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A Quibble with NET Word Choice in Psalm 33:6

I take issue with NET’s translation of Psalm 33:6. I would use the majority translation “word” rather than the minority translation “LORD’S decree,” because the context does not support NET’s paraphrase over the literal text of the original Hebrew and Greek.

ESV Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 

NET Psalm 33:6 By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. (Psa 33:6 NET)

The following translations use “word” in verse 6: ESV, NIV 1984, NIB (British NIV, 1984), NAS, BBE (Bible in Basic English), LXE (Brenton’s Septuagint English Translation), NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Pietersma, 2009), KJV, NKJV, NRS (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and the NIV, 2011. “Word” literally translates both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew, as the NET points out in its notes. However, the NET model, 2006,  and the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, 1998) have taken the liberty to interpret the literal “word” of the two original languages and to place the interpretation into the text. NET then puts the literal translation into the notes. Can these two be right and everyone else wrong?

The NET writes for Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word [breath, or spirit] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.” The NIRV writes, “The heavens were made when the LORD commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.”

The interpretation NET and NIRV have given (although the 2011 NIV returns to “word”) is a narrow slice of the semantic range of possible meanings of the literal “word” of the original. In the case of the NET, I strongly suspect that this is an editorial decision based upon the philosophy (hermeneutics) of Old Testament interpretation the editors have chosen. NET is fond of placing the literal in the margin and their particular interpretation in the text itself.

Why does this matter? 1) These two versions are changing the literal translation of God’s word. 2) They are interpreting for God the meaning of the text, rather than allowing the reader to do so under the guidance of God.

One of the readers of Psalms was John the Apostle. In John 1:1-5, he writes,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV, 2011)

The author of Hebrews writes,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Why rob the reader the pleasure of seeing the Word, the Son, in Psalm 33:6 by changing the literal translation “word” to “LORD’s decree“? The semantic domain of “word” includes the concept of “decree,” while “decree” erases the possibility of the Personhood of God’s Word.

In support of keeping the original rather than NET’s interpretation, the text of Psalm 148:5-6 is interesting in its contextual similarity to Psalm 33:6.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. (NIB, NIV 1984)

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he gave the command and they came into existence.
6 He established them so they would endure; he issued a decree that will not be revoked. (NET)

In these verses, “them” means everything named in verses 2-4: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, shining stars, highest heavens, and waters above the skies, i.e., creation, apart from the earth. These verses contain the translations “commanded…created,” “set them in place,” and “gave a decree.” Interestingly, NET notes does not mention any of the three verbal phrases.

In comparison with Psalm 33:6, the immediate creation context is identical. “6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Yet even though the context is identical, the original Greek and Hebrew words referring to the act of creation are different. Psalm 33, as noted above, uses the Hebrew and Greek original for “word,” “logos” (see Strong’s H1697 and G3056), whereas Psalm 148:5-6 uses different words more directly related to “command” (see Strong’s H6680, H8765, G1781, G2476, and G4367).

“Logos,” which is “word” in the New Testament, carries great weight, and one cannot help but wonder why the NET chose to minimize its potential importance in Psalm 33:6, given that NET’s claimed translation “the LORD’s decree” has other specific Hebrew and Greek words that God could have chosen, as for example, those he did choose in Psalm 148:5-6 in an identical context. Are we to think that God pays less attention to details than NET? In Psalm 33:6, if God intentionally chose Hebrew “dabar” and Greek “logos,” both meaning “word,” then “word” it is.

Psalm 68:1-6–A Harry Potter Kind of Celebration

From Pottermore.com

 

When the fictional Harry Potter caused the death of the wicked Lord Voldemort, J. K. Rowling describes the scene with these words:

Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of his scarlet eyes rolling upward … Voldemort was dead … then the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the roars of the watchers rent the air. The fierce new sun dazzled the windows as they thundered toward him … and Harry could not hear a word that anyone was shouting, nor tell whose hands were seizing him, pulling him, trying to hug some part of him, hundreds of them pressing in, all of them determined to touch the Boy Who Lived, the reason it was over at last … The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts, and the Great Hall blazed with life and light … the innocent [prisoners] of Azkaban were being released at that very moment … 

(J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (USA: Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., 2007), 744-745.)

Why was there such rejoicing? The wicked wizard Voldemort had oppressed the people by fear, intimidation, torture, maiming, imprisonment, death, and separation of families. Harry’s victory over him ended all this, and freed from captivity, the people’s outcry of joy was magnificent.

Notice that Rowling divides the action quoted above into three parts: 1) the death of the enemy, 2) the victory celebration, and 3) the reason for the joy.

While the Harry Potter series is fiction, the Bible is not. Psalm 68:1-6 describes God’s victory over the forces of darkness in a way that could serve as a model for Rowling. Verses 1-2 describe the victorious battle:

God springs into action! His enemies scatter; his adversaries run from him.
2 As smoke is driven away by the wind, so you drive them away. As wax melts before fire, so the wicked are destroyed before God. (Psalm 68:1-2 NET)

Next comes the victory celebration:

3 But the godly are happy; they rejoice before God and are overcome with joy.
4 Sing to God! Sing praises to his name! Exalt the one who rides on the clouds! For the LORD is his name! Rejoice before him! (Psalm 68:3-4 NET)

And finally, the biblical author gives the reason for the joyful celebration:

5 He is a father to the fatherless and an advocate for widows. God rules from his holy palace.
6 God settles those who have been deserted in their own homes; he frees prisoners and grants them prosperity. But sinful rebels live in the desert. (Psalm 68:5-6 NET)

In other words, God is good! The people are so glad he freed them from the tyranny of those seeking their own power, of those who delight in causing others to suffer.

Harry Potter is a fictional character, yet he has a large fan following.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray that all who read this will know that you exist, that you are love, that you hear the heart cries of us all (Pslam 65:2), and that you answer and give relief to all who turn to you. Thank-you, amen.

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Technical note of further interest regarding Psalm 68:6c and the Malfoy family in the Harry Potter series.

6a God settles those who have been deserted in their own homes; 6b he frees prisoners and grants them prosperity. 6c But sinful rebels live in the desert. (Psalm 68:5-6 NET)

Those who have read this blog for awhile know how highly I regard the Septuagint edition of Scripture. There are two interesting English translations of this Greek version of Psalm 68:6 that I find interesting.

6a God settles the solitary in a house; 6b leading forth prisoners mightily, 6c also them that act provokingly, even them that dwell in tombs. (Brenton, Sir Lancelot C. L. The Septuagint Version: Greek and English. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970.)

6a God settles the solitary in a house; 6b With courage He leads out those in bondage, 6c Likewise those who rebel, who dwell in tombs. (Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008.)

I. Context

It appears to me that the Septuagint version of verse 6c matches the near and surrounding contexts of Psalm 68 far better than the English versions based upon the Masoretic Hebrew texts, such as the NET quoted above.

