Friday Bible Blogging Archive

Friday, February 14, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 41 to Psalms 50

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.

BibleOne aspect of the book of Psalms that I hadn't mentioned yet is its organization. It's divided into five sections or books. To quote Wikipedia, "these divisions were probably introduced by the final editors to imitate the five-fold division of the Torah". Chapter 41 is the final chapter of Book I, and Chapter 42 begins Book II. I was pleasantly surprised this week, with some of the psalms being a bit more thought provoking than the ones I've read so far.

Psalms, Chapter 41

This was the final psalm of the first section, and was titled, "Assurance of God's Help and a Plea for Healing". It began in a way that reminded of the Beatitudes (similar to passages I've discussed previously).

Happy are those who consider the poor;
   the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) notes that the final verse of the chapter was not part of the psalm, but a doxology to close out Book I.

Psalms, Chapter 42

This first psalm of Book II gives us a new credited source - the Korahites. If you'll recall from Numbers 16, Korah had the audacity to challenge Moses's authority, and was subsequently punished for it by God rather severely, "The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households--everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods." Now, from the way that chapter read, it sounded like Korah and his entire line had been annihalated. But, according to one of those boring geneaology sections that I only skimmed through, Numbers 26:11, "Notwithstanding, the sons of Korah did not die." So I went back and read Numbers 18 more carefully, and while there's a bit of ambiguity about who all was swallowed up by the earth, but it still seems inconsistent with the later chapter from Numbers.

Psalms 42 and 43 use similar language, with a certain refrain even being repeated throughout the two psalms. It was clear that they were connected, which the footnotes of the NOAB confirmed. The heading to Psalm 42 was, "Longing for God and His Help in Distress", and the psalm followed about like you'd expect for that title - a mixture of wondering where God was in this time of distress, but also trusting that God would set things right eventually.

Psalms, Chapter 43

Psalm 43 had the heading, "Prayer to God in Time of Trouble", and continued on in much the same vein as Psalm 42.

Psalms, Chapter 44

This psalm was a "National Lament and Prayer for Help". It was almost bitter, accusing God of abandoning his people.

The opening verses caught my eye.

We have heard with our ears, O God,
 our ancestors have told us,
what deeds you performed in their days,
   in the days of old

I find this interesting because of our skewed perspective of the past. We tend to lump the past together in our minds - all that stuff that happened way back then. You'll even her people talk about back in 'Biblical times'. But this psalm is talking about things that happened 'in the days of old'. All the miraculous stories from the Pentateuch were already ancient history to the writer of this psalm. If this was one of the psalms from the post-Exilic period, it's from no earlier than around 500 BC, but the traditional view of the Exodus is that it occured around 1300 BC, and the other stories were supposed to have happened even earlier. That's at least 700 years prior to this psalm. If you go back 700 years from the present day, that puts you at the tail end of the medieval period. That's a long time ago.

The other thing that struck me about those verses is that they're describing a situation that still exists today. People don't witness any real miracles, certainly nothing on the scale of Biblical miracles, but they hear all these stories of miracles God performed in the past. It seems that the present day is rather mundane compared to all the divine intervention that was going on previously. But that's exactly how it seemed to the writer of this psalm (with good reason, from an atheist's perspective). Miracles were things that happened 'in the days of old'.

Another verse caught my eye for its brutal imagery.

You are my King and my God;
   you command victories for Jacob.
Through you we push down our foes;
   through your name we tread down our assailants.

When I read that, I was reminded of Mesoamerican art showing rulers trampling their opponents (example & another).

Like I mentioned above, this psalm seemed rather bitter towars God. Here was one of the most bitter passages.

Because of you we are being killed all day long,
   and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

Immediately following that was a petition asking the Lord for help.

Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
   Awake, do not cast us off for ever!

Like I mentioned last week, this seems consistent with the idea from that region and period that gods would rest, and weren't constantly vigilant of the Earth.

Psalms, Chapter 45

Psalm 45 is an "Ode for a Royal Wedding". According to the NOAB, it appears that this psalm was originally written for a wedding between a king and a foreign princess, and later took on Messianic interpretations, both in Jewish and Christian traditions.

Depending on how verse 6 is translated, it takes on an interesting meeting. The translation shown in the main body was, "Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever. / Your royal sceptre is a sceptre of equity..." According to the NOAB, if this is an accurate translation, it's the only time a king is referred to as a god in the Bible. However, the translation notes of the NRSV give an alternate possible translation, "Your throne is a throne of God". But the end of the psalm closes with praise for the king that would typically be applied to God.

