It is characteristic of Hebrew poetry to rhyme (so to speak) thoughts rather than sounds. This is called “Hebrew Parallelism.” To oversimplify: it is the practice of repeating the thought of the first line in the second. Thus, the writer expresses the same thought in different words.
This is very common in the Psalms.
Thus, one line of a poem will often comment on another: expanding or clarifying the meaning.
אַשְׁרֵי שֹׁמְרֵי מִשְׁפָּט עֹשֵׂה צְדָקָה בְכָל־עֵת
“How blessed are those who keep justice,
Who practice righteousness at all times!” (NASB)
Again, the Psalms are pointing us to the Way of Blessedness. Psalm 1 has tipped us off that this is the major theme of the whole book of Psalms. This is not conceived in the typically popular-religion terms of Salvation: where the whole point of faith is just meeting the terms of Eternal Life. This is about living in the realm of present blessing. This is about the life of faith.
This is essentially a Psalm of praise. We are called into praise from the very opening “Hallelujah” (praise Yah). So, it is a song of worship and it calls us into an attitude of worship. As Adam Clarke says: “It is an exhortation addressed to the priests and Levites, and to all Israel, to publish the praises of the Lord.”
The opening verses are an exhortation to worship.
Verses 8-12 remind the people of Israel of God’s saving acts in their history: their deliverance from Egypt and the defeat of legendary kings. Then, they are called again to praise.
Remembrance has a significance for our faith. it is good to recount for ourselves the answered prayers we have experienced — and the unexpected blessing of God on our lives. The Bible is a book of remembrance: recounting the deeds of the Lord God in times past, as a way of illuminating our lives in the present. We know God through what God has done. For Christians, it is the story of Jesus — before any other — that calls forth our praise.
And, so it is that in this psalm, the remembrance of God’s deliverance in the past, calls forth praise. (more…)
Here are some thoughts on the nature and validity of faith by Wolfhart Pannenberg.
I found these in Systematic Theology, Volume 3. (There is no Kindle edition for that yet — sorry to say.)
Faith is a form of the way we relate to truth, and is comparable in this regard to knowledge. In Hebrew the terms for “truth” (’emet) and “faith” (he’emin) are linguistically related, deriving from the same root. Truth in the sense of ’emet is what is constant and therefore trustworthy, so that we can build on it. He’emin denotes the confidence that establishes itself on the basis of that which is constant, so that those who have it achieve steadfastness and constancy. But only God and his Word and works are fully stable and trustworthy (Ps. 111:7-8; 119:90-91; 146:6; etc.). Hence, those who would be firmly established themselves must be established in God.
I don’t know where such ideas come from — but a moment of thought will dispel them. The great Bible characters did not have lives that were devoid of difficulties or setbacks or griefs or disappointments. If this did not happen with them, how can I reasonably expect it for myself? Jesus grieved over Jerusalem. The apostle Paul knew setbacks and discouragements in his ministry. How can I suppose my life can be free from such things?
The path of the Lord is not easy, it is worthwhile. Those who choose to live as Christ has taught make a positive contribution to life — to their own life and to the lives of others. We move along a difficult path characterized by faith and love and hope. And, by doing so, we bring more faith and hope and love into the world. (more…)
This is one of several items I re-blog every once in a while. And, here’s why. It illustrates one of the huge gulfs between contemporary Methodism and the original Methodism that arose under the leadership of John Wesley. Methodism originally combined: serious Biblical study, impassioned preaching, a personal experience of faith, a serious discipline for spiritual formation and the service of God in the world.
This is from a letter by Adam Clarke to a young man contemplating the ministry. Readers will find this advice a bit (ehem!) challenging. Actually, I think it is good advice myself, though I’d (of course) update the reference works, and have to acknowledge I’m quite a bit more “rusty” on biblical languages (and thus much more reliant on secondary sources) than I wish I were.
