« Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 131 to Psalms 140 | Main | Happy Exploration Day 2014 »

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 141 to Psalms 150

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.

BibleFinally. I'm done with the book of Psalms. This week's entry covers the last ten psalms of the book - 141 through 150.


Psalms, Chapter 141

As I mentioned last week, this is part of a short collection of psalms attributed to David, which began with Psalm 138 and runs through Psalm 145. This particular one is a petition to God to keep the petitioner away from wicked ways.

One thing I've been noticing more (not that it wasn't there in previous books and psalms, just that I'm now noticing it more) is the selfishness of many of these passages. There's little regard for having others turn away from wicked ways and becoming good people or being redeemed. Instead, the writers only ask for punishment for them. Just consider this passage:

Like a rock that one breaks apart and shatters on the land,
   so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

and especially this one:

Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
   while I alone escape.


Psalms, Chapter 142

Psalm 142 is "A Maskil of David. When he was in the cave." This is fairly typical of this type of Psalm, looking to God for strength and deliverance from enemies.


Psalms, Chapter 143

This is another psalm asking for the Lord to deliver the psalmist from his enemies. There were a few references to Sheol reminding us how different the ancient Hebrew conception of the afterlife was to the modern Christian view. There was also a brief mention of how worthless people are, which definitely is in line with the modern Christian view ("Do not enter into judgement with your servant, / for no one living is righteous before you.") But the most absurd passage came at the very end.

In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
   and destroy all my adversaries,
   for I am your servant.

Yes, with your 'steadfast love', destroy people. I know, it's steadfast love for the psalmist, not humanity, but it still struck me as a rather odd thing to say. It just gets back to that selfishness I mentioned up above.


Psalms, Chapter 144

Psalm 144 starts off with military language, and one particularly unpleasant image ("my shield, in whom I take refuge, / who subdues the peoples under me"), before moving on to language now familiar by the end of this book characterizing Yahweh as a storm god ("Make the lightning flash and scatter them), then moving on to general praise, before finishing up with a petition for general blessings. Reading the footnotes in the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), it appears that this psalm quotes pretty heavily from other psalms and even other books of the Bible.


Psalms, Chapter 145

This is the last of the psalms attributed to David, and is basically one long poem praising God. According to the NOAB, this is another acrostic psalm (where the start of each line follows the Hebrew alphabet), but the 14th letter is missing.


Psalms, Chapter 146

These final five psalms form, to quote the NOAB, "the concluding doxology to the entire book of Psalms." Again relying on the NOAB, since I don't have access to nor could I read the ancient manuscripts, each of the psalms begins and ends with "Hallelujah", which is traditionally translated, as it was in the NRSV, as "Praise the Lord". And since I'm on a roll in referencing the NOAB, their heading to this psalm is "Praise of the Lord, savior of the downtrodden," which is a pretty good summary of the content of this psalm. In fact, this passage sounds remarkably like something you'd expect to hear attributed to Jesus.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
   the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
   the Lord loves the righteous.


Psalms, Chapter 147

This psalm continues on with the praise for God and listing the reasons for that praise. It's divided into three sections, with the first focusing on Jerusalem, the second on fertility of fields and livestock, and the third on God's "word" as a blessing to Israel, reinforcing their status as God's chosen people.

He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
   they do not know his ordinances.

There was one passage that caught my eye for the weird imagery it invoked.

He hurls down hail like crumbs--
   who can stand before his cold?


Psalms, Chapter 148

Psalm 148 extols all of creation to "Praise the Lord!", listing practically every aspect of creation. Verses 3 and 4 stuck out to me for the cosmology they implied.

Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

I guess it's no surprise given the accepted cosmology of the time, but this passage just seems to take for granted the idea of a rigid firmament, with celestial bodies being in the firmament, and there being a literal body of water above that firmament. Further, the NOAB notes that the verse about the sun, moon, and stars "may recall other ancient cultures, in which astral bodies were deities."


Psalms, Chapter 149

Whereas the previous psalm extolled all of creation to praise the Lord, this one was directed at the people of Israel. The end, though, is rather disturbing.

Let the high praises of God be in their throats
   and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
   and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters
   and their nobles with chains of iron,
to execute on them the judgement decreed.
   This is glory for all his faithful ones.


Psalms, Chapter 150

This is it - the last psalm in the whole book. The NOAB rightly refers to it as a "final outburst of praise". Every line in this psalm except one begins with the verb, 'Praise', and the lone exception still includes it in the middle of the line, "Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!" And the very final line is a fitting, "Praise the Lord!"


---

I'm very glad to be done with this book. It started off okay, and there are some very good parts (Psalm 23 was my favorite), but it's just so much of the same chapter after chapter after chapter. It might not have been so bad just reading a few isolated psalms, but reading the book from start to finish got very repetitive. It didn't help that some of the psalms were nearly verbatim copies of previous psalms or other sections of the Bible (e.g. Psalm 18 and Psalm 70).

This book was full of little reminders that Judaism had evolved from prior religions and traditions, such as the multiple references to other gods and sections where Yahweh was himself described as a storm god, as well as contradictions with other books of the Bible on stories like the creation or the Exodus. There were also numerous reminders that the book of Psalms itself was a collection of several previous collections, such as the repeated chapters I mentioned above. This last point isn't really anything against the book itself, but does speak against some modern literalist interpretations.

Thinking about it, I guess the book of Psalms is almost like a hymnal - a good collection of worthwhile songs, but not the type of thing that's intended to be read straight through.

With this book behind me, next week will be on to a new book, Proverbs.


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.

Post a comment


TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.jefflewis.net/blog/jlnet-tb.cgi/768

Archives

Selling Out