Friday Bible Blogging Archive

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Proverbs 1 to 10

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.

BibleOkay, so I fell behind again in this series. Part of it was that I got a little busy at work and cut my lunchbreaks short. But for the main reason, I have to admit that the title of this blog isn't entirely accurate. While I try to do most of the writing during my lunch breaks, for this series, I'd been doing a lot of catching up on my laptop at home on weekends. Unfortunately, my laptop crashed a few weeks ago and I haven't fixed it yet, so I haven't been able to catch up like normal. Oh well, I'll do my best to keep up to date in the future, or this project will end up dragging on for way to long.

Today's entry marks the start of a new book - Proverbs. While the book is traditionally credited to Solomon, this almost certainly isn't the case (not least of which for the reason that Solomon might not have even existed). As the New Oxford Annotated Bible puts it, "The book of Proverbs is a composite, consisting of several different collections dating from different periods and most likely with different authors." This week's entry covers the first ten chapters, which are mostly introduction without many actual of the book's namesake proverbs.

Proverbs, Chapter 1

The first seven verses are an overall introduction, talking about all the wisdom and knowledge the reader will get from this collection. The seventh verse caught my.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction.

It's a theme I've read in previous books, but it still rubs me the wrong way. The juxtaposition certainly implies that people who don't believe in god are the 'fools' who 'despise wisdom and instruction'.

The next several verses were a petition for the reader to pay attention to these lessons. Actually, it was mostly a warning against following sinners and their sinful ways. There was very little nuance, implying that all sinners 'run to evil' and 'hurry to shed blood'.

Verse 12 was interesting in the fact that it appears to be borrowing from another mythology. Here's the verse from the Bible.

like Sheol let us swallow them alive
   and whole, like those who go down to the Pit.

The footnotes of New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) described the passage this way, "Sheol...the Pit, the abode of the dead (see also...). Cf. the depiction in Ugaritic mythology of Mot, the god of death, with a vast throat stretching from earth to heaven into which he swallows his victims whole and alive."

The rest of the chapter personified Wisdom as a woman. The NOAB also pointed out how much of the language used to describe Wisdom is similar to that used to describe prophets (e.g. "Wisdom cries out in the street; / in the squares she raises her voice. / At the busiest corner she cries out; / at the entrance of the city gates she speaks").

Proverbs, Chapter 2

This chapter consists of 22 verses. The NOAB notes that that's the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but doesn't say whether or not it's acrostic (each verse starting with the next letter of the alphabet).

This chapter carried on with the introduction, extolling the virtues of wisdom and warning against going against these lessons. One verse caught my eye in much the same way as the verse I quoted from chapter 1.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
   from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

This again seems to be saying that knowledge is only possible through God, implying that those who reject God don't get that knowledge. This is certainly an effective way of insulating the faithful against any criticisms of their religion - you don't even need to pay attention to those critics because obviously, they're not getting their wisdom from Yahweh.

This chapter also introduced a few images/themes that will come up a few more times in Proverbs. One was comparing wisdom to valuable earthly treasures.

if you seek it like silver,
   and search for it as for hidden treasures--

The other was a warning against following a 'loose woman' who will lead you to your doom.

You will be saved from the loose woman,
   from the adulteress with her smooth words,
who forsakes the partner of her youth
   and forgets her sacred covenant;
for her way* leads down to death,
   and her paths to the shades;
those who go to her never come back,
   nor do they regain the paths of life.

The NOAB notes that 'adulteress' might also be translated as 'alien' or 'foreign woman', going back to a theme from earlier books where Hebrews were to be especially careful of marrying foreign women and being tempted to follow their gods.

Proverbs, Chapter 3

The first part of this chapter was more of the same - telling the reader to heed these lessons, promising of the benefits they'll bring, and warning of the dangers of not following them. There was even more 'treasure' imagery.

One verse caught my eye in a negative light.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
   'fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

The NOAB claims this isn't anti-intellectualism, but rather a warning against arrogance. But it certainly seems to me that it's ripe for the anti-intellectual interpretation.

Verse 13 begins with 'Happy are those who...' The NOAB noted that this is a "characteristic wisdom formula... often called a beatitude", and pointed out numerous other places where this formula appears in Proverbs. It certainly makes Jesus's beatitudes seem a little less revolutionary, knowing that they're just using a formula common to already existing literature.

This chapter contained another verse that appears to be borrowing from other mythology.

Long life is in her right hand;
   in her left hand are riches and honour.

According to the NOAB, "The imagery echoes that of the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, who represents right order. She was portrayed with the symbols of life in one hand and wealth and prestige in the other." The NOAB also noted how the 'tree of life' from verse 18 "is also an Egyptian motif, associated with the sycamore tree."

