Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Look for This While Reading the Bible!

Image source.

Take a look at Psalm 54, a chiastic psalm.

"What," you may ask, "is a chiastic psalm?"

Chiastic structure is a literary device used in the bible and other ancient writings. Basically, you have something written in the form "ABC...CBA"- the first and last parts are related, the second and second-to-last are related, the third and third-to-last are related, etc. It sort of builds up to the most important point, right in the middle, and then back down.

(The name "chiastic" comes from the Greek letter chi, which looks like an X. Something about how there's a connection between the parts on opposite ends.)

So let's see how Psalm 54 fits this structure (I recommend reading the whole psalm as written before reading how I've rearranged it here):
(v1) Save me, O God, by your name;
    vindicate me by your might.
(v7) You have delivered me from all my troubles,
    and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes.

(v2) Hear my prayer, O God;
    listen to the words of my mouth.
(v6) I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you;
    I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.

(v3) Arrogant foes are attacking me;
    ruthless people are trying to kill me--
    people without regard for God.
(v5) Let evil recoil on those who slander me;
    in your faithfulness destroy them.
And the main theme, right here in the center:
(v4) Surely God is my help;
   the Lord is the one who sustains me.

This chiastic stuff is so cool! And it's really helpful to know about literary things like this when studying the bible. As an analogy, think about some literary devices used in English poems- acrostics, rhyme, etc. If you didn't know about them, you would miss out on some of the meaning and beauty of the poem. Same deal with chiasm in the bible. (And here is a good post about chiastic structure in the "wives submit to your husbands" passage.)

So, back to Psalm 54. A psalm about being rescued by God, about God helping to defeat enemies, but the centerpiece is verse 4, "Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me."

God is with us. God saves. God defeats evil. And God is with us.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 54. To read other people's posts, click here: The pursuit that matters most.


  1. Wow wow wow! This is actually really fascinating. Never knew anything about Chiastic literary devices and how, rearranged, it adds another level to the psalm itself. Love this!

  2. Oh! So glad you shared it this way! Love it!!

  3. So glad you shared this! Sorry I am reading it so late in the game. I love that you brought a little study to the community. I think the structure adds some great meaning! So glad you chose to highlight that.