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Penitential Psalms: Conclusion

Photo by Christina Wilson

 

Saint Augustine, it is said, had written out and pinned at eye level four psalms on the wall beside his bed. These he could read and reread as often as he liked, as he lay there dying. These four psalms became the core of the seven later known as the Penitential Psalms. Although the Penitential Psalms played a significant role in the medieval church, as witnessed by many paintings of the period, during the Reformation and beyond, they diminished in importance and liturgical practice. In the evangelical church today, few have even heard the phrase “penitential psalms,” let alone know which they are or why they are called that.

Association of penitence with seven particular psalms is rather a misnomer and a mistake. The seven particular psalms considered “penitential” as a group are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. As the centerpiece, Psalm 51 is indeed penitential. Psalm 51 supposedly records David’s heartfelt remorse for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and his later murdering of her husband as a coverup when it became known that David had caused her to become pregnant. David expresses genuine and merited sorrow for his reprehensible sins. However, Psalm 6 and Psalm 102 carry no mention of sin at all. In fact, in each of these the speaker attributes his suffering to the persecution of his enemies. Enemies are a persistent theme throughout these seven psalms. Psalms 32 and 51 are the only ones which make no mention of enemies.

What is the reader to make of these inconsistencies of theme? Why group seven psalms which vary in such basic ways? One possibility is to consider that the traditional understanding of the word “penitent” is at fault. The use of the word penitence to represent a sorrow and suffering over one’s own sin follows a Latin language tradition. There is, however, a Greek semantic pathway using the base syllable “-pen-“, which corresponds to a meaning of extreme sorrow born of deep humility and humbleness of state. The core of this semantic pathway does not require a sense of guilt for sins committed. Rather, the humility can be a response to any number of physical or situational causes, such as poverty, lowliness of social estate, or physical distress. And sorrow born of suffering is in fact a theme which unites the seven penitential psalms. When one considers that the earliest church Bibles were written in Greek and that the Septuagint was the Old Testament of the early church for several centuries, this explanation of the grouping of the penitential psalms seems reasonable.

But the question remains: why does the psalmist maintain his innocence and righteousness, while at the same time grieving and mourning over his sins? Apart from Christ, there can be no reasonable explanation for unity among these psalms. Christ alone, as a human being, can maintain complete righteousness and innocence. This characteristic of the actions of his incarnated life, combined with his sinless divine nature, are what qualified him to be the lamb of God. The sacrificial lamb of Old Testament tradition needed to be one without spot or blemish of any kind. Only Christ qualifies. And yet, five of the seven penitential psalms carry confession of sin in greater or lesser extent.

The answer is simple. “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” (2Corinthians 5:21 NET) The hermeneutic key that unlocks the Psalter is Jesus Christ. The New Testament teaches everywhere that Christ the man suffered, and that he suffered for our sins. Christ the man is the voice of the psalmist throughout the penitential psalms and so many others. As prophecy, these seven psalms foretell in first person the sufferings of the innocent, righteous Christ as he bore the sins of the world in his own person. Only with Christ does the psalmic paradox of the righteous sinner disappear. So, Christ is the dramatic speaker persona of the penitential psalms.

Before closing, one further word about why these seven psalms as a grouping have fallen into disuse and even disfavor. For all but the earliest history of the church, the majority opinion has not recognized that Christ is the voice of the psalmist. Further, the Latin textual tradition overran and trampled the Greek in all but the Orthodox churches. The Latin concept of penitence, as a kind of mournful wailing over sin that self-flagellates the heart of a penitent over and over again throughout the life of the penitent, no longer dominates our churches, especially evangelical ones. It appears as though the lesson was learned–yes, we all begin in universal sin. However, we repent once and then in Christ we move on. The Bible teaches forgiveness of sin and new life in Christ. Joy in salvation and holy living replace guilt for sins committed. Fresh sins are confessed and forgiveness is received. There is no need to wail over one’s past for the remainder of one’s life. The Christian life is lived out through the Spirit of Christ who indwells each and every believer. Joy replaces sorrow.

Nonetheless, the Christian heart will always benefit from considering the depth of sorrow in the heart of Christ as he endured the persecution of his enemies, which culminated in his physical sacrifice upon the cross. Doing so can only increase appreciation for the love of God for us expressed through Jesus our Savior and Lord. The seven Penitential Psalms will always be useful for this contemplation.

