important message lies open and before the reader through the literary artistry of inclusio.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Randy,

    Great stuff as always. These are the sort of things I want to point out to our people as we read through the Psalms in our Lord’s Day worship.

    I think I know what you would say (because I’ve read your syllabus!) but let our readers know what books might be most helpful for teaching a SS class, Bible institute, or sermon series overview of the Psalms. Likewise, which commentaries would you recommend to pastors who want to preach through the Psalms? Lastly, how would you counsel pastors who desire to preach the Psalms? This might be fodder for a post just on books for the Psalms.

  2. […] the Psalms Posted March 11, 2007 Prompted by Paul’s comment and recommendations here, I though I would share some of the resources I have found most helpful in preaching & teaching […]

  3. […] 12th, 2007 by Randy McKinion Prompted by Paul’s comment and recommendations here, I though I would share some of the resources I have found most helpful in preaching & teaching […]

  4. Paul,

    I accidentally deleted my last post. I guess there’s no hope, huh?

    My apologies.

  5. […] by Paul’s comment and recommendations here, I thought I would share some of the resources I have found most helpful in preaching & […]

  6. […] Book 2 ends with Psalm 72, which is a prayer for the king. If Solomon is indeed taken as the author (and I am fully aware that the title could equally be understood as being “for Solomon” and not “by Solomon” yet I could still make the same argument based upon the picture of Solomon in the rest of the OT), then the fact that Solomon is praying for the future king is important. In particular, it shows that Solomon understood that he himself was not the son whom the Lord promised that David would have (2 Samuel 7). In other words, Solomon prays that some future king’s name would endure forever and that nations might call that future king blessed (72:17). Thus, we have Psalm 72 expressing a significant messianic hope in the sense that the Messiah would be a son of David. Even more significant for our topic here, when you turn your attention to Psalm 73, you find a typical wisdom-oriented psalm, as Asaph struggles to answer the question of the goodness of the Lord (see my discussion of this psalm here). […]

  7. Have used your example of inclusio in Ps. 73 in a class on literary figures and forms of the Bible, with proper accreditation, of course, though I had to translate into Portuguese. :) Thanks.

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