First, verse 6 is naming God’s benefits to those who are rejoicing in his victory, not the bad consequences to those who still his enemies.

Second, the large bulk of the entire psalm is focused on God’s victory, the response of his supporters, and the benefits awarded to them. Nowhere else remotely near this portion of verse 6 are the results for the enemies of God described. Further, statements concerning his enemies form a small portion of the entire psalm.

It seems unlikely, therefore, that a single phrase inserted in a context bearing no resemblance to that phrase would be the correct meaning of Psalm 68:6c.

II. New Testament Relevance

Psalm 68:18 sheds light on the identity of God in this psalm.

You ascend on high, you have taken many captives. You receive tribute from men, including even sinful rebels. Indeed the LORD God lives there! (Psalm 68:18 NET)

Thou art gone up on high, thou hast led captivity captive, thou hast received gifts for man, yea, for they were rebellious, that thou mightiest dwell among them. (Brenton, The Septuagint Version)

You ascended on high, You led captivity captive; You received gifts for mankind, Truly for the disobedient, so they may dwell there. The Lord God is blessed; (Psalm 68:19 The Orthodox Study Bible)

Paul quotes a variant of the Greek Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8, where in its context, he solidly makes reference to Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:8 NET)

According to The Orthodox Study Bible (Psalm 68, pages 724-725), Psalm 68 in its entirety is about the resurrection and ascension of Christ. This conclusion follows the principles of ordinary literary interpretation. If one verse of a text block clearly points to a particular referent, then, if the contextual flow of language is contiguous and no other referents are introduced, then the entire textual block must be about the same referent. This is the case for Psalm 68:18 and its context. Reading prophetic scripture in context makes far more sense than yanking verses out of context in order to interpret them as isolated islands of meaning.

Therefore, if we consider that Psalm 68 makes reference to Christ and his victories, we should look to the New Testament, and especially to the gospels, to make sense of verse 6c, Likewise those who rebel, who dwell in tombs. Verse 6 tells the reader that Christ is helping three groups of people: 1) the solitary, those who have been deserted by humanity and live alone, 2) the prisoners, and 3) the rebellious, who live as though dead, or among tombs. Where can we find a New Testament reference to the rebellious living among tombs?

First, the New Testament, and Paul specifically in Romans 3:23 and Romans 5:8, teaches that God died for sinners, enemies, and we were all such at one time. Since humankind was not created as enemies of God, they became enemies through rebellion. The New Testament also teaches that humankind was dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Metaphorically, dead people live in tombs.

Second and literally, the gospel of Mark 5:1-20 relates how Jesus met a demon-possessed man of the Gerasenes, who actually lived among the tombs. Further, when Jesus approached him, the man called out provokingly to Jesus in a loud voice, saying, “Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God– do not torment me!” (Mark 5:7 NET) Likewise, Psalm 68:6c in Brenton’s translation talks about those who act provokingly, even those who live in tombs.

Third, as if by chance, verse 18 in Psalm 68, the verse that identifies Jesus as the victorious actor, also mentions that his gifts were either received from or given to rebels:

You ascended on high, You led captivity captive; You received gifts for mankind, Truly for the disobedient, so they may dwell there. The Lord God is blessed; (Psalm 68:19 The Orthodox Study Bible)

God is indeed merciful, as this verse and this psalm show.

III. Harry Potter

Compared to knowing that the most high God is extremely merciful through his Son Jesus Christ, knowledge of the fictional mercy of Harry Potter seems trivial, except as a means of illustration. The Malfoy family, especially Draco the son and Lucius his father, were rebellious, having chosen the dark lord to serve. And metaphorically, as time progressed, it became more and more apparent that they felt miserable and that living under the dark lord’s power was like living among the dead. Further, both Lucius and Draco provoked Harry with their actions and speech throughout the series, just as Psalm 68:6c describes the provoking action of the rebellious ones living in tombs. Nevertheless, Harry and his companions, including Dumbledore and Ron, showed Draco and his parents extreme mercy, until finally, the Malfoy family left the wicked Valdemort’s side before he died.

IV. What Is the Point?

Once again, what is the point of comparing the Harry Potter series with Psalm 68? Harry Potter is a gripping story to read and Rowling does a great job both of contrasting good and evil and of presenting the joy of regular folk in the ultimate victory of goodness, as represented by Harry Potter and his friends. If readers love Harry Potter, then I implore that the same readers would give the Lord Jesus Christ a chance, since in many ways Rowling appears to have modeled her heroic character and plot after the good news of the one and only Savior under heaven, Jesus Christ, who does exist in the real world.

 

Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater

Prosopoeia: Dramatic Character Masks for a Readers Theater

God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.”

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How This Post Developed

Help me to understand what your precepts mean! Then I can meditate on your marvelous teachings. (Psalm 119:27 NET)

Sometimes a portion of Scripture opens to the understanding in a burst, a flash, all at once, like an experiencing directly in our heart. Gifts like these humble us, causing us to worship God, to thank him for his blessings in Christ, and to be amazed that the Spirit can speak his Word like this to us in such an intimate way. Other times, Scripture seems more like a brick wall, impenetrable, unyielding, or like hard dirt that must be mined. When meaning comes forth and gems begin to appear, once again, the heart is humbled, and we stand amazed at God for his goodness to us, his love toward us as displayed in his Word. This psalm yielded to this author without bursts, but with much prayer and multiple, patient readings. When the writer then places her thoughts alongside those of her favorite commentators and finds that she is in the ballpark, not far from the mark of respected others, she is humbly thankful for the confirmation of her meditation.

Readers Theater

Psalms were written during the period of time when other Ancient Near Eastern literature was written. As a genre, the Psalter can sound remote to our modern ear. This need not be, since the psalms were intended for performance in Israel’s worship, whether through singing, recitation, reading, or teaching. Many reading this article may be familiar with a style of literary presentation called readers theater (or reader’s theater or readers’ theater). This is a minimalist performance in which actors read a script onstage in performance without memorization. There is no full set, nor full costumes. Readers theater is basically dramatic reading. As a dramatic production, readers theater can utilize a narrator, a chorus, individual characters, and dramatic tools such as flashbacks and fast forwards. Interactions between these are kept simple.

It is helpful to our modern ear to envision a specific psalm as readers theater. Given the dramatic nature of psalms, various timeframes are discernible, important periods of dramatic time, all revolving around Christ as center. These include the pre-Christ setting (prophetic), the incarnation (historical), the post-resurrection (historical), the end times (prophetic) and the eternal (by faith). Individual speeches within a given psalm may be placed in any one of these time frames, and they do interchange within single psalms.