Link to the First of the Penitential Psalms Series

 

God’s Son Has Been There, Done That: Psalm 17

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How constantly grateful I am to know as certainty that Jesus God’s Son–and through him, God Almighty–has been here and experienced everything we as humans experience, in person, himself. He knows all our trials and tribulations, our triumphs and joys.

I lived most of my life in that exact part of the US where the recent mass gun slaughter occurred in what was considered by all a “safe place.” The very next day, while grief and shock were still stabbing hearts, vicious and ferocious fires broke out. My heart and mind have been with dear friends and family in that area all this past week. In the gun slaying and fires we see both evil and love at work.

When people kill other people because of hatred based upon their appearance or beliefs of any kind, that is evil. “Judge not,” the Bible teaches, “so that you will not be judged (condemned.)” Humankind’s first sin was siding with God’s enemy. The second sin was brother killing brother. All humans are brother/sister one with another. We are not to kill our brothers and sisters because we do not like them or because we disagree with them.

God knows the evil in the human heart. He’s always known everything that lies in our collective hearts. Yet he chooses to love us anyway, laying his own life as incarnated human on the line. God knows firsthand the effects of evil. Apart from whether or not you believe in Christ as the Son of God, the facts of his life as recorded in the Book show him as a good and loving man, someone who went around doing only good for others. His enemies killed him mainly out of jealousy. It’s not about race. It’s about what lies in every human heart.

God also knows firsthand what it is to love others. He loved others in Jesus his Son, when he sent him to us in the first place. Jesus voluntarily lay his life down for all humanity. He died a painful death, the innocent for the undeserving.

In the gun slaying, we saw a police officer who lay his life down for strangers. In the recent fires, and in every fire, we see firemen and other public servants laying their own lives down for people they haven’t met; they do this because these are human beings. Firefighters sometimes die. They know the dangers before they go out, yet they go out anyway. A huge thank you to all of these. “John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (NKJ) 

In this post, post-modern world we live in, it is time to get back to calling evil, evil. It is wrong to kill another human being out of jealousy or hatred for who they are or what they represent. Both vengeance and judgment belong to God alone.

In Psalm 17, the psalmist, whom I read as the prophetic voice of the incarnated God–by that I mean Jesus–this psalmist cries out to God for help from his enemies, who are extremely powerful and who have marked him for death. The fact of history is that Jesus did die. We might say, “He died anyway, even though he prayed for God’s help.” The other fact of history is that he rose from the dead. Notice Jesus’ faith in his resurrection in verse 15–

And I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV)

One of the very best things about believing in Jesus as God’s anointed, his Son, is that his resurrection from death into life produces a resurrection from death into life for all who believe. Often we pray for a trial to go away or to not happen in the first place. Often it happens anyway–God alone knows why. Bottom line, there is a resurrection into life eternal. This life will end, and eternal life in Christ will last forever. God’s love has triumphed over all the evil this world and its people can possibly throw at us. Blessed are those who choose the side of love.

Psalm 17:1 A prayer of David. Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer–it does not rise from deceitful lips.

2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

4 As for the deeds of men–by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.

5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.

6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.

7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings

9 from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.

10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance.

11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.

12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.

13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.

14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.

15 And I–in righteousness I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV, 1984)

 

 

 

Psalm 18: Original Paraphrase–Papa Roars and Rescues

Drama from the Past

* God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.

“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”

God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.

The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth-quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.

God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.

Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)

“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”

“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”

*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19

 

 

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Life as Paradox: Psalm 13

Photo by James Discombe on Unsplash

 

Good and evil, life and death, pleasure and pain are a paradox as old as human history. Why are these opposites so intertwined, even in the fabric of existence itself? The Bible answers this question for those who will receive: God created good, while his enemy brought evil.

Psalm 13 reveals the heart cries of God’s Son incarnate [1], even as he falls victim to the inescapable paradox of humanity. It is a short psalm. Verses 1-4 present the bad and ugly of his seeming abandonment by God, while verses 5-6 present the equally real blessings of God’s faithful love.

