bible blog 1823

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.

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PSALM 21

Your might, Lord

Makes the king happy;

Because of your rescue

He dances with joy.

You have given him

His heart’s desire;

You have not refused

His lips’ request.

You come to meet him

With blessings of good things;

You put on his head

A crown of fine gold;

He asked you for life

And you gave it to him,

A great length of days.

His reputation is big

Through your rescue;

You have lavished upon him

Honour and majesty;

You have made him doubly glad

With your smile.

The king is secure

In the Lord;

Through the favour of God

He shall not be moved.

Your hand, O king, will hit

All your enemies;

Your right hand will hit

Those who hate you.

You will consume them

Like fire in a furnace

When you face them.

The Lord shall swallow them in his fury

And the fire will eat them.

You will blot out their offspring

from the land; and their seed

from the human race;

For they designed

Evil towards you;

They planned a stratagem

They were unable to perform.

You will force them

To show their backs

When you aim your arrows

At their faces.

Rise up Lord

In your might!

And we will sing praise

To your power.

Allah is great?

Allah is great?

Well, you wouldn’t want to be an enemy of this king or his God!  Of course the blame always lies with the enemies who have attacked and tried to conquer God’s people; and it is true that often the great empires of the time preyed upon Israel and other small nations; but also true that Israel showed no pity for nations that were weaker than her. It’s not clear when the psalm was written: it could apply to any of Israel’s historical enemies from the Philistines to the Greeks.

The Lord is seen as “rescuing”, often translated as “saving” his king and people. Of course there will have been times when the battle went unexpectedly well. Such victories were interpreted as God’s intervention, a device of faith seen still in ISIL’s attribution of its victories to Allah. There’s nothing much in the text of this psalm to distinguish it from ISIL’s theology. There’s the same adoption of the role of innocent victim attacked by great forces; the same ferocity towards enemies and their families; the same assurance of being in the right; the same claim to divine favour.

Christian believers need to ask if this sort of thing can be called “a word of God”. Perhaps we might specify that it could only be spoken by an oppressed people. I would certainly think that its use by contemporary Israel would be an abomination. But would it be better on the lips of Palestinians? I think it would be better, but not good. But I have never been subjected to oppression and should therefore not judge.

One comment

  1. Appropriately brief and to the point. To devote more time to triumphalistic royal psalms is a waste. And unfortunately this type of psalm also colors the psalm that follows (22), especially if they are read in sequence, which they shouldn’t. In the Orthodox Liturgy – so formally associated with Byzantine theocracy – verses from these royal psalms crop up all over the church year, and I always find them such an intrusion!

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