I will cause your name to be celebrated in all generations;
   therefore the peoples will praise you for ever and ever.

Some references do get lost over the generatoins. Verse 8 mentions, "your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia." I didn't think much about that verse when I read it, other than that it might have been describing expensive luxuries. But according to the NOAB, "Myrhh and aloes and cassia, evoke a sensuous and erotic mood".

Psalms, Chapter 46

This is the first of a group of three psalms praising God, with the type of language you'd expect. There are two points I want to make about this chapter. The first was my own observation. The closing of this particular chapter mentioned Jacob.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
   the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Something about the way this was worded made me think of a thought I had while reading the Pentateuch. The writer called God 'the God of Jacob'. Why didn't he refer to him as 'the God of Abraham'? The feeling I got when reading the Pentateuch (and I'm sure this was influenced by footnotes in the NOAB, so don't take this to be original scholarship on my part), is that there were originally at least two separate groups who came together to form Israel. Each group had their own origins myths. In the one group, Abraham was the mythical patriarch and founder. In the other group, the Exodus story was key foundational myth. For an example of a more scholarly version of this idea, read this review of Genesis and the Moses Story: Israel's Dual Origins in the Hebrew Bible. Another example of competing sects influencing the Bible can be found in the article, Priests and Priesthood in the Hebrew Bible.

The other point I wanted to make about this chapter comes from the NOAB. This chapter described God's "holy habitation". According to the NOAB, "The psalmist trusts in Zion, which many Israelites believed was the center of the world and residence of the Lord, which reamins unshaken through the earth "totter" (NRSV change) and plunge into pre-creation chos."

Psalms, Chapter 47

This was another psalm of praise, similar to the previous one. This one also included a mention of Jacob.

He chose our heritage for us,
   the pride of Jacob whom he loves.

Psalms, Chapter 48

Another psalm of praise in the same vein as the previous two. This one was back to the theme of Zion. The NOAB had several interesting footnotes on this chapter. The first was, "Comparable Near Eastern texts describe how a particular god became the most high god by defeating chaos and then, after receiving the acclaim of the other heavenly beings, constructed a palace to memorialize the victory."

Another interesting note concerned verse 2. Where the NRSV stated "Mount Zion, in the far north", 'the far north' would have been better translated as 'the heights of Zaphon'. This is relevant because Zaphon was the home of a competing storm god, Baal. It means that the Lord, the God of Jacob, had defeated Baal and conquered his domain.

Another footnote in the NOAB concerns verse 7, stating that 'an east wind' was "the weapon of hte storm god."

Psalms, Chapter 49

There were many parts of this psalm that I quite liked. It was a sobering reminder that death comes to us all. Consider this passage.

For the ransom of life is costly,
   and can never suffice,
that one should live on for ever
   and never see the grave.

Immediately following those verses about the inevitability of death came these verses about death being the great equalizer.

When we look at the wise, they die;
   fool and dolt perish together
   and leave their wealth to others.
Their graves are their homes for ever,
   their dwelling-places to all generations,
   though they named lands their own.
Mortals cannot abide in their pomp;
   they are like the animals that perish.

Towards the end of the chapter came these verses.

For when they die they will carry nothing away;
   their wealth will not go down after them.

But, this chapter did offer some hope of a less dreary afterlife, at least for a select few.

Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
   Death shall be their shepherd;
straight to the grave they descend,
   and their form shall waste away;
   Sheol shall be their home.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
   for he will receive me.

According to the NOAB, the Hebrew word translated as 'receive' in that last line was elsewhere translated as 'take', and used to describe God lifting people up to heaven (such as Genesis 5 or 2 Kings 2.

Psalms, Chapter 50

This psalm presented an interesting message in contrast to much of what I've read in the previous books. Consider how prevalent animal sacrifice has been in the Bible up to this point, all the rules in Leviticus, all the sacrifices at temple consecrations and coronation ceremonies, and, well, just about every meaningful event. But now read this.

I will not accept a bull from your house,
   or goats from your folds.
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
   the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the air,
   and all that moves in the field is mine.

'If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
   for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
   or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
   and pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call on me in the day of trouble;
   I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.'

Note that sacrifices of thanksgiving were mostly consumed by the people, not wasted like burnt offerings. This passage certainly seems like a much more reasonable position for an all powerful deity - what could the point of animal sacrifice be?