Starting with verse 27, the chapter began to give some actual beneficial advice, mostly on being helpful and avoiding violence.

Proverbs, Chapter 4

This chapter is more of the same.

I'll also add, like I hinted at when writing about Chapter 1, that proverbs presents a very black and white view of the world. Even the NOAB stated (in reference to verses 18 & 19), "In keeping with the binary way of understanding reality common in Proverbs, the ways of righteous and wicked are compared to light and dark." There's very little nuance or shades of grey in this book.

Proverbs, Chapter 5

And more of the same, bringing back the loose woman imagery. I found one of the footnotes in the NOAB a bit humorous (in reference to verse 10), "Probably a reference to loos of earnings; prostitutes are expensive!" It's the exclamation point that really does it for me.

There was one passage that stuck out. It's not exactly salacious, but it is more explicit than most parts of the Bible.

Let your fountain be blessed,
   and rejoice in the wife of your youth,
   a lovely deer, a graceful doe.
May her breasts satisfy you at all times;
   may you be intoxicated always by her love.

Of course, there are still euphemisms in there, coming from a whole series of water/sex euphemisms leading up to those verses. 'Fountain', at least according the NOAB, is supposed to represent the woman's "sexual organs, seen as the property of her husband, and possibly to the offspring that will ensue."

And just pausing to reflect on this for a minute, the sexism in the Bible is so pervasive that I almost missed how sexist this whole chapter is (and actually, much of this book so far). It's all directed at men, not as advice for women.

Proverbs, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 is mostly practical advice - money issues with neighbors, laziness, lying, adultery, etc. It's mostly good advice.

Proverbs, Chapter 7

Chapter 7 is back to the imagery with the loose woman.

Proverbs, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 returns to describing Wisdom as a woman, contrasting with the loose woman from the previous chapter. And Wisdom really is personified here, speaking in the first person, being "created me at the beginning of his work, / the first of his acts of long ago", being present during acts of creation, "When he established the heavens, I was there...", and even reacting to the Lord. In fact, this last example is worth quoting on its own.

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
   then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
   rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
   and delighting in the human race.

Once again, this appears like part of Proverbs that might have been borrowed from other mythology. According to the NOAB, "Comparisons have been made with the Egyptian goddess Ma'at, daughter of the creator god Amun Re, who is sometimes depicted as a little child playing on his lap."

It's also worth noting that some of the rewards for following Wisdom were rather worldly, "endowing with wealth those who love me, / and filling their treasuries."

Proverbs, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 continued on with the two women. They're each throwing a banquet, and it's shown to be much better to be invited to Wisdom's banquet. The first couple verses stood out to me.

Wisdom has built her house,
   she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
   she has also set her table.

Proverbs, Chapter 10

Chapter 10 finally moves past the introduction into actual proverbs and advice. These are all presented as two-line sayings, and use many of the same parallel structures that were used in Psalms.

These proverbs cover a variety of topics - divine reward and punishment, laziness, power of speech, wealth, poverty, etc.

It's worth noting the contradictory messages on reward and punishment. As the NOAB states, and which I can certainly agree with having read Job not too long ago, "Affirmation of the doctrine of divine retribution whereby the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished... Other proverbs complicate this doctrine of divine reward and punishment (e.g. 15.16; 16.8), and the books of Job and Ecclesiastes challenge it profoundly."


I'm glad to be into a new book and past the book of Psalms. The personification of Wisdom as a woman was especially interesting. I was also struck by how much these chapters borrowed from other mythologies. Now that I'm through with the sort of introductory chapters, I suspect the remainder of this book will be mostly the namesake proverbs. I just hope that they don't get too repetitive like Psalms did. But even if they do, this book is only 31 chapters long.

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.

Friday, October 10, 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.

Friday, October 3, 2014

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.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 121 to Psalms 130

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 in the Songs of Ascent collection with Psalms 121 through 130. They're all relatively short, but a few highlight some of the negative aspects of the Bible.

Psalms, Chapter 121

This psalm mainly focuses on God protecting the psalmist. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this might have been a call and response, where a pilgrim posed the question in verse 1, answered himself in verse 2, and then received further response from the priest for the remainder of the psalm.

Psalms, Chapter 122

This psalm, supposedly 'Of David', focuses on Jerusalem. This seems appropriate if these Songs of Ascent were for pilgrims to Jerusalem.

The NOAB pointed out an alliteration in the original Hebrew that I never would have known about reading the English translation. Where verse 6 says, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem", the original Hebrew says, "sha'alu shalom yerushalaim".

