For the past two summers, the church that I attend has had a series called “Summer of Psalms” as the basis of its evening services during the summer. They have someone (not the pastors) do a teaching from a psalm. It’s pretty fun, and we end up learning a lot from the different ways in which the lessons are presented.
This year, I taught during one of those services. My text was Psalm 20. And I couldn’t help myself; the teaching is heavily influenced by the underlying structure implied by the syntax of the Hebrew—even though I don’t really know Hebrew.
If you’ve read the blog for awhile, you know that I have some level of understanding of the Greek of the New Testament and its grammar and syntax. However, I’ve not been lucky enough to study Hebrew. I know the alphabet and can vocalize the letters, but I have no understanding of it.
I used the lesson as an opportunity to look at the structure of Psalm 20 using the Andersen-Forbes Phrase Marker Analysis (aka Hebrew Syntax Graphs). I’d always heard that Hebrew poetry was a beautiful thing, but using the syntax graphs I was finally able to see it for the first time. It gave me a newfound appreciation for Hebrew poetry.
I couldn’t help myself; the lesson I put together focused on the structure of the Hebrew of Psalm 20. I didn’t do a single syntax search; I just examined how Andersen & Forbes broke the text down (that is, I looked at the arrows) to get an understanding of the poetic structure of Psalm 20. Using the View | Interlinear feature, I throttled the Hebrew Syntax Graphs down to only display “Clause-Immediate Constituent” and “English Literal Translation”, so I could track clause constituents without worrying about the other levels (supra-clausal structures and phrase levels). So Psalm 20.7 (in the Hebrew it’s v. 8) looks like this:
I didn’t know what to expect from the teaching, but folks said they liked the lesson. That’s encouraging. So if you’ve ever wondered how in the world “syntax” could be directly useful to exegesis and preaching, well, this could be an example. I thought I’d upload the sermon so y’all could look at it and perhaps see how simply looking at the structure implied by the syntax graphs (and not actually searching for stuff) could be used in the context of exegesis and teaching — particularly by someone who has a basic understanding of language and syntax but no formal training in Biblical Hebrew.