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The Penitential Psalms: A Fresh Look (New Series)

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What are the Penitential Psalms? If you said, “I don’t know,” then you’ve just explained why we have difficulty understanding them today. Most people have never heard of them, unless they attend an Orthodox liturgical church. So if you’re protestant, evangelical, or Catholic, why bother?

Little is known about the very early history and origin of the grouping of what later became the seven penitential psalms. Within the already Catholic tradition, the earliest information this author found is that fourth century Gregory of Nyssa classed Psalm 6, the first of the seven, as “confession and penitence” (1 Waltke, Laments, 43). Still later, St Augustine, before his death in 430 CE, repeatedly read and wept over four penitential psalms that had been written out and pinned to the wall in front of his bed. Which four they were has not been preserved (2). Cassiodorus, a sixth century Roman statesman, is apparently the first to have named the group of seven psalms as 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 (3). These seven psalms eventually worked their way into the public liturgy of the Catholic church, and just as eventually were deleted. They were removed in 1911 from public reading and sidelined to private devotions (Ibid., 160-61). John Ubel describes their status within the Catholic church in 2014, “The penitential psalms are not collected in any currently approved liturgical text emanating from the Holy See, despite the intentions of the council and those entrusted with carrying out the liturgical reform” (Ibid., 165). Within the Eastern Orthodox tradition, although the nomenclature “penitential psalms” is known, these seven appear singly in varying portions of the liturgy. Each has its own distinct use and purpose. For example, Psalm 6 is used in Great Compline, Psalm 32 immediately after baptism, Psalm 38 in Orthros, and so forth (4). Evangelical churches tend not to focus on deep study of the Psalter, and most likely “Penitential Psalms” is not a topic often considered.

If you managed to wade through the previous paragraph and are still with me, you may be yawning profusely, scratching your head, and saying to yourself, “I can’t take much more of this. This is not why I read the Psalms.” And in my opinion, you would be correct.

I love John the Apostle’s statement in 1John 2:27:

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie– just as it has taught you, abide in him (ESV).

The “anointing” John proclaims is the Holy Spirit of Christ, which every believer receives from the Father. He is the Spirit of God who lives within believers and is the source of their new birth (see John chapters 3 and 4, 6:63, 14, 15, and 16).

What John is saying is that each believer is connected to Christ the Son and through him to God the Father by means of the indwelling Spirit of God. Christ is the Living Word, and as such, he is quite able to communicate to every believer the messages from the Psalter which he wants to impart. He does this with all of Scripture. Therefore, the true value of studying Psalms is not to be had by reading about them in the words of someone else, such as the ancient church fathers and my words to you right now, but their true value is in hearing the Spirit speak into your own heart the Lord’s message to you in particular.

My purpose here is to hold up a road sign to you that says, “Have you tried this pathway through Psalms?” The pathway we will consider is Christ and his cross. Even in the so-called grouping of seven Penitential Psalms, we find Christ ever present and revealed. These psalms are not primarily about experiencing emotions of penitence designed to lead us to repentance. Rather, they are primarily about the life of Jesus Christ during his incarnation.

My premise is that Psalms reveal Christ. He is their primary focus. As we see Christ revealed, we also learn about God’s love for us, and that is what makes them important.

In future posts, we will consider each psalm individually and from a variety of angles.

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1 Waltke, Bruce K. and James M. Houston with Erika Moore. The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

2 DiPippo, Gregory. “The Penitential Psalms in the Liturgy of Lent.” New Liturgical Novus Motus: Movement Liturgicus (March 10, 2017). Accessed February 2, 2019. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/eleu/ vol2/iss1/5/.

3 Ubel, John L. “Septem Psalmi Poenitentiales History, Demise, and Rebirth of an Ascetical Tradition.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought & Culture 17, no. 4 (Fall 2014): 155–68. Accessed February 19, 2019. doi:10.1353/log.2014.0036.

4 Academic Community of St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, Elk Grove, California. The Orthodox Study Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008. (See the notes for each individual psalm).

 

 

 

 

How Do You KNOW That God Exists?

 

“Gramma, how do you know that God exists?”

My dear, sweet granddaughter, only five years old, you are asking an age old question whose answer no one agrees on. Basically, I think, there are two kinds of people. There are those who look out at the world, and they see the world. There are others who look out at the world, and they have a great desire to know who made the world.