The author’s viewpoint in the psalms is eternal. God the ultimate writer is not constrained by an Ancient Near Eastern time frame nor by any other. God is as concerned with us the present day readers as much as he was concerned with those who lived during the original recording of Scripture. Paul, the New Testament writer of many biblical letters, or epistles, appropriated Old Testament Scripture as having been recorded for application during his particular era, which was very future to the time when historical events were recorded in Israel’s distant past.

1 Corinthians 10:6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. (NET)

1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (NET)

We today are still part of the biblical time frame named by Paul as “the ends of the ages.” Actually, we are nearer to the final ending than Paul was. What was true for Paul is true for us. God most definitely wants us to appropriate ancient Scripture as our own, relevant and applicable for today. God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.” It is his very own Holy Spirit who opens and intimately connects the words of the Psalter with our own hearts and life circumstances. He wants us to apply his psalms in personal ways in order to make them our very own.

Psalms 9 and 10: A Dramatic Interpretation

This is how I read these two psalms, how they make the most sense to me. I have joined them together as two parts of one psalm, as they are presented in the Septuagint, which is my bible of choice for the reading and perception of God’s intent in Psalms.

Psalms 9 and 10 represent three clearly discernible dramatic characters, or prosopa: 1) God, 2) the righteous, poor and needy individual, and 3) the wicked. As a Readers Theater, five speaking parts would be assigned: 1) God, 2) the righteous poor and needy first person singular speaker, 3) the wicked person(s), 4) a narrator representing God, and 5) a chorus/congregation. These are abbreviated in the script below as: God, the Righteous, the Wicked, Narrator, and Chorus.

The narrator may be thought of as a holy person, perhaps the Holy Spirit, who stands outside the action and commands a perfect view of all. He clearly advocates for God. The Chorus represents the congregation, both Old Testament and New. They also are clearly on God’s team. There is by no means any hard and fast line between the Narrator’s speeches and the lines of the Chorus. In most cases, one character could read both of these roles. Assigning two roles is an appeal to a more interesting readers theater.

Psalm 9 (ESV)

the Righteous: [in prayer to God] Psalm 9:1 To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before your presence.
4 For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.

Narrator: [speaking about Christ the Lord] 7 But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,
8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.
9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

Narrator: [speaking to Christ the Lord]  10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Narrator: [speaking to the Chorus/Congregation about Christ the Lord] 11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

the Righteous: [a flashback prayer illustrating “the cry of the afflicted” from the previous verse. The afflicted one is Christ in his incarnation]  13 Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation.

Narrator: [from the point of view of the future eternity looking back]  15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.

Chorus:  16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah 

Narrator:  17 The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

Chorus: [with a strong voice of triumph in address to Christ the Lord]  19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah

Psalm 10 (ESV unless otherwise noted)

the Righteous: Psalm 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Narrator: 2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4a In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are,

the Wicked: 4b … “There is no God.”

Narrator: 5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6a He says in his heart, … 

the Wicked: 6b … “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

Narrator: 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
11a He says in his heart, … 

the Wicked: 11b … “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

the Righteous: 12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Chorus: 13a Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, … 

the Wicked: 13b … “You will not call to account”?

Narrator: [to the Risen and Reigning Christ:] 14 You have taken notice, for you always see one who inflicts pain and suffering. The unfortunate victim entrusts his cause to you; you deliver the fatherless. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man! Hold him accountable for his wicked deeds, which he thought you would not discover. (NET)

Chorus: [expressing faith for the present moment and faith for the eternal future]  16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. 17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Summary and Conclusion

The above represents one way of dividing Psalms 9 and 10 for performance in a Readers Theater setting. This is by no means the only way of dividing the script. The goal, however, is that the reader may begin to perceive for herself that there is speech in the various psalms of the Psalter, that more than one voice and one point of view are represented. Psalms are meant to be performed. They lend themselves easily to performance because they deal honestly and passionately with life’s most poignant times of crises. Where we walk, Christ, the ultimate human being, walked before us during his incarnation. Listen to the words of his prayers as man, relate the prayers, Christ as man, and the triune Godhead to yourself, and be blessed. God, as ultimate author, wrote the psalms for all believers of all ages to be active participants in them.

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The needs and concerns of summer have already overtaken me. This will be the last post of the Christ in the Psalms series until next fall, Lord willing. My blessings!

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Psalms 9 and 10: Justice

God speaks the last word: his word is final, just, and determinative.

What does a “wicked” person look like?

Psalms 9 and 10 stand near the beginning of the Psalter, where themes mentioned in brief words of introduction are still being expanded. While judgment has been introduced in Psalm 1:5-6, Psalm 2:5 and 9, Psalm 5:5-10, Psalm 6:10, and Psalm 7:6, 9, and 11-16, there has been nothing like the detailed portrait of the “wicked” person as described here in Psalm 10:2-11. 

The wicked person is someone who…

  • arrogantly and hotly pursues the poor
  • is greedy for gain
  • curses and spurns the Lord
  • wears pride on his face as he denies the existence of God
  • is prosperous at all times
  • is full of confidence in his belief that he shall never meet adversity
  • curses and lies and oppresses
  • injures with his words
  • sets up ambushes and from hiding murders the innocent and stealthily watches for the helpless
  • like a lion lurking in ambush, seizes the poor and pulls them into his net
  • crushes the helpless until they sink down and fall by his might
  • says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it”

We can see from the above that God’s main concern is relationship: How do people treat God? and how do people treat each other?

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (NET)

This is primary to the God who is L-O-V-E. Psalm 10 spells out behaviors and heart attitudes of the “wicked” who are and do the exact opposite of what God in his love is and does. Only a person in complete denial would ever say that she has never met a wicked person. Our modern society abounds with such. God’s love sent his one and only Son, the co-creator, to hang naked as a human being on a cross and to painfully and willingly suffer and die there in order to forgive wicked people who want to return to him and be forgiven. God refuses no one; he accepts all; but he won’t compel anyone against their will.

God’s Word is Final, Just, and Determinative

Psalms 9 and 10 demonstrate how God gets the last word, that his word is just and favorable to the afflicted, the poor and needy, and that his word carries the power to execute what he decrees. Psalm 9 relates the final outcome of God’s justice in making the world right again, while Psalm 10 provides a close-up of what evil looks like in the present tense to those who plead for God’s merciful help for their defense and deliverance from those who are evil.

Psalm 9 opens with the praises and thanksgiving of a righteous suppliant *(See note), who recounts how God helped him in his great hour of need (verses 1 and 2). God’s help came in universal form, broad in scope and endless in time (verses 5 and 6).

Psalm 9:5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished. (ESV)

Verses 7-10 speak in general terms of the Lord’s eternal, sovereign reign, his goodness to the oppressed, their trust in him, and the Lord’s just and righteous judgments over all. Verse 11 is a call to praise, and verse12 proclaims how the Lord favors the afflicted over the persecutor. Verses 13-14 recount the prayer of a poor and needy suppliant, while verses 15-18 establish the final, favorable decree of God for the poor and needy. The wicked perish. Verses 19-20, functioning as a summary, plead with God to perform what the rest of the psalm states that in fact he will do.

