bible blog 1828

Today I’m back at my desk after a week’s absence, to continue a reading of the first book of psalms (1-41), translating the text afresh when I have the time. It’s important to find English expressions that do justice to the blunt expressiveness of the Hebrew. Scholars will note that where the official Hebrew text says the “dwelling place of your house” (surely a scribal error) I have changed a vowel to give me the Hebrew for “beauty”.

A POLLUTED PARIS AWAITS CLIMATE SUMMIT paris

PSALM 26

Be my judge, Lord!

I have walked in my integrity

And I have put my trust

in the Lord;

I will not slip.

See what I am made of Lord

Test my conscience and my heart

Like gold in a flame.

For your steadfast love

is before my eyes

And I have walked

In your faithfulness.

I have not sat down

With shallow people

I will not go along

With hypocrites.

I have despised

The company of wrongdoers

I will not sit

With evil people.

I will wash my hands

Until they are clean

I will make procession

Around your altar, Lord,

To publicise

the sound of thanksgiving,

And to record

Your remarkable actions.

How I love, Lord,

The beauty of your house,

Where your splendour dwells!

Do not couple me

With criminals or killers

Whose hands are open to plots,

Their right hands to bribes.

No, I will walk in my integrity;

Make me your own

And favour me.

My foot is placed

On level ground;

Amongst the gathered worshippers

I will bless the Lord.

(Translated emmock 2015)

Aung San Su Kyi, woman of integrity on the verge of victory

Aung San Su Kyi, woman of integrity on the verge of victory

This type of psalm is often offensive to modern ears, because the speaker insists that he/she is living a better life than some others. Our culture permits, indeed encourages, all manner of economic inequalities but is intolerant of any suggestion of moral inequality. The speaker enumerates his/ her virtues to show that he takes the holiness of God seriously and is therefore worthy to stand in God’s presence, in the temple.

As I have noted before, moral goodness in Hebrew thought is expressed concretely: a good person “walks” in integrity, “trusts” God, does not “slip”, “sit down” with shallow people, “go along” with hypocrites. The good life is summed up as “placing the foot on level ground.” These verbs indicate that integrity involves personal action and social selectivity. The decent person does the right thing and avoids the influence of corrupt people. The speaker’s moral commitment is based on God’s “chesed” the loving kindness shown by God to the whole people and especially to those who “put their trust” in God.

The holiness of God is associated with the temple and its rituals, in which only people of integrity should participate. The speaker is bold enough to urge God to test his claim to integrity, conscious that the Lord’s means of testing, that is, by the demands of his Law, are in themselves, purifying.

The psalm recognises that decency is not easy and cannot be taken for granted. God is holy and demands holiness of life. “Walking” in God’s way requires reverence for God and obedience to God’s Law, along with a clear rejection of corrupt actions and attitudes. The speaker distinguishes herself from wrongdoers, not as a demonstration of moral superiority but as a necessary means of staying clean. But even then, God’s approval is not taken for granted; the final petition asks that God will make the speaker “his own” ( literally, ransom from captivity, like Israel from Egypt) and “show favour” to her. Only in the kindness of God can the speaker be confident that her foot is placed on level ground.

This psalm speaks to all who are serious about living a good life. Its modest certainties are an invitation to clear judgement, committed action and joyful worship.

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