Psalms, Chapter 123

This is a short psalm praising God and asking for mercy. The NOAB pointed out an interesting tidbit that I'd glossed over on my own, that this Psalm actually compares god to a female, which is pretty rare in the Bible.

as the eyes of a maid
   to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
   until he has mercy upon us.

Psalms, Chapter 124

Psalm 124 is one of thanksgiving, that the people wouldn't have survived had it not been for God.

Psalms, Chapter 125

This is a psalm discussing the righteous and the wicked, comparing the righteous to Mount Zion "which cannot be moved, but abides for ever."

Psalms, Chapter 126

This psalm starts off by recalling how the Lord had blessed Israel during the return from the Babylonian exile, but then goes on to ask God to "Restore our fortunes". As the NOAB puts it, "The book of Ezra suggests that in fact few returned from Babylon, the return was a disappointment, and the hyperbolic prophecies of Isa 40-55 were not fulfilled." Reading the chapter with that understanding, it's actually a bit sad - here's this group of people who trusted completely in this prophecy, and now they're left wondering why it hasn't been fulfilled.

Psalms, Chapter 127

The first verse of the psalm points out the futility of human endeavors unless the Lord is a part of it - not exactly a ringing endorsement of humanity, but not really out of line for what you'd expect from someone who believes in God.

The second verse can actually be taken as a pretty good message, for people who were burning the candle from both ends even back then.

It is in vain that you rise up early
   and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

But the second half of the psalm is the part that really stood out to me. Here, I'll just quote it in full.

Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
   the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
   are the sons of one's youth.
Happy is the man who has
   his quiver full of them.
He shall not be put to shame
   when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

This short section epitomizes several of the issues I have with the Bible. First, notice the word choice on what constitutes a blessing - 'sons'. It could have been children, but in the sexist culture that gave rise to the Bible, daughters weren't the same type of blessing as sons. Notice also the violent imagery of the passage, with a 'warrior' and 'arrows'. Psalms hasn't been nearly as bad as some of the previous books I read, but many parts of the Bible seem to glorify violence.

And finally, notice the emphasis put on having many children. Granted, at the time this psalm was written, that would have been fine. So long as a person could support all of their children and give them the attention they deserve, there was no reason not to have many. But in the modern day, the human population is just too big, and we know all the ways we're stressing the environment. Having many, many children and adding to that stress is irresponsible. One passage in particular jumped out at me, "his quiver full of them". I checked on Wikipedia, and this is indeed the inspiration for the title of the Quiverfull Movement. In case you've never heard the term, this is a modern evangelical practice with a whole host of practices. It's not just about impregnating your wife as many times as possible, it's also strict gender roles with the husband as the head of the household, often with homeschooling to keep kids away from bad secular influences, women dressing modestly so as not to tempt the men (long dresses, head coverings), etc. If you want to learn more, Vyckie Garrison has a blog, No Longer Quivering, to, according to the blog, "tell the story of her 'escape' from the Quiverfull movement." She has a section on her site, What Is Quiverfull?, as a Q&A to explain the movement. Here's how she closed that entry:

Generally the longer a Christian family is involved in the home school community, the more deeply they become involved in this "family values" lifestyle ~ it is a process which transforms a "normal" family into a patriarchal cult completely at odds with the general population. In fact, the more "peculiar" (set apart) the family becomes, the more they consider themselves "true believers" following "the narrow way" as opposed to their neighbors who are on the "broad path which leads to destruction."

I noticed that even the NOAB practiced a bit of apologetics in their footnotes on this section, which is rather unusual for them, when they said "It is a declaration that one of God's greatest blessings is children (in that culture, sons)..." It's almost like they're trying to slip it past you by putting it in a parenthetical note that the author of this psalm really was talking about sons specifically, not children in general.

Anyway, sorry for the digression, but this movement really does bother me.

Psalms, Chapter 128

This is another psalm praising God and promising how you'll be rewarded if you 'fear the Lord'. But if you just read between the lines, it's another example of the sexism of the Bible.

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
   within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
   around your table.
Thus shall the man be blessed
   who fears the Lord.

It's specifically 'the man' who will be blessed. And the nature of the blessings makes it seem like his wife and children belong to him, almost like property.

Psalms, Chapter 129

This is a request for the Lord to punish the psalmist's enemies, who have "attacked me from my youth".

Psalms, Chapter 130

This psalm asks for redemption. It makes the point of saying how unworthy people are, but that God is forgiving.


Like I said in the introduction, a few of those psalms really do highlight some of the negative aspects of the Bible. Oh well, that's one more week closer to being done with this book. To continue with the countdown that's become standard by this point - I only have two more weeks of Psalms left to go.

