Thursday, November 21, 2013

Psalms 86-89


Psalm 86, ascribed to David, is the prayer of an individual. Verses 1-7 are a prayer for help expressed in general terms. Verses 8-13 give praise and thanks for help received. Verses 14-17 ask for help again. Throughout this psalm the psalmist reminds God of God's good nature. Verse 15 is another instance of the theme repeated throughout the Hebrew Bible. The Lord is

merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding
   in steadfast love and faithfulness.

 Psalms 87 and 88 are attributed to the "sons of Korah" (NIV) or, if you prefer a more gender-neutral term "Korahites" (NRSV).

Psalm 87 describes the splendors of Zion. I can't read it without the hymn "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken" playing on my mental jukebox. The Harper Collins Study Bible notes suggest that Zion (Jerusalem) is "the mother city of all who know the Lord, wherever they are born." The reference to "springs" (NRSV)  or "fountains" (NIV) is open to interpretation.

Psalm 88 is specifically attributed to "Heman the Ezrahite." It is the prayer of an individual who is sick and, at least in their own perception, at the point of death. The psalmist prays at night (verse 1), in the daytime (verse 8), and in the morning (verse 13). The Pit (Hebrew Sheol, verse 4) is the shadowy realm of the dead. For most of the Old Testament period Israel had no conception of bodily resurrection, heavenly reward or eternal punishment. This psalm ends on a bleak note:

Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
Your wrath has swept over me;
   your dread assaults destroy me.
They surround me like a flood all day long;
   from all sides they close in on me.
You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
   my companions are in darkness.
                    (Psalm 88:15-18, NRSV)

Psalm 89 is attributed to Ethan the Ezrahite. It opens with a statement that YHWH established the David dynasty (verses 1-4). Verses 5-8 describe YHWH as greater than other gods. Verses 9-13 address God directly in the second person and YHWH's might in creation. Yet again we have creation account that varies from those in Genesis. Here YHWH subdues Rahab, not the harlot of Jericho, but the sea monster. Verses 14-18 declare that the faithful are blessed. Verses 19-29 tell how God chose David and established an everlasting dynasty for him. Verses 30-37 say that YHWH may punish the Davidic kings but, for David's sake, will not destroy the dynasty. Verses 38-45 get to the heart of the matter: Jerusalem has been destroyed. Verses 46-51 petition YHWH to renew his love for the psalmist and the king, who may be the same person.

Verse 82 is a doxology and provides the ending for Book II of the Psalms.

Next: Psalms 90-95

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