In the course of these blogs, I have translated Psalms 1-72, and commented upon them briefly. The Hebrew collection of Psalms was arranged in five books to match the five books of the Torah, the Teaching of God. The third book begins at Psalm 73.
A psalm for Asaph
Yes, God is good to honest people
To those whose hearts are clean.
But my feet had nearly faltered
My steps were not far from sliding
For I envied the self-satisfied,
And saw the wealth of the wicked.
Their bodies are unfettered;
Their bellies healthy and sleek.
They are not wearied like workers;
They are not afflicted like Adam.
So arrogance adorns their necks
And a cloak of violence covers them.
Their eyes peer out from fatness;
Idols hop from their hearts.
They mock and speak malice;
From their perch they talk oppression.
They have set their mouth over the heavens
And their tongue marches upon earth.
Therefore people turn back to them
And lap up their words.
Saying, How can God know?
Does a Godhead have knowledge?
But wonder at the wicked!
Always at ease, they increase their wealth.
JESUS PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
Why have I kept my heart clean
And washed my hands in innocence
When all day I was dealt blows
And punished every morning?
If I had said, I will speak like them,
I would have been false to the family of Your children.
When I urged my mind to understand this
It was hard labour in my eyes,
Until I gained the holy dwellings of God
And understood the end of their story.
Yes. You set them on slippery slopes
And send them down to destruction.
Oh, they are gone in an instant
Lost in their own lawlessness!
Like a dream when one wakes, Lord,
You get up and dismiss their ghosts.
When my soul was made sour,
When my heart was pierced through,
I was stubborn and stupid
Like a dumb ox in your presence;
But I am always with you,
You are holding my right hand,
Leading me with your counsel,
Helping me back towards honour.
Whom have I in the heavens but you?
Except for you what do I want on earth?
Although my heart and my flesh may fail
My heart’s strength, my true holding
Is God for all time. So take note:
“Those who distance themselves from You will die;
Those who whore with false Gods, You will finish.”
But for me the nearness of God is my good
I have made Lord Yahweh my shelter
And I will advertise all your acts.
This is a magnificent psalm. As I have been writing this blog, the Guardian has been publishing investigations into the world’s worst polluters, mainly companies involved in petro-chemical enterprises; and the highest spenders on propaganda against climate -change facts, mainly the same bunch.
No surprise there, as companies will go to any length to preserve profit and capital. The description of the same rich people in this psalm is remarkably relevant. If the physical details don’t seem to match the toned execs of the oil industry today, then we can use them as descriptions of their spirits, grown sleek and easy with wealth, organs of perception hindered by fat, mouths and tongues that seek to dominate heaven and earth with their lies, spreading the contagion of idolatry from their hearts’ desires. And all the time they are ultimately screened from justice by violence, both legal and illegal.
The psalmist is unsparingly shrewd in his/her analysis of the rich of his own society, creating images that can be recognised by people of different times, places and cultures.
Of course this psalm takes up one of the prevailing themes of the psalms, namely the apparent success of wicked people and the absence of human and divine justice. This author admits that his doubts are motivated by envy of the rich as well as disgust at their behaviour. He wrestles with his questions and finally brings them into “God’s holy places,” probably the temple complex. There, prompted by worship and prayer, he is enlightened about the fate of the rich and wicked: their lives will fail in the end; they become part of the destruction they unleash on others; they vanish into death leaving nothing except their ghosts which God drives off.
This a profound insight into the self-destructive lives of the rich. THEY can’t take IT with them; but IT can take THEM into its savage drive to be bigger…and bigger….and? Their whole life is a “slippery slope” and has only one possible end. The psalmist does not say that their comeuppance will be public; only that it will be certain.
This insight allows the psalmist to throw away his/her resentment towards God. His heart and mind which have been closed to God are opened. He feels that God has taken his hand and responds by declaring God to be his best possession in heaven and on earth. The words are passionate and beautiful. As is the psalmist’s conclusion, “to me the nearness of God is my good.” Most bible bloggers would agree with that.