Today’s blog continues my translation and re-reading of Psalms 1 – 41 , the first book of Psalms.
Be glad in the Lord, you doers of justice
For praise comes well from honest people.
Honour the Lord with the harp;
Make music to him on the ten – stringed lyre.
Sing him a new song;
Deftly finger the sounding strings.
For the word of the Lord is honest
And all his working is true.
He loves justice and sound judgement;
The Lord’s goodness fills the earth.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made
And all their bright armies by the breath of his mouth.
He piles up the sea waters in a heap;
He holds the ocean depths in storerooms.
Let all the earth fear the Lord!
Let the world’s inhabitants shrink from him!
For he spoke and it happened;
He gave orders and it stood firm.
The Lord crushes the plans of the nations;
He nullifies the cunning of their peoples,
But the Lord’s plans stand firm forever
His heart’s cunning is for all generations.
How lucky the nation whose God is the Lord
And the people he chose as his family estate!
From heaven the Lord makes his survey;
He looks at the children of Adam.
From the place where he dwells
He gazes at the dwellers on earth.
He moulds the hearts of all alike;
He estimates their works.
No king is saved by huge armies
No warrior is rescued by his huge strength;
A horse is worth nothing as security;
He will not save anyone by his huge power.
Mark that the Lord’s eye rests on those who fear him,
Upon those who hope for his goodness,
To save their life from death
And to keep them alive in famine.
Our lives are bound to the Lord;
He is our help and shield
For our hearts are happy in him
And we have confidence in his holy name.
May your goodness be upon us, Lord,
As we have put our hope in you.
(translated emmock 2015)
Perhaps this psalm was written for temple worship and gives instruction for its own performance in its opening lines. The phrase “new song” is used in a number of psalms, reflecting both the creativity of the worshipping people and their desire to honour God beyond the store of traditional material. They might have approved of Sydney Carter’s words:
Your holy hearsay / is not evidence/Give me God/ in the present tense
A new song proclaims the contemporaneity of God even in a religious culture that valued its ancient traditions. For the poet of this psalm, God is immediately available as the Creator, whose working is evident in all times and places. As in the book of Genesis the Lord creates by his word; there is no heavy labour. This word is characterised by two qualities: honesty or rightness, which makes everything well; and truth or faithfulness, which maintains loyalty to his own nature and to his creatures. This issues in God’s love of justice, that is, a desire that all creatures should be given their due, bringing a measure of his/her goodness into the life of the universe. The summary of creation given here picks up both images of God’s action from the first chapter of Genesis, the speaking of the word and the movement of God’s breath or spirit.
The Hebrew word used for a “heap” of sea water is the same rare word used in the Exodus account of the crossing of the Red Sea, which gives us a hint of God’s rescue of his people as well as his power over the mighty waters. These images of God’s creation encourage wise human reflection on divine power, which demands reverence, not for its incredible force, but for its quiet effectiveness: “he spoke and it happened; he gave orders and it stood firm.” Human beings throw their weight around but God alone does the business. Human beings make cunning plans which God nullifies, while his own cunning effortlessly achieves its goals.
Israel is indeed blessed because it is God’s “parcel of land” and is party to God’s designs. The human race in its arrogance imagines that success is achieved by sheer power, whereas his people know that a modest trust in the ways of God enables them to survive. This refusal of arrogance is the height of Israel’s wisdom. It may not appeal to the movers and shakers of our world, or even to the government of modern Israel, but for the psalmist, it brings joy, “our lives are bound to the Lord…..our hearts are happy in him.”
When the late Gregory Bateson, the ecologist, looked at the 12- step programme of the AA, he hailed its insistence on the “higher power” as the beginning of wisdom. We cannot control our own lives; we are part of a greater wisdom, from which we may learn what is good for us, and how to gain it by discipline.
Lord, grant me serenity
to accept those things which I cannot change
to change those things which I can change
to know the difference.