Archive for the Psalms Spring 2012 Category

12th Psalms’ post: psalm 42-43

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 with tags , , on April 22, 2012 by ijeremiah

Whenever i even glance at Psalm 42:1, I immediately start to sing (at least in my mind) the chorus popular several years ago. Such a nice song; too bad neither its words nor accompanying music had anything to do with the lament of psalm 42. So instead of the Google pictures of deer at a stream, I rather chose this depressing shot from a cell. Since this twice repeated refrain also ends the next psalm, many believe the two form one message, perhaps were once one psalm. Let’s read them that way.

Typical with many laments the psalmist has a (1) distance problem: his god is nowhere to be found, and an (2) enemy problem: he suffers from their oppression. The writer’s distress likewise manifests in his poem’s cadence: a line of lament is followed by a line of fond remembrance, inner turmoil returns an remembrance, lament is followed by an affirmation of confidence. Up and down this roller-coaster ride reflects the psalmist’s life: the past was solid, worshiping God at the temple, being with God on the heights, experiencing God’s protection day and night. But now fraught with doubt the author can neither manage the current situation nor perceive a way out of his predicament.

The refrain reflects inner turmoil, a conflict between hope and despair. It relays what should be, but what isn’t. It’s as if the psalmist is trying to talk himself into living a better life, but it just doesn’t happen.

What does the psalm(s) say to us through its disquieting refrain? First is a word of caution: life’s struggles do not pass upon turning to God; even one’s relationship with God may not be rosy after sincerely offering the appropriate lament. Hopefully we have seen that the lament psalms offer spiritual victory in spite challenging physical/emotional/ psychological circumstances that remain. Like psalm 88, here the writer clings to the intangible beyond the norm: despair may return; the future may hold no prospect of success; but God always appears on the horizon, at the bottom of the pit, on the edge of fracturing ice–proving again and if necessary again, that he is bigger than life, even if it’s just barely bigger.

11th psalm post: Psalm 51

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on April 9, 2012 by ijeremiah

What better way to reflect on resurrection Sunday than by meditating upon Psalm 51.

Here are several lessons we should learn.

The psalmist begins with reference to Exodus 34:6–one of the most important verses in the Bible, for there yhwh defines himself after Moses and he had negotiated Israel’s restoration from their sin with the golden calf. Of the 5 qualifiers in Exod. 3 occur here: gracious, lovingkindness (hesed), and compassion. This alone speaks volumes: when one desires restoration, but even more so if one does not believe restoration is possible, they need to consider who their god is. And more than anything else, as psalm 51 shows, he is a god of mercy, mercy in spite of one’s behavior not because of it.

After the writer has gently reminded God of who he is, he contrasts with his own behavior. But he chooses to do so generally, not with the specifics of adultery. With reference to a thesaurus, the penitent describes himself with all the major synonyms for sin in the Hebrew bible: “transgression,” “iniquity,” “sin,” and “evil,” and each several times. One may wonder about this verbal overload, but then the writer seeks to convince his audience that God’s capacity for mercy exceeds man’s ability to sin.

Fascinatingly, at least to me, the psalmist uses 10 imperatives, commands, in his plea to God. In other words the psalmist is not asking; he is telling God that his sin stain needs to be cleansed–now. He is bold, blunt, and direct: you are merciful; I am a very grievous sinner; be yourself–be gracious, blot out, cleanse, hide, create, and renew.

Finally, is the subject of sacrifice. Even a casual reading surfaces a contradiction. Does the author believe that God wants or doesn’t want sacrifices?  “You do not delight…” “You will delight…” So which one is it? First of all, it is inconceivable in the OT to consider that God does not want sacrifice. He set the system up; Israel must sacrifice. But what God doesn’t want is a “just going through the motions” sacrifice: “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.” What God requires is confession then sacrifice, see Leviticus 5:5. And this the writer of psalm does so well.

10th Psalm post: Psalm 73

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 with tags , , , , on April 2, 2012 by ijeremiah

Brueggemann places Psalm 73 at the center of the book. I wonder what he means by that? What does that mean for a poem to lie at the center of the “book of psalms”? Moving away from the Torah/wisdom and rule of God’s king introduction, one quickly (and as several have commented–quite overwhelmingly) encounters the burden of numerous laments. After psalm 73 that road continues through the “hopeless” ps. 88 and the monarchic failure of ps. 89. Only then does the turn occur, slowly at first–God reigns even if it does not appear so–but then gathering momentum until the resounding praise of pss. 146-150.

So right in the middle, sort of, one finds Asaph’s struggle to make sense of a life lived with God but among a crooked generation that succeeds regardless of Moses’ numerous “disobedience leads to a curse” promises.

Thus his “my steps almost slipped” (v.2) evaluation: is Moses wrong? does crime pay? God where are you?

