George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

4. Acrostic Psalms

An acrostic psalm is one where the first letters of consecutive verses (in Hebrew) make up a word, or the alphabet.

The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters, which may be found listed as headings in Psalm 119.

Psalms 9, 10: These psalms form a broken acrostic of which 7 letters are missing.

Psalms 25, 34: Of the Hebrew texts, the Companion Bible says: “The letter Waw is omitted and the letter Pe is duplicated (in vv. 16 and 22 of each psalm). The last verse is thus, in each case, made to stand out prominently by itself.” Possibly these two psalms were originally complete alphabetical acrostics.

Psalms 37, 111, 112, 119: These are complete acrostic psalms (the last being an eight-fold acrostic).

Psalm 145: The letter Nun is missing in the Hebrew text. Many of the ancient translations, a text from Qumran, one Hebrew manuscript, and the Greek and Syriac texts insert an additional verse between 13 and 14 which begins with this letter. It reads “Faithful is the Lord in all His words and holy in all His works” (RSV, NEB, LXX).

Quite probably subsequent editing has destroyed the perfect acrostic arrangement of several of the above psalms. Other acrostics are to be found in Proverbs 31:10-31 and Lamentations 1, 2, 3, and 4 (chapters 2, 3, and 4 have two letters transposed).

The purpose of these alphabetical psalms was that they might be an aid to memory, in an age when written copies of the psalms (or any other Bible portions) were few and far between, and when quite a number of ordinary people were not able to read. (See Booker and Haltom, The Lamentations of Jeremiah, pp. 30,31.)
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