Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Psalm 135-143: Psenultimate Psalms!

Psalm 135: A "Praise the Lord" Psalm, using that phrase three times along with a "Praise the name of the Lord," a "sing praise to his name," and a "Praise be to the Lord." The Psalm includes brief peregrinations on the power of God, his historic assistance to the Israelites, and the inadequacy and unreality of other gods.

Psalm 136: What must be a call-and-response kind of Psalm, consisting of 26 short phrases, each immediately answered with the words "His love endures forever." Psalm 136:17-22 is essentially Psalm 135:10-12 with the response phrase inserted six times.

Psalm 137: Wow! Check out Psalm 137:1!

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.

OK, that is TOTALLY ripping off an old reggae song.

Verses 5-6 are also familiar: If I forget you, O Jerusalme, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if if do not remember you....

It ends on a bit of a bummer, though, both viscerally and philosophically:

O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us --
he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 138: This song, ascribed to David, begins:
I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart;
before the "gods" I will sing your praise.
This passage raises an interesting question: do our ancient Hebrew or Greek sources really have an equivalent for ironic quotation marks? I certainly don't think we've seen such leading punctuation employed employed up to this point in the Bible, although we have often seen references to the other gods besides God. Is there something in the source materials that lead the NIV translators to indicate that by saying "gods," David didn't really mean to suggest that he believed in other gods? Is it a surmise based on David's abundantly demonstrated piety? Or are they -- strange as this might sound -- trying to protect David from the taint of polytheism? Because the latter is actually kind of what it looks like.

After this interesting beginning, the 138th is a fairly straightforward Psalm of praise.

Psalm 139: The 139th, on the other hand, is an interesting, distinctive, and nuanced Psalm about being thoroughly known by a creator:
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.
There is a lovely passage here that has a bit of a Shakespearean ring to it:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Oh, what a piece of work is man!

Psalm 139 veers away from its main thrust only for four of its twenty-four verses, for one of the fairly alarming rants so common in the Psalms ascribed to David (as this one is). The mood swing is swift: When I awake, I am still with you. If only you would slay the wicked, O God! (18-19)

Psalm 140 is a more extended version of the angry rant that snuck into #139, with inspirational, uplifting thoughts like:
Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused.
Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise.

Psalm 141: Begins as a prayer not to be drawn into evil deeds, but then morphs into the now-familiar if less interesting contrast of self versus the "evildoers": their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs (6) and so on.

Psalm 142: Much like Psalm 141, it is largely a prayer of humility and supplication before God, interwoven with requests for God to destroy sinister, vaguely-defined enemies.

Psalm 143: And much like Psalm 142, it is largely a prayer of humility and supplication before God, interwoven with requests for God to destroy sinister, vaguely-defined enemies.

NEXT TIME: The End of the Psalms!!!

Today's Text: Psalms 135-143.


Jennifer said...

Ooh, cool views on 138 and 139. I'm particularly fond of your question about the ironic quotation marks, naturally, but you know I'm a sucker for a Shakespearean reference as well....

Michael5000 said...

Yeah, I thought you'd like that...