bible blog 1824

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.

MANY VICTIMS OF PAKISTAN EARTHQUAKE

Psalm 22

To the leader: according to The Deer of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?eaerthquake
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
    and by night, but find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
    in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm, and not human;
    scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me;
    they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
‘Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver—
    let him rescue the one in whom he delights!’

Yet it was you who took me from the womb;
    you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10 On you I was cast from my birth,
    and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls encircle me,
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my mouth[a] is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs are all around me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shrivelled;[b]
17 I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my clothes among themselves,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far away!
    O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my life[c] from the power of the dog!
21     Save me from the mouth of the lion!

From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued[d] me.
22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;[e]
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
    stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor
    the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,[f]
    but heard when I[g] cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26 The poor[h] shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
    May your hearts live for ever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord;
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before him.[i]
28 For dominion belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 To him,[j] indeed, shall all who sleep in[k] the earth bow down;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    and I shall live for him.[l]
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord,
31 and[m] proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
    saying that he has done it.

Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 22:15 Cn: Heb strength
  2. Psalm 22:16 Meaning of Heb uncertain
  3. Psalm 22:20 Heb my only one
  4. Psalm 22:21 Heb answered
  5. Psalm 22:22 Or kindred
  6. Psalm 22:24 Heb him
  7. Psalm 22:24 Heb he
  8. Psalm 22:26 Or afflicted
  9. Psalm 22:27 Gk Syr Jerome: Heb you
  10. Psalm 22:29 Cn: Heb They have eaten and
  11. Psalm 22:29 Cn: Heb all the fat ones
  12. Psalm 22:29 Compare Gk Syr Vg: Heb and he who cannot keep himself alive
  13. Psalm 22:31 Compare Gk: Heb it will be told about the Lord to the generation, 31 they will come and

I have printed the text of the psalm from the NRSV translation with footnotes showing how uncertain the text is especially

Serbian Concentration Camp with Bosnian prisoners

Serbian Concentration Camp with Bosnian prisoners

verses 27-31. One scholar imagines an uncomprehending scribe simply scattering the words every which way on the page. This reminds us that we are very fortunate to have copies of such an ancient text, and how much we owe to the patient scribes who generation after generation produced new copies.

It is also an irony that this grim cry of suffering is “according to the Deer of the Dawn” – possibly a melody or may even the name of an instrument. In either case the name evokes a beauty which is at a distance from this text. Mark’s gospel is the first to record that Jesus used the opening phrase when he was dying on the execution stake. Doubtless tradition told him that this was so, but in all likelihood it was always an interpretation of Jesus’ final desolate cry, placing it the context of a psalm of faith that meditates on the experience of abandonment as experienced by the prophets and by Israel herself in defeat and exile. The gospels make the details of the crucifixion a kind of commentary on this psalm. That is in itself an astonishing tribute to Jewish faith, that when people came to think of  Jesus’ suffering they realised their tradition already had words for it.

Verses 1-6 define the issue. The speaker is suffering but his cries to God are not answered, even though his tradition of faith tells him that God has answered his people’s need in the past. They were not put to shame, that is, their faith was nor shown to be useless.

Verses 6-12 depict the agony of the believer whose cry goes unanswered. He no longer has the dignity of a man; he is mocked for his useless trust in God. He is sarcastically urged to trust in God. The NRSV translation is a little po-faced here. It’s more like “Trust in God! Let him rescue him if he loves him so much!” The speaker reminds God that they have been close: God was like a midwife at his birth, intimately involved in his mother’s care of him. This intensifies his sense of loneliness in his time of need; his own God is absent.

Verses 13-19 vividly portray the suffering of the speaker in brief close-up shots that give no real clue about its facts and circumstances. The details express pain and delirium. Terrible animals bulls, lions, wild dogs are tearing at the victim, who is poured out like water, melting like wax, but is also dried up with terror. His enemies are closing in on his naked body, while dicing for his clothes. In his extremity he cries again to God for rescue.

Verses 21b -27 tell of the rescue. Or rather, they don’t, they simply assert that it has happened and give thanks for it. This is characteristic of psalms of entreaty; the suffering is described but not the rescue. There is ambiguity here, almost suggesting that the complaint of the sufferer is in itself a rescue. Nevertheless the speaker asserts that the rescue is real, proving that God is the God of the afflicted and the poor. The whole people, who have often suffered national affliction and poverty, should all the more worship the God who does not hide his face from the sufferer. This is the special property of Israel’s God.

Verses 28 -32 promise that all nations will recognise the blessing of this God and turn to him as their true king. Even the tribes of the dead and generations unborn will hear of what the Lord has done. The psalm ends with this blunt assertion that the Lord has acted. Although the action has not been described, rescue has taken place. This may be because although the experience of suffering is universal and its pain can be shared, the means of rescue are individual, varying in time and place. In this way the psalm belongs to all who suffer and trust God enough to scream at him; the victims of the Shoah, of Stalin, Pol Pot, Mladic, The Hutu, ISIL; and of other  crimes, including Israel’s oppression of Palestinians

I find it adds to my understanding of this psalm and of Jesus if I imagine him muttering it to himself on the stake.

2 comments

  1. I have missed reading your Psalm commentaries, so today I returned by reading your most recent, this masterpiece of concisely stated but profound wisdom! What a tremendous insight into how the gospels reflected on the sufferings of Christ and realised “their tradition already had words for it.” And you imagine Jesus muttering this psalm to himself at the stake. After insights such as yours here, all mechanistic, literalistic approaches to “fulfilment” of “prophecies” in Jesus sound so trivial and simple-minded.

  2. I also admire your comments on verses 21-27: the psalmist gives thanks for a rescue that has not happened yet; “the complaint of the sufferer is in itself a rescue.” Truly a marvelous insight not only on this psalm, but on so many other psalms of lament as well. This intimacy with God, isn’t it the key to Jesus’ own walk amidst human suffering? Don’t we typical humans also not find release and comfort in expressing our lament to a close friend? You have enriched my appreciation of this psalm, thank you.

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