Archive for the ‘Mitchell J. Dahood’ Tag

Psalms 86-88   Leave a comment

Above:  An Old World Map, Showing Jerusalem as the Center of the World

Image in the Public Domain

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POST XXXIII 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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Mitchell J. Dahood, while agreeing with the scholarly consensus that Psalm 86 is an individual lament, emphasizes the point that the author is the King of Israel.  Thus, as Dahood points out, the monarch’s woes have more far-reaching consequences than those of an anonymous subject and a favorable divine answer carries national significance.

Psalm 88 is also a lament.  The author, seriously ill and therefore ostracized, simultaneously blames God for his circumstances and requests divine deliverance.  Can a dead man praise God in Sheol, the psalmist asks.  According to the orthodoxy of the time, no.

Sandwiched between the two laments we read Psalm 87, which predicts that neighboring Gentile kingdoms and empires, from Babylon to Ethiopia, will eventually come to God and recognize Jerusalem as the center of the worship of God.  The Hebrews will remain the Chosen People, of course, but divine mercies extend to the Gentiles.  This is a wonderfully inclusive text.

Psalms 86 and 87 are explicitly national in theme.  Psalm 88, although outwardly individual, might be symbolic of the Babylonian Exile, with Sheol representing exile.  If this is true, reading it with Psalm 87 becomes interesting; enemies will become co-religionists and allies one day, via the power of God.  That is part of the promise of Psalm 87.

As with so many predictions of life after the Babylonian Exile, reality did not live up to high expectations.  The dream did not die, however; people kept deferring it.  The dream has not died.  Visions of lions and lambs lying down together in God’s kingdom on Earth have remained appealing.  Such visions have continued to expose the moral bankruptcy of states, kingdoms, empires, societies, and cultures founded on violence, exploitation, and artificial scarcity.  These visions have also continued to expose prominent figures, including heads of government and of state from antiquity to the present day.  None of them have been able to measure up compared to the standards of the Kingdom of God.  These dreams have never ceased to be relevant and contemporary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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Psalms 82-85   Leave a comment

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POST XXXII 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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Show us, O LORD, Your faithfulness;

grant us your deliverance.

–Psalm 85:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Show us, O Yahweh, your kindness,

and give us your prosperity.

–Psalm 85:8, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

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Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,

and grant us your salvation.

–Psalm 85:7, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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LORD, show us your love

and grant us your deliverance.

–Psalm 85:7, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The act of comparing translations can yield much.  For example, the Hebrew word hesed can mean “faithfulness,” “kindness,” “love,” and “steadfast love.”  Likewise, another Hebrew word can mean “deliverance,” “salvation,” and “prosperity.”  In the context of Psalm 85 it is deliverance from the Babylonian Exile and prosperity that only God can provide.  Related to these matters is the fact that “righteousness” and “justice” are the same in the Bible.  I bring up this point because of Psalm 82, which tells us that God’s justice is universal.

The author of Psalm 83 assumes that enemies of ancient Israel are automatically enemies of God also.  Thus he has no hesitation to ask God to smite them.  Yet, as we read in Psalm 81, God has enemies in ancient Israel also.  Furthermore, a recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible is the faithfulness of certain Gentiles, including the prostitute Rahab and her family (Joshua 2 and 6) and the Aramean general Naaman (2 Kings 5), both from national enemies.  In the Book of Jonah, a work of satirical fiction from the post-Babylonian Exilic period, God recognizes the possibility that enemies of ancient Israel will repent and desires that they do so.   Reality is more complicated than the author of Psalm 83, in his understandable grief and anger, perceives it to be.

A faithful response to God includes both gratitude and obedience.  This segue brings me to Psalm 84, my favorite psalm, one which Johannes Brahms set to music gloriously in A German Requiem.  The psalmist writes as a pilgrim to the Temple at Jerusalem.  He approaches the Presence of God humbly and filled with awe.  The author delights to be in the Presence of God, which he understands to exist physically (via the Ark of the Covenant) at the Temple.

If Rahab and her family could become part of Israel, surely divine judgment and mercy crossed national barriers in antiquity.  If the Gentile Ruth could become the grandmother of David, YHWH was never just a national deity.  If the alien Naaman could recognize the power of YHWH, there was an opening to Gentiles at the time of the divided monarchy.

