bible blog 1826n

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.


Raif Badawi sentenced to 1000 lashes for protesting against Saudi tyranny

Raif Badawi sentenced to 1000 lashes for protesting against Saudi tyranny


The Lord owns the earth and its teeming life

The world and its inhabitants;

For he has set its foundations in the seas

And established it on the waters of chaos.

Who goes up to the Lord’s mountain?

Who stands in his holy place?

One with clean hands and a pure heart

Who has not offered himself to idols

nor made a deceitful oath.

One like that gets a blessing from the Lord,

Justice from the God of rescue.

One like that is a true member

Of the people that worships Jacob’s God.

Raise your heads, you temple gates!

Be raised up, you ancient doors!

And the splendid king will enter.

Who is this splendid king?

The Lord powerful and valiant!

The Lord valiant in battle!

Raise your heads you temple gates!

Raise yourselves up you ancient doors!

And the splendid king will enter.

Who is this splendid king?

The Lord of warriors

He is the splendid king.

(translated emmock 2015)

Scholars say that this psalm includes a bit of liturgy perhaps used by pilgrims to the Temple. There are more explicit pilgrim psalms later in the collection ( 120 -134). This one is really a celebration of the creator God who brings order to the universe and demands an ordered life from his people. Only those who live by God’s Torah can approach God in his holy temple. The last section envisages God, the splendid king coming to his own sanctuary, perhaps when the Ark of the Covenant is being returned to the holy place.image

I have emphasised that the creator “owns” his/her creation and interpreted its “fullness” as its multiplying life. The creator’s energy overflows into the creatures of the earth. The emphasis of the verse is polemical, denying the clams of any false gods to ownership of the world (BP, Shell, Coca Cola, Google, etc.)  Only the Lord, that is, the one whose unspeakable name is Yahweh, is the creator and therefore the owner.

The Lord is depicted as building his world on chaos, which is identified as sea and flowing water. This means that God and creation always exist in tension with powers of chaos in nature and in humanity. Creation is a battle. That’s why only those who are committed personally to the creator’s order are welcome in the holy mountain and its temple. Somehow the Lord needs human help in managing creation so that it is a blessing to all. “Clean hands” are not just ritually clean but free of theft and violence; pure hearts are not just practiced in the holy rituals of the temple but committed to the one true God.

The temple gates are commanded to let the true king enter. He/she the lord of battles, is returning to the temple from winning a victory against idolatry and chaos. The God who inspires the warriors of order and justice, is the one splendid God; holiness is a successful struggle against chaos and its idols, literally the “emptiness” to which some people offer themselves. To repeat, the gates of the temple, the symbolic margin between the secular world and the sacred place, are commanded to honour the God who returns victorious from the secular battle against evil. This defines holiness, not as a realm untouched by evil, but as the active engagement of God and his warriors with it.

This is a very remarkable theology which encourages those who seek holiness to make common cause with the creative battles of God in the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: