bible blog 1821

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.



The heavens announce

The splendour of God

The vault of the sky

Reveals his handiwork.

Day to day

Pours out speech

Night with night

shares information.

There is no speech,

No words that can be heard

Yet their note resounds

Through all the earth

And their words

To the ends of the world.

There God has put up

A tent for the sun

Who comes out like a bridegroom

From the marriage bed

Like a strong man

Happy to run his course.

Its journey begins

At one end of the skies

And its circuit

Goes to the other.

Nothing can hide

From its heat.

The law of the Lord is wholesome

Refreshing the soul;

The evidence of the Lord is sure

Informing the unwise;

The statutes of the Lord are honest;

Gladdening the heart;

The commandment of the Lord is clear

Enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the Lord is clean

Abiding forever;

The verdicts of the Lord are firm

And altogether just.

They are more desirable than gold

Than even the finest gold

They are sweeter than honey

Dripping from the comb.

Yes Lord, your servant

Is enlightened by them;

If he keeps them

There is a great reward.

But who can discern

His own mistakes?

Make me clean

From hidden sins.

Keep back your servant

From arrogance;

Let it not rule me.

Then I shall be sound

And free of great wrongdoing.

May the words of my mouth

And the whisper of my heart

Be pleasing to you

O Lord my rock

And my redeemer.

(translated emmock 2015)

a spiral galaxy

a spiral galaxy

This is my favourite psalm.

Some scholars have questioned the text of this psalm, thinking that the verses about the universe and the sun were originally separate from the verses about the Torah of God. That’s because they failed to understand the heart of the psalm, which is that the Torah of God is seen in the creation of the world as well as in the written Torah given to Israel.

The heavens are a silent but powerful witness to the splendour of God; each created being, including the sun, shows the energy and order of the creator. In human life however, God’s wisdom is seen not in mere existence, but in growth to perfection through knowledge of the Torah. Just as the creatures of the sky declare God’s wisdom so God’s people declare his Torah to each other.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing awe the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens  above me, and the moral law within me. I do not conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.” Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Practical Reason 1791

Kant might have been commenting on this psalm, except that the psalm finds the moral law in a traditional text first and only then within human beings. The enlightenment of the 18th century and the romanticism of the 19th equally found in nature and natural laws an image of the creator and the morality needed by human beings. The increasingly sceptical 20th and 21st centuries have used the truths discovered by science to undermine both religion and “natural” morality, opening up a huge gap between so-called scientific truth and all other forms of truth, including those most required for personal and social living. The a-theism and a-morality of science it evidence of a destructive divorce between what is considered rational and the wisdom that human beings seek for living, as noted by Kant in his distinction between pure and practical reason.

For me, however, as a lover of science and in particular of physics, astronomy and cosmology, there is no such divorce: the truths of science (I see these as temporary structures always open to revision) constantly pose questions for my theology and my convictions about right and wrong, while they in turn pose questions for science. There are not two truths, one of science and the other of faith, but one truth about the universe, life and goodness, towards which all thinking and all discovery aim.

The pictures of the universe which emerge from modern cosmology are just as astonishing and incomprehensible to my mind as the spectacle of the day and night sky was to the psalmist. Like him I bow down, not in helpless ignorance, but in a desire to understand which begins in wonder. The opening verses of the psalm express this desire.

The verses praising the Torah are both precise and passionate, designating its benefits while communicating the psalmist’s delight in knowing it. Although a mere bible-blogger like me cannot lay claim to all the benefits, I can confirm the delight that any student of scripture feels in handling such wisdom day by day.

I can also identify with the last, very personal section of the psalm which admits an inability to discern one’s own faults and the ever-present danger of arrogance. These are sad truths about my life also, and they lead to that fear of the Lord which is said to be the beginning of  wisdom.

In its clear structure, meticulous phrasing and penetrating wisdom, this psalm merits more than one day’s study.

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