If divine justice is universal, as I affirm, we will do well to cease imagining that God is on our side and strive instead to be on God’s side.  We can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

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Psalms 71 and 72   Leave a 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 62-64   Leave a 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.

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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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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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Psalms 50-52   Leave a comment

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POST XIX 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 Exodus 3, when God speaks to Moses via the Burning Bush, which the fire does not consume, Moses asks God for His name.  God provides a non-name–a description, really.  God says, in Hebrew,

Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,

which has more than one meaning.  The germane note in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) reads:

Meaning of Heb. uncertain; variously translated:  “I Am That I Am”; “I Am Who I Am”; “I Will Be What I Will Be”; etc.

In the culture of Moses the meaning was plain; since many people believed that to know someone’s name was to have power over him or her, not knowing God’s name told them that they had no power over God.

The theme of ultimate divine authority and power exists in Psalm 50:

Were I hungry, I would not tell you, mine being the world and all it holds.

–Verse 12, Mitchell J. Dahood translation

I, like so many Protestants, grew up learning false notions about Judaism in general and late Second Temple Judaism in particular.  I learned that Judaism was a legalistic religion, one concerned with rules, not grace.  This was an old stereotype, one which I have heard from adults in my Sunday School class recently.

Stereotypes are, by definition, overly broad and therefore inaccurate.  Yes, some expressions of Judaism are legalistic; so are certain strains of Christianity.  In Judaism, in its proper form, obedience to God is a faithful response to God.  This principle also exists in Christianity.  As Jesus says in John 14:15,

If you love me, keep my commandments….

The Revised English Bible (1989)

God is the strength of the righteous, who confess their sins and trust in divine mercy.  They also attempt to treat their fellow human beings respectfully, according to the background ethics of the Law of Moses.  Culturally specific examples of timeless principles come and go; principles remain.

Reading the Book of Psalms according to the 30-day, 60-segment plan in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) helps me to recognize certain similarities and differences in adjacent texts.  By reading Psalms 50 and 51 together, for example, I notice the similarity of the need for confession of sins and their repentance–literally, turning around.   The difference is the emphasis in each text.  In Psalm 50 the call from God is for collective confession and repentance, but the confession of sin in Psalm 51 is individual.

May we who seek to follow God remember that sin, punishment, confession, and repentance come in two varieties:  collective and individual.  If we must overcome any cultural barriers to this understanding, may we do so, by grace, the only way we can succeed in that purpose.  Too often we (especially those with a Protestant upbringing) focus on individual sins to the minimization or exclusion of collective responsibility before God.  That imbalance is itself sinful.  It is also more difficult to recognize, confront, and correct.  That reality does not let us off the hook, however.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WALSHAM HOW, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, FRANCES JANE DOUGLAS(S), HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURENCE OF ROME, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SHERMAN BOOTH, ABOLITIONIST

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Psalms 44-46   Leave a comment

Above:  Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Washington, D. C., September 2011

Photographer = Carol Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-18674

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POST XVII 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 recurring theme throughout the Hebrew Bible is that military victory comes not merely through tactics, weaponry, and alliances, but via God.  National strength entails much, including caring effectively for the vulnerable members of society and not exploiting people, themes present in Psalm 45.  If any of this sounds familiar, perhaps that is because one knows the books of the Hebrew prophets and/or has been paying attention to the Book of Psalms.  Scholarly sources suggest a variety of answers regarding the dating of Psalm 44.  Either the dating is impossible to ascertain or the text comes from the exilic period or from the Hasmonean era.  Regardless, Psalm 44 functions well in a variety of settings and periods, after a downturn in national fortunes has occurred.

Psalm 46 works nicely as a counterpart to Psalm 44.  Psalm 46 is a text soldiers recited before going into battle.  That detail is especially interesting, given the politics of the text.  The end of Psalm 46, in many traditional renderings, reads something like:

“Be still, then, and know that I am God;

I will be exalted among the nations;

I will be exalted in the earth.”

