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Malicious Melodies, ‘Evil’ in the Psalms…

July 21, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms pt. 3

רע” IN THE PSALMS

“The reader of the psalms of the Old Testament is quickly struck by the fact that most of the Psalms deal with some sort of trouble or adversity; the psalmist experiences of enmity, oppression and wickedness.”[1] This oppression, evil, and adversity is often expressed with the word “RA.”  The Hebrew word “RA” is used primarily as an adjective and has a variety of meanings within the Psalter.  Commonly it is translated as “bad, evil, displeasing…(ethically) evil… and distressing.”  When used as a noun in both masculine and feminine forms it refers to: “evil one, wicked one, one who is evil…evil i.e. greedy, evil i.e. harmful, severe, grievous.”[2] “RA”s prolific presence is seen throughout the Psalms; it occurs 64 times in 45 separate psalms.  Put another way, 30% of the 150 psalms address evil (via RA) explicitly.  There are 5 occurrences in Psalm 34 alone, a fact which makes this psalm significant and its use of “RA” merits our attention.

Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm of praise and deliverance.[3] The psalmist extols the Lord for His goodness, and trumpets the virtue of seeking after God and His benefits of protection and mercy.  This psalm also puts forth several common methods for addressing the progression of evil (RA).  There is: a prescription for the children of God to avoid evil, a promise of God’s judgment, an acknowledgement that evil persists, and finally a prophecy of evils coming condemnation.[4] These methods of prescription, promise, acknowledgement and prophecy are common within the structure of many psalms especially in their treatment of evil.

Evil, when manifested within individuals “produces an evil disposition, an attitude of inclination, and it is this that leads them to wicked behavior.”[5] These individuals are termed the “ungodly or wicked” (Ra’sha) by the psalmists and it is this word we will examine in the next post in the series.

Read Part 2 of A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms here…


[1] Patrick D. Miller. Interpreting the Psalms. (Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press, 1986.) 48.

[2] David J.A. Clines ed. The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. (Sheffield, UK. Sheffield Phoenix press. 2009) 424. Entry on “RA”.  Its verbal root “RA’A” translates as “to be bad…do evil” and is seen used as a noun in Ps. 22:17 as Evildoer. 427.  “RA’A” occurs 15 times within the Psalter in 12 chapters.

[3] A.F. Kirkpatrick. The Book of Psalms. (Cambridge, UK. Cambridge Univ. Press. 1951) 169-170.

[4] Psalm 34:13-14 prescription; 34:16 promise; 34:19 acknowledgement; and 34:21 Prophecy of evil’s ultimate slaying and condemnation.

[5] Alexander Ryrie. Deliver Us from Evil: reading the psalms as poetry. (London, UK. Darton, Longman and Todd ltd. 2004) 91.

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2 comments

  1. […] Implanted Word The infallible, immutable, indispensable word of God. « Malicious Melodies, ‘Evil’ in the Psalms… The Wicked, Not very Musical… July 21, […]


  2. […] Part 3: Malicious Melodies, Evil in the Psalms […]



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