The first group feels no need to think there’s a maker. They don’t know that God exists. Neither do they know that he doesn’t exist. It just happens that they’re happy enough without him.

The second group is not satisfied and never will be until they meet the one who made the world. How do they know that someone made the world? They don’t. It’s just the only explanation that makes sense to them, because the world bears the imprint of God. Why these two groups? Only God knows.

How do people in the second group–we can call them believers–how do believers know that God exists? By faith. What is faith? Faith is choosing to believe in God even when you don’t know. Faith is desiring God. Here is what the Bible teaches about faith.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Believers know God as a person. Ask any believer and they will tell you that by some means or another God has spoken to them and changed their life somehow. This is how they know that God exists. God is invisible Spirit. He cannot be known by the five senses nor deduced by measurement. He is not an intellectual conclusion. He is a Being who speaks, hears, and acts. All believers have experienced some sort of interaction with God that amazes them. This amazement persists throughout the remainder of their lives.

Now, after a person becomes a believer, that is, after they experience their initial transaction with God or become aware of his presence in them, then there are a multitude of ways that knowing God exists gets reinforced throughout their lives. Here are some of those ways.

  1. They hear the stories of many, many other believers which in some ways match their own story.
  2. They read the Bible and experience the voice of God speaking directly to them through its words.
  3. They read the Bible and notice how incredibly well each part supports and interacts with other parts.
  4. They read the Bible and are convinced by the prophecies it contains.
  5. They experience miracles in their lives or hear first hand from people who have had miracles happen to them.
  6. They feel an influence upon their minds, hearts, and behaviors that makes most sense as coming from God.
  7. Good things happen to them. When bad things happen, they know they are not alone. They find that God helps them through the bad stuff.
  8. God continues to speak to them in such a way that they know it’s him. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3 ESV)
  9. Something convinces them that God has heard them thinking.
  10. Prayers get answered.
  11. They sense God’s presence.
  12. They’re happier than they have ever been before they knew God.

My little one, the best way I know for you to know that God exists is to speak with him. Tell him that you want to know that he exists, but you don’t know how. Actually speak to him. Address him respectfully by name. Be honest with him and tell him where you’re at. If you find in your heart that you would like to know God, then be patient–God will reveal himself to you, just as Jesus promised.

If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority. (John 7:17 NET)

Let me explain that verse to you. God wants everyone to know him. If you want to know God, then he will show himself to you. If you want to know God, just ask him. If you’re not sure that you want to know God, but you think you might perhaps like to know him, then tell him that. God loves you, and he would love for you to turn to him. He is not a monster, and he won’t eat you alive.

So to answer your question, how do I know that God exists, I know that he exists because when I talk to him, he answers me. When I talk to you and you answer me, I don’t say, “How do I know my granddaughter exists?” I know you exist because I know you. It’s the same way with God.

 

 

Sister of Psalm 22: Psalm 102

Dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.

Vladamir Rys/Staff/Bongarts/Bongarts/Getty Images

Psalm 102 is a sister to Psalm 22.

[Please feel free to jump down to the Summary and Conclusion at the end of this article.]

Speakers. Although it is true that Psalm 22 attributes David as its author, while Psalm 102 makes no attribution, I believe the in-character persona of the first person speaker is identical. The character is Christ, God’s Son, and the setting is his passion. I can say this because both psalms are quoted in the New Testament with the Son identified as the speaker.

Concerning this identification, Psalm 22 is the easier to ascertain. A portion of verse 1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV), is placed by gospel writers Matthew and Mark as proceeding from the lips of Christ, as he hung upon the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). Psalm 102:25-26 is cited in Hebrews 1:10-12. The author of the letter attributes this quotation to God and states that in the quotation God addresses the Son (Hebrews 1:8). Going back to Psalm 102, we discover that since God addresses the Son in verses 25-26, then it must be in reply to the Son’s addressing God in verses 23-24, “He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. ‘O my God,’ I say, ‘take me not away in the midst of my days…'” God then replies, as in Hebrews, “25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. 26 They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, 27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.” (ESV)

Pattern. Both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a pattern of 1) statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, which, as demonstrated above, is the in-character persona of Christ. 2) Following the statement of suffering is an objection in a different voice, which might be paraphrased, “But your greatness, Lord, extends far beyond this suffering.” 3) Following the objection, the first person singular voice of Christ provides further evidence of suffering contra the objection. 4) The psalm resolves the conflict in final statements of the glory of Christ in a voice not the sufferer’s own.

