Archive for August 12, 2017

Psalms 73 and 74   1 comment

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POST XXVIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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One of the themes of Psalm 72 is that a monarch is responsible for establishing and maintaining economic and social justice in the realm.  We know from the Hebrew Bible that all but a few Kings of Israel and Judah failed in this matter and many did not even try to succeed in it.  Psalm 73 is a fine companion piece to Psalm 72.  The author of Psalm 73 struggles with the question of why justice persists and many of the wicked prosper while righteous suffer.  Why does God permit this to occur?  The psalmist concludes that there is an ultimate divine justice we mere mortals do not witness.  That might provide some psychological comfort, but it does not solve problems in this life.

Speaking of injustice, we know that the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was brutal and that violence was one of its foundations.  Psalm 74, from the Babylonian Exile, is a national lament.  The theology of the Babylonian Exile, according to the Hebrew Bible, in its final form, is that longterm, national disobedience to the Law of Moses, as evidenced by idolatry and disregard for the mandate of economic justice, contributed greatly to the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah.  The author of Psalm 74, recognizing national sins, asks,

How long?

Then he asks God to end the exile.

How long?

is a valid question.  How long will many of the evil continue to prosper?  How long will institutionalized social injustice persist?  How long will God seem to turn a blind eye to all this social injustice?  How long will the population suffer the consequences of collective action and inaction that violates God’s law?  How long until we learn our lessons?  How long until the wicked who refuse to repent meet with divine justice?

How long, indeed?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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Psalms 71 and 72   1 comment

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POST XXVII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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A Christian song I heard decades ago speaks of benefits to having a longterm relationship with God.

The longer I serve him, the sweeter he grows,

it says.  I can imagine the author of Psalm 71 saying that, between laments, of course.  That psalmist is an old man (by the standards of his time and place) who has been a devout Jew.  Enemies press in around him.  He, in turn, expresses confidence in God and, unfortunately, asks for revenge.  The author’s confidence in God comes from a lifetime of piety.  He understands that seeking righteousness does not mean that one will not suffer.

Psalm 72, perhaps for a coronation, contains some interesting conditional clauses followed by wishes:

If he rescues the needy crying for aid,

and the oppressed who has no help;

If he takes pity on the poor and the needy,

and saves the lives of the needy;

If he redeems their lives from lawless oppression,

and their blood is precious in his eyes;

Then may he live long,

and gold from Sheba be given to him!

Then let perpetual prayer be made for him,

blessings invoked on him throughout the day!

–Verses 12-15, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

That series of conditional statements does not describe most Kings of Israel and Judah.  Neither, unfortunately, does it describe most of the Presidents of the United States during the last six decades.

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

–The Westminster Shorter Catechism

This is true whether one is a commoner or a monarch, a private citizen or a political leader.  Those in positions of power and influence have certain responsibilities the rest of us do not.  May they make wise decisions consistently and build up those for whom they are responsible.  May all of us act in obedience to the divine principles that we depend completely on God, depend on each other, are responsible to and for each other, and have no right to exploit one another.  May we glorify God in part by building each other up.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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Psalms 69 and 70   1 comment

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POST XXVI OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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In Psalm 70, nearly identical to the end of Psalm 40, the Psalmist asks God for deliverance from and revenge upon foes who threaten his life.

The theme of lament also exists in Psalm 69, apparently by a faithful Jew living in exile after the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  The exile has many enemies–strangers, relatives, and former friends.  He is figuratively drowning in their scorn.  He also seeks deliverance from and vengeance upon his enemies.

As I reread Psalm 69 again the first time in preparation for this post, I focused on the timeless sense of enduring rejection (for the sake of righteousness) from those one knows best.  I have read and heard many accounts of people over time who, upon leaving one religion, sect, or denomination for another, have had to cope with rejection by their relatives and former friends who have not converted.  Frequently the alienation from one’s former circle has been permanent.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

In his arms he’ll take and shield thee,

thou wilt find a solace there.

–Joseph M. Screven, circa 1855

My only disagreement with that fragment of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is that a friend does not despise and forsake another friend.  No, friends take care of and look out for each other; one does not reject and become an enemy of another while remaining a friend.  In Judaism God is like what God does.  Likewise, we are like what we do.