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13, ESV)

The life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign of Christ perfectly exemplify the human paradox. Psalm 13 prophetically expresses the complete humanity of Jesus Christ, God’s anointed, as he lives and dies through this paradox. God the Father could never know experientially what  Christ knew. It was necessary for him to send his Son in human flesh, living through the basic paradox all humans experience, so that he could perfectly represent them before God’s throne of grace. Jesus lived and died in suffering. He rose, ascended, and reigns in blessed triumph. What he did, all humanity can now do through him. Truly his sufferings lead us to life [2].

 

[1] These posts on Psalms presuppose that they are written about Christ and express his feelings and prayers during the time of his incarnation. For more information on this theme, consult this author’s Annotated Bibliography, https://onesmallvoice.net/2018/03/22/psalms-2-annotated-bibliography/. See also this author’s former series, Christ in the Psalms,  https://onesmallvoice.net/2018/01/19/psalms-contents-second-go-round/.

[2] Other psalms written in the same pattern as Psalm 13 include Psalms 43, 73, and 143. Each of these displays the human paradox of pain and blessing combined.

Psalm 52: Good vs Evil Defined

 

Have you ever been stabbed in the back? Betrayed? Ratted on? The psalmist in 52 just has. This is his response.

Typical to Psalms, there are two groups of people in this one: the good and the evil. Within the framework of Psalms, who is good and who is evil? In Psalms God judges according to the intent of the heart. God is good; someone who follows God and wants to please him is good. A good person wants good for other people; he or she does not initiate harm. A wicked person, by contrast, hates God and opposes him in all he speaks, thinks, and does. A wicked person in Psalms plots and carries out harm toward others, especially toward the followers of God. (Just as the bad guys do in your favorite adventure movie, right?)

This principle is so important I want to repeat it. In Psalms, people are not judged as good or wicked according to whether or not they commit certain sins, but according to their allegiance. Everyone who pledges allegiance to God is called good, and everyone who pledges allegiance against God is called wicked. Enemies of God, those who willfully oppose him and oppose his principles, are wicked. Friends of God are good. Psalms paints people black or white. Unfortunately for us, there are no gray zones with God. His vision is sharp and clear–not fuzzy like ours. God knows who his friends are and who his enemies are, just as a shepherd knows which sheep are his and which are not.

Psalms are real life. Just as in our own experience, some people in Psalms pretend to be on God’s side by pretending to be on the side of God’s friends. But they lie. In their hearts, they are false friends who speak falsely and lead others down a wrong path. Often the deceit of these people is found out; they are discovered, and their duplicity becomes apparent by their actions that seek to harm someone who is good. Psalm 55:12-14 gives an example of this kind of person. A good person in Psalms always tells the truth, even when that truth means confessing his own sin. Psalm 51:1-17 is an example of a good person confessing his sin to God. Remember, a good person is someone who wants to please God. Good people do not become wicked people by sinning, but by betraying God. To betray God is to fully and finally join the enemy’s team. God is always kind and gracious to forgive everyone who asks him with a true heart. By the standard of Psalms, a good person may sin perpetually, but he or she also always wants to do better and to please God. Wicked people never truly want to please God; they hate him.

So with that as background, what about Psalm 52?

Though not necessary, a bit of history may help to understand this psalm. The superscription of verse 1 reads, “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”

David, the servant of Saul the King, was running for his life from Saul, who had gone mad and wanted to kill him. Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd (1 Samuel 21:7). David most likely knew Doeg, since David was also a shepherd. Ahimelech was an innocent priest who was unaware of the full situation between David and Saul. When David in his flight from Saul asked for food and a weapon, Ahimelech provided these, because he believed David’s lie that he  was on a secret mission for the king. Doeg happened to see David at the priest’s tabernacle that day, and reported to Saul. Saul, not in his right mind, ordered his servants to kill Ahimelech and his whole household. When they refused, out of respect for the priesthood and knowing that Ahimelech had done no wrong, Saul ordered Doeg to do so. Doeg gladly slaughtered 85 innocent, unarmed priests, plus women, children, nursing infants, oxen, donkey, and sheep–all that lived in the nearby town of Nob, a city of priests. Patrick Reardon writes at length concerning Psalm 52 that Doeg was worse than Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ. (Reardon, 101-102)