1. Suffering. In both Psalm 22 and Psalm 102, the first person singular in-character persona expresses great suffering.

Psalm 22:1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (ESV) … 

11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet–
17 I can count all my bones– they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (ESV)

Psalm 102:1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)

2. Objection. Both psalms record objections to the initial statements of the speaker’s suffering.

Psalm 22 Recap of Suffering: 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? 2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.

Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. 

[See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how these verses might be considered an objection by a chorus of speakers.]

Psalm 102 Recap of Suffering: 1 A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD… 3 For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. 4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. 5 … my bones cling to my flesh. 6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; 7 I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. 8 All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. 9 For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, 10 … for you have taken me up and thrown me down. 11 My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. (ESV)

Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. 14 For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. 15 Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. 16 For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; 17 he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. 18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: 19 that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, 20 to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, 21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, 22 when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. (ESV)

John Barclay attributes verses 12-22 to speech by the Father through the Holy Spirit to the Son. [Barclay, John, The Psalms of David, 332. While most commentators do not share his attribution, I share most of it, independently. I cite Barclay here as confirmation of this assignment of multiple speakers. The topic of dialogue in Psalm 102 will receive an article of its own.]

3. Protest contra the objection: The speaker protests against the objection with further evidence of his suffering. The objection points to the essential being of the sufferer as far and beyond greater than the quality of the suffering would seem to suggest might be possible. That is, the first person speaker, because of his suffering, appears to limit his identity, while the objectors expand and elevate his identity. The first person singular speaker then replies with further evidence that indeed, his suffering has been extreme.

Psalm 22 Objection: 3 Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. 4 In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5 To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

Protestation Contra Objection:  6 But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. 7 All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; 8 “He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” (ESV)

Psalm 102 Objection: 12 But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. 13 You will arise and have pity on Zion… [through verse 22]

Protestation Contra Objection: 23 He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days.
24a “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days … (ESV)

4. Resolution by means of a final statement of the glory of Christ (the sufferer) in a voice not the sufferer’s own:

Psalm 22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. 28 For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. 29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. 30 Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; 31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
(ESV) 
[See Dialogue in Psalm 22 for an explanation of how this portion might be considered as speech by a persona different than the sufferer. The article also discusses how this portion might apply to both God and his Christ.]

Psalm 102:25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands. 26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed. 27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail. 28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall prosper for ever. (Septuagint English)

Summary and Conclusion. This article seeks to demonstrate how Psalm 22 and Psalm 102 follow a similar pattern of organization. The pattern has four steps: 1) Statement of suffering by a first person singular speaker, 2) Objection to the statement by a different speaker(s), 3) Contra the objection, response by the initial speaker with further evidence of suffering, and 4) Final statement of the glory of the sufferer above and beyond (outside the realm of) his suffering. The significance of observing this pattern is to realize that Psalms is a unified whole that speaks prophetically of the suffering of the Christ to come. The New Testament authors understood and utilized the prophetic role of Psalms, as witnessed by their quotations of them.

By means of dialogue, both psalms emphasize the human nature of Christ, while also emphasizing his divinity. It is as a human being that the Christ suffers, with the suffering expressed through the voice of a first person singular speaker. Part of the dramatic pathos of each psalm lies in the reader’s discovery that Christ the divine Son suffered so greatly as a human being that for encouragement he needed to be reminded of his divine identity. A chorus of God’s people remind him in Psalm 22, while in Psalm 102, God himself reminds his incarnated Son that he is divine. As mentioned, the dialogue functions as a prophetic tool for the Spirit’s announcement centuries ahead of time that the divine Christ would be incarnated as a human being who would suffer greatly.

Dialogue in Psalm 22

Photo by Haley Rivera on Unsplash

 

Those who have been reading my blog for some time know that my premises concerning Psalms are that 1) Psalms are written by and large about Christ, and 2) Psalms contain dialogue.

Disclaimer: I promise that the original ideas (to the best of my knowledge they are original) presented here, concerning verses 3-5, are neither simple for me as author to compose, nor as readers will they be simple for you to follow. This psalm requires effort and takes time.

Concerning dialogue, many psalms contain conversation, or speech, directed from one party to another. The speech occurs in blocks of varying length to or from the major characters. Considered as a unified whole, the major characters in Psalms are 1) God, 2) His Son the King, 3) the King’s people, 4) God’s enemies, who are also enemies of the King, and 5) at times, an unidentified narrator.

