Sunday, June 21, 2009

Psalms 43 - 47: Five More Psalms!

Psalm 43

This is another one in which David complains of an absent God -- "why have you rejected me?" -- but resolves to be faithful and hopeful regardless. In retrospect, I wish I had kept track of the content of the Psalms since the beginning. The "why have you forsaken me" theme is really quite pervasive. I think this is interesting, because I don't believe I've ever heard or seen it cited in the various settings where we see or hear Psalms cited.

Psalm 44

Take Psalm 44, for instance! The first eight verses are a confident soldier's prayer, three verses extolling God's role in victories of the past, and five saying things along the lines of my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies. (6-7) This is followed, though, by 18 verses of dispair and abandonment: You gave us up to be devoured like sheep.... You sold your people for a pittance, gaining nothing from the sale. (11-12) It goes on to specify that All this happen to us, though we had not forgotten you or be false to your convenant. (17)

...For your sake we face death all day long; it continues, we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. (22) After a few lines of pleading for God to awake and not to reject his people forever, the Psalm ends with an affirmation of faith that seems almost ironic in context: Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love. (26)

Again, you don't hear much about this in church, and I am finding a conspicuous shortage of inspirational images based on this particular Psalm. This makes perfect sense, of course, since most churches and religious people are more interested in messages of joy, hope, and redemption, and less excited about contemplating abandonment, despair, and divine capriciousness. But that's one of the ways that the Bible is so deeply problematic -- it does not, at least as far as I've read to date, offer an exclusively positive message about the relationship between God and His humans. The most that could be said is that God is often kind to those people that he has selected for his special regard, and although we see occasional references to His enormous compassion and mercy, little of this is actually seen in the acts attributed to Him. Psalm 44, then, is not especially out of place here in the Old Testament. It's just out of sync with the modern Christian conception of God.

Psalm 45

Psalm 45 is a wedding song fit, literally, for a king, praising his deeds, wishing him success in future endeavors, and offering some of the complements to him and his bride. It notes at one point that the person to whom the song is addressed love[s] righteousness and hate[s] wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy. (7) Wait, don't most people hate wickedness? And love righteousness? Whatever "righteousness" is? Well, that's Psalmic logic for you.

Best thing about Psalm 45? It's supposed to be sung to the tune of "Lilies." You can't make this stuff up.

Psalm 46

This one is a three-parter. The first three verses affirm that God is an "ever-present help" and that with his assistance one fear nothing, not even the proverbial mountains falling into the sea. Except we're in Psalms, not Proverbs. How come we say things are "proverbial" but never "psalmic"?

The second part is something of a mystical vision, which I find lovely and trippy enough that I'm just going to repeat it without comment:
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The third part speaks of God's ability to end war: he makes wars cease to the end of the earth. (9) I will guess that religious of an anti-war persuasion will have appropriated this snippit with some enthusiasm, but this is really not lion-lying-down-with-lamb stuff. In context, it's talking about ending war the hard way, with violence and fire.

Psalm 47

Nine verses of pure religious celebration, the concept of "praising the Lord" in a compact and ecstatic form. The first two verses seem tailor-made for those hippyish Christian youth groups that were popular in the 1970s:
1 Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy.

2 How awesome is the LORD Most High,
the great King over all the earth!
As is true of most songs of simple celebration, the content is not exactly what you would call deep thinkin':
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises;
sing praises to our King, sing praises.

7 For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.
Here's an idea! Let's stop on an upbeat note for a change!

NEXT TIME: I've got the idea of trying a little quantitative analysis of Psalmic themes! I bet you're on the edge of your seat!


Serendipity said...

I totally forgot that I was meaning to return to your previous post with all the illustrations as soon as I thought of something appropriately clever because I liked it so much.

Okay, I guess the real reason I didn't return is probably because I didn't think of anything clever enough--and I'm not really in any better shape on snappy comments this week, either, so all you're going to get from me is a prosaic Keep it up. I still really enjoy the way you're able to approach the Bible readings with no agenda that I can discern other than trying to look at what the text actually says rather than what you expect it to say or want it to say. Even better, you somehow manage to contextualize it within a common cultural experience so that it's not just rootless.

I'll just leave with one question--who's dorkier, the dork who plans to quantitatively analyze the psalms, or the dork who looks forward to it?

chuckdaddy said...

Oh Michael. How have I foesaken you? Or at least forsaken this blog. I will try to better, but how many more psalms are there? Is this it?