I liked some of the psalms this week better than last week. There was a bit more than just the typical praise and platitudes. Some of these psalms actually presented ideas worth thinking about.

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.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 31 to Psalms 40

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.

BibleWell, I didn't manage to get this entry done for my Friday deadline, so today is Saturday Night Bible Blogging. At least I'm less than 24 hours late in getting this post up.

Chapters 31 to 40 continues on in the same manner as the previous psalms, combining praise, thanksgiving, and petitions for help. These chapters didn't contain any of the instantly recognizable psalms like the previous chapters I discussed last week.

Psalms, Chapter 31

Psalm 31 is a fairly typical one - a combination of praise, thanksgiving, and petition. There was one section that struck me as similar to Job.

I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
   a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
   those who see me in the street flee from me.
I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
   I have become like a broken vessel.

But then, like so many of the Psalms attributed to David, it went into criticizing his enemies and their plans against him, and asking the Lord to punish them.

Psalms, Chapter 32

The superscription associated with this psalm identifies it as "A Maskil". According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), this is probably a musical term, though its exact meaning is unclear.

In the Christian tradition, this is considered one of the Penitential Psalms, a collection of seven psalms dealing with expressing regret for sins (the others being Psalsms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143).

Psalms, Chapter 33

Psalm 33 is another typical psalm of praise, with the focus of this one being the creation of the world. There was one verse that caught my eye.

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
   he frustrates the plans of the peoples.

I know it's meant to show just how much greater God is than us mere mortals, but it shows God deliberately sabotaging human affairs.

Psalms, Chapter 34

According to the NOAB, this is another acrostic psalm (where the first letter of each line follows some pattern, such as the alphabet). However, with the translation to English, this pattern gets lost. However, there is a slight discrepancy in the version of the psalm that we have, where verses 16 and 17 should probably be reversed to follow alphabetical order. The psalm also reads a bit better that way.

The NOAB also notes that the subscript to this psalm, "Of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away," probably was added some time after this psalm was written, and this psalm probably had nothing to do with that episode.


When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken. 21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. 22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalms, Chapter 35

Like so many of the psalms attributed to David, this one is asking for divine justice against David's enemies. And of course, the justice is violent. In fact, I'm going to include a longer excerpt than I normally do, just to illustrate this violence.

Draw the spear and javelin
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;against my pursuers;
say to my soul,
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;'I am your salvation.'

Let them be put to shame and dishonour
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;who seek after my life.
Let them be turned back and confounded
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;who devise evil against me.
Let them be like chaff before the wind,
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;with the angel of the Lord driving them on.
Let their way be dark and slippery,
&bnsp;&bnsp;&bnsp;with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

There was another noteworthy verse.

Wake up! Bestir yourself for my defence,
   for my cause, my God and my Lord!

According to the NOAB, this was consistent with the belief from that region that gods would rest after performing taxing deeds.

Psalms, Chapter 36

Another typical psalm - the wicked are bad, they'll be punished by God, while the faithful will be rewarded.

Psalms, Chapter 37

This is another psalm that originally followed an acrostic form. There were a few verses that caught my eye. First was this one.

But the meek shall inherit the land,
   and delight in abundant prosperity.

This is very similar to a saying attributed to Jesus in the Beatitudes. Similar to what I wrote last week, seeing phrases like this make you wonder about how and why they were incorporated into the New Testament. I'm sure Christians think Jesus was deliberately referencing the scriptures, but if Jesus is more legendary than real, this type of speach makes sense.

The writer of this psalm also seemed to have an unrealistically optimistic view of the world, or possibly even a naive view. Consider this section.

I have been young, and now am old,
   yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
   or their children begging bread.
They are ever giving liberally and lending,
   and their children become a blessing.

Has this writer honestly never seen "children begging bread"? This very scenario is all too common in this world. Due to the Depression, my grandmother had to drop out of school to get a job to help support her family. I personally know people close to my own age who had to do the same thing, in the modern day U.S. On trips to Guatemala, I've actually seen children on the streets begging for money. The righteous and innocent are forsaken far too often.

And further, consider this.

I have seen the wicked oppressing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon.* 36 Again I* passed by, and they were no more; though I sought them, they could not be found.

This is another extremely naive view. Just look to North Korea - three generations of extremely oppressive dictators. And it's not as if North Korea is the only oppressive regime in the world.

There was another passage in this chapter that caught my eye.

For the Lord loves justice;
   he will not forsake his faithful ones.

