bible blog 1818

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.


PSALM 16 A Michtam of David

Watch over me, God,

For I have put my trust in you.

I have said to the Lord

“You are my Lord;

All good things

are from you alone.”

The faithful people of the land

The noble ones

are my delight.

Those who run after other Gods

Their troubles will increase.

I will not offer

Their cupfuls of blood

I will not take

Their names on my lips.

For the Lord is my birthright

He is my cup.

You, Lord, secure my inheritance

My boundary lines have fallen

On pleasant places

Yes, my lot is lovely.

I will bless the Lord

Who has counselled me.

My own mind

Instructs me at night.

I have kept the Lord

Always before me.

Because He is at my side

I will not be moved.

So my heart is glad

My innermost parts are dancing

My flesh too

Can be confident:

For You will not let me go

To the land of shadows

You will not let your faithful one

See the pit.

You will show me

The path of life;

Your smile provides

complete happiness;

at your side

there are lasting pleasures.

Again I have to note that the Hebrew text of this psalm from “all good things” to “delight” is almost incomprehensible and that all translations involve some guess work.

The psalm expresses a great and untroubled love for God. In the midst of psalms that express human complaints to God, this has been placed by the editors to give balance. Human affection for God fulfils the commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” which Jesus affirmed as the first commandment. And yet we may be puzzled as to how love may be commanded, especially love of the unseen God. The author of the first letter of John asks, “If you do not love the brother whom you can see, how can you love God whom you cannot see?” Still, there can be no doubt that the great adventure of Israel flows from the strange love of God expressed in the stories of the patriarchs. The author of this psalm has grown in that tradition, so that his/her personal song speaks for the whole people also.

The psalm begins with an clear affirmation of trust in God which is followed by a quotation of the author’s own intimate speech to God. The psalm, that is, springs from the habitual dialogue between the author and God. The faithful people of the land with whom the author identifies, are contrasted with those who worship other Gods with animal sacrifices. They simply bring trouble on themselves, while the psalmist can sing of the joy of trusting the true God. love G

He/she uses the language of land inheritance to describe his/her relationship with God. God is her birth-right, the cup that represents her patrimony. God is the pleasant territory she inherits, God is the beautiful possession. This is a passionate joy in a live tradition of faith, in what it means to be Israel. The relationship with God is passed on, like inherited land, and like land it has to be received, owned and tended by the inheritor. This is how I received my faith, namely, as family tradition; and in time I made it my own and have found it a joy. Perhaps the decline of the churches in Scotland over the last forty years is due to the interruption of this process. Over two generations, faith has been lost in many families. Doubtless the dissolving cynicisms of capitalist culture have some responsibility for this, but maybe a lack of joy in the practice of faith has contributed as well.

The psalm describes the psalmist’s practice of the Lord’s presence: he receives the Lord’s counsel, through the Torah and through his prayers; even his own inner being (literally his kidneys!) instruct him about God. He keeps God before him and beside him. This is not an expression of mystical faith: he studies the Torah and remembers it in his decisions, so that God is intimately involved in his life. Events will not shake this person, because her knowledge of God is personal, giving her a joyful confidence. The innermost part which rejoices or dances is in Hebrew the liver, the organ of emotion. I’ve known men and women like this, whose lives were tougher than mine, but who possessed a quiet but sometimes effervescent joy, that came from their faith.

The psalm ends with words which Luke applied to Jesus. “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell” (Acts 2:32)etc. My translation is more accurate. The soul in Hebrew means the person, not something that survives death, and the place of the dead is not hell, but sheol, an abode of shadows, of used-up lives, like the Greek Hades. The psalmist trusts that his life will be protected by God at least until ripe old age. For God teaches the path of life, happiness and enduring pleasure. Of course, death will come, but the psalmist trusts hat God’s goodness will be evident in the land of the living. This robust confidence is a useful counterpart to the faith that hangs on to God in bad times. Indeed it provides a basis for the many psalms that complain to God that life is not happy. Why would you complain unless you believed that it was God’s desire to create happiness?

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