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Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 11 to Psalms 20

This entry is part of a series. For a listing of all entries in the series, go to the Index. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). All headings are links to those Bible chapters.

BibleThis week's entry continues on with the book of Psalms, from Chapters 11 though 20. There are a couple highpoints this week with well known psalms, but overall, I'm not terribly impressed with this book so far. Like I wrote last week, it doesn't have the same depth of emotion as the poems in Job. For the most part, the psalms are rather bland platitudes praising God.


Psalms, Chapter 11

Chapter 11 is a rather short Psalm titled "Song of Trust in God", which follows the theme you'd expect from that title.


Psalms, Chapter 12

I found the first line of this psalm a bit humorous, " Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly / the faithful have disappeared from humankind." Even thousands of years ago, people thought the world was going to hell in a hand basket. It reminds me of a quote by Franklin P. Adams, "Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory."

The chapter went on to describe what the psalmist wanted God to do about it, "May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, / the tongue that makes great boasts..." I've mentioned this many times in these reviews, but the Bible is just so violent that you almost start to become desensitized to it. But stop and think about if you saw something like that in an editorial - most of us would be appalled that the paper would have opted to publish it.

The rest of the chapter was asking for help and protection.

One interesting note from the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), was that "this psalm seems to preserve an oracle of salvation (v. 5), perhaps uttered by a Temple official in response to a petition..."


Psalms, Chapter 13

Chapter 13, supposedly written by David, is a "Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies". Interestingly, it's not quite so fawning as other psalms, but it's actually a bit more demanding in asking when he will receive help from God. Of course, it ended with a bit of praise, but that's not enough to change the overall tone.


Psalms, Chapter 14

As an atheist who engages in online discussions on religion, I've been quoted the first verse of this psalm many, many times.

Fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.'
   They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
   there is no one who does good.

It makes it rather difficult to even engage people who take the Bible too seriously, as some of them will just point to this verse and dismiss you out of hand. Of course, from the other point of view, this verse does nothing to win over atheists. With such an obviously false statement accusing non-believers of being 'fools' and 'corrupt', it adds one more reason to not take the Bible seriously.

However, according to the NOAB, this may not be the best interpretation of this verse. It may be referring to "God's ability to govern, not necessarily God's existence..."

The rest of the chapter is the expected criticism of the godless and predictions that they'll eventually be punished severely by the almighty.

One more note on this chapter - it's very similar to Psalms 53 - one of the indications of this particular book being a collection of collections, where these two psalms are variants of an older original.


Psalms, Chapter 15

Psalm 15 is titled "Who Shall Abide in God's Sanctuary?". One verse caught my eye for being a bit counter to the Christian concept of 'judge not lest ye be judged'. Verse 4 described the righteous as, "in whose eyes the wicked are despised, / but who honour those who fear the Lord;" You can't despise a wicked person without judging them first.


Psalms, Chapter 16

Chapter 16 was another of the praise psalms, "Song of Trust and Security in God". In describing those who worship other gods, there was an interesting verse.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
   their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
   or take their names upon my lips.

To be honest, I'm not quite sure of the meaning of this verse. Granted, there are lots of sections of the Bible dealing with sacrifices and blood, and what to sprinkle the blood on and how many times, etc. So, my first though on reading this was that it was a blood sacrifice to the gods, and the gods would drink the blood. But on a second reading, I wonder if "drink-offerings of blood" is referring to the people themselves drinking the blood. If so, it does seem rather foul, but I suppose not much worse than blood pudding. At least people consuming the sacrifices isn't anywhere near as wasteful as burnt offerings, where animals are killed for no good reason at all.


Psalms, Chapter 17

Psalm 17, "Prayer for Deliverance from Persecutors", is another one where David is asking for help. And of course, the type of help David is asking for isn't for persecutors to see the light of day and change their ways, but rather "Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them! / By your sword deliver my life from the wicked..."

The verse immediately following that one also caught my eye, "from mortals whose portion in life is in this world." This indicates that the writer of this particular psalm didn't think much of the afterlife. Our 'portion' is in 'this world', not some magnificent heaven after we die. This is certainly in line with Psalms 6 that I mentioned last week.

I learned an interesting tidbit from the NOAB's footnotes on this chapter. "Apple of the eye" probably began as a term for somebody's pupil before taking on the connotation of endearment.

The NOAB also offered a possible interpretation of verse 15 that I'm not quite sure I agree with. The verse stated, "As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness / when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness. " Per the NOAB, this may be an indication that there was actually some type of statue of Yahweh in the temple. Personally, to me it seems much more like just flowery language in a poem.


Psalms, Chapter 18

After getting through a short introduction, the actual song in this chapter begins with "I love you, O Lord, my strength. / The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer..." That seems a bit familiar. In fact, it's almost identical to 2 Samuel 22. Since it is so similar, I'll just quote what I wrote before concerning this song.

[I]t was a fairly typical song of praise from the Bible. It was a little interesting to see how God was portrayed as basically a super-human, not the fuzzy, non-corporeal God that many Christians now believe in:
9 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
   and devouring fire from his mouth;
   glowing coals flamed forth from him.
10 He bowed the heavens, and came down;
   thick darkness was under his feet.
11 He rode on a cherub, and flew;
   he was seen upon the wings of the wind.

The description of Yahweh also seemed to fit with him as a storm god, as was probably his original role in the Canaanite pantheon.

I was also struck by how many allusions were made to war and fighting. The ancient Hebrews must have had a pretty violent culture to perceive their god this way.

To show just how similar these two instances were, here's the section from Psalms corresponding to the section quoted above.

8 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
   and devouring fire from his mouth;
   glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down;
   thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew;
   he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.

It was a bit odd flipping back and forth between 2 Samuel and Psalms, and seeing basically the same thing repeated almost verbatim.

An interesting note from the NOAB is that this particular song may have been sung at the coronation of Davidic kings.


Psalms, Chapter 19

Psalm 19 was another of the praise psalms, this time "God's Glory in Creation and the Law". Although a unified whole, it can be divided into two parts - the first part praising the Sun, and the second, to quote the NOAB, a "meditation on wisdom". To refer to the NOAB a bit more, the way the Sun is addressed in this psalm almost seems to hint at polytheism. Per the NOAB, "In comparable religious literature, the head of the pantheon authorized lesser deities to build their tent dwellings." So, when this psalm states, "In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun," it certainly seems like it may have originated with the idea that the Sun was one of those lesser deities.


Psalms, Chapter 20

Psalm 20, "Prayer for Victory", was one of the requests for help. Verse 7 made me chuckle a bit.

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
   but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.

But if you remember Judges 1:10:

The Lord was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain, because they had chariots of iron.

It seems that some people might have reason to take pride in their chariots, as long as they're made of iron, seeing as how they can stymie the Lord.

---

So, my impression of this book hasn't changed much. Like I wrote up above in the intro, there are a few highlights, but for the most part, it's focused on just a few themes, and gets repetitious rather quickly.

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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