The righteous shall be kept safe for ever,
   but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
The righteous shall inherit the land,
   and live in it for ever.

I've pointed this out several times in the past, but this is another example of God punishing children for the sins of their parents.

Psalms, Chapter 38

This is another psalm that is considered one of the Penitential Psalms in the Christian tradition. The writer expresses great sorrow and anguish over his sins.

Psalms, Chapter 39

This psalm is almost a bit bitter towards God. Consider the following passage.

'Lord, let me know my end,
   and what is the measure of my days;
   let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a few handbreadths,
   and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath.

It seems that the writer is complaining that life is too short as it is, and that God's punishments are too long. (Of course, this type of complaint only makes sense with a drab view of the afterlife, which is the most common view in Psalms.)

Or consider the last verse from this chapter.

Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,
   before I depart and am no more.'

Similar to Job, this is the writer wishing that God wouldn't pay so much attention to people because of the suffering he causes with his punishments.

Psalms, Chapter 40

This was another typical psalm of thanksgiving, praise, and petition. There was one portion that caught my attention.

Sacrifice and offering you do not desire,
   but you have given me an open ear.
Burnt-offering and sin-offering
   you have not required.

With as big of a deal as animal sacrifice has been throughout the Old Testament, it's interesting to see a passage like this.


My summary this week is about the same as for each of my past entries on Psalms. While there are some decent sections, the book of Psalms very repetitious, and not my favorite of the books of the Bible.

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, January 31, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 21 to Psalms 30

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.

BiblePsalms 21 through 30 are largely similar to the preceding twenty psalms. However, there are a few standouts in this chapter that will be familiar to most readers, such as Psalm 22 which contains the last words of Jesus according to Matthew, or Psalm 23 which begins with the famous line, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."

Psalms, Chapter 21

This psalm is supposed to be a "Thanksgiving for Victory", contains the type of praise typical of Psalms. According to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), it's a continuation of Psalm 20. One part struck me as a bit extreme, though not out of character for the Bible. Concerning David's enemies, the psalm had this to say.

The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
   and fire will consume them.
You will destroy their offspring from the earth,
   and their children from among humankind.

It's just one more example of guilt being passed on to people that had nothing to do with the original crime/sin.

Psalms, Chapter 22

Psalm 22 is titled, "Plea for Deliverance from Suffering and Hostility". It begins with a verse that will be familiar to almost all Christians.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
   Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

I know Christians believe that Jesus was probably intentionally quoting David, but it certainly makes you wonder if some writer thought that this psalm seemed fitting for Jesus and added it to the story.

This psalm reminds me a bit of Job, in the anguish and helplessness the writer expresses, though it doesn't take on quite the same accusatory tone as Job. It's one of the more moving psalms that I've read so far.

This psalmist attempted a tactic almost akin to bribery in trying to seek help from the Lord, promising to praise God if God would just help him.

I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
   in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

If you'll recall from the previous two weeks' entries, there seems to be a theme of representing Sheol as "a drab & dismal underworld", but this psalm presents a slightly different view.

To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down;
   before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
   and I shall live for him.*

Psalms, Chapter 23

Psalm 23, "The Divine Shepherd", is one of the most famous psalms, and for good reason. It's a combination of praise and thanksgiving, but using metaphors that make it much more appealing than the typical praise and thanksgiving psalms. For example, here are the opening verses.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name's sake.

Verse 4 isn't quite as poetic in the NRSV translation as in some other translations, however. Consider the NRSV version.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;

And now compare it to the King James Version.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...

Psalms, Chapter 24

Psalm 24, "Entrance into the Temple", is mostly praise of God, with a little bit about "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord". The NOAB had an interesting note about the first couple verses. First, here are the verses.

The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it,
   the world, and those who live in it;
for he has founded it on the seas,
   and established it on the rivers.

The NOAB noted that, "Presupposed is the combat myth in which the storm god defeats chaotic Sea, creates the universe, and erects a palace (temple) to commemorate the victory. Israel likely borrowed and transformed this myth from its Canaanite predecessors." I'd mentioned previously that cosmological portions of these poetic books might be able to be chalked up to poetic license, but there's so much of it, and portions of it are consistent. This battle with a sea monster is very reminiscent of the battle with Leviathan from Job.

Psalms, Chapter 25

Psalm 25 is a "Prayer for Guidance and for Deliverance". As pointed out in the NOAB, it can be divided into three portions - petition, lesson, petition. Overall, it's language and themes are similar to other psalms.