Psalm 10, as summarized above, gives a detailed portrait of the wicked person (verses 2-11). The description of the wicked is sandwiched between a plea for God to act on behalf of the needy and helpless (verse 1 and verses 12-15). The psalm closes with a strong statement of faith in God, that he will bring final, eternal justice to earth (verses 17-18).

The Necessity of Faith

Psalm 9 recounts the thanksgiving of a suppliant whose prayers God answered by judging the world in righteousness, defeating the enemy who stood against both God and against the poor and needy whom God loves. It gives the larger picture, a view from the endpoint of eternity. Psalm 10 on the other hand, provides a portrait from ground level, what the world looks like now.

Psalm 10:1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble? (NET)

Psalm 10 ends with a plea and a statement of faith. Clearly, the world as a whole leans more toward unrighteousness than righteousness. One only needs to pay attention to the media for a short while to learn of all the millions and billions of people who suffer from one form of exploitation or another. What good are these ancient prayers prayed so many millennia ago, since the wicked still oppress the weak ones?

God has never promised anything except what can be accessed by faith.

Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (NET)

Psalm 9 speaks the promise, while Psalm 10 speaks to faith. Faith lives in an already-not-yet world. God’s promises have already been given and have been experienced in part by all believers, but many of his promises will not be fulfilled until most of us have already died. Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter that recounts the faith of Old Testament saints who died before receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises. The statement of God’s promises in Psalms 9 and 10 is very strong, yet the realization of them must await the eternity that follows the final judgement, that is, the realization of God’s full promise must await the end of the world as we know it. We will most likely die before we see the eternal promise fulfilled. Our faith, however, experiences these promises as fulfilled now.

Faith is torture for the flesh. Our flesh does not like to exercise faith, since our flesh craves satisfaction now. Faith must deny the flesh and command it constantly to wait. A biblical illustration of flesh versus faith is the narrative of Esau and Jacob. Esau caved in to his flesh and sold his birthright for a single bowl of stew, because his body was hungry (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob, on the other hand, waited and worked fourteen years to marry the love of his life (Genesis 29:20-30), then labored again to return to his native homeland (Genesis 30:25-43). Jacob controlled his flesh and seeded by faith his eternal future, while Esau allowed his flesh to control him and seeded the present. Esau cared nothing for God, while Jacob encountered God and experienced a life changing transaction with him (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob responded to God by wanting him and by receiving what God wanted to give. The point is that practicing faith is so hard as to be impossible for those who have not got it (Esau). Faith is a gift (Jacob).

Except for the few who have intellectual interest, the psalms must appear impermeable and repetitive, like watching paint dry, if they are read apart from the eyes of faith.

How Does Anyone Get Faith?

Faith is a gift from God.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

Gifts come in two ways: unexpectedly or by asking.

  1. God often chooses people for specific tasks and provides an overwhelming argument as to why the person should believe him. The apostle Paul’s conversion is a good example of this method of receiving faith (Acts 9:1-22).
  2. A common way to receive the gift of faith is to ask God for it. The conversion of the Philippian jailer provides a good example of receiving faith by asking (Acts 16:22-34).

Having faith is not like having air. God always rewards faith by providing tangible evidences, such as those the psalmist recounts in Psalm 9:3-6. Consider the description of faith given by three translations.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (NET)

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)

Hebrews 11:1 Faith assures one of the substance of hope, providing verification of invisible realities. (MacDonald Idiomatic Translation, MIT)

God helps our faith, which is intangible, by giving us tangible evidences. In Psalm 9, the speaker saw his enemies actually turning back, stumbling, and perishing. Jesus Christ saw God perform astounding miracles through him, and he experienced his own resurrection. For ourselves, God helps our faith by answering prayer in real time–by healing the sick, by providing for us financially, by bringing to nothing the threats of our enemies, by any number and kind of miracles large and small, and by his Word.

Faith is a spiritual “something” within believers that God encourages and grows by his own Spirit indwelling the believer and by his Word. Faith is a transaction between the person and God. As a person puts her trust in God, God in turn entrusts himself to her. And just as some children need more adult encouragement than others, so God gives tangible evidences that encourage faith to some more than to others. But it is the trust in God and the commitment of our needs to him that pleases God. He is a good God who provides good things for his children.

Listen to Jesus–

John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said,`I have no husband,’
18 “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.
20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJ)

So once again, how does anyone get faith? Answer: by asking God for it. Here are just a few examples of how you might word your request.

Lord (notice the humble acknowledgement of God as “boss” and the willingness to approach him on his own terms), I don’t have faith (notice the humble confession of need). Please (notice the humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and willingness as the weaker party to receive from his hand) give me some (notice the faith inherent in the desire to have faith and in the spoken request for it.)

If you get this far in your petition to God, you can be one hundred percent (100%) sure that he will answer you affirmatively. God is good! He loves you!

Lord, I don’t believe in you. Please help me to believe (notice your desire to believe–that is sufficient).

Dear God, I don’t know if you even exist. But if you do, I want to learn more about you.

Once again, if you’ve gotten this far in your petitions in all sincerity and truth, God has chosen you because he wants you to believe in him. He himself has placed this prayer on your heart because he wants to give you the gift of faith to believe in him and in Jesus Christ whom he sent to open the way for you to return to God your Creator.

No step is too small. Even half a baby’s first baby step is enough, just so you step toward God your Father and not away. Try it! He will catch you in his loving arms.

__________

*Note: A righteous person, as defined by usage in Psalms, is someone who commits him(her)self fully to the Lord. She looks to the Lord for all her needs and tries to please him in all she thinks, says, and does. Her motives and heart are pure; she is 100% on the Lord’s team. Jesus Christ, as incarnated human being, is the ultimate Righteous Person in the Psalter.

Please tune in for the sequel to this post, which will present these same two psalms, Psalm 9 and Psalm 10, in a Readers Theater format. It is scheduled for Friday, May 25, 2018.

 

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Psalm 8: Humanity in General or Christ in Particular?

 

As it breaks out with joyful praise, Psalm 8 is a first day of the new week kind of psalm. It voices neither petitions nor statements of personal need. It is a Sunday worship kind of psalm, the first of its kind in the Psalter.

The Orthodox Church uses Psalm 8 in its liturgy to celebrate the resurrection of Lazarus on Lazarus Saturday and the very next day in the morning prayer of Palm Sunday (The Orthodox Study Bible, 685). The connotations of Christ as King are apparent, as will be demonstrated below.