May we never forget that, when we experience trauma and cry out to God in that context, we might feel alone yet are not, if we walk with God.  May we also know that, although the desire for revenge is natural, it is unhealthy.  It is, actually, self-destructive and spiritually poisonous.  I do take comfort, however, that one can express even the most unpleasant feelings to God safely.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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Posted August 12, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 40, Psalm 69, Psalms I: 1-76

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Psalm 68   1 comment

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POST XXV OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Psalm 68 is, as exegetes have acknowledged for a very long time, perhaps the most difficult portion of the Psalter to interpret.  This difficulty flows from the text’s frequent changes in tenses and speaker, among other factors.  Psalm 68 seems to be a collection of songs and portions thereof used liturgically in the Temple; that is perhaps as close to a unifying principle as one can identify in it.

J. Clinton McCann, Jr., writing in Volume IV (1996) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, identifies a helpful lens through which to ponder this psalm.  The text, he insists,

deals with a perennial theological issue:  how to talk about a transcendent God in human terms.

–Page 947

In human terms, as Psalm 68 presents God, the Creator is, among other things,

  1. fire,
  2. he who rides upon the clouds,
  3. the father of the fatherless and the protector of widows,
  4. the giver of rain,
  5. a shepherd, and
  6. the sovereign.

There is no error in speaking and writing about God in human terms, for these are the only terms we humans have.  Much of the time our terms for God are metaphors; perhaps poetry is the best way to speak and write of God frequently.  It is vital, however, that we understand that, as we use those terms in relation to God, they have their limits.  After all, God is God; divinity exceeds human capacities to imagine and describe.  The proper way to speak and write of God in human terms is to make the point that God is at least this and is actually far more.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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Posted August 12, 2017 by neatnik2009 in Psalm 68

Tagged with

Psalms 65-67   1 comment

Above:  Grass

Image in the Public Domain

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POST XXIV OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Te decet hymnus in Sion, Domine.

–The first line of Psalm 65 in Latin, quoted in the Requiem Mass

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In Judaism God is like what does and has done.  Thus we read periodic accounts of divine actions past and present (from the perspective of the authors) in the Hebrew Bible.  Psalms 65, 66, and 67 fit this theme well; God’s generosity and power are evident in nature, the life of the Hebrew nation, and individual lives.  The proper responses are gratitude and obedience to divine law.

One of my favorite aspects of Reformed theology is the concept of the Book of Nature, the understanding that the created order is one way to know God:

We know God by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe,

since that universe is before our eyes is like a beautiful book

in which all creatures, great and small,

are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God:

God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word,

as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.

–The Belgic Confession (1561), Article 2 (2011 translation), quoted in Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources, Including the Doctrinal Standards of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America (Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013), pages 26 and 27

The concept of the Book of Nature is a helpful one, for, if one seeks to learn about the Creator, creation should be part of the curriculum.  One might think of “This is My Father’s World,” by the Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901), a Presbyterian minister who relished the created order and thereby came closer to God.

This is my Father’s world:

He shines in all that’s fair;

In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,

He speaks to me everywhere.

May we study the Book of Nature closely and be the best possible stewards of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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Psalms 62-64   1 comment

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POST XXIII OF LX

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The Book of Common Prayer (1979) includes a plan for reading the Book of Psalms in morning and evening installments for 30 days.  I am therefore blogging through the Psalms in 60 posts.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 226

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Men of lowly birth are mere vapor,

those of high degree a delusion.

On scales they are lighter than leaves,

together lighter than vapor.

–Psalm 62:10, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

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Men are mere breath;

mortals, illusion;

placed on a scale all together,

they weigh even less than a breath.

–Psalm 62:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God, however, is substantial.

Psalms 62, 63, and 64 express confidence in God.  Psalm 63, set in the Israelite desert, brings that principle home in a concrete way.  There is a good reason that, for thousands of years, many holy men and women have tested their piety and trained themselves to rely on God in deserts.

Psalms 63 and 64 mention the fates of enemies.  Whereas Psalm 63 expresses a desire for divine vengeance–by experiencing gutting with a sword and becoming food for jackals, Psalm 64 simply acknowledges that people will reap what they sow.  Those who set down the path of righteousness are not secure from all suffering, but they do walk with God.  Those who trod a different trail–the one to destruction–will meet with the predictable fate.  This is a cause for mourning, not rejoicing.  One should desire that such people will repent and turn to God, for their benefit and that of others, and to the joy of God.  One cannot make those kinds of decisions for others, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THADDEUS STEVENS, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, CONGRESSMAN, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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