Saturday, November 2, 2013

Psalms 36-39


Today we have four more psalms, all attributed to David and all, I think, related to Israel's wisdom tradition.

In the NIV, Psalm 36 begins:

I have a message from God in my heart
   concerning the sinfulness of the wicked;
There is no fear of God
   before their eyes.

In the NRSV it says:

Transgression speaks to the wicked
   deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
   before their eyes.

The Hebrew of this verse is, apparently, ambiguous. The rest of the psalm is a description of the wicked (vv. 1-5), a contrasting description of God (vv. 6-9), and a petition for protection against the wicked (vv.10-13). The contrast of the wicked with God is unusual; we might expect a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. It is interesting to note  that God saves "both humans and animals" (v. 6).

Psalm 37 is another alphabetical acrostic. Each section of approximately two verses begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is spoken in the voice of an older person who declares that, in the long run anyway, the righteous prosper and the wicked are brought down. Verse 11 may sound familiar:

But the meek shall inherit the land,
and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.

This verse has a distinct parallel in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:5):

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

The Greek word translated "earth" in this verse can just as well be translated "land" and may refer to to the entire earth but only the land of Israel.

Psalm 38 is the complaint of one who is suffering illness and rejection. Like Job, the Psalmist wants an answer from God. The Psalmist is faithful and asks God's help. The author of this Psalm also equates suffering with punishment for sin (vv. 17-18)

The heading of Psalm 39 mentions Jeduthun, a musician in King David's court (c.f. 1 Chronicles 25:1). This psalm is another lament from one suffering illness and rejection. The psalmist reflects on the brevity of human life. In v. 12, he calls himself an "alien, like all my forebears" probably a reference to Israel's experience of exodus.

Next: Psalms 40-45

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