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Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes
 (Psalm 119:48).

Horshak Hand Raising“Ooh-ooh-ooooh, Mr. Kotter, Mr. Kotter.”  

When I think about lifting up hands, it’s hard for me to not envision Horshack (played by Ron Palillo, who passed away in 2012) desperately trying to get Mr. Kotter’s attention in Welcome Back, Kotter, an ABC sitcom in the late 1970’s.  (As you probably know, a young John Travolta played Vinnie Barbarino.)  Horshack’s hand would shoot straight up and wave back and forth as he hope to be called upon.

While we lift our hands for a variety of reasons in addition to attempting to get the attention of a teacher–to wave, to celebrate, to catch falling projectiles–the psalmist here seems to be thinking of hand-lifting in the context of praise, as he declares his love toward God’s commandments.

And yet, there is something about Horshack’s zeal and his desire to engage with his teacher that fits right into Psalm 119, as the psalmist is eager to connect with God over his word.  The hands lift up enthusiastically as the psalmist finds delight in God’s statutes, which leads him to meditate upon them.

The line, “which I love” is a bit unusual for this verse, as it makes the first half of verse 48 too long, and it’s appearance in this line is suspicious since the previous verse has the same line.  Some scholars will assume it was just a scribal error, accidentally repeated from the previous verse.  Perhaps…or maybe the psalmist just wanted to repeat his love for Scripture and said, “Who cares if this line is too long?

While most of the 176 verses of Psalm 119 mention one synonym for God’s word in each verse (e.g., promise, rules, law, precepts, testimonies, etc.), verse 48 is unusual as it gives two synonyms (your commandments, your statutes).  Only two other verses in the entire psalm include two synonyms (16, 168).  Interestingly, both of these other two verses come at the end of a 8-verse section just like verse 48, which is the final verse of the Vav section, where each verse in the Hebrew begins with the letter Vav.  So, the repetition of the Torah-synonym may be a way to close out a stanza.

How does one lift up one’s hands toward God’s commandments?  

I’ve taken a three-month break from blogging on the Psalms due to my health problems.  As my health has improved, I’m going to start blogging on Psalm 119 again, but I doubt I’ll be able to blog on it weekly.  We’ll see.  

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sheep-out-to-eatSheep out to eat? 

Is Psalm 23 really suggesting that sheep like to eat at a table?  I don’t think so, but you should check out my third reflection on Psalm 23, Sheep Out to Eat? (Psalm 23, Part 3) on the Biblical Seminary Faculty blog.

Also, the interview with me on God Behaving Badly that appeared last week in The Washington Post also appeared the next day in The Huffington Post, check it out here.  Last time I checked there were over 1000 comments to the Huffington interview.

So, do you let your pets eat at the table with you? 

 

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BonhoefferMy dad called yesterday.  He was clearly excited.  He left a message at my office then called me at home.  He was reading through the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. The allusion to the George Smiley novel might be enough to entice one to read it.

“David”  (My Dad calls me by my full name.)  “I just read about Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s favorite verse in the Bible.  Guess what it is.”

“There’s a lot to choose from, Dad.  I have no idea.”  (It was about 5:00 pm–I’m low energy at that point in time.)

“Make a wild stab at it.”

“OK.  How about something from Psalm 119?”

“Yes.  Actually, Psalm 119, verse 71–It was good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.  You and Bonhoeffer share a love for Psalm 119.”  (See my 40-plus blog posts on Psalm 119.)

“Yes, Dad.  That’s true.”

Bonhoeffer was reflecting on this verse as he decided to leave the US to return to Germany, where within 3 years he would become a martyr.

While my health problems the past 5 months have seemed brutal to me, my afflictions are mild compared to what Bonhoeffer experienced.  But I am forced (reluctantly) to agree with the psalmist and the martyr, it is good to be afflicted. It forces us to be more dependent upon God and God’s word.

Based on my father’s enthusiastic endorsement, my wife Shannon just ordered the Bonhoeffer book for me.  I’ll let you know how it is.

So, how do you feel about affliction? 

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lion lambEver wonder how appropriate is it to put ourselves into the psalms?  Should we identify with the psalmist?  If so, how?