Psalms is a high drama that tells the story of God’s chosen King and his people. Once the reader has perceived and experienced speech in certain of the psalms, it proves difficult not to look for and find it in other psalms. The speech and drama expressed in individual psalms unites them into a continuous, passionate story about the main characters, especially God’s Son, the King.

Psalms with clear examples of speech include Psalms 2, 89, and 110. Hebrews 1 quotes several psalms as though God himself were speaking directly about his Son through them. Psalm 22 also contains speech.

Psalm 22 and Speech

1. First Person Singular (verses 1-2, 6-21) Speaker: the psalmist, the Lord, Christ at his passion. Christ spoke a portion of verse 1 while hanging on the cross (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1a, ESV) Verse 1 in particular marks this psalm as prophetic. Addressee: God

2. Third person reported speech (verses 7-8). Speaker: The first person speaker of verses 1-2 and 6 is quoting in third person what the mockers are saying to him. Addressee: those whom the first person speaker addresses in verses 3-5 (see below.)

Within the actual setting of the Crucifixion event of the Christ, i.e., Jesus Christ’s being crucified, there really was a chorus of mockers present at the foot of the cross who spoke words similar to those of Psalm 22: 6-7. Matthew records various examples of mockers in Matthew 27:39-44. (See also Mark 15:29-32.) Luke also records the speech of mockers in Luke 23:35-39.

3. First Person Plural (verses 3-5). Speaker: either 1) the same speaker as in number one above, or 2) a choral group of speakers. Addressee: if 1), the same speaker, then the addressee is God. If 2) a choral group, then the addressee is the first person singular speaker of verses 1-2.

My viewing this block as possibly being spoken by a chorus is to my knowledge original. Therefore, I cannot point to confirmation from another. I would prefer being able to cite someone else who reads the psalm this way.

  • Within the setting of a readers’ theater type of dramatic performance (See Psalms 9 and 10: A Readers Theater), a group of speakers functioning as a chorus is entirely logical, reasonable, and possible.
  • Other psalms containing clear-cut examples of a chorus of speakers representing the people of God are the following: 20, 46, 48, 95, 100, 118, and 132.
  • The block of speech found in verses 3-5 is set off by contrastive conjunctions.
    • Most English versions begin verse 3 with either of the English words, “but” or “yet.”
    • The contrastive conjunction is present in both Hebrew and Greek versions.
    • The block ends with verse 5, and to indicate this, verse 6 presents another contrastive conjunction, which appears as “but” in English.
  • The sense of this block contrasts in content from the prior two verses and the following protestation by the original first person singular speaker.

Here is a paraphrase of verses 1-8 interpreted as a Readers Theater dialogue. The text utilizes the New King James version.

Superscript: To the Chief Musician. Set to “The Deer of the Dawn.” A Psalm of David.

The Christ addressing God (verses 1-2): My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, And from the words of My groaning? O My God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; And in the night season, and am not silent.

Chorus of Faithful Followers addressing the Christ (verses 3-5): But You are holy1, Enthroned in the praises of Israel! Our fathers trusted in You; They trusted, and You delivered them. They cried to You, and were delivered; They trusted in You, and were not ashamed. [1 See footnote below describing Christ as the Holy One of God]

The Christ responding to the chorus’ objection (verses 6-7): But I am a worm, and no man; A reproach of men, and despised by the people. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

Mockers (verse 8): “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

The Christ addressing God (verses 9-10, etc.): But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…

Casting this portion of Psalm 22 into a Readers Theater dialogue adds depth and richness to an already deep, rich psalm. The dialogue serves to emphasize the prophetic nature of the psalm. Today’s readers must always bear in mind that when Psalm 22 was first “performed,” Messiah was still centuries in the future. His name had not yet been spoken. Worshipers of God were for the first time learning that there was indeed a Son, a King, a Chosen One of the Lord Jehovah, appointed by him and destined by him for his people to worship. This was all new. Much of the psalms serve as an announcement and description of what the life of the future Christ would be like.

As the dialogue above opens, the reader hears the first speaker wailing out to God in sorrow for his dreadful suffering. Then the chorus, who have been watching and listening, object with loud surprise and dismay, “But how can this be? You are so-and-so.” Clearly, the prophet behind these biblical words has given the chorus the role of seeing and knowing the identity of the suffering one, “This is none other than our God himself!” “How can you be suffering? You are our God, whom we have known and trusted for generations! You had the power to deliver us. How can you now say that you are forsaken of God?”

