Psalm Psnippet 23: Lord is My Shepherd

How do you talk about something that everyone knows? I’m not likely to give y’all any new insights on this Psalm. People have been interpreting it since, well, Christianity was a thing.

This is the problem with all Biblical interpretation. The text has been here for thousands of years. You’re unlikely to come up with anything new.

Should I give up?

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 23: Lord is My Shepherd

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Psalm Psnippet 22: Why Rescue

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord praise him!” (Ps 22:22-23a)

In Psalm 22, David turns to call out to God even as he is forsaken by God and surrounded by people who seek to destroy him. “Trouble is near/and there is none to help” (v 11).

So he calls to God for help. But when rescue comes, David pivots: the good result from his rescue is his praise of God among the people. Rather than simply luxuriating in relief from personal pain, he turns immediately to praising God’s name in public.

Like all the psalms, we can read this as referring, ultimately, to Jesus. After all, he quoted it on the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” This suggests the denouement of the crucifixion – Jesus’ resurrection and ascension – likewise has the goal God’s glory ‘in public.’

The end of this story is God’s praise. That means, when we tell the story of Jesus (as I’ve just bungled in a church-sponsored “2-minute testimony”), that’s where we should end – praising God, not tangled in metaphysical speculation or engaged in our own struggles. Neither of those are bad but neither are they the point. The point is to “proclaim [God’s] righteousness to a people yet unborn” (v 31).

Psalm Psnippet 21: God’s Enemies

I get nervous when the Bible talks about God’s enemies. I’d rather a pleasant God, without edges. But that wouldn’t be a personal God. That would be my personal idol.

Psalm 21 discusses ‘the King’ (who I’ve been reading as Jesus, pace Ari) dealing with his enemies. It uses explicit imagery:

You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    their posterity from mankind.
Though they plot evil against you
    and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.

 (vv 10-11)

This is weird. Jesus was big on “loving your enemies.” And here David seems to say that Jesus “will destroy [your enemies’] descendants from the earth.” That doesn’t sound like love.

This is the part where I make clear that I’m not a real Biblical scholar. Consult your pastor.

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 21: God’s Enemies

Psalm Psnippet 20: Answering Gethsemene

“O Lord, save the King
May he answer when we call.”
Psalm 20:9

The first straight-up Psalm of blessing, Psalm 20 swiftly moves from asking God for help ‘for you,’ the interlocutor, to assuring us that God will help ‘his anointed.’ From there, the Psalm closes on verse 9 – a call to the Lord to save the king.

If we pray this psalm we are praying to God for the anointed, the King. Our hermeneutical principle is clear: we’re praying for Jesus, fulfilling the Gethsemane mandate which the disciples failed.

What is most amazing, though, is how God answers this prayer. Jesus died, was brutally murdered, for our sake. This was, amazingly, how he ‘answered us when we called.’ By joining us in our weakness, Jesus submitted to death, even death on a cross. Our sin, guilt and shame was nailed to the cross in him and his merit was applied to us.

But then, gloriously, Jesus triumphed. He defeated death in his resurrection – Easter follows Good Friday. This is why it is good news. A dead Jesus can’t answer us when we call but the living God does.

I’m at my word count, and these things are profound. But praise the Lord, who saves the King and answers us when we call.

Psalm Psnippet 18: God, more than Zeus

From verse 6 on, God is described almost as a Greek god: chilling up in heaven until the cry of his faithful reaches him. Then he realizes: “oh, right” – throws lightning bolts, rides clouds and rescues his people. The psalm is full of anthropomorphisms like this, descriptions of God as a human being.

How does this make sense? God is the creator of heaven and earth, not quantifiable or containable. God is beyond us: not someone who can be out of earshot, or who wears a cloak of darkness.

In these description, God condescends to our understanding. Using Calvin’s metaphor, God speaks in baby-talk to fit our capacity. All discussions of God are fundamentally inadequate. Nothing gets close to comprehending God, even our fanciest theological and philosophical descriptions. We just have various layers of inadequacy, closer or further from the truth.

Continue reading Psalm Psnippet 18: God, more than Zeus

Psnippet 14: Folly leads to evil, then judgment

Psalm 14 shows us the intimate connection between morality and knowledge through its breakdown. We trace the results of lack of knowledge leading through corruption to judgement.

The psalm opens by telling us how a fool acts: they tell themselves that there is no God. Folly is connected to a certain self talk – a deliberately lying to yourself. This deception leads to more immoral behavior: “abominable deeds.”

Then the scene shifts to heaven, where God checks out the situation – tries to find anyone who understands. The gloss on understanding is to seek after God. Knowledge, in other words, is a form of spiritual curiosity rather than the self-limiting closure of options that we saw in verse 1.

But instead of seeking understanding/God – “there is no-one who does good, not even one.”

This foolishness directly causes a violation of the twofold commandment: all evildoers “eat up my people as thy eat bread” and “do not call on the LORD.” These two are so interlinked that we can’t discuss them separately.

God doesn’t just let his people be destroyed but will rescue the poor from the corrupt fool. Our willful lack of knowledge cannot stand in light of the wisdom of God which finally will restore his people.

Obviously, this feels relevant to our current situation in which it feels like some of our political leaders embrace folly and turn away from God. This means they exploit the poor. But Psalm 14 has a reminder: God will be the refuge of the poor, even in the face of the fool’s plans.

Psalm Psnippets 13: God & Time

I think this is a repeat – I wrote about time (& God) in Psnippet 9. Luckily, I didn’t exhaust the topic and we are back at it in Psalm 13.

God’s time is incomparable to ours but in Jesus, God experiences the fullness of humanity, including how time feels.

In the first two verses of this Psalm, we have five questions: all asking how long until God intervenes in this situation and rescues David.

Then we move swiftly into everyone’s favorite topic: the fear of finitude. David demands that God rescue quickly – otherwise David will face the ‘sleep of death’ and his enemies will triumph over him.

The Psalm turns to the history of God’s faithfulness to him. In the past, God has “dealt bountifully” with David – surely he will do so again.

We always remain completely within a human idiom. God doesn’t measure time like us, isn’t concerned about death (as the story of Lazarus teaches) and is outside of history.

Amazingly, in Jesus, God ontologically enters our time. David’s fear and faith reach their full expression in Jesus, who is God made human. It is a Sunday School cheat but it’s true: Jesus is the answer.