Psalms, Chapter 26

Chapter 26 is a "Plea for Justice and Declaration of Righteousness". Like I just wrote above, it's language and themes are similar to other psalms. The NOAB pointed out an interesting observation. The first verses discuss walking, "Vindicate me, O Lord, / for I have walked in my integrity," as does the penultimate verse, "But as for me, I walk in my integrity; / redeem me, and be gracious to me." This may be an indication that the psalm was used in some type of ritual procession.

Psalms, Chapter 27

Psalm 27 is a "Triumphant Song of Confidence". It's more of the same, but verses 8 and 9 are noteworthy.

'Come,' my heart says, 'seek his face!'
   Your face, Lord, do I seek.
   Do not hide your face from me.

Per the NOAB, this is another indication of the possibility of a statue of Yahweh in the temple, like I mentioned last week for Psalm 17. Personally, I'm still not convinced of that interpretation.

Psalms, Chapter 28

This psalm is a "Prayer for Help and Thanksgiving for It", and is much like the other psalms of that ilk. Above when discussing chapter 22, I'd mentioned that that chapter seemed to present the after life a little differently than other portions of Psalms. This chapter is more consistent with those other portions.

for if you are silent to me,
   I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.

After presenting his request, the psalmist wrote, "Blessed be the Lord, / for he has heard the sound of my pleadings." The NOAB notes that this may be that "the Lord has spoken, perhaps through an oracle..." But as with some of the other interpretations that the NOAB has presented for Psalms, this one seems to be highly conjectural.

Psalms, Chapter 29

Psalm 29 is "The Voice of God in a Great Storm", and describes a very powerful storm. If you've been reading these entries at all, you'll recognize that theme - many sections of the Bible present God as a storm God, hinting at his Canaanite origins. In fact, the NOAB says that, "many scholars think that this was a Canaanite psalm adapted by early Israel." There was also a hint of polytheism in the first verse, "Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings".

Verse 10 repeated a them I just discussed for chapter 24, "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood..." This is another allusion to defeating the sea in a primordial battle. And of course, the NOAB has something to say about this, as well, "ancient myths sometimes depicted the storm god defeating hostile Sea and building his palace upon its body."

There was one interesting aspect of this chapter that almost certainly wouldn't have caught on my own, but learned of through the NOAB. The phrase, "The voice of the Lord" appears seven times in this psalm. Considering the importance of the number 7 to those ancient writers, I don't think this is a coincidence.

Psalms, Chapter 30

Psalm 30 is a "Thanksgiving for Recovery from Grave Illness". The praise and thanksgiving are typical, but there are a few parts that stand out. First is the subscript, "A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David." According to the NOAB, that part about the 'dedication of the temple' is an add on from the time Judas Maccabeus around 164 BC.

I've discussed the concept of the afterlife a couple times above. Here's another verse that's consistent with Sheol being rather drab, which seems to be the dominant view throughout Psalms.

'What profit is there in my death,
   if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
   Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Just like in the previous chapter, an interesting fact appears when you count the number of times 'Lord' and 'God' appear in this psalm - twelve times, supposedly representing the twelve tribes of Israel.


Like I've written the past two weeks, Psalms quickly becomes repetitious, with similar themes and concepts being repeated throughout. However, in the chapters I read this week, there were a couple very good psalms - Psalm 22 for the anguish and depth of emotion, and Psalm 23 for being praise that's more than just platitudes. I wish more of the Psalms were of that quality.

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, January 24, 2014

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.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Bible Blogging - Psalms 1 to Psalms 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.

BibleWith Job behind me, it's on to the second of the Wisdom books, Psalms. Psalms is also one of the longest books of the Bible - the longest in many English translations. It certainly has the most chapters, and I believe the most verses, as well (at least according to this page of King James Bible Statistics). However, the verses tend to be rather short, so by word count, a few other books are really close, particularly Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Genesis, and Isaiah. And this all assumes that Kings, Chronicles, and Samuel are broken up into two books a piece. By the older tradition, they would be the longest by KJV word count, in that order. For more discussion on book lengths in Hebrew, take a look at this page, The Gospel Coalition - What Is the Longest Book in the Bible?.

Given the overall length of Psalms, but the short nature of individual chapters, I may reconsider these reviews. For this first week, I'll stick to ten chapters, but once I see how things go, I may switch to 20 chapters a week to help get through this book faster. Otherwise, I'm looking at nearly 4 months on this one book.