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

–Psalm 46:11-12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

However, as J. Clinton McCann, Jr., writing in Volume IV (1996) of The New Interpreter’s Bible, argues, this is a bad translation because:

Contemporary readers almost inevitably hear it as a call to meditation or relaxation, when it should be heard in the light of v.9 as something like “Stop!” or “Throw down your weapons! ”  In other words, “Depend on God instead of yourselves.”

–Page 866

Mitchell J. Dahood, while maintaining that bad translation, anticipates McCann’s interpretation of the meaning of the verse.  Father Dahood’s note on that verse refers to prophetic cautions against ill-advised military alliances, as in Isaiah 30:15, and mentions that God is the master of history.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) makes these points plain in the translation of the verse:

Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.

–Verse 11

God can end all war.  The wish that God will end all military conflict and establish a kingdom of peace and justice on the planet is a natural desire for a soldier, is it not?  Yes, warmongers exist;  most seem to be civilians.  None of the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines I have known have not been warmongers.  After all, military personnel pay the highest costs of warfare.

The mandate for a country and its leaders to trust in God comes bound with the command to care effectively for the vulnerable members of society and to resist militarism.  This is a lesson the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., understood well, given his anti-Vietnam War speech of April 4, 1967:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

The textual context for that statement is a call for the transformation of the United States of America from

a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-centered” society

–a call for a moral revolution–

a revolution of values

–a positive revolution, one that recognizes that

War is not the answer

and that neither are hatred and fear to the question of how to defeat Communism.

Enemies and political causes come and go.  Timeless principles, however, remain.  What can be more timeless a principle than trusting in God?  Certainly King’s call for a moral revolution of values remains relevant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WALSHAM HOW, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, FRANCES JANE DOUGLAS(S), HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURENCE OF ROME, ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SHERMAN BOOTH, ABOLITIONIST

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Psalms 41-43   Leave a comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  Psalm 41

Image in the Public Domain

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POST XVI 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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Reading the Book of Psalms from the beginning leads one to notice certain recurring themes.  In Psalms 41, 42, and 43, taken together, I notice certain motifs on which I have commented in previous posts.  They include the following:

  1. Being seriously ill and calling out to God for deliverance,
  2. Being the victim of malicious gossip,
  3. Seeking divine vindication,
  4. Wishing the worst for one’s enemies, and
  5. Trusting in God while wondering why God has permitted one to suffer so badly.

My previous comments on those themes stand.

I prefer instead to focus on the question of the translation of the opening of Psalm 41.  The rendering of the opening of that text in The Book of Common Prayer (1979) is typical of most English-language translations:

Happy are they who consider the poor and the needy!

the LORD will deliver them in the time of trouble.

–Verse 1

In TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) we read of one who is

thoughtful of the wretched.

The pious person in The Revised English Bible (1989)

has a concern for the helpless.

However, as Mitchell J. Dahood writes, slander, not helping the poor and needy/the wretched/the helpless, is a major concern in Psalm 41.  Therefore the Dahood translation of that verse reads

How blest the man prudent in speech,

in time of danger may Yahweh deliver him.

–Verse 2

One can read Dahood’s full case for this translation in Psalms I:  1-50 (1966), page 249.

Prudence in speech and writing is a virtue, is it not?  Indeed, one need not apologize for oratorical and written prudence.  Furthermore, the lack of prudence leads to troubles one could have avoided easily.  Yet a lack of prudence in speech and writing becomes (temporarily, at least) a political asset for some; it is allegedly plain spokenness.  The Dahood translation prompts me to think of James 3:1-12, a passage about the power of speech for positive and negative purposes.  That text needs no commentary, for it explains itself.

The slanderers of Psalm 41 are of the same ilk as the enemies of Psalm 42, the treacherous men of Psalm 43.  One temptation is, to use an old expression, fight fire with fire.  Although that strategy is effective in fighting literal fires sometimes, it is probably not the best spiritual practice most of the time.  How about trusting in God instead?  How about fighting fire with fire extinguisher instead?  How about, in the style of Jesus, forgiving one’s enemies?

This is difficult, of course.  Yet we need not operate under the delusion that we ought to be able to do it under our own power.  No, we rely on grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 9, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT EDITH STEIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND PHILOSOPHER

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Posted August 9, 2017 by neatnik2009 in James 3, Psalm 42, Psalm 43, Psalms I: 1-76

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