The first speaker turns toward the chorus and replies with an objection of his own, “But it is not as you say. I am a worm and not even a man. I am a reproach of men, and despised by the people. Look! Here’s proof. All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head. This is what they are saying about me. Listen.”

Then, as though they were also present on stage, the mockers repeat their mocking, “He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!”

At this point the first person speaker turns away from the chorus, having answered their objection, and turns toward God, whom he had been addressing at the beginning. He begins, “But you are he who…” It is as though he is continuing his thought from verses 1 and 2 while interweaving those sentiments with what his mockers have just spoken. “This is what the mockers are saying about me, but you, my God, are not like them. You are not one of them. You appear to be abandoning me, but why? You are he who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God…What a long history we have together. Why are you forsaking me now?

Evaluation of Above

There is nothing in the text that could possibly prove that the readers theater interpretation is correct. Neither can it be proved that this interpretation is not possible and is incorrect. Further, there is much in the text, in the psalms as a whole, and in the New Testament that could bear witness to a dialogical–readers theater–interpretation.

From a literary standpoint, the readers theater interpretation makes as much sense as the perception of a single speaker throughout, because of the contrastive clauses introducing the sections. When read out loud straight through, there’s definitely a sense of argument in the words themselves. Either the speaker is arguing with God, arguing with himself, or both. The argument concerns the topic of why God has abandoned the speaker.

If there is only one speaker throughout, then verses 3-5 could fit nicely with the possibility that the speaker is arguing with God. He might be saying, “Why are you abandoning me now? In the past you did such and such for our people. Your abandoning me now is out of character with your past actions.”

Against this interpretation lies the question of why the first person singular speaker suddenly chose to identify himself with the group of believers whom God delivered over the centuries? And once having done so, why would he suddenly switch back to singular to see himself as not even qualifying to be in that group of believers? He states that he is a worm, and not a man. He adds proof that he has many detractors who mock him. Then suddenly, he argues from the other side that God has treated him well in the past. It is God who took him out of his mother’s womb and so forth.

If there is one speaker throughout, then the reader must conclude that he is in a great state of mental agitation and doubt. He flips back and forth between statements of faith in God and statements of self aversion. From what I know of God and Scripture, it makes more sense to me to hear more than one speaker in this section. The first person singular sufferer is talking to both God and the chorus of witnesses who interrupt his prayer to address him directly in disbelief of the situation. Given that the psalm is a prophecy announcing a future occurrence, I find no harm in the readers theater viewpoint. It accurately portrays the truth of the shocking nature of the Christian cross narrative, that the Almighty God Yahweh, who shepherded his people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the promised land, would be the same person who speaks the words of Psalm 22. Such a discord is all but inconceivable. A chorus of God’s people would certainly be shocked at the revelation that their protector and deliverer was now in dire straits, abandoned by Almighty God. And yet, vindication comes in the end.

The Sequel

The plaintive sufferer speaks through verse 21. The descriptions in verses 12-18 closely match the occurrences recorded in the gospel accounts of the scene at the cross of Christ: the Roman soldiers surrounding Jesus (Psalm 22:12), the religious authorities speaking slanderous lies (verse 13), the physical effects of crucifixion (verses 14-15), the enemies surrounding the cross mentioned again (verse 16a), the nail pierced hands and feet (verse 16b), the effects on the body of a hard life of constant exercising, fasting, and hunger, the skin and bones displayed by hanging naked on a cross (verse 17a), the public nature of the crucifixion revealed in the stares and gloating of people (verse 17b), and the soldiers dividing Jesus’ garments by lot at the foot of the cross (verse 18). Verses 19-21a record a direct request for deliverance, “But You, O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me! Deliver Me from the sword, My precious life from the power of the dog. Save Me from the lion’s mouth And from the horns of the wild oxen! (NKJ)

Final Block

The prayer for deliverance recorded in verses 19-21a transitions abruptly in verse 21b, “You have answered me.” The NET Bible places an exclamation point here.  Verse 22 announces praise and testimony to be given by the former sufferer to his brothers and in the middle of the congregation. Verses 23-31 form a final prophetic block that concludes this magnificent psalm.

While it is clear that the agonizing sufferer spoke the bulk of verses 1-21a (minus verses 3-5, which could correspond to a chorus, and the reported speech of mockers in verse 8), the announcement of deliverance in 21b, and the intention to praise God in verse 22 (1st person singular), it is not clear who speaks the final section from verses 23-31. Some might conclude that the sufferer of the early part of the psalm sings a praise solo to God at the end.  Others hear a cantata, because the ending verses have a mixture of voices that alternate both speakers and addressees. It is not simple to decipher who is speaking to whom and about whom in verses 23-31.

How do we sort these verses? Most commentators find a sharp contrast between the blocks of verses 1-21 and 22-31, which they explain in various ways, none of which can be proven definitively. (See, for example, Craig C. Broyles, 115, 120-122 and Charles Spurgeon, 324.) Verse 21a definitely attaches to the prior verses. Here the sufferer is directly addressing God as he continues to ask for deliverance. Verse 21b, the announcement of answered prayer, is also spoken in first person singular by the sufferer to God. Following this, because of grammatical considerations alone, verse 22 would appear to be the same speaker. Verses 21b and 22 comprise a clear transition between the first portion of the psalm, the passion portion, and the final portion of the psalm, the praise portion.

The remaining verses of the praise portion prove difficult to determine who is speaking. The difficulty stems from the changing grammatical character of the speaker(s) and addressees. On the one hand, the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm might be seen as a sole speaker throughout. In this scenario, the speaker performs before the congregation the vow of praise he gave to God in verse 22. Difficulties for the reader arise, however, as the sufferer alternates between addressing God directly as “you” and referring to him in third person singular as “him,” “the LORD,” and the Lord. He may also refer to himself in third person as “him” in verse 24 and “he” in the phrase “when he cried to him,” (verse 24). While the concept of praising God clearly rings through the entire section, it proves difficult for the reader to follow the speaker’s line of thought exactly. The prior section from verses 9 through 21 did not present these difficulties.

An alternate method of reading the final section would be a readers theater format. This possibility arises due to the heavy Christology of the first section spoken by the sufferer. Readers steeped in remembrances of the gospel accounts of Christ’s passion called forth by verses 1-21, most likely will find in the final sections remembrances of Christ’s sequential role as the ascended, eternal King, as presented in the remaining portions of the New Testament. The following is a suggestion only; it cannot be proven, yet in keeping with the Christology of the first portion, it can help elucidate the prophetic nature of the final portion.

Christ addressing God (verse 22): I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Christ addressing his brothers in the midst of the congregation after his his suffering has ended and just as he announced in the prior verse (verse 23): “You who fear the LORD (Yahweh), praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!”

Chorus of the Congregation speaking in agreement (verse 24): For he [Yahweh of vs 23]  has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted [the sufferer of the first portion of the psalm], and he [Yahweh] has not hidden his [Yahweh’s] face from him [the afflicted sufferer], but has heard, when he [the sufferer] cried to him [Yahweh].

Christ addressing God (verse 25a): From you comes my praise in the great congregation; [a reality unfolding in the choral reading of this very psalm]

Christ addressing himself or the listeners/audience (verses 25b): my vows I will perform before those who fear him.

Christ addressing the congregation or the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [Yahweh] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh]!

Or, chorus of the congregation addressing the audience (verse 26a and b): The afflicted [the former sufferer, whom the congregation recognizes as the Christ] shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him [the same former sufferer] shall praise the LORD [Yahweh God]!

Christ addressing the congregation (verse 26c): May your hearts live forever!

Chorus of the Congregation offering the praise announced in verse 26b (verse 27a): All the ends of the earth shall remember [the suffering and exaltation of the Christ] and turn to the LORD [Yahweh, or the exalted Christ],

Chorus of the Congregation addressing Christ (verse 27b): and all the families of the nations shall worship before you [the exalted Christ].

Chorus of the Congregation prophesying about the Christ, whom they identify with Yahweh (verses 28-31): For kingship belongs to the LORD [the Christ, the sufferer of the prior portion whom they recognized as their God in verses 3-5], and he rules over the nations [gentiles, a new addition]. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him [Christ] shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him [Christ]; it shall be told of the Lord [Adonay] to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness [the Christ’s] to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.

The strength of viewing Psalm 22 in the above fashion is that it binds together the psalm as a whole, unifying the two perhaps disparate sections. The tension of the conflict between the protector/deliverer God of verses 3-5 with the sufferer of verses 1-2 and 6-21 is resolved in the recognition that his story turned out good in the end. God delivered him from his affliction.

Another strength of the readers theater style of interpretation is that the promise of praise in verse 22, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:” (ESV) is fulfilled and acted out even in the psalm itself.

More than that, in the context of the Christ story, the final four verses speak words that are true of both God and his Christ. Their identities seem melded. In the end, Yahweh the Christ would be King forever, including over the nations. All mortals would bow and worship before him (See Philippians 2:10 and Romans 14:11).

Summary

There is no doubt that some psalms contain speech. For example, in Psalm 2, God speaks directly and is labeled as speaking.

Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
(ESV)

Other psalms that perhaps contain speech but bear no labels, present difficulties of interpretation. By the addition of presumed labels, such as those for a readers theater to be presented before a live audience, some of these difficulties might disappear.

The organizers of a live reading in Old Testament times, possibly priests, would perhaps indicate to their audiences who was speaking which lines. They may have offered visual or vocal clues lost in translation. Theater audiences today have no difficulty recognizing who is speaking which lines, because they both see and hear the speakers. If the same audiences, however, were to merely read a script without the parts assigned and that bore neither quotation marks nor paragraph breaks, they most likely would encounter frequent confusion as to who was speaking what, especially if a list of characters was also missing2.

Final Thought

One of my passions in presenting Psalms is to communicate the high sense of life and drama present in them. The psalms are not dry pieces of ancient religious language. They are life giving communications from Almighty God, who knows our form and wishes to tell us that he is intimately involved in our lives. Within Psalms, a tuned in reader can find the complete gospel of Jesus Christ: his preexistence with God and as God, his incarnation, his passion, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, his Lordship as King over all, and his future role as final judge3. God sent Jesus as Redeemer of the entire human race, because God loves us. God incarnated himself through his Son. Jesus understands us experientially from the inside out. God does not reject us, but he provides a way back to himself. In the person of the suffering and then exalted psalmist, God shows us that way.

_______________

1 See the following for references to Jesus Christ as “the Holy One.”

  • 1 John 2:20 “Holy One” https://bible.org/seriespage/9-exegetical-commentary-1-john-218-27.  W. Hall Harris III refers to Jesus as the Holy One.
  • Mark 1:24 by unclean Spirit; also Luke 4:34
  • John 6:69 by Peter to Jesus, “You are the Holy One of God.”
  • Acts 2:27 by Peter quoting Psalm 16:10
  • Acts 13:35 by Paul quoting Psalm 16:10
  • 1 Peter 1:15 “the Holy One who called you,” is most likely God. Bob Utley, Bob Utley, https://bible.org/seriespage/i-peter-11-23.

2 An excellent book that explores the intricacies of speech and dialogue in Psalms and other portions of scripture is The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation: The Center of Paul’s Method of Scriptural Interpretation by Matthew W. Bates. (See Bibliography.)

3 See Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King. (Bibliography.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s Take on Current Events and Daily News: Psalm 15

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How does God feel about what we read in our daily news? Read Psalm 15 here to find out.

ESV Psalm 15:1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.

God will not be mocked, and his Word will not be trumped. In crystal clear, plain language God proclaims what he expects from people. God is Creator, the Great Benefactor, the Savior, and Judge.

God is good. Psalm 15 describes what goodness is in God’s eyes. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his notice.

The question is: Does God expect us to behave politically the same way he expects us to behave toward our families and our friends? Psalm 15 makes no distinction. And Jesus clarified his Father’s word even further.

ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Within Psalms, God fully declares his expectations of us.

Intellectual Assent Versus Desire

 

 

 

I know a little girl who loves the story of the baby born under a star in a stable. The young mother had ridden a donkey a long way with her husband so the infant could be laid on straw shared by cattle and sheep. The visitors came–wise men, kings, and shepherds. “I love this story so much!” the little girl responds.

Then along comes thought, the thinking brain. “I know God lives in our hearts. But does he live out there?” gesturing with a wide arm to the outside world. “How do we know?” She asks these questions in her barely five year old head, because her dear gramma says God created and her even dearer papa says there is no God.

Little girl, I just want to say to you, “It’s not about your gramma or your papa. It’s about you. Follow your heart.”

Your heart is the head and your head is the tail. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. If you want to believe in God, then believe. God in his kindness will accept your desire, even if you lack reason for it. As years pass, over time, he may or may not answer the questions of your head. If God had wanted the blessing of belief to come through the head, he would have made it so. As it is, he chose faith. Turn your heart toward God, and your head will follow.

 

 

Waiting Out the Storm: Psalm 130

Photo by Jian Xhin on Unsplash

 

The prayers have been prayed. The battle has been fought. In Psalm 130, the psalmist finds himself alone in a deep, deep place. If we see Christ praying this psalm, we would say that his human body and soul have died, and he lies buried in death. That’s about as deep as a human being can ever go. 

What does the divine Son do, united as he is with his humanity? He does what he always does. He turns to the Lord, gives voice to his people-ness, and cries out to him, just as he always did in life.

Psalm 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (ESV)

The Bible teaches that Christ died for our sins. In the next verses the psalmist/Christ reminds God of the reason for his whole being on earth, that God would forgive.

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (ESV)

Now everything that can possibly be done has been done. What does this person the psalmist represents do now? He waits. From the deepest deep of the depths, having been removed from all possibility of doing more, the psalmist waits.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (ESV)

Then he encourages his countrymen, his friends, those in fellowship with him, to do the same: to wait in steadfast hope on the Lord. Because his faith in God tells him that redemption is on its way.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (ESV)

Waiting can be a most difficult time. Our faith is tested while we wait. Do we wait in hope of deliverance, as the psalmist did? (See his deliverance in Psalm 18.) Do we wait in peace and even joy, as Paul and Silas did while chained in the depths of a foreign dungeon? (Acts 16:16-40)

Christ was rewarded with resurrection. Paul and Silas were rewarded with freedom and vindication. When we hide ourselves in Christ, we also receive multitudes of “small” resurrections. These small resurrections from the heart wrenching trials of life point to one great, enormous resurrection from death and the grave itself. What a day that will be, a day worth waiting for.

 

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.

For Lovers of God: Psalm 33

Psalm 33 1) beautifully describes God’s nature as reflected in his many activities and 2) encourages people everywhere to worship him loudly and clearly with joyful praise and celebration.

myjoyonline.com

Psalm 33 opens with a clarion call to praise that pictures a scene of genuine celebration:

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:1-3 NIV, 1984)

Verses 4 and 5 give four reasons to celebrate God:

  1. For the word of the LORD is right and true; (vs 4)
  2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)
  3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)
  4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

The body of the psalm develops these four points:

1. For the word of the LORD is right and true (vs 4)

God created by his Word (see footnote 1, technical).

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; {Or sea as into a heap} he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 

As we consider today’s shifting political market and humankind’s long world history, we see that various nations and people groups rise and fall. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” God is faithful, unchanging, ever true, and powerful.

3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth–
15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

The LORD blesses those who follow his ways (vs 12). His ways are righteousness and justice. God did not simply create and then disappear into the vastness of an infinite space (deus ex machina). Verses 13-15 state that God looks and sees everyone everywhere. He judges by his own standards of uprightness, of righteousness and justice. Verses 16-17 state that history is full of examples in which leaders with great armies, great strength, and the best of equipment find all those insufficient to save. It is God who saves.

4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

The LORD knows his own. He watches over them carefully, minutely, and always. The text describes God’s people as those who love him, respect, trust in, and obey him (text: fear him) as well as place their hope in God’s loyal and faithful actions and attitude of love towards them. We might call these actions faith. God delivers from death those who place their faith in him, who give their loyalty to him. He also keeps them alive in famine.

What should our response be?

Verses 20 and 21 recap the introductory verses 1-3.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

Verse 22 concludes with a prayer that 1) asks the faithful God to continue blessing his people just as he has done in the past, and 2) expresses the continued loyalty of the people.

22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

Application:

Explanations of a psalm are never as good as the psalm itself, just as reading a synopsis of a book or movie is never as good as experiencing. When someone tells about a great time they had, the description comes nowhere near the great time itself. Explanations like the above serve at best as a roadmap to lead the way or guideposts to point out interesting sights. Whereas experiencing a psalm and being swept up into its mood or passion can happen in just a few short minutes, digesting an explanation can dampen the joy of movement. So read the psalm when you are fresh and celebrate God’s ever present goodness.

_______________

I. Technical Note: 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 these two more modern versions have given (although the later NIV went back to using “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 readers 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.

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.

 

 

My New Book

I’ve published my first book, Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It. I apologize that it’s not about Psalms! The book contains 31 photos of beauty which I found in the commonplace things around me and 31 simple poems to accompany the photos. The book is available on Amazon at Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It.

I invite you to check it out!

 

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