Psalms 39 and 41: Collective and Individual Character   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XXIX

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Psalms 39 and 41

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Psalms 39 and 41 are similar to each other, hence their grouping together in this post.  These texts share the context of prayers for deliverance from enemies.  Psalm 39 reminds me of Ecclesiastes, with talk of vanity and futility.  “Hustle and bustle” are futile, and life is brief.  The author of Psalm 41 has death on the mind, too.  His prayer for healing includes a reference to the way he will recognize divine pleasure with him:

But you, O LORD, have mercy on me;

let me rise again and repay them.

Then shall I know that You are pleased with me:

when my enemy cannot shout in triumph over me.  

You will support me because of my integrity,

and let me abide in Your presence forever.

–Psalm 41:11-13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985, 1999)

The author of Psalm 41, suffering from a serious illness, seeks to repay those who regard his plight with malicious delight.  William R. Taylor writes that this is

something less than a Christian petition.

The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1955), 218

Yet J. Clinton McCann, Jr., offers a different analysis:

The psalmist’s expressed intent to repay them is not simply an expression of personal revenge.  Rather, it may be interpreted as a matter of justice (see Ps 31:23).  Liberation for the oppressed means judgment upon oppressors.  As v. 11 demonstrates, the failure of the enemies is not just the psalmist’s will, but God’s will as well….Integrity is not a matter of the psalmist’s merit (as the NRSV) seems to suggest) but indicates the psalmist’s dependence upon God for life and future….”

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996), 848

I acknowledge–as I have many times in blog posts–that divine rescue of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  Yet I side with William R. Taylor (no relation to me) over McCann; this is “something less than a Christian petition.”  A gaping chasm separates the psalmist–predictably resentful–from Jesus praying,

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,

on his cross.

I understand resentment and fantasies of revenge.  I also grasp that they hurt me, not their intended targets.  Oppressors and others who deride malignantly may juge and condemn themselves by their actions, but I have much power over what kind of person I will be.  The better angels of my nature tell me to eschew vengeance.

Why not?  Life is short.  Yes, our “hustle and bustle” is futile.  So, may we focus on that which does not crumble and fall into ruin.  May we love one another, revere God, and protect creation.  May we build up the common good and maintain it.  May live, not resentment and revenge–define our collective and individual character.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 3, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD CASWALL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD PERRONET, BRITISH METHODIST PREACHER

THE FEAST OF ELMER G. HOMRIGHAUSEN, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF GLADYS AYLWARD, MISSIONARY IN CHINA AND TAIWAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ALFRED PASSAVANT, SR., U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND EVANGELIST

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