Psalm 8:1 To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength
[praise, NET] because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (ESV)

Psalm 8 resembles Psalm 1 in its ambiguity concerning its subject, whether humankind in general or a specific person, one man, in particular. NET Bible editors interpret mankind as the subject of the psalm and translate the singular “man,” (enosh in Hebrew) of verse 4 as “the human race,” and “son of man,” also in verse 4, as “human beings.” In this they follow their similar interpretation of Psalm 1. Humankind in general and generic “men” are indeed often represented by this Hebrew noun in the Old Testament. The New Testament, on the other hand, in several places applies Psalm 8 specifically to Christ incarnated.

Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” (NET) (Matthew 21:16 quotes Psalm 8:2)

Note: The context of Matthew 21:16 relates how, on the occasion when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on what has come to be celebrated as Palm Sunday, the children cried out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This was equivalent to naming Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. The chief priests and scribes became indignant and protested to Jesus, “Do you hear what they are saying?” In other words, How can you, a mere man, receive as true the adulation of these children as though you were Messiah, the anointed One of God? When Jesus answered their question, “Yes,” and quoted Psalm 8:2 to them, he was in effect agreeing with the children and accepting the title of Messiah. Jesus was in effect also claiming that Psalm 8:2 made specific reference to himself. The chief priests and scribes interpreted what was happening in the same way–hence their indignant objections.

1 Corinthians 15:27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. (ESV; quotation of Psalm 8:6)

Note: Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians, quotes the literal translation of Psalm 8:6, “you have put all things under his [singular] feet” (as in the Hebrew Bible, ESV, NAU, Septuagint Greek and English, and KJV), as though it refers to the particular sense of a certain man, Christ. Contrary to Paul and to the versions just named, the NET and NIV interpret Psalm 8:6 in a plural sense (note that the plurality is not in the exact text) and assign the meaning of humankind in general. This is in fact defensible in view of other Old Testament verses that use the same word.

But here in the New Testament, the NET and NIV translate Psalm 8:6 exactly as Paul writes it. Paul in Corinthians accurately quotes Psalm 8:6 of the Old Testament, which is the same in Hebrew and in the Greek of the Septuagint (Archer and Chirichigno, 58-59). In the Old Testament, however, as mentioned above, both the NET and NIV depart from Paul and from both the actual Hebrew and Greek texts by substituting a plural, “their” feet, or “their” authority, for the singular “his,” in keeping with their interpretation of the generic nature of the word “man.” Yet it is clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 15:27, including verses 22-28, that Paul the inspired New Testament writer sees the singular Christ in view when he quotes from Psalm 8.

This places the reader in the awkward position of having to choose between a rock and a hard place. Did Paul misquote and/or misapply the referent of the Old Testament verse Psalm 8:6? Or, perhaps have the NET and NIV editors taken liberties in their translation of Psalm 8:6? Or, did God the Holy Spirit infuse Paul with correct inspiration through shoddy exegesis?

As it turns out, scholars fairly agree that Paul uses the Septuagint as his Bible (see for example, Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek). In spite of this, many evangelical scholars today take the strange stance that although many New Testament writers, early church fathers, and Jesus himself quoted from the Septuagint rather than from the Hebrew, we as modern exegetes or devotional readers should not. In those early days, most people did not know Hebrew, and the Old Testament canon in the early church was a collection of Greek Septuagint scriptures, rather than Hebrew (Law, When God Spoke Greek, 170). 

Law writes, “The canonical books of the Old Testament in the early church were Greek, not Hebrew. So if the Septuagint supported the theological expression of the New Testament writers and the theologians and exegetes who established early Christian thought, one may wonder why it has had no place in the modern church” (Ibid).

My intent is not to sound either boastful or non-intellectual when I say that my earliest and first experience with the Septuagint was devotional in nature and that the Holy Spirit indicated to me at that time that the first person speaker of Psalm 102 (LXX 101) was Jesus Christ and that he and his Father in that psalm were conversing back and forth in dialogue through Jesus’ prayer recorded there, very near the time of his Passion. I have loved the Septuagint ever since, and both through further devotions and through academic study, I have come to learn that I am not alone in my perception that Christ is the predominant first person speaker throughout the psalms, though clearly  this view is in the minority. Encouragingly, more and more scholars are turning to discover the Septuagint’s rightful place in academia, in church history, and in the church today. Law’s book, referenced above (and see Law, Annotated Bibliography), does a good job of tracing out the threads of impact of the Septuagint’s long history both before and after Christ. Because Law wrote for both academic students and lay readers, the text is mostly very readable.

Hebrews 2:5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.
6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (ESV)

Note: Hebrews 2:6-8 above quotes Psalm 8:4-6, clearly within the context of the writer’s demonstrating that Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, Christ, who is superior to the angels, though for a little while during his incarnation he was made lower than they. The verses he quotes would not be applicable to this certain individual if Psalm 8 did not specifically point toward Christ, but solely to the human race in general. We know that the passage in Hebrews speaks specifically of Jesus the Christ by joining 1:3 (he made purification for sin and then sat down at the right hand of God–i.e., the cross followed by resurrection and ascension) and 2:9  (we see…Jesus) in the context of the whole.

I recognize that I would be obtuse if I did not acknowledge the possible presence of humankind in general within the context of Psalm 8 in addition to the specific person of Christ, especially since Genesis 1:26 and 28 recount how God subjected the animal kingdom to the rule of Adam and his progeny. How does the devout reader reconcile these two thoughts, both valid? Simply, Adam’s race, which is humanity, fell from grace when Adam and his wife disobeyed God. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, (1 Corinthians 15:45), the head of the new humanity (Ephesians 2:15), and in him, all believers are recreated anew. Christ is the new head of the human race, displacing Adam as such. In Christ, by participating in his kingdom rule, all people become once again lords (small “l”) of creation. In Christ, the prayers and proclamations of the Psalter become true for all believers.

 

 

 

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Psalms 7 and 37: Dynamic Duo

Psalms 7 and 37 are a dynamic duo: earth’s prayer and heaven’s reply.

 

Psalm 7

Psalm 7 is the first time in the Psalter that the psalmist proclaims his innocence while at the same time beseeching God for mercy to deliver him from enemies who pursue him with false accusations. Psalm 7 is classified as an individual lament in the psalm of innocence category (Tigay, 178).

The theme of false accusations adheres closely to the life experiences of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward…

Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Verses 1-6 reveal the highly agitated emotional state of the psalmist, as he cries out for help:

Psalm 7:1 … O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,

2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,

4 if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,

5 let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

6 Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.

The psalmist appeals to the judgment of the righteous God to make a decision between the two parties (vv 7-9). The psalm ends with the psalmist  encouraging himself that indeed God will do so (vv 10-17).

