by: Scott Little
Although it isn’t readily apparent in English translations, several of the psalms in the Bible are acrostic poems, which means that the psalm is structured using the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. In other words, the first letter of the first line (or couplet or other grouping of lines) starts with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet, the second line (or couplet or other grouping of lines) starts with the second letter, and so on, using all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
It’s not known for sure why this structure was used for some of the Psalms, but many scholars think it was a way of expressing completeness or comprehensiveness about the subject of the psalm. Perhaps the best known example of the acrostic structure is Psalm 119, the longest Psalm, which is an extended celebration of “the Law of the Lord”. By using the acrostic form, it may be that the writer of Psalm 119 was emphasizing the completeness or wholeness or comprehensiveness of God’s Law. In English, we would say he was covering his subject “from A to Z”. At least seven of the Bible’s 150 Psalms are written this way, including Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145.
I bring this up because in my morning devotion time I’ve recently been going through the Psalms using Dr. John Goldingay’s book Psalms for Everyone, and in his commentary on Psalm 145, the last of the acrostic psalms, he asks: “I wonder what a prayer or an act of praise would look like that was based on our twenty-six letter alphabet?” I was intrigued by the question, so I thought I’d try my hand at composing an answer, which I’m sharing with you here. I’m not a Hebrew scholar or a Psalms scholar, so I don’t know how true my acrostic “psalm” is to the ones in the Bible, but I thought this was a helpful way of expressing my own praise to the Lord “from A to Z” as it were. I’d also like to encourage some of you to try your own hand at this exercise, composing an original psalm of prayer or praise (or both) using the A to Z structure. If you do, post it in the comments below, or email it to me at email@example.com. I’d love to see your take on this ancient form of worship. Here’s mine…
Awesome is the Lord Most High!
Benevolence & beauty come from His hands;
Compassion & commitment flow from His heart.
Declare His greatness over all the earth!
Everything that breathes, praise the Lord!
Faith & faithfulness He gives to all who seek Him;
Great is His Name, and most worthy of praise!
His glory & majesty fill the heavens & the earth, & all creation sings His praise.
I will sing of His greatness and tell of His goodness at all times!
Justice & righteousness belong to Him, and mercy extends from His throne.
King of kings & Lord of Lords is God Most High;
Let the whole earth bow down & worship!
May the words of my mouth & the intentions of my heart please you, Lord.
Nothing compares to You, The Holy One!
Oh Lord God Almighty, lead us in the way everlasting for your glory and our good.
Prompt us often to praise & worship You, for our good and your glory.
Quench my soul’s thirst and satisfy my heart’s hunger with the banquet of Your blessing!
Restore our strength and renew our spirits as your people gather to worship You;
Save us from the ravages of evil and our own folly and frailty so we can forever praise You!
Thanksgiving flows from our hearts and mouths because You are great & You do great things!
Under your strong and gracious reign we flourish, but without you we wither and die.
Vindicate your people, not according to our goodness, but according to your grace.
Wipe away our offense Lord; wash us clean by the blood of the Lamb.
X-ray our hearts and remove sin’s disease.
You alone set us free; only You can heal & redeem.
Zealous in love & overflowing in goodness, that’s You – our Maker, Savior, Redeemer, & Friend!