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.
There was a time when I thought it was selfish and improper to pray for a blessing on myself. I should pray for others. I should put others first. God would bless as it was deemed appropriate.
I can thank Bruce Wilkerson’s book The Prayer of Jabez for changing my mind about that. Not that I’ve read the (little) book. I never did. I didn’t need to. It was once quite popular — a Christian fad. I used to hear about the book continually. People would quote from it, and summarize it, and refer to it. Other people denounced the book and it’s sudden popularity.
I got curious. So, I looked up the actual prayer of Jabez in the Bible. It’s in 1 Chronicles.
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:9, 10 NIV.)
All right. This may not be the most exemplary prayer in the Bible, but it’s not bad. And, it really is an example of something that was missing in my prayers: both the prayer for God’s blessing and the expectation of God’s blessing. I decided that the whole Prayer of Jabez phenomenon of the time was (on balance) a good thing — and that I needed to make the prayer for and the expectation of God’s blessing a part of my own prayer life. (more…)
In spite of the fact that it comes out of a deep sense of the failure of the nation, Psalm 106 opens (literally!) with a “Hallelujah!”:
הַלְלוּיָהּ הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
“Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting.” (Psalms 106:1 NASB).
I don’t think this is an attempt to command an emotion. This is not the same as: “Don’t worry, be happy.” I think I am being told to turn my mind toward the God who alone is worthy of praise.
Emotion cannot be commanded. But, emotion arises when I turn my mind toward something that awakens that feeling. To feel an emotion, I must find the object that arouses it.
Sin, guilt and failure cannot be allowed to be the last word. It leaves me in despair. (more…)
I’ve said something about my usual habits in reading the Psalms here: Praying the Psalms. Briefly stated, my usual procedure in reading, meditating and praying with the Psalms is to read consecutively and slowly. For this purpose I use an Interlinear (Hebrew with English below) edition of the Psalms. And, usually this approach works very well.
But, with Psalm 106 this didn’t work. With Psalm 106 it was necessary for me to see the opening verses of praise (vv. 1-5) in the light of their larger context.
When I began to read and meditate on the Psalm, I was struck by the language of praise and worship in the opening verses (though they were similar to verses found elsewhere in the Psalms), but then I got “stuck” (from verse 6 onward) in a long section that recounts the sins of the nation of Israel (verses 6-46) and God’s unfailing commitment to them in spite of all that.
This forced me to go back to the beginning and read it over again. The opening verses of praise to God (הַלְלוּיָהּ “Hallelujah”!) are delivered in the conscious memory of the people’s repeated unfaithfulness.
This is praise in the context of guilt. (more…)