If Psalms were a play and I was the director, I would have the sole character in this scene pacing back and forth in barely contained fury and anxiety in order to reflect the back and forth movement between the poles of good and evil in the psalm. The psalmist is clearly angry when he speaks these words,

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2 Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:1-5 ESV)

Notice in verse 1 the contrast between the evil man and the good God, whose “steadfast love…endures all the day.” Then again, after the diatribe against the wicked, the psalmist switches back to consider the fate of the good people in verse 6 which continues, “The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying … ” Verse 7 takes us back to the fate of the wicked, as spoken by the righteous of verse 6, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” Then the psalmist considers his own situation in verse 8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”

Finally, the psalmist quits his pacing back and forth and settles his vision fully on God, where it fixedly remains as he speaks the final verse directly to God, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.” (Psalm 52:9 ESV)

Prayer is like Psalm 52. In the spiritual battle of prayer, the human heart is torn between consideration of the painfully dangerous situation at hand and faith in the steadfast love of God that endures forever and works its goodness forever in perfect reflection of the eternal goodness of God. In prayer, our hearts and minds pace back and forth between the poles of the power of what is bad and the greater power of God, who is good. May we always, as the psalmist does, align our hearts fully and fixedly on the goodness of God, whose power and judgment win out in the end.

__________

Addendum

Psalm 52 is a highly passionate psalm, yet we don’t want to leave it without considering the technical aspect of how speech functions within its nine verses.

There is one actor throughout the psalm. Nevertheless, he speaks in more than one voice and variously addresses more than one audience.

  1. In verses 1-3, the sole actor speaks his words directly to the “mighty man.” He describes this evil man’s words, his tongue, and his heart. There is a pause at the end of this block, written as “Selah.”
  2. In verses 4-5 the same actor addresses the wicked man’s tongue, “4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.” In verse 5, although the psalmist still appears to be addressing the tongue, it seems apparent that the tongue is a metaphor for the man as a whole. The technical words for this figure of speech are synechdoche (part for the whole) and personification (assigning personality to an object). A second Selah pause ends the address to the tongue.
  3. In verses 6-7, the addressee is not specified. The psalmist appears to be talking to the air, to himself, or perhaps to an invisible audience placed somewhere beyond the bounds of history and viewing its final outcomes, “The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying…”
  4. In verse 7, the same actor quotes the words of the righteous, but again, the addressee to whom the righteous speak are not specified. The righteous do seem to be in a position of being able to know and see final outcomes.
  5. In verse 8, the psalmist appears to be speaking to himself, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”
  6. Finally, in verse 9, the psalmist addresses God directly, using the second person, “you,” “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. (ESV)

Why is this important?

Today’s readers can appreciate the content and passion of Psalm 52 without thinking much about the dialogue within it. Noticing the changes in speech and addressees, however, prepares the reader to encounter other psalms in which such changes clarify meanings of content that may be more obscure. Examples of such psalms are Psalm 110 and Psalm 118.

 

 

 

Biblically Sanctioned Violence? Psalm 137

Photo by Felix Weinitschke on Unsplash

 

Well, folks, here it is.

Psalm 137:7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us–

9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (NIB)

Yuk! Did you read that? And it’s right there in the middle of the Bible.

People deal with seemingly sanctioned biblical violence in different ways. Here are just a few.

  1. Skim over and ignore.
  2. This was a very long time ago in a different culture. At that time, the cultural norm was different than today. Things are changed now.
  3. God is sovereign. He judges whom and how he pleases.
  4. They were given their chance to repent.
  5. They earned it.
  6. The psalmist doesn’t represent the heart of God here.

Can you spot the common thread in all of the above responses? There’s one thing they all have in common. Waiting…waiting…Ok time’s up. All the above responses are defensive. If you are reading this, then most likely you are the sort of person who would try to defend, gloss over, or somehow explain away the presence in Scripture of this offensively violent vengeance. It does offend us. There’s no getting around that response. Believers feel they must explain and defend God for including these words right in the middle of the Bible. How uncomfortable. What a great spot for critics and skeptics to attack Christians, and they do. Because, in fact, these words challenge us in our gut.

So here’s my take on this at this point in my life: We read it because it’s here.

