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Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 51 to Psalms 60

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.

BibleIf you've been following this series, I apologize for missing my post last week. I just fell behind a little bit, and decided to take a break for a week rather than rush to try to catch up. And as long as I'm commenting on the administrative side, let me add another note. When I first started on Psalms, I'd mentioned that I might increase my reading rate to 20 chapters per week instead of 10, to try to get through the book faster since the chapters were a little on the short side. Well, my biggest bottleneck is writing these posts, not the actual reading, and I seem to find enough from Psalms to keep me busy as is, so I'm going to stick with the original schedule of 10 chapters per week.

Psalms, Chapter 51

Verse two from this psalm jumped right out at me.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
   and cleanse me from my sin.

That may not mean much to everybody, but I was an altar boy when I was younger, and I heard a version of this every mass. In fact, I'm not even sure if most Catholics are as familiar with it, because the priest says it very softly, not addressed to the entire congregation. It's part of the Lavabo (more info: Saint Edward Catholic Church), where the priest ceremonially washes his hands before preparing the Eucharist.

Unfortunately, right after this bit of nostalgia, I read a couple verses I didn't like.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
   and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
   and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

This is one of the aspects of the Bible that I don't like, particularly as it is interpreted by Christianity. When you wrong somebody, you have 'sinned' against them, and it is their forgiveness that you should seek. Even if a god were to forgive you, it's not the same as getting forgiveness from the person you wronged in the first place. And the last two lines are particularly cynical, implying that even before a person is born that they're a sinner.

Later on in the chapter, it does continue a theme I've seen before in Psalms, shifting away from animal sacrifice towards people actually feeling remorse.

For you have no delight in sacrifice;
   if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God* is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Psalms, Chapter 52

Psalm 52 is a "Judgement on the Deceitful", and contains the type of punishments you'd expect. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out a possible translation issue. Where the NRSV had "he will uproot you from the land of the living" in verse 5, the NOAB footnotes stated that a better translation would have been " 'the land of life,' i.e. the Temple..."

Psalms, Chapter 53

This is a very familiar psalm, with all but a few verses nearly identical to Psalm 14. The NOAB notes one important distinction, "A major difference is that this psalm is part of the "Elohistic Psalter" (Pss 42-83), which prefers the divine name "Elohim," translated "God" rather than "The Lord," and thus replaces many of the "Lord"s of Ps 14 with "God."

Psalms, Chapter 54

This is a "Prayer for Vindication", supposedly by David. It's a fairly typical combination of praise and petition.

Psalms, Chapter 55

Psalm 55 is a "Complaint about a Friend's Treachery". It's interesting in that it deals with a bit different topic than most psalms I've read so far. As the psalmist puts it:

It is not enemies who taunt me--
   I could bear that;
it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me--
   I could hide from them.
But it is you, my equal,
   my companion, my familiar friend,
with whom I kept pleasant company;
   we walked in the house of God with the throng.

Of course, like other psalmists, the revenge this one seeks is death for the person who betrayed him. It's never just that their opponent will see the error of their ways and repent, is it?

There was a phrase that caught my eye, where I'd originally thought it was an interesting figure of speech from that era. But then when I read the footnotes in the NOAB, I learned that it might have been referring to praying three times a day. The phrase was, "Evening and morning and at noon / I utter my complaint and moan, / and he will hear my voice. "

Psalms, Chapter 56

This psalm was titled, "Trust in God under Persecution". I don't really have much commentary for it. It's about what you'd expect with a title like 'trust in God'.

Psalms, Chapter 57

This psalm is "Praise and Assurance under Persecution". The superscription sounds fairly interesting, "To the leader: Do Not Destroy," as if it was some note to protect the text. However, the more down to Earth explanation noted in the NOAB is that it was probably the name of another song intended as the melody for this one (there's actually quite a lot of that in the superscriptions to psalms). The psalm itself is more typical praise of God.

Psalms, Chapter 58

This one is a "Prayer for Vengeance", and if there's one thing the psalmists were good at, it was asking for vengeance.

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
   tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
Let them vanish like water that runs away;
   like grass let them be trodden down and wither.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime;
   like the untimely birth that never sees the sun.

That second to last line makes me imagine a bunch of old scribes in their robes and finery, sitting around pouring salt onto snails.

The last line made me think a bit of the anti-abortion rights crowd. The particular way this is presented doesn't make it seem like a stillbirth is a tragedy that must be mourned. It's compared to water drying up or grass withering, as if the psalmist didn't think too highly of the unborn child. Of course, it is a tragedy when it happens, but that doesn't seem to be the perspective of this psalm.

Continuing on with the violent wish for vengeance, consider the penultimate verse of the chapter.

The righteous will rejoice when they see vengeance done;
   they will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.

Psalms, Chapter 59

Psalm 59 is a "Prayer for Deliverance from Enemies". It's more of the type of language that I've become accustomed to from the Bible. There was one verse in line with a theme I've noted before, "Rouse yourself, come to my help and see!" expressing the idea that gods would sometimes rest and need to be awakened.

Another passage caught my eye for its cruelty.

Do not kill them, or my people may forget;
   make them totter by your power, and bring them down,
   O Lord, our shield.

The psalmist wasn't just asking for vengeance. He wanted his enemies to be made examples of, prolonging their suffering.

Psalms, Chapter 60

This was an interesting psalm, "Prayer for National Victory after Defeat". It wasn't bitter like Psalm 44 that I discussed last time. This one was just a petition for God to help them again.

Verses 6 through 8 begin with "God has promised in his sanctuary:" and then go on to describe the promise (one of victory and conquering). According to the NOAB, this was likely the psalmist quoting some ancient oracle.

Verse 8 contained an interesting phrase, "Moab is my wash-basin; / on Edom I hurl my shoe;". Apparently, throwing a shoe at somebody was a big insult. And it's not the first time shoes have had an important role in the Bible. Consider Deuteronomy 25, which had the line, ""Throughout Israel his family shall be known as 'the house of him whose sandal was pulled off,' " or Ruth 4, which talked abut exchanging sandals as a way of doing business.


Well, there were some interesting parts again this week, but like I've been saying all along, it gets pretty repetitious from week to week reading this book.

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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