Psalm 37

Today’s despairing reader who finds herself still in turmoil after praying Psalm 7 with Christ should turn immediately to Psalm 37 to hear the strongly calm and encouraging voice of the Lord’s comforting reply: Yes, I hear your prayer, I am here, and I am with you. Psalm 37 does not have a named speaker, as many of the wisdom readings of Scripture do not. The viewpoint, however, is so broad and confident, so all-seeing, that the reader would not offend the Lord by attributing the words to the Holy Spirit, God himself.

In Psalm 37 the psalmist speaks in the character of God, who reassures the hurting petitioner with direct commands to actions that will remedy her angst, interspersed with precious promises to the believer and descriptions of the final, dismal outcome in store for the wicked who pursue her.

 God’s Directives to the Righteous

Do not fret…or be envious…trust in the Lord…do good…dwell in the land…enjoy safe pasture…delight yourself in the Lord…commit your way to the Lord…trust in him…be still…wait patiently for him…do not fret…refrain from anger…turn from wrath…do not fret…wait for the Lord. (NIV)

God’s Promises to the Believer:

he will give you the desires of your heart…he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun…those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land…the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace…the Lord upholds the righteous…in times of disaster they will not wither…in days of famine they will enjoy plenty…those the Lord blesses will inherit the land…if the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand…I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread…their children will be blessed…the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones…the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial… he will exalt you to inherit the land…there is a future for the man of peace…the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. (NIV)

God’s Decreed Outcome for the Wicked

like the grass they will soon wither…evil men will be cut off…a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found…the wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken…the wicked will perish…they will vanish–vanish like smoke…the offspring of the wicked will be cut off…I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found…all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. (NIV)

Note: Psalm 37 reads much more effectively as it is written, with the three themes interacting one with another, as in a symphony.

…………………….

Excursus (a walk along a side path)

One often hears the criticism that God is narrow-minded, intolerant, and judgmental, that he invalidly paints people and behaviors in black and white categories of right and wrong, when in fact people are multi-colored and “okay.” The God of the Psalter is not like this.

First, while it is true that there are categories of right and wrong, of righteousness and sin expressed in the psalms, these are not the categories that popular opinion often claims. The strongest characteristic of a righteous person in the Psalter is a wholehearted reliance and dependence upon God. A righteous person is someone who believes in God and aligns herself with him–she joins his team. An unrighteous person in the Psalter is someone who purposefully, openly, systematically, loudly, and strongly resists God and seeks to exploit and plunder both the poor and needy in general and in particular the righteous person, as just defined. The wicked person in the psalms is your basic bully who willfully hurts others and who willfully attempts to hurt the God of Scripture.

Second, even the most tolerant person must admit that people wrong and hurt other people. No one expects a victim to always forgive and show tolerance toward the actions of someone who purposefully harms them in any number of ways. Because it is true that Christianity teaches a victim to forgive the one who wronged her–Christ’s statement while hanging painfully on the cross being crucified is the best example of this, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)–it is necessary to reconcile justice and punishment with that forgiveness.

Expansion of the above paragraph: Consider the multitudes of millions of people who are poor and needy and the millions who are abused and assaulted by others–financially, physically, sexually, emotionally, and in many other ways. A God who is real must consider and provide a remedy for the victims of abuse and hold the willful abusers accountable to some form of punishment. To say otherwise is to lie about the nature of human beings and their existence.

So justice demands the accountability of punishment, while love demands forgiveness (1). How does one both punish those who willfully harm others and simultaneously forgive everyone? Evolution does not provide an answer. Secular wisdom has no answer. The God of Scripture provides an answer. The key words are repentance and substitution.

God provides forgiveness of everything to everyone through repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. A truly repentant person admits guilt to God and acknowledges the rightfulness of penalty. In order to receive the mercy and forgiveness God makes available to all, the rebellious heart must approach God and ask for his pardon. Scripture does not promise mercy to the unrepentant and rebellious heart.

Secondly, God in his righteous judgment never waives anyone’s punishment for sin. All sin will be paid for. How does payment for sin work with the concept of forgiveness, or pardon? The answer is in the second key word, substitution. God himself receives the punishment due the pardoned perpetrator. He punishes himself instead of the guilty person. His punishment falls upon himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous man of Psalm 1, and of all the psalms, and the King of Psalm 2. Christ is the righteous suppliant whose voice we hear in the psalms. To receive God’s forgiveness through substitution, everyone needs to repent, or bow the knee to God.

Through the judgment of substitution, God is able to satisfy both the rightful need of victims for retribution and his own nature of love. It is God who loves first, not the victims. God does require of the victims of wrong that they commit all desires for vengeance to him. And this is why the righteous victims whom we hear pleading to God in the Psalter do not ask God to help them bring their own justice to a situation, but they cry out for God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s actions. They have committed their rightful need of retribution to God, for, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30). God does require vengeance for wrongs committed. In Christ, he took his righteous vengeance upon himself.

Psalm 7:12 allows for the possibility of repentance by the guilty party.

Psalm 7:12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; (ESV)

Psalms 7 and 37 together tell the innocent and hurting victim that in the end, God makes everything all right.

……………

1 Forgiveness is very different from tolerance. While tolerance says that there is no such thing as sin, forgiveness names sin and finds a way to forego the penalty.

 

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Psalm 6: Enter God’s Wrath

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Continuing the quick descent from the bright and confident promises of Psalms 1 and 2 to the sufferings expressed in Psalms 3-5,  Psalm 6 adds a further element: God’s wrath upon the righteous speaker. Psalm 2:4-5 and 9-12 reveals God’s wrath against the wicked; here we see that wrath causing the Righteous One to suffer.

Psalm 6:1 To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD– how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. 5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;

I. How do we know that the speaker of Psalm 6 is righteous?

A. We take a canonical, devotional view that presupposes all the psalms to be united with all Scripture and that unless otherwise directly noted, the first person singular speaker of all the psalms is none other than Messiah, the Son of God, God’s appointed King. By definition, God is righteous, and his Son is righteous, even during his incarnation as a human (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Discussion: First, can the above statement be proven from the Psalms themselves or other Scripture? In a legal sense, no. But neither can it be disproven. This is why commentaries are written. They all take a different point of view. The presuppositions stated in point A above can be reasonably and intellectually defended and demonstrated with quantities of biblical evidence, which is what the several posts in this blog are all about. But no person can provide an airtight proof one way or the other that the Psalter is largely spoken by Christ.

The world of biblical academia has not changed from Jesus’ day to our own. In the gospels, many conversations between Jesus and the “lawyers” of the law, the scribes and Pharisees, record Jesus’ attempts to pierce through combative academics to reach the hearts of people. I believe it safe to say that God does not care about a person’s intellectual understandings about his Word. God wants faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is like insight or like solving a mathematical word problem: there comes a point when a step must be made, no matter how small, over a gap that human logic and reason cannot bridge. God as Creator designed it to be so. Belief in God comes by his grace alone.