When I was still young in the Lord, but growing, I worshiped with a small congregation. The format of the services included songs, Scripture reading, and communion. Each of these was congregationally led. Some used to call it Spirit led. That is, there was no preplanned program for the day. There were no predetermined songs, readings, or specified time for communion. Someone would lead out and others would join in or listen as appropriate.

I used to enjoy reading from Scripture at these services. Psalms were often read by myself and others. Over time, I noticed that whenever I selected a psalm to read, I tended to select only portions of psalms. Many if not most of the psalms have a sentence or two of judgment and/or punishment concerning the “wicked” in them. Because I felt that our Sunday worship services were meant to be joyful, I only read the happy verses in Psalms. Eventually, the burden became too great. My own censorship piled up to an enormous height, so large that I could no longer bear it. The result was that in my personal devotions, I began reading all of Scripture. I quit censoring. I quit cutting out large segments because I could not deal with them.

My discovery? That God is a God of judgment. And not just in the Old Testament. Not just in the “old days” before Christ came. It’s often quoted that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture. “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” That’s the phrase that kept gnawing at my heart so miserably before I converted to Christ. It dug into me and ate my insides out like a worm. I hated that phrase. As an unbeliever in great need, I used to open my Bible as a desperate, frightened beggar lost in life. I hoped I would find comfort, but instead I repeatedly found, “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” And I would slam my Bible shut.

Eventually, my need for help won out, and I turned to the God of the Old Testament, confessing my need and total ignorance of him. Interesting…he didn’t meet me with condemnation. He met me with love, a strong love that continues to this day.

So what do we as believers in Jesus do with Psalm 137:7-9 and similar statements sprinkled like salt throughout Psalms? We read them and admit that they are there and that God intends those words to be there and that he hasn’t changed his mind, because God never changes.

Several decades ago, I realized that the God of creation is the same God who loves me. What a privilege and blessing that is! Think by name of all the evil dictators in the whole world over all time. God could have been like one of those. But he isn’t. When I think of God, I see his Son hanging on a cross to save the world. “If you have seen me,” Jesus said, “you have seen the Father.” I believe that God is both a God of judgment and a God of love. Fortunately for us, the love won out. But what good does that love do you if you don’t know about it and haven’t received?

If you remove heat, you have cold. If you remove light, you have darkness. If you remove love, you have pain. If you remove mercy, you have judgment. So turn towards the heat, turn towards the light, turn towards love, and turn towards mercy. In short, turn towards God. He loves you.

 

Love Letter from the Cross: Psalm 42

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Psalm 42 is a remarkable love letter from the Son to the Father. The Son used to have an eternal existence in heaven face to face with his Father (John 1:1-3). But now, by his Father’s will, he has come to earth as a human being to open a pathway for humans back to the throne of God, their creator who loves them.

God the Son had many enemies on earth. The loudest of these were those who claimed for themselves the position of God’s favorites. They weren’t. They studied God’s books of law and interpreted them according to the standards of their own wicked hearts. They completely missed God’s love for his people. These self-styled favorites lorded it over others and condemned everyone who didn’t worship God exactly as they themselves did. They were blind to the fact that they worshiped themselves, not God, and what they really wanted was to be at the very top of the heap. Far from respecting them, even with outward deference, Jesus called out their hypocrisy. He loved his Father with a true and passionate heart, and he loved his Father’s people. He condemned the false religious favorites, and for this cause, they wanted to kill him. And finally, they did kill him.

Psalm 42 records the heart cries of the Son to his Father during the period when he was being tried and executed by the false religious leaders. His death was very painful, because in those days, the Romans, who performed the actual execution, nailed convicted criminals to a wooden cross and let them suffocate for as long as it took. These are the Son’s words of trust and love to his Father during this horrendous event. Other psalms record Jesus’ thoughts, most notably Psalm 22.

The plot line of Poem 42 runs like this, “Father God, I am all alone here. Where are you? You’ve been hiding yourself for a long while. They’re killing me, and everyone has noticed that you’re not here. This discourages my soul so much. But my soul’s response doesn’t make sense to me, because I know you will rescue me. I know that eventually I will pass through this situation and come to a place where I will be thanking and praising you again. So come on, Soul. Perk up and hope in God. He is my help and my God.”