My proverb: the righteous are those who know they’re not, the wicked are those who think they are (righteous) fits verses 11-14, Asaph does well for God, while God abandons him; the wicked, who don’t care about God’s reaction to their evil behavior, prosper.

The psalm turns on the next several verses. But those verses receive new meaning if one examines the Hebrew text. What the translations render as past actions: “I came into the sanctuary” (v17), “you set them” (v18), “my heart was embittered” (v21), are actually prefix forms, which reflect non-completed actions. These would be better rendered: I would come into, you would set them, My heart would be; each describing habitual actions, those enacted over and over again.

What this means is that Asaph is just like we are. His “cure” was not readily achieved with a quick trip to the temple: walk in, see God, walk out, know, believe, and manage life better. Would that it was so simple! On the other hand, what happens to us, happened to him. When discouraged, he would go to the temple, there he would be encouraged, then the would manage life better–for a while–but then the cycle of discouragement would return. The wicked prosper, he doesn’t; they cheat, he suffers; they party, he struggles–God what’s up??

But God proves faithful, again and again, as many times as necessary Asaph returns to God, who encourages, who promises, who provides in spite of all the evil that never seems to come to its (divinely) appointed end.

The question is: can we live by faith or must we see to believe?

9th psalm’s post: Psalm 8

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on March 28, 2012 by ijeremiah

I finished two books this evening; both of which will show up here sooner or later. Both dealt with change: one about the necessity of moving ahead, the other about things lost forever when progress passes them by. With change in mind the two testament’s perspectives on psalm 8 are worthy of some words. To be different let’s look at psalm 8 by going backward: first start with its later occurrence in the NT, particularly the book of Hebrews, and only then return to its simpler context: a paean of praise lying in the midst of the book of psalms’ early laments.

Trying to persuade his friends not to give up on Jesus in order to protect themselves from further persecution, the writer of Hebrews–in one of his numerous arguments–pictures for his audience Jesus between his two comings. Offering proof that just as Jesus is greater than angels so his word is greater than the OT word which is associated with angels. The writer then addresses the anticipated question: if Jesus is greater than the angles, why did he live and die as a simple man?

Rather than merely answer, the author seeks to ground his presented on mutually recognized OT sacred text. He (although some proposed that the writer was a she) turns to psalm 8: for there God has put all creation under management of the son of man, reading as Jesus. Craftily the writer picks ups on the psalmist’s “lower than God/gods”–LXX reads angels–to demonstrate that God always had planned for Jesus the god to also be Jesus the man: thus once higher than the angles, but then lower than. Interestingly the author of Hebrews reads the OT “little” in reference to time not as the OT implies place. Thus Jesus, though lower than the angels, would be there only for a short while. The subjection of the entire world to him would then occur after this little has passed. The writer of Hebrews, given the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus “sees” psalm 8 as an template–certainly not a prophecy–for that sequence of events.

Now let’s go back in time, back in theology; the author of psalm 8 wrote for his audience, for their needs, for what they knew of their god (monotheistic not trinity).

As we, read me, danced around during class, the psalmist wrote a praise psalm, which the editors of the book then placed early in their argument, sited among a row of lament psalms.

It’s a praise psalm: praise God, both at the beginning and at the end, verses 1 and 9. What’s in between is that God has given this world over to the height of his creation, man. But at great, very great risk. After all this man is a little lower than God/the gods/or angels–whatever the writer meant when he wrote elohim. For example, we see in the psalm two people groups: infants and adversaries. The first, the disadvantaged, the second, those who put the first in that place. Frequently man, whom God put in control, elevates himself to control others.

The writer, as a visionary, as imaginationist, sees the enemy’s abuse of the disadvantage as having ended: Hebrew is the verb of the noun Sabbath. Here lies the psalm’s purpose. In the midst of the surrounding lament psalms, those cries of the helpless to their God, the writer of psalm 8 offers help. God knows, God was and will be in control, but also is–in spite of what may be.

The greater message of psalm is a call for action. Do something if the world is not yet what it one day will be. Call upon God to intervene, to show up, to deliver those who cannot fend for themselves. Just be aware that such prayer frequently results in God sending you to get the job done!

8th psalm post: sing a new song

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on March 18, 2012 by ijeremiah

Recently Scott asked if I had an thoughts on the biblical phrase “new song”; I didn’t but it intrigued me so I hit click on Logos to highlight all the references: 6 in Psalms, 1 in Isaiah, and 2 in Revelation. So let’s take a look as to what would give rise to the biblical writers calling for a new song to be sung.

