Continuing my translation of the Psalms, with comment
To the choir leader. On the Gittith. For Asaph.
Sing for joy to God our strength;
Shout for joy to the God of Jacob!
Strike up a tune, tap the tambourine
Pluck the pleasant lyre and the harp
Blow the trumpet for the new month
For the full moon, for our feast day!
Because it is a sacred custom in Israel
And a just provision of Jacob’s God.
He laid it down as a law for Joseph
When He went to war with Egypt.
I, Israel, heard an unknown voice:
“I shifted the weight from your shoulder;
Your hands were freed from the hod.
In distress you called and I delivered you,
I answered you in the hidden home of thunder,
I made trial of you at the waters of Meribah.
Please heed my warning to you, my people!
If only you would listen to me, Israel!
THERE SHALL BE NO STRANGE GOD AMONG YOU
NOR SHALL YOU BOW DOWN TO ANY ALIEN GOD
I AM YAHWEH YOUR GOD
WHO BROUGHT YOU UP FROM THE LAND OF EGYPT
OPEN YOUR MOUTH AND I WILL FILL IT
But my people did not listen to my voice,
Israel had no liking for me.
So I abandoned them to the hardness of their hearts
To walk in their own wisdom.
Oh that my people would listen to me,
That Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would subdue their enemies speedily
And turn my force against their foes.
Those who hate Yahweh would cringe to him
And their fate would last forever.
But you, I would feed with the finest of wheat
And with honey from the rock I would enrich you.
This psalm is rich in a variety of passionate language.
First, there is is call to celebrate a religious festival – probably Sukhot- with joyful song accompanied by a band. Those who have been part of a festival, say in Spain, will know the organisation and communal participation involved. Britain has lost any common values to celebrate, except the nostalgia and xenophobia of Armistice. The great annual festivals of the Jewish people permitted communal happiness, religious fervour, and artistic invention. God deserved the best that society could produce. Nothing speaks more about the decline of faith in Scotland, than the way Christmas has become a privatised celebration, where we all hide from one another.
Second there is God’s passionate recital of his favour towards his people, rescuing them from Egypt and leading them through the desert. God’s “unknown voice” reminds his people of their history, which includes the fact of The Torah, the teaching of God, which sets out Israel’s relationship with her God as exclusive. No strange or foreign god should have any place in her life. This is as binding for God as it is for his people. So, the reader realises, we’re talking about love.
Then finally there is God’s promise that if Israel walks in his way, her enemies will he routed and she will be cherished. The language of God’s cherishing is both lavish and tender: the finest wheat and honey from the rock.
What is it with a culture that sees wheat and rock-honey as tokens of divine tenderness?