Here is the poem:

NIB Psalm 42:1 For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
5, 6 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:1-11 NIV, 1984)

Parallels with Other Scripture, Indicating that Psalm 42 Is a Prophetic Reference to Christ on the Cross

1.    Psalm 42:10 My bones suffer mortal agony… (NIV)

Psalm 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint… (NIV)

Psalm 22:17 All my bones are on display; (NIV)

2.    Psalm 42:10foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (NIV)

Psalm 22:7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” 
(NIV)

Matthew 27:42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (NIV)

3.    Psalm 42:7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Jonah 2:2 He said: “… From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. (NIV)

Psalm 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (NIV) [Also, the entire psalm is a heart cry of a prayer to God]

Jonah 2:4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ (NIV)

Jonah 2:7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. (NIV)

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (NIV)

Final Words

I have been so very blessed to see the heart of the Son’s love for the Father in this psalm, and to see the heart of the Father’s love for his Son in so many other psalms. The love between Father and Son is extended to us, the recipients of the marvelous gift of redemption, a gift that cost the Son so much pain. If you can, ask God to help you soak in the deep richness of Psalm 42, this marvelous love letter from Christ to his God.

Psalm 89: History to the Foot of the Cross

Abstract

When as readers we consistently keep Christ in view and use the key of the gospel message which he himself provided to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), much of the Psalter prophetically accommodates the apostolic kerygma (gospel message). In Psalm 88, Christ the Messiah, in his form as a human being (Philippians 2:8), prophetically laments his condition as he approaches the grave and then descends into it. Psalm 89 gives us another view of Christ’s persecuted life during his incarnation, with the difference that it stops short of his Passion week. Before we hear the psalmist’s lament, however, the reader is given a brief review in broad, comprehensive strokes of the biblical history of creation and the Davidic Covenant. (Link to text of Psalm 89: Link)

Psalm 89 Is Like Readers’ Theater 

Dialogue is notably present in Psalm 89. Speech as a tool creates dramatic immediacy and truthfulness within the psalm. The quotations themselves unite Scripture into an organic whole, as one portion cites other portions. Speech causes the readers or listeners to recall the real history of Israel as God’s holy people.

One of the first tasks for the reader, then, is to recognize that speech occurs. The fancy word for this reading technique is prosopological exegesis (Matthew W. Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183f). Our task in Psalm 89 is made easier by the use within the text of quotation marks and identifying speech markers, such as, “I said, …” (v 2) and, “You have said, …” (v 3). Additionally, the text supplies a liberal use of second person speech labels, as commonly used in direct address: “you” (e.g., vv 8, 9, and 10) and “your” (e.g., vv 4, 14, 15). Finally, the use of first person singular in verses 1 and 50, intertwined with direct address (you) to God, provides a strong clue to the reader that dialogue is present. The reader can easily envision Psalm 89 being performed or read upon a dramatic stage, perhaps as a reader’s theater.

Where is the Speech and Who Are the Speakers?

The psalmist (the narrative speaker of the psalm, not the author) makes reference to himself as “I” in verse 1 and again in verse 50. As is usual in the Psalter, the first person psalmist does not identify himself. One of the first person speakers is God, as the entire context declares. Therefore, our task is to identify the voice represented by the other speaker, the first person psalmist. No universal agreement exists. If there were, there would be no need for me to write. Context, however, including the previously mentioned apostolic kerygma,  provides sufficient clues for the reader to confidently assume that the speaker is the Anointed One.

  1. God as the reported speaker in verses 3-4 states the Davidic Covenant as it applies to Messiah. Verses 19-37 expand the terms of that covenant (see 2 Samuel 7:1-17). Details of this expansion, as in the original, indicate that the covenant extends beyond David himself and refer to God’s chosen Messiah, or Anointed (see vv 25-37, especially verses 27, 29, and 36).
  2. The gospel message, or apostolic kerygma, proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be Christ, God’s Messiah.
  3. Verses 50 and 51 (“Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 5with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed,“) in context of the larger unit unite the first person speaker and the referenced Messiah. The calamities described in verses 38-51 have befallen the Anointed One with whom God made the covenant, and by the use of first person singular in verse 50, the psalmist claims those calamities as his own.