4 of the 6 psalm references call for the new song by means of an imperative verb—what has occurred cannot be expressed in an existing chorus or great hymn of the faith. The writer of Psalm 33 composed this hymn to reflect the community’s state. But in spite of a current distress caused by famine or enemies, he was able to imagine life on the other side, when their worship would require new words to reflect God’s miraculous deliverance. Psalms 40 and 144’s laments likewise place the need for a new song’s words in the future, but this time that of history—a previous portending disaster had been resolved beyond belief.

These were not believers who walked but sight, but rather those who not only saw the unseen but also were able to envision the future in the present. Their could lay their eyes on tomorrow and use it to guide their walk today.

Isaiah was one of these. Judah was in Babylonian exile without hope. No one ever returned from such a state. But yet he was able to see beyond the pale: to picture with his words what his God was going to do for his people, to offer them a future in Jerusalem when they were merely living one day at a time in Babylon.

John in his presentation of Jesus’ revelation twice has his participants singing a new song: first those who now realize that Jesus the lamb has the ability to open the book that will initiate the long anticipated end. The second will be a solo sung by the 144,000. Unlike most of the other new songs the words of this one related what these branded, chaste, blameless ones have and continue to undertake for the lamb.

Anyone up for writing a song?

7th Blog: Jesus in the Psalms; the New Testament, Jesus, and the Psalms

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on February 27, 2012 by ijeremiah

My favorite "classic" picture of Jesus

I think that I will publish this blog in installments over the week so that I can be sure you understand, not necessarily agree with, what I am writing. The initial question must be Old Testament based: did the writers of the Psalms think of Jesus, the son of God, the 2nd member of the trinity when they wrote of the messiah?

Many of those words that we use to describe Jesus, that we have adopted from the NT writers, have their origin in the OT. For example: king, messiah or anointed–same word in Hebrew, and son of God at one time referred to the king of Israel. If we, as those who know Jesus, read him back into these OT settings–which many do, and that certainly is a recognized hermeneutic–we may miss the original message–what OT writer said to his audience about the success, failure, and promises to and about the king: the guy (bum) sitting on the throne.

I am in awe of the those visionaries who, in spite of the failures that surrounded them, saw what God was going to do. They walked by faith not sight. Of course what they saw was that God was going to hit, hurt, and subsequently heal his own people. Thus these prophets agonized over what could, would, happen to those who continued in their disobedience, while concurrently forecasting the blessings that would follow after those disasters.

Psalm 22 classically focuses the issues. David wrote it (or it was dedicated to him) to reflect the dire straights he recently had been experiencing. A real life situation that he had negotiated. Later, on the cross, Jesus would repeat these words as he worked through a similar intense situation: the psalm helping him to suffer, die “better.” If i am permitted to put it that way. Thus psalm 22 is not a prophecy, but an articulation that represented the experience of a stressed Israelite attempting to negotiate a beyond help situation. And it worked. What lacked was restored: God once again proved to be there, at the edge of the disaster, with more than enough help for the psalmist to walk through the trial.

6th Blog: Psalm 130

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on February 21, 2012 by ijeremiah

As I was reading psalm 130 earlier today, the faith of the psalmist stood out before me. From the depths he cries to yhwh for deliverance, most likely he finds himself in the pit on account of several poor behavior choices: vs. 3,”who could stand if you marked iniquities?”

The simple answer, here assumed, is “no one.” If that is so, then the writer has come to realize through his own experiences and through those of his nation, that God’s outstanding characteristic is his mercy, his forgiveness. But not only does the author know this, he stands anchored, fixed in his confidence with nothing of his own for support other than the demonstrated faithfulness of his God: “he will redeem Israel.” No doubt there.

That is the psalmist’s anchor, his God’s lovingkindness, in spite of his own faithlessness. Do I so trust my God? Does my faith in my savior extend beyond my sight, my touch, my hearing? God “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

5th Blog: Psalm 119

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on February 20, 2012 by ijeremiah

Psalm 19 overwhelms. At the western wall this young man reads the psalm; I hope he took the time to read it all. For it’s the final verse that challenges most.

      תָּעִ֗יתִי כְּשֶׂ֣ה אֹ֭בֵד בַּקֵּ֣שׁ עַבְדֶּ֑ךָ כִּ֥י מִ֝צְוֹתֶ֗יךָ לֹ֣א שָׁכָֽחְתִּי

I have strayed as a sheep who is perishing; seek your servant

For your commandments I have not forgotten

I don’t know whether I am disappointed, encouraged, or maybe sacred because of what these words imply. After working through an eight-verse acrostic–each letter of the alphabet initiates eight sequential verses–in which eight synonyms for the word Torah occur, that’s 176 comments encouraging obedience to Torah, the poet ends by confessing that he still wanders, strays from God’s path. Is that the best that I can hope for?

