Bible blog 2339


My apologies to readers of this blog which I have neglected in favour of my other blog:


Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good,

For his lovingkindness lasts forever.

Who can recount the conquering strength of Yahweh

Or publish all his praises?

How blessed are those who follow fair judgement

And do justice as the day demands.

Do not forget me Yahweh, when you favour your people;

Draw near to me with your deliverance

That I may gaze upon the good of your chosen

And be joyful in your nation’s joy;

That I may laugh with your allotted people.

We have sinned along with our ancestors

We have gone wrong, we are guilty.

Our ancestors in Egypt had no mind for your miracles;

They did not recollect your great lovingkindness.

They provoked him at the Sea, the Sea of Papyrus

but he saved them for the sake of his honour

to make known his conquering might.

He reprimanded the Papyrus Sea and it dried up;

He walked them through the deep like a desert.

He helped them out of the enemy’s hand,

freeing them from the hand of the foe.

And the waters covered their competitors

Not one of whom was left behind.

Then they trusted his words and sang his praise.

But soon they forgot his great deeds

And would not wait for his wisdom.

They had a wanton hunger in the wilderness

And put God to the test in the waste places.

He delivered what they demanded

But sent a wasting disease into their souls.

In the encampment they carped at Moses

And at Aaron, the holy man of Yahweh:

The earth opened and devoured Dathan

And consumed the company of Abiram.

Fire was kindled on their faction

And flame singed the sinners.

They created a calf at Horeb,

They made obeisance to a thing of metal

And traded God their glory

For the cast of a grass-eating ox.

They disregarded God their rescuer

Who did great deeds for them in Egypt

Marvels in the land of Ham

Stupendous acts at the Sea of Papyrus.

So he said he would wipe them out-

Had not Moses, his chosen, stood in no man’s land

To intercede and deflect his fury from destruction.

Yes, despising the Land of Delight

They were without faith in his word;

Grumbling away in their tents

They neglected the voice of Yahweh.

So he lifted his hand before them, swearing

To throw them down in the desert,

To throw down their descendants among the nations

And disperse them over the lands.

They bound themselves to the Baal of Peor

And ate animals offered for ancestors.

They angered him by their actions

Until a plague pressed in upon them.

Then Phinehas stood firm and intervened,

So that the plague was pulled back;

Which has been counted to him as moral credit

From generation to generation forever.

They made him angry at the waters of Meribah

And it all went wrong for Moses on their account.

For they aroused his anger

And he spoke loosely with his lips.

They did not exterminate the foreigners as Yahweh told them,

But mixed with heathens and learned from their habits:

Serving their idols who became a snare for them;

They sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons,

Spilling innocent blood

The blood of their sons and daughters

Sacrificed to the idols of Canaan

And the land was defiled with lifeblood.

So they were contaminated by their customs

And adulterous in their allegiance.

Then Yahweh’s rage was aroused against his people,

And he utterly hated his own heritage,

Giving them into the grasp of the nations;

So that those who detested them, ruled them.

Their enemies oppressed them

And humbled them under their hand.

Many times he delivered them

But they provoked him with their purposes

And were brought low by their crimes;

Yet he attended to their affliction

When he heard their cry for help.

For them he recollected his covenant

And was grieved in his great lovingkindness.

He caused those who had carried them captive

To have compassion on them also.

O deliver us Yahweh our God!

Gather us from among the nations!

That we may give thanks to your holy name

And take pride in in singing your praise.

Blessed be Yahweh, Israel’s God

From everlasting to everlasting!

And let all the people say, Amen!


We can deduce from the history set out in this psalm that it was composed after the return of exiles from Babylon, and probably before the successful rebellion of the Maccabees. It sums up the story of Yahweh and his people, as repeated sinfulness on the part of the people, and anger and forgiveness on Yahweh’s.

Bible readers are so used to this story, that we take it for granted, forgetting that it had to be invented. Who decided that military defeats were signs of God’s anger? Who imagined that the sins of the people justified deaths and exile? Who first saw freedom from slavery as a sign of God’s favour?

The basic idea that Israel’s fortunes were directly dependent on their worship of and obedience to Yahweh, is an inheritance from the prophets of the 8th century BC, and the authors of Deuteronomy and the books of Kings.

It seems to me, and to some biblical authors, simply untrue. God does not manage things in this way, in my experience. But of course, that’s just the point. In the experience of the Psalmist, it appeared that national peace and contentment came from communal observance of God’s commandments; and that national misery came from communal neglect of them. Although God was thought to be concerned with universal justice, this very strict scheme of moral accounting only applied to the nation which had made a covenant with him. “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquity, says the Lord” (Amos 3:2) The word “known” here has the sexual connotation which is usual in the Hebrew Bible.

So the witness of the Bible is that the national blessing = obedience to God scheme only applies to Israel. The rest of us can breathe a sigh of relief.

But it has a certain grandeur, which is appealing in its moral and political seriousness. The great God cares about the national life of a very small nation! The sober passion of this psalm has its own beauty, and questions our attitude to our national life. What would it be like to believe that our society’s religious liberalism was an offence to the one God? Or that our injustice to the poor would be punished? Or that our miseries aroused God’s compassion? It might give us a greater sense of social responsibility.

The PRAISE YAH at the end of this psalm is the editors’ mark that signals the end of the 4th book of the Psalms.

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