The Four Sections of the Psalm

Psalm 89 tells the interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord. (I am indebted to Patrick Reardon for his observation of the sections in Psalm 89. While he identifies three sections, I find it more convenient to locate and describe four. See Reardon, 175.)

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

Section 1 

Creation: Verses 2, 5-18. God created all things, and his power is supreme, even over Rahab (Job 9:3).  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

Section 2

God’s Promise to Israel and Messiah: Verses 3-4, 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. Verses 15-18 provide the transition from the first section to the second. God’s people know and understand God’s nature as expressed in creation, and they are blessed because they walk in accordance with his nature.

In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section 3

Enter Messiah. Enter Discord. Is Something Wrong? This Reality Doesn’t Match Up with the Promise. Description of the Discord: Verses 38-51

Verses 38-51 describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with the following statements:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Section 4

Messiah’s Prayer of Appeal (vv 46-51)

As we read Messiah’s prayerful protest to God, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had this psalm in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Summary and Conclusion

Psalm 89 concludes, as many psalms do, with a final word of blessing for the Lord. Here the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that his people worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

 

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Psalm 89: Short Devotional

Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contradictions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation of suffering do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many believers, if not most, do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … … 
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.

Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

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Psalm 116:11 “All Mankind Are Liars”

 

All? Not just one or two but All? Not just the reds or blues, but all? Not just my enemies but my friends also? Me? Are you talking about me? The talented, the beautiful, the artsy, the spiritual, the meek, the humble, the poor, the victims, all? How can all mean all?

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This post is excerpted and expanded from a prior post: Psalm 116: Christ Loves the Father. It promises to be technical. The substance of the article below demonstrates how the phrase, “All men are liars,” likely was spoken by Christ during his ecstasy, or passion, while hanging on the cross or at some time during the week before.

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Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse.

Translation Comparison:

NAU Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All men are liars.”

NET Psalm 116:11 I rashly declared, “All men are liars.”

ESV Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”

LXE Psalm 116:11 And I said in mine amazement, Every man is a liar.

NIV Psalm 116:11 in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”

I said in my alarm, All mankind are liars.

There are two phrases in Psalm 116:11. The first speaks of alarm and the second of humanity as liars. This discussion will begin with the second phrase. The presupposition is that Psalm 116 speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All mankind are liars. Scripture teaches that Christ’s love for his Father surpasses the unworthiness of the people for whom Christ died. (See Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3; and John 2:24-25.) When Jesus was tried, convicted, and hung on a cross, none came forward to speak on his behalf (Pilate’s wife did mention to her husband the nightmare she had experienced concerning him). There was no one to comfort him (Handel’s Messiah quoting Psalm 69:20). Because the human race, as represented by all who were gathered and by those who chose to stay away and avoid trouble, allowed and encouraged the great Creator’s crucifixion, they all in essence, denied his deity. To not receive Christ, to not acknowledge God’s love in Christ, is to lie. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18 ESV) In this sense, in the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of deity, all humankind was deceived and lied about the true relationship between themselves and their Creator/Savior.

I said in my alarm… The word “alarm” in Hebrew can mean to be in a state of alarm or to hurry or perform some action consequent to a state of alarm. The Qal definition in Psalm 116:11 is “to be in alarm.” (BDB Hebrew Lexicon) From the Greek Septuagint, the translated word is “ecstasy,” which refers to a strong emotional state that is not normal, in the sense of not usual. We say that, “So-and-so is beside herself with such-and-such an emotion.” It can be an emotion of great terror, bewilderment, astonishment, or any such. As the word is most often used in Scripture, the focus is on the state of the person which such a strong emotion produces. Such a state is other than the usual state of the person. It is a state that is figuratively laid beside one’s usual state. (BDAG, 3rd edition, 245)

The New Testament’s use of the word “ecstasy” occurs when someone witnesses a powerful miracle that overrides physical laws of nature (Mark 5:42, where Jesus resurrected a dead girl; Luke 5:26, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man; Mark 16:8, where the women were beside themselves in astonishment upon meeting the angel in Christ’s tomb, who told them that Jesus had arisen from the dead). Any strong emotional state caused by extreme terror or amazement can be called an “ecstasy.” A second meaning for “ecstasy” is a trance (cf. Acts 22:17, Peter’s vision of the blanket filled with unclean foods). This second meaning does not seem applicable in Psalm 116:14.