It’s not that the psalmist hasn’t experienced pain, suffering, persecution–he has and tells that story several times. Nor is it that he hasn’t hit several spiritual highs, those also he relates. But, as one of my several mottoes states: repetition is the key to learning (by the way my life verse is: bigger isn’t better; better is better), the almost wear-you-out replication of “obedience to the Torah” as the guide for successful negotiation of life, should produce a benefit: a higher level of living, a closer walk with God, a life that pleases him more. But it doesn’t. Rather, the struggle remains, until the very end–it never goes away. The morass of self binds beyond escape.

If I take this message and combine it with previous thoughts on the identification of the righteous, the picture begins to shed some light. The righteous are not those who have achieved, but rather are those who know that they have not. And they bring this sorry state to God, always. The wicked are the opposite: they claim otherwise, know they are in the right, so do not need to come to him in petition for forgiveness, help, or with confession.

What does this psalm say to me about my life? Where I am? Where I will be? How I am maturing? How much maturity I should expect?

4th Blog–Psalm 19

Posted in Psalms Spring 2012 on February 13, 2012 by ijeremiah

The heavens speak without words, without sound, yet their message tells of God’s glory. So what is soundless speech? The attached photo depicts a heaven, a sky unseen by human eye–the Hubble telescope has opened a heavens never before imagined. Two comments on that thought. (1) The ancients were star gazers; for them the passage of the sun, moon, and stars against heaven’s backdrop supplied cylindrical data, which in turn governed cultic practice. For them astronomy was not science but the basis for astrology. Even today such practice continues. (2) We then miss this point, since we are plagued with light pollution that not only prevents, but also discourages our ability to hear what the heavens say to us.

The psalmist focuses on the sun, as the supreme celestial spokesman. (Even in Endicott we see the sun–every once in a while.) Every day is the same: the sun’s light and heat pervades everywhere, it refreshes daily, eager for its up coming race across the sky.

Such also is Torah; its light governs all aspects of life. Note the six synonymous clauses: a noun, an adjective, a verb, and and object. Each relaying a benefit derived from making one’s self open to Torah (see McCann).

The final paragraph tells much: those who spend time in Torah understand themselves better than those whose lens is self focused. And what the Torah meditators see are their faults and even more so that hidden sin underlies who they are and what they do. That’s fact. But not fact to be avoided, denied, nor ignored. Being “blameless” is not equivalent to being sinless, rather it’s the state achieved after one brings their sin to God through confession. Those are the words that are “acceptable” in God’s sight.

3rd Blog: Psalm 98

Posted in Jeremiah, Psalms Spring 2012 with tags , , on February 5, 2012 by ijeremiah

Psalm 98 lies in the midst of book 5: 90-106. Referring back to book 4 for context, the monarchy had failed, the exile occurred, just one big disaster. Since then, Jeremiah’s 70 years pass, Daniel confesses, Cyrus conquers Babylon, and permits the refugees to go back home. But an overview of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi; Ezra and Nehemiah; and Isaiah 56-66 demonstrates that the “promised land”–second version–was hardly paradise.

What was life like for these pioneers? We should not naively assume that it was better than the life they left in exile. After 70 years in Babylon, life was manageable; it would have to have been because most chose not to return. On the other hand, Jerusalem had many burned out, deserted neighborhoods; enemies were all around; religion was already compromised–that didn’t take long–life was hazardous, stressful, and depressing.

With all this in mind, let’s read ψ 98. The first verb is an imperative; “sing the new song”–I guess as opposed to the old ones. (The center of the psalm is certainly loud; 5 synonyms for “making noise” on 3 instruments) What is “new” about this song? Here’s the first point to remember about this psalm. It would have been easy to forget the recent past, God had showed up to return his people from exile, and he did it on schedule. (See here Ezekiel 36, 7.) This is a first, this had never happened before, this is revival–the dead bones breath, walk, and live in Jerusalem. God has redeemed his tarnished reputation. Upfront, in your face kind of stuff–of course, we need to realize that the Persians were NOT impressed.  The psalmist did not compose for those who had to see to believe.

NASB did not handle verse 3 too well: rather than “salvation of our God,” “deliverance” would be better.  (Speaking of “deliverance” is also occurs 2 other times in the first 3 verses.) Although the ends of the earth have seen this deliverance, they really haven’t. At least not the earthly rulers. At any given time the events in Jerusalem’s environs were globally inconsequential. Only if one takes them as a whole does the big picture emerge.

The psalmist envisions some of this–certainly not as much as we–so he turns to metaphor, to anthropomorphic vocabulary. The sea, the rivers, the mountains, these sing praise to God. They know what has happened more than mere human rulers, whose kingdoms would one day end while God’s continued on.

Returning to the psalm’s readers, those who first read it as psalm 98, they are called upon to “see” as the inanimate creation, to see beyond what is there. And in so seeing, to realize that in his timing their God will set all straight.

Sing a new song, God reigns, NOW.

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