First (after the divider rule) I quote Adam Clarke at length. Then (after the next divider) I give some reflection on why I think these remarks are important. (more…)
I said last time that Psalm 25 is a psalm for the Waiting Time. I haven’t always seen it that way. I first became aware of the prominence of this “waiting” theme in this psalm through Peter Craigie’s commentary. But, even without Craigie’s conjectural reading, the theme is of “waiting” is still found in the repeated use of the Hebrew term קָוָה (qāwāh, v. to hope in; to hope for, wait for, look for) in verses 3 and 21. I’ve indicated the appearance of the word by text color below:
גַּם כָּל־קוֶֹיךָ לֹא יֵבֹשׁוּ יֵבֹשׁוּ הַבּוֹגְדִים רֵיקָם
“Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”
תֹּם־וָיֹשֶׁר יִצְּרוּנִי כִּי קִוִּיתִיךָ
“May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”
I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to notice the close relationship between the concepts of “waiting” and “hoping.” (more…)
“I will lay waste mountains and hills,
and dry up all their herbage;
I will turn the rivers into islands,
and dry up the pools.
“I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42: 15, 16 NRSV)
This is a powerful, irresistible, transformative resolve, to be undertaken with a high level of emotional intensity. It is a burst of generativity that is going to change everything and create a newness. This is a God who will not forsake: “I will not forsake them” (42:16); “You shall no more be termed Forsaken” (62:4). In this resolve to new creation, YHWH promises to overcome all forsakenness and abandonment known in Israel and in the world. When creation is abandoned by YHWH, it readily reverts to chaos. Here it is in YHWH’s resolve, and in YHWH’s very character, not to abandon, but to embrace. The very future of the world, so Israel attests, depends on this resolve of YHWH. It is a resolve that is powerful. More than that, it is a resolve that wells up precisely in tohu wabohu and permits the reality of the world to begin again, in blessedness.
— Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible.
Note: The phrase “tohu wabohu” is a reference to the Hebrew phase used in Genesis 1:2, where before God’s creative action, the world is spoken of as being “formless and empty” (NIV). I have highlighted the phase in bold in the text below:
וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל־פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם
There is one other thing I should say about Psalm 57:2 (which, by the way, is verse 3 in the Hebrew text):
אֶקְרָא לֵאלֹהִים עֶלְיוֹן לָאֵל גֹּמֵר עָלָי
“I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” (NRSV)
As I said last time: this expresses the intent to pray. The initial cry for help, is followed by a statement of intent: a general statement telling us why the Psalmist cries out to God. It’s not just a momentary thing: it’s a way of life.
But, what I want to point out is the brevity of that final phrase:
לָאֵל גֹּמֵר עָלָי
It’s longer when translated into English. This phrase illustrates why it’s nice to pray through the Psalms in the original language.
When I was younger I expected the study of Biblical languages to make the Scriptures clearer to me. I thought that knowing the original Greek or Hebrew words, would allow the deeper and clearer meanings to arise. And, yes, sometimes they do. But, more often than not, what they reveal is the ambiguity in the original that has been lost in translation. (more…)
This is one of many of the Psalms that begins with a scribal note.
לַמְנַצֵּחַ אַל־תַּשְׁחֵת לְדָוִד מִכְתָּם בְּבָרְחוֹ מִפְּנֵי־שָׁאוּל בַּמְּעָרָה
To the leader: Do Not Destroy. Of David. A Miktam, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.
It’s hard to know what to think about the scribal notes at the beginning of the Psalms. I often ignore them. Our modern translations, which set them apart from the rest of the Psalm — printing them in italics or in smaller type — encourage this attitude. And, then, it’s also true that in the English (as distinguished from the Hebrew) text they are not actually numbered with the rest of the Psalm. In English, the scribal note at the beginning is labeled (if anything) verse 0. Easily ignored.
Because I read along in Hebrew (well, let’s not overstate this — I’m using an interlinear text), I often start reading the scribal note before I realize it. In Hebrew, it is verse 1.
And, while I usually skip these — and I don’t really know what to make of them for sure — I can still see three distinct stages in my attitude toward them. (more…)