Second, taken on an individual basis, some psalms, such as Psalm 2, demonstrate the presence of Christ more readily than others. On the other hand, without faith, it appears impossible that a psalm such as Psalm 6 could be proven to speak words of Christ. However, as shown in prior articles on Psalms 1 and 2, it is literarily reasonable to suppose that all the psalms in the Psalter are about Christ or spoken by him. Therefore, it is not necessary to continually prove and demonstrate this point for each and every psalm. Over the five decades since Brevard Childs wrote his boldly conversation-opening book Biblical Theology in Crisis, academia has permitted a greater interconnectedness among the various portions of Scripture, including both the Old and New Testaments. (See, for example, works by Matthew W. Bates.)

B. Even though Psalm 6 is listed as the first of seven penitential psalms by the early church (The seven penitential psalms are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143, C. Hassell Bullock, 207), no sins are mentioned (Craig C. Broyles, 63). Robert S. Hawker explains this feature.

“But the beauty of the Psalms is as it beholds Christ in his strong crying and tears, when taking upon him our nature, and becoming sin for the church, that the church might be made the righteousness of God in him. If we eye the Redeemer as the sinner’s surety, we shall then enter into a right apprehension of what he saith under the divine chastisement for sin.” (Hawker, 178, Psalm 6:2)

C. In spite of the wrath of God being displayed against the speaker (vss 1-3), God hears and responds to the psalmist’s cry for mercy and delivers from the grave and from a multitude of enemies (vss 8-10). Within the body of Psalms, God never comes to the aid of his enemies, but always favors the righteous. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

II. What does Psalm 6 add to the Psalter?

The psalms are prophetic. Their main purpose, or one of their main purposes, is to prophesy of the Christ. For the first time in the Psalter, Psalm 6 reveals the theme of God’s wrath against his Son, his Messiah, his King (if the reader connects this psalm with Psalm 2). Psalm 6 also reveals God’s deliverance after wrath.

III. Why read Psalms this way?

Why does this writer invest so much of her time and energy to communicate that the Psalms contain the words of Christ and of God his Father to him? For one reason only: to encourage the reader to pick up the Psalter in a quiet moment of devotion, to lay all academics aside, to ask God to speak to her personally, and to hear in a life-changing way the heart of God expressing itself in love for her the reader through the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross on her behalf: to experience God’s love for you, the reader.

I personally find that reading a psalm out loud when no one is present and there will be no opportunity for interruption is a good way to hear the voice of God through these living words.

 

 

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Psalm 5: Okay, Then–Define “Unrighteousness”

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The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest.

 

1 For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David. Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.
7 But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make your way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5 NIV)

The Psalter has few characters: God, His Son, God’s friends, and God’s enemies. In describing the Psalter, no matter how politically objectionable such a description may appear, there are few to no tones of gray, just black and white. One of the basic black and white facts of the Psalter is the contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. Psalm 5 contributes to the Psalter the first detailed portrait of unrighteousness and contrasts this portrait with details about the righteous.

I. The speaker is an unnamed single person throughout, although verse 12, the closing verse, could be spoken by the ever-present narrator/chorus common to many of the psalms, especially in the closing verses. Clearly, the speaker places himself among the righteous.

II. Contrasts between the righteous and the unrighteous.

A. The righteous speaker of the psalm–

1. approaches God to reverently speak to him in worship and humility (verses 1-3 and 7b).

2. God receives, welcomes, enjoys, blesses, and protects the righteous who come to him (verses 7a and 11-12).

3. The one and only positive characteristic of righteousness described in this psalm is the fact of the righteous ones approaching God to speak with him and shelter in his presence. 

B. The characteristics of those who come are–

1. the fact that they come

2. they want to speak with God and shelter in his presence

3. they believe in God’s existence and voluntarily place him high above themselves

“… LORD …” (vss 1, 3, 6, 8, 12)

“… my King and my God …” (vs 2)

“… O God …” (vs 10)

4. they are happy and joyful when protected by God (vs 11)

5. and by inference, they are truthful, not arrogant, and not desirous of harming others (vss 4-10).

C. The unrighteous, as described by the speaker of the psalm–

1. do not please God (vs 4a) and are not welcomed by him (vs 4b)

2. they are arrogant and cannot stand before God, who hates all wrong, including arrogance (vs 5).

3. they tell lies, seek to harm others (bloodthirsty), and are deceitful (vs 6)

4. the Lord, who by inference is honest, loving, and truthful detests them (vs6)

5. they display enmity towards the speaker

6. all their words are untrustworthy, reeking of death, and deceitful (vs 9)

7. their hearts are filled with ill will (malice) toward others (vs 9)

8. they plan intrigues and they rebel against God (vs 9)

9. and their end is to be banished (vs 10).

III. What can we make of all this?

A. If the reader is already on God’s side and knows it, then Psalm 5 gives comfort and encouragement (vss 1-3, 7, 11-12).

B. It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus Christ is the speaker of this psalm, because only a completely holy and humble one could in honest self-examination speak such stark realities, and, we know that Jesus had many enemies who verbally attacked him on every occasion. What we know of his life, words, and actions corresponds well with the portrait of the psalmist given here.

C. If the reader is not on God’s side and knows it, most likely Psalm 5 would add fuel to an already angry fire.

D. If the reader has academic interest only, there might not be a personal response.

IV. My Personal Takeaway

Love for God is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Fear of God is a gift from God (Proverbs 9:10). The very best action in life that anyone can ever take is to approach God in order to ask his forgiveness and blessing. A first step is to approach God and ask him, period. What are the questions? God, do you exist? God, do you see me? A second step is to approach God with personal statements that summarize current heart conditions (confession) and combine those with a request. To request from God is to express humility before him. For example, “God, do you exist? I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, you are not real to me, but I want you. Please show yourself to me in a way that I can see, hear, and understand.” Another example, “God, right now I hate you. But I’m not satisfied with this condition. Please help me not to hate you.” Or, “God, I don’t believe in you, but if you are real, I want to know that. Please take away the hatred in my heart that I have towards you, so that I may see you.” There are endless possibilities, but one final example, “God, I think that I am righteous. What do you say?”

V. Conclusion

As I read Psalm 5, I see two kinds of people: 1) there are those who want an all-powerful, good God, and 2) there are those who don’t want such a God. In life, we ourselves cannot classify people as starkly black or white, starkly righteous or unrighteous. Our world is gray. We see so-called bad people doing good things and so-called good people doing bad things. We see all people doing both good things and bad things. This is why we are not to judge others. We can only judge ourselves, and even that judgment may be skewed; our own vision is not to be trusted.

