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Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 131 to Psalms 140

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 covers Psalms are 131 through 140. It finishes up the Songs of Ascents, and begins a short collection of psalms attributed to David. There are a few passages in this week's entry that are pretty familiar.

Psalms, Chapter 131

Psalm 31 is rather short, about taking comfort in the Lord.

Psalms, Chapter 132

This is one of the longest Songs of Ascents, and deals with David, the Ark, and Jerusalem. As the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) points out, verses 11 through 14 are a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 7:5-17. But where the promise here is conditional on David's descendants keeping the covenant, no such condition was stated in Samuel. You get the feeling comparing sections like these that the earlier passage was written in Jerusalem's hey day, when the peole thought it was going to go on forever, and that the later passage was written as a rationalization after the fall of Jerusalem.

Psalms, Chapter 133

This is another Song of Ascent, and back to their usual brevity. The first line is actually very nice, "How very good and pleasant it is / when kindred live together in unity!"

The next verse gives imagery that's a bit odd, though apparently just describing an ordination ceremony.

It is like the precious oil on the head,
   running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
   running down over the collar of his robes.

Ordination ceremony or not, that's still an unpleasant image.

The final vrese referenced "the dew of Hermon", which according to the NOAB was very important to the Israelites' agriculture.

Psalms, Chapter 134

Psalm 134 is the last of the Songs of Ascents, ending the collection with a short blessing.

Psalms, Chapter 135

Psalm 135 got back to a little bit longer length for a Psalm, now that the Songs of Ascents are done with. It was mostly praising God, but with some of the examples not seeming so praiseworthy depending on your point of view - killing all the "firstborn of Egypt, / both human beings and animals" (what'd the poor puppies do to God?), striking down "many nations", killing "many kings", etc. There were also some references to creation, including a mention of "storehouses" for the wind, reminding me of Job, and criticizing other gods as being mere idols. According to the NOAB, "These borrowings, late linguistic features, and the attack on images (vv. 15-18) were characteristic of postexilic times when the concept of authoritative scripture was developing." Also according to the NOAB, this psalm forms a pair with the next one.

Psalms, Chapter 136

This psalm covered similar themes to the preceding one, including the Passover and the Exodus. Interestingly, this psalm included the response, "for his steadfast love endures for ever", after every single verse. Having grown up in a Catholic church with lots of examples where the priest or a minister would lead the congregation in a similar manner, I could almost hear this psalm in my head being spoken aloud in a group.

Psalms, Chapter 137

This is a particularly bitter psalm, with the psalmist upset over the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. The first two thirds of the psalm were about the shame and embarrassment of Jerusalem having fallen (using good imagery of their captors taunting them to sing their previous victory songs). The final third was asking God for vengeance on the Babylonians. The final verse is especially gruesome, and one you'll see brought out often as an example of how bad the Bible can be.

Happy shall they be who take your little ones
   and dash them against the rock!

This was another of the rare times that the NOAB practiced apologetics, reminding readers that it is "the cry of one singer".

Psalms, Chapter 138

This is another of the many psalms attributed to David. In fact, this begins a short collection of such Psalms, running through Psalm 145. This one is part thanksgiving and part praise. The final few verses reminded me a bit of Psalm 23, though not nearly of the same quality as that previous psalm.

Psalms, Chapter 139

The opening of this psalm feels rather constricting - with God's omnipotence and omniscience, there's nowhere you can go to get away. Just consider the word choice in this verse.

You hem me in, behind and before,
   and lay your hand upon me.

And this passage seemed especially desperate to me.

Where can I go from your spirit?
   Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
   if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
   and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
   and your right hand shall hold me fast.

The psalmist however then transitioned to accepting God, and seeing the divine presence as a net positive, for all the protection and positive aspects that go along with it. I have to say, though, that after I'd already become an atheist (not as a reason for it), I had a thought exercise that agreed almost exactly with the sentiment in the beginning of the psalm. It's not very comforting to think that you have no privacy, at all, ever, even in your most intimate moments with loved ones.

There were also a couple passages notable for being used extensively in modern day religious discussions. One of these is, "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." I see this quite often in creationist circles (example).

And the larger passage that that verse came from is all about God creating the person, "you knit me together in my mother's womb." This larger passage is used very often by the anti-choice crowd, as a type of evidence that humans have souls from the moment God begins forming them in the womb.

Psalms, Chapter 140

This is a fairly typical petition, asking God to punish the psalmist's enemies.


So, this week's entry was more of the same, but at least a few of the passages were more familiar. And on the big plus side - I only have one week left to go before I'm done with 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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