Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Psalms 133-139


Psalm 133, a "Psalm of Ascents," declares that it is good for siblings (O.K. specifically brothers, though its not clear to me whether the psalmist meant only males) to live together in unity. How good? It's a lavish blessing like the oil with which Aaron was copiously anointed or the dew on Mt. Hermon.

Psalm 134 is the last of the psalms "of Ascents." Like its immediate predecessor it is very short. It calls on the priests who serve in YHWH's temple at night to bless the Lord. The New Interpreter's Study Bible notes suggest that this psalm might have been used in a liturgy for a shift change in the temple staff. It's an interesting and plausible suggestion. It makes me wonder if Psalm 133 didn't serve some similar purpose.

In Jewish tradition Psalms 135 and 136 make up the Great Hallel (not to be confused with the "Egyptian Hallel," Psalms 113-118).

Psalm 135 calls on the priests to bless YHWH for his greatness which is demonstrated a) in creation, b) in the exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 19), and c) in the defeat of Kings Sihon and Og whose lands were given to the Israelites (Numbers 21). The gods of other nations are mere idols.

Psalm 136 recounts the same events as Psalm 135, this time punctuated with the constant refrain "for his (i.e. YHWH's) steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 137 gets its own blogpost.

Psalm 138, another psalm "of David" is a personal prayer of thanksgiving. The "gods" of verse one may be YHWH's heavenly court, or maybe the gods of other nations. Our reading of the Hebrew Scriptures is so colored by later monotheism that it is hard to know. This psalm strikes a note of universalism saying "all the kings of the earth shall praise" YHWH (verse 4). It also expresses the psalmist's profound trust in YHWH.

Psalm 139 describes God's inescapable scrutiny. It's a little creepy in an "Every Breath You Take" kind of way. A lot of contemporary praise music is described as "Jesus is my boyfriend," music. This psalm is more like "YHWH is my stalker." That's not how the psalmist meant it, of course. The psalmist is essentially saying "You know me, Lord. You really know me. I'm a good guy. So, help me out, okay?"

Next Psalms 140-149

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