Continuing with the meaning of strong emotion, often brought on by great fear, the Greek word “ecstasy” appears in the superscription of Psalm 31, which is Psalm 30 in the Septuagint. The English translation of the Septuagint reads, “For the end, a Psalm of David, an utterance of extreme fear,” or, εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐκστάσεως in Greek. Jesus speaks Psalm 31:5 from the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and the whole psalm speaks of death and resurrection.

Further, Psalm 31:22a (30:22a LXX) reads in Brenton’s English translation, “But I said in my extreme fear [ἐγὼ δὲ εἶπα ἐν τῇ ἐκστάσει μου], I am cast out from the sight of thine eyes:…” A footnote gives the word “ecstasy” for the phrase “extreme fear.” The ESV for Psalm 31:22a reads, “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.'” How very much in essence like Psalm 22:1a this is, which nearly all acknowledge is messianic, since Christ spoke these words from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Added to the context of the whole of Psalm 31, this particular verse adds to the evidence that the Greek word for “ecstasy” refers to the Passion of Christ.

Language usage provides yet another thread of evidence to the probable interpretation of the word “ecstasy” in reference to the Passion of Christ in Psalms 31 and 116. The English word “passion” derives from classical Latin “passiōn-” (OED). Applicable meanings fall under the categories of 1) “The sufferings of Jesus in the last days of his life, from the Last Supper to his death; the Crucifixion itself” (OED), 2) obsolete, “A suffering or affliction of any kind” (OED), 3) “any strong, controlling, or overpowering emotion, as desire, hate, fear, etc.; an intense feeling or impulse” (OED), and 4) “A fit, outburst, or state marked by or of strong excitement, agitation, or other intense emotion” (OED). These definitions are all similar to the definitions and context of the Greek “ecstasy,” “ἐκστάσει,” as used in Psalms 31 and 116.

While the Latin Vulgate Bible doesn’t use the Latin passiōn-“ in correspondence with the Greek for “ecstasy,” in Psalm 116, it does use “excessu meo (Psa 115:2 VULM, Vulgate with Morphology),” defined as, “departure; death; digression; departure from standard.” The meaning “departure from standard” corresponds very well with the sense of “ecstasy” as an emotional state that is not normal, as in not usual, and in other words, an emotional state that is laid alongside of the usual, as in the phrase, “so-and-so is beside herself ” with some named emotion. (See above, BDAG, 3rd edition, 245.) The other Latin meaning for “passiōn-“, which is “departure; death,” as mentioned above in this paragraph, unquestionably corresponds with Christ’s Passion.

The combination of evidences presented here point to the strong possibility that when Christ spoke the words, “All men are liars,” in Psalm 116:11, he did so at his Passion, at some point during the week leading up to and including his crucifixion. It should not be difficult to perceive that Christ the man would have experienced great fear or alarm (Hebrew) both before and while he was being crucified. For example, Scripture testifies to his sweating which resembled blood in the Garden as he prayed concerning the trial and crucifixion that lay just ahead (Luke 22:44). With the definition and sense of the Greek word translated as “ecstasy” in mind, we could read Psalm 116:11 as, “I said in my Passion, all men are liars.”

In summary and conclusion, both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11– 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, quite conceivably make reference to the cross.

In the context of the whole psalm and especially verse 3, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish,” (ESV) a reasonable, expanded paraphrase of the intended meaning of verse 11, “I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars,” (ESV) might be:

Experiencing great emotions of alarm and fear that accompany my intense physical suffering, as I approached the cross and now hang upon it, I realize that not one person in all humanity truly understands what is happening here and who it is they are crucifying. They are all deceived. There is none who are righteous, no not one. All mankind are liars.

Similar to the thought, as presented above, of all mankind being liars is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (ESV)

The interpretation given here that Psalm 116:11 gives a word Christ spoke during his Passion  supports the themes of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Psalm 116 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for rescue from death after great suffering. It includes the thought of martyrdom for the sake of salvation and the love of God. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself in love to the Father. He was alone, cut off from human support, wholly dependent on the faithfulness, goodness, and love of God to rescue him.

 

 

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