Psalms is a collection of collections. To quote a line from Wikipedia, "The composition of the psalms spans at least five centuries, from Psalm 29, which is adapted from early Canaanite worship, to others which are clearly from the post-Exilic period." Obviously, there is no single author. And in fact, according to the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB), even the traditional attribution to David for many of the Psalms is almost certainly wrong.

Psalms, Chapter 1

Chapters 1 and 2 serve as a kind of introduction to the book. This chapter was rather short, saying in so many words that people who follow the Lord will be happy, while "The wicked are not so", and will be punished by God.

Psalms, Chapter 2

This chapter was a justification for the Davidic line, questioning who would be so foolish as to challenge the king chosen by God himself.

The NOAB noted that the Hebrew word for annointed used in verse 1, 'mashiah', "is always used in the Hebrew Bible of an actual ruler rather than of a future king".

I also noted a bit of juvenile humor - juvenile on my part, not in the Bible. Verse 11 says to "Serve the Lord with fear, / with trembling kiss his feet". There's a translation note that the original meaning of the portion translated as 'kiss his feet' is uncertain. But I'm reminded of how often feet were used as a euphemism for genitals in older books, and it gives this verse an entirely different meaning.

Psalms, Chapter 3

This was the first psalm that had a heading, "A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom". These headings are used for many of the psalms to explain their context. This chapter was also interspersed with the term, 'Selah'. According to the NOAB, the exact meaning of the term is unclear, but it was probably some sort of musical notation, perhaps indicating an interlude.

Otherwise, this psalm is exactly what you'd expect of someone asking God for help, with hints of the violence so prevalent in the old testament, "For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; / you break the teeth of the wicked."

Psalms, Chapter 4

This is another Psalm attributed to David. This time, there were instructions for the musical director to use strings to accompany this psalm. After beginning with thanksgiving to God, the psalm went on to criticize the people who questioned God, urging them to trust in him.

Psalms, Chapter 5

More praise of God and criticism of the wicked. Coming so freshly off of Job, I was struck by the passages indicated divine justice, since Job seemed to indicate that God didn't lower himself to worry about those things.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
   evil will not sojourn with you.
The boastful will not stand before your eyes;
   you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
   the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

Psalms, Chapter 6

More requests to God for help. I was struck by one verse.

For in death there is no remembrance of you;
   in Sheol who can give you praise?

This is definitely counter to the Christian understanding of the afterlife. It's not heaven filled with souls praising God, but a drab & dismal underworld.

Psalms, Chapter 7

The heading for this chapter is "A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjaminite." The NOAB notes that this incident isn't mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and so must come from a tradition separate from those books.

There was an allusion to the heavenly council, "Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, / and over it take your seat on high."

Psalms, Chapter 8

More of the same. However, there were a few verses that caught my eye, including "Out of the mouths of babes and infants / you have founded a bulwark because of your foes." This seems to be the original source of Mathew 21:16 and the expression in modern day English.

I also noticed verse 4, "what are human beings that you are mindful of them, / mortals that you care for them?", thinking back to Job 7, where this verse was mocked.

This chapter also repeated a theme from Genesis that I find particularly troubling.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

It's passages like this that allow Christians to use the Bible as justification for all manner of abuse of animals and disregard for the environment (not all Christians, of course, but more that I'd care to acknowledge).

Psalms, Chapter 9

To give an idea of how short the various chapters are in Job, this is the longest of the chapters I read this week at just 20 verses.

Chapters 9 and 10 are part of the same poem, originally using an acrostic structure. This is where the first letter of each line follows some structure, in this case the Hebrew alphabet. However, due to scribal errors, the structure was degraded in the Bible.

Psalms, Chapter 10

Continuing on with the poem begun in the previous chapter, this chapter actually began with a hard question more in line with Job.

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
   Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor--
   let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

But after spending several verses complaining about the wicked, the writer goes on to say that God really does help those in need, "But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, / that you may take it into your hands", and that he will punish the wicked, "Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers / seek out their wickedness until you find none."


Going from the book of Job to Psalms is a bit like going from Lou Reed to Taylor Swift. Whereas the book of Job was deep and thoughtful and a bit dark, Psalms so far is mostly just praise, praise, praise. It's almost all platitudes - God is great, God is powerful, the wicked are wicked, etc. I suspect these reviews are going to quickly become shortened to little more than phrases like, "more praise of God", "more requests for help", or "more criticisms of the wicked".

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.


Selling Out