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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 111 to Psalms 120

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 111 through 120. It's a bit of a milestone - Psalm 117 is the midway point of the Protestant Bible, going by chapter count. There are a few ways to determine the center of the Bible, and even a bit of controversy associated with it, so I posted a bonus entry earlier in the week all about it, Friday Bible Blogging - Center Verse of the Bible. Like I wrote at the end of that entry, since I plan to read the Apocrypha in addition to the content normally included in Protestant Bibles, I'm still not halfway through with this project, yet (that won't be until Isaiah).

Other than being the sort of midway point, other highlights this week include both the shortest and longest chapters of the Bible, and chapters with language that most Christians should recognize.

According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), some of these psalms get grouped together. Psalms 111-113 make up the Hallelujah psalms, and Psalms 113-118 make up the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (I guess 113 goes in both collections).

Psalms, Chapter 111

Psalm 111 was a typical psalm of thanksgiving. The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) pointed out that it was an acrostic poem - one where the first letter of each line has to follow a specific pattern. Although the NOAB doesn't indicate it exactly, and I don't have access to nor the ability to read the original Hebrew, I'm assuming the pattern here was following the alphabet, since that's the pattern other acrostic psalms followed. The NOAB also notes that "Many scholars think that Pss 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Pss 115-118 after it."

Psalms, Chapter 112

Another fairly typical psalm, instructing people to behave morally, and that they'll be rewarded accordingly. And according to the NOAB, this is another acrostic poem.

Psalms, Chapter 113

Another psalm of praise.

Psalms, Chapter 114

Another psalm praising God, with references to Exodus and Jacob.

Psalms, Chapter 115

This is another typical psalm - part praise, part thanksgiving, part petition, and part instruction to the people.

Verses 3 and 4 offered a pretty stark contrast between Yahweh and other gods.

3 Our God is in the heavens;
   he does whatever he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
   the work of human hands.

The next few verses went on to describe other gods as merely idols, and not real gods. Of course, I'm pretty sure that the surrounding cultures didn't see their statues that way.

There was also a verse similar to ones I've mentioned before, showing that the psalmist's concept of the afterlife was very much different than the modern Christian concept.

The dead do not praise the Lord,
   nor do any that go down into silence.

Psalms, Chapter 116

This was a psalm of thanksgiving, where the psalmist was saved from vaguely described distress by the Lord.

One verse caught my eye for how similar it sounds to language I heard going to church as a kid.

I will lift up the cup of salvation
   and call on the name of the Lord...

Since this is the Old Testament, that's obviously not referring to the Last Supper. According to the NOAB, this was a drink offering that would have been poured out.

Psalms, Chapter 117

According to many sources, including the NOAB, this is the shortest chapter of the Bible at only 2 verses long. In fact, here it is in its entirety.

1 Praise the Lord, all you nations!
   Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love towards us,
   and the faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.
Praise the Lord!

Psalms, Chapter 118

This was another psalm of thanksgiving. According to the NOAB, it might have been said by the king as a representative of the people. There was also quite a bit of language making it seem like it might have been part of a ceremony, processing through the gates of the Temple precincts.

This chapter had another verse that's very familiar to Christians, verse 22.

The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalms, Chapter 119

I've seen many sources that claim that this is the longest chapter of the Bible, including the NOAB. In my hard copy of the Bible, it started on page 871, and ran through page 876 - with small print and two columns per page. Just by comparison, most chapters would fit on a single page. Printing an online copy of the verse would take 11 pages. Granted, the psalms have a lot of white space with their poetic structure, but at 176 verses, it's still a long chapter.

It's basically a long petition, with the length coming from the poetic structure. Actually, I'll just quote the NOAB on this.

The psalm is an elaborate acrostic...: Each of the twenty-two stanzas begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and each stanza has eight verses and (usually) eight synonyms of "law," more accurately "authoritative teaching": "law," "word," "promise(s)," "ordinances," "statues," "commandments," "decrees," and "precepts."

The NOAB also noted how this psalm was part of a transition in the religion "in the postexilic period". The language used to describe the Torah (and the exact meaning of Torah is unclear in this psalm) was the type of language that had previously been applied only to God (love, true, truth), showing how "the Torah is a type of stand-in for God, who is no longer regarded as imminent."

Psalms, Chapter 120

The superscription to this psalm marks it as the beginning of the collection known as the "Songs of Ascents". According to the NOAB, two possible sources of this name are the literary construction of the poems ("steplike parallelism"), or as "songs sung while going up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage". The collection runs through Psalm 134.

The psalm itself is a petition to God for deliverance from the people mistreating the psalmist.


The psalms this week weren't too bad, but I'm glad I only have three more weeks to go before starting 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.


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