I have recently completed a reading of The Revelation and have begun a new series which will look at the Psalms, or at least the first book of them, that is Psalms 1-41. I am even less of an expert in Hebrew than I am in Greek, but I will study the Hebrew and usually give the reader my own translation of the Psalm for the day. The Psalms collected in the Hebrew bible were written over a period of perhaps 800 years, and are difficult to date. Probably none of them were written by King David and their true authors are unknown. They were used in the worship of the second temple in Jerusalem and have been used in most traditions of Christian worship, including that of the Church of Scotland, in which they were versified into such international favourites as “The Lord’s my shepherd” and “All people that on earth do dwell”. They are poetic songs and should be appreciated as such. They are also not free of prejudice, (they hardly mention women) and inappropriate emotions (they ask God to smash the faces of enemies). In other words, they speak my sinful language.
BOY PROTESTER SENTENCED TO CRUCIFIXION BY SAUDIS
To the chief musician, upon an eight string lyre, a psalm of David
For holy people no longer exist
Faithful people have vanished from humanity.
Now they tell each other lies
They speak with slippery lips and double hearts.
May the Lord chop off the slippery lips
And the boastful tongues.
They say, “We shall conquer with our tongues
Our words are our weapons
Who can master us?”
“For the plundered poor
And the needy who groan
Now I will rise up,”
Says the Lord
“I shall set in safety
those who sigh for it.”
The words of the Lord
Are pure words
Like silver refined
in a clay furnace
Purified seven times.
You will keep us Lord
You will protect us always
From this generation
Evildoers preening everywhere
A heap of excrement amongst humanity!
(translated emmock 2015)
Yet again I have to note that there is no certain Hebrew text of this psalm and therefore no certain translation. I would encourage readers to look at other version to see the variety of interpretations of the last line in particular, Literally it says, “like a swelling of vileness,” which I have taken as a euphemism for dung, but may mean something less definite.
This short psalm has at least three voices: the psalmist speaking for the faithful people, the evildoers and God himself. Of course the psalmist is exaggerating the lack of decent people but there are times when I’m watching the news of violence from all round the world, and the clamour of voices concerned to be heard rather than to tell the truth, that I sympathise with him. (The spectacle of the UK Prime Minister describing a measure which will take income away from the poorest people as a means of tackling poverty reminded me of George Orwell’s “War is Peace.”)
The slippery lips and double hearts of this Psalm are visible in all societies at all times, but may be especially a feature of the media – saturated societies of our time. The evildoers boast that their words (literally lips) are their weapons. This is sadly true even of my much – loved BBC where loud – voiced, graceless, newscasters treat interviewees as sources to be browbeaten at will and disposed of rapidly when “I’m sorry we’re running out of time.” (BBC Radio Today). Those whose voices are loudest often prevail, and might well ask, “Who can master us?”
The Lord however is not to be daunted by human arrogance. The psalm gives us his words, which mention the poor and the needy and promise that he will rise up to rescue them. The vivid first – person speech is typical of the prophetic tradition which is evident in some psalms. The reader will note that there is no guarantee of the Lord’s action, no details of his rescue are given. As in many other psalms, the vivid expression of the Lord’s justice is meant to provide hope and prevent despair.
In this psalm the reader is instructed that the words of the Lord are different from the unreliable words of evil doers. The Lord’s words, given in the Law and by the prophets are tried and tested; they are not a mixture of truth and falsehood, but are pure truth. In themselves they provide protection from the amorality of prevailing culture. It’s fair to say that the psalms do not breathe an air of liberal permissiveness.