God’s vision is much clearer than ours, and Scripture teaches that God has an exact, x-ray-like vision that makes no mistakes (Hebrews 4:12). If you want God, then go to him; he will not turn you away. If you do not want God, but you want to want him, then go to God and ask him for that. If you hate God, go to him anyway, and just say to him, “Oh all right! Why should I?” If you don’t care about God, then go to him anyway and say, “God, I don’t care about you one way or the other. You are irrelevant to me. But if you want me, here I am. You know where to find me. I’m not helping you in that. But I’m here.”  The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest. If you don’t know how to go to God, then go to God and ask him to show you how you should go to him…and on and on and on.

19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)

 

 

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Psalm 4: A Peek Inside the Prayer Closet

Psalm 4 is a window into the struggle that is prayer.

1 Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
2 O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
3 But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.
4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
5 Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.
8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psalm 4 ESV)

This psalm is difficult, as it appears to lack a specific context or specific request to God. The several verses appear disjointed, moving along in a somewhat jumpy manner. What is clear is that the psalmist is struggling and he presents God with his state of urgency.

The prayer opens with intensity that is immediate. The psalmist seems to be in an excited emotional state. He demands of God, “Answer me when I call, O God … hear my prayer!”

The reader can imagine that the psalmist has already been praying repeatedly over time. Time is running out now. “Answer me … !” God has helped the psalmist in the past, and he asks God to help him again (1). And yet, the psalmist acknowledges that for God to hear would be grace on his part. Nevertheless, the psalmist insists, “… hear my prayer!” There is an intimacy with God implied by these insistent requests.

While the speaker is not named, the reader knows from verse 2 that the psalmist is a righteous person. In verse 2 the psalmist speaks of his long-abiding honor, or glory, which his apparent enemies from the human race are turning into shame. That is, they are taking the Lord’s pearls and trampling them underfoot. John Barclay observes the similarity between Psalm 4:2 and Proverbs 1:22, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” Such speech befits God alone and God’s Son, his representative on earth. And just as Proverbs 1:23 presents God’s offer of blessing were the scoffers to repent, Psalm 4 holds out an olive branch encouraging repentance in verses 4-5. What greater call to second chances and a rewritten ending than Christ’s cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them … “?

The stability of this seemingly disjointed prayer is God. God in his righteousness is the stability of all the Psalter’s prayers. Prayer is a battleground for the one praying. It’s where the suppliant/worshipper brings an often jumbled set of emotions, turmoil, confusion, hopes, and fear. When the petitioner comes before God in prayer, they open themselves to change. The one praying changes–God does not change. To effect change is the purpose for prayers of supplication. As often as not, it is the one praying who changes, apart from any change to circumstance.

God is the settler in a suppliant’s prayer. Verse 6 is key to understanding the marvelous transaction that occurs in a worshipper’s heart as she bends her knee to the grace of God in earnest prayer. It is God’s light that heals.

Word Study

Verse 6b in the Septuagint, the Bible Jesus would have used, reads differently than the Masoretic, or Hebrew text, printed above. Brenton’s translation of the Septuagint reads, “the light of thy countenance, O Lord, has been manifested towards us.” Notice the change from the Masoretic’s imperative, or second person tense of request, to past tense. This change of tense turns the tide of the prayer from supplication to accomplished encouragement. The speaker’s heart has already been strengthened as he focuses on the light that God has already manifested.

The Orthodox Study Bible goes a step further in its translation of verse 6b (7b LXE), “O Lord, the light of Your face was stamped upon us.” The Greek word for “stamped” is the middle verb ἐσημειώθη, which is of the verb family rendered “sign” in English. The reader will recognize this word from Revelation 12:1 and other verses, “And a great sign appeared in heaven…” John in his Gospel calls the miracles that Jesus performed “signs,” while God calls the rainbow he gave Noah and the act of circumcision he gave Abraham “signs.”

The idea in the Orthodox translation is that the light from God’s face has already shined upon the believer’s face, leaving its indelible imprint, mark, or stamp there. The idea (though not the exact word) is the same as in Ephesians 1:13, “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” God’s light changes people. We hear this thought again in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Much of this transformation occurs in prayer.

The believer goes to God in prayer, bringing everything that burdens his or her heart to the God who cares in order that God may shine his light upon both the person and upon the issue. God’s light is what effects change. God’s light transforms the darkness of the human condition into the glory that always accompanies his presence.

Verse 3 of this same psalm confirms the Greek Bible’s interpretation, just presented, “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. The stamp, seal, imprint, sign, or manifestation of the believer’s having been set apart for God (verse 3) is the light of God’s face upon them (verse 6).

As already mentioned above, although the unbeliever assaults the psalmist in verse 2, verses 4-5 are a call to repentance, a welcoming entreaty to nonbelievers to join in as recipients of God’s manifest blessings. The blessings of verses 3 and 6 wrap themselves around the nonbelievers of verses 4-5. Christ came to save sinners, not to condemn them, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Verses 7 and 8 close out this short psalm on an entirely different note than its opening in verse 1, “7 You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. 8 In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” This prayer has accomplished its purpose. Although there are no indications that the psalmist’s circumstances have changed an iota, his heart has made a complete turnaround. God heard and answered the psalmist’s impassioned plea for his divine response. Joy, peace, and rest, both physical and emotional, replace the distress and urgency of the prayer’s opening. This is what coming into God’s presence accomplishes. Yet, prayer is a struggle. It is like wrestling the enemy within one’s own heart, but in the healing light of God’s presence. God’s presence changes everything.

They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. (Luke 8:24 NAU)

Blessings to you, as we move forward in this prayer study of Psalms together. (On a personal note, please do not think that it is easy for me to comprehend and dig out the treasures of Psalms. This psalm gave me extreme difficulty, as I wrestled with it all week long. And yes, I did pray over it.)

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1 English language does not currently have a neuter pronoun in reference to people. At times it is necessary to use the pronoun “he.” I hope that all the women reading this know and understand that God loves women as much, or even more, if that were possible, than he loves men. The Lord Jesus is a man, but his church, his body, is comprised of men and women, both of whom God welcomes to pray this prayer in Christ’s footsteps. This blog’s author is a woman, who writes these words.

 

 

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Psalm 4: Jesus’ Prayer Closet

Do you have a prayer closet?

After you pray your most private prayers, do you then publish them on your favorite social media to share with all the world? Jesus’ Father did. It’s called the Psalter.

 

 

 

 

Do we ever think how awesome it is that the world has a written record of Jesus’ prayers? What an amazing thing! Whose prayers does the world want to hear more than any other? The prayers of Jesus, of course. And yet Jesus prayed privately, just as he taught his disciples.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6 ESV)

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (Mark 1:35 ESV)

Nevertheless, the private prayers of Jesus, and often God’s personal responses to these, are preserved as prophecies centuries before they occurred in human, real time. The Psalter, popularly known as the songbook of the church, is also the church’s book of Jesus’ prayers. We pray the psalms because Jesus prayed them before us.

 

 

 

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