Monday, November 25, 2013

Psalms 96-102


I think it is safe to call this post the midpoint of my year of blogging biblically. The project will take 365 calendar days, though not necessarily sequential calendar days. I have taken a day off here and there and will continue to do so. But as of this post, we're halfway through the Bible (or at least the Protestant canon of the Bible) and right smack in the thick of the Psalms.

There is a current of universalism in today's psalms. YHWH, the God of Israel, is sovereign over all nations and ruler of all creation. This isn't the same as a doctrine of universal salvation, the very mention of which gets some Christians' shorts in a knot. What Christians call salvation is not really a concern of the Hebrew Scriptures. What these psalms do, however, is to suggest, joyfully, that the Lord is concerned for all people and for all the universe.

Of course there is a contrary trend in the Bible as well. There are plenty of Scriptures that suggest YHWH is an exclusivistic, tribal God. In the New Testament, too, there are writings that proclaim the universal scope of God's love and others that draw sharp lines between insiders and outsiders. It is a rich collection of diverse materials, this Bible that we have.

Psalm 96 calls on all of creation to sing a new song in praise of YHWH, the only true God. This Psalm is quoted in its entirety in 1 Chronicles 16, and, according to the New Interpreters' Study Bible, draws on material found in other psalms. The phrase "worship YHWH in the beauty of holiness" is odd. What is "the beauty of holiness"? Could there be a more natural translation of this idiom?

Psalm 97 declares that YHWH rules over all the earth. Idolators are shamed. The righteous rejoice.

Psalm 98 calls all the earth to praise YHWH with musical instruments. That's not just the people of the earth. Even the rivers "clap their hands" and the mountains sing.

Psalm 99 shows a more local concern. YHWH is "enthroned between the cherubim" which I take to mean the figures on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. Israel's ancestral heroes are invoked: Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. Zion is the proper place of worship.

Psalm 100 is short. It returns us to the theme of universality calling all the earth to  make a joyful noise to YHWH and inviting it to join in Israel's worship.

Psalm 101 is the prayer of an individual, attributed to David. In it the psalmist vows to live righteously and goes into a little detail about what that righteous life might look like.

Psalm 102 is the fifth of the seven Penitential Psalms. Its heading says that it is "A Prayer of an afflicted person...." It seems to me that it must be a composite because it is sometimes the prayer of an individual and at other times a communal prayer. It complains of both illness and enemies and asks God to rebuild Zion. There are some wonderful images in this psalm.

I am like an owl of the wilderness,
like a little owl of the waste places.I lie awake;
I am like a lonely bird on the housetop. (verses 6-7)

For I eat ashes like bread,
and mingle tears with my drink... (verse 9)

I think I've heard that last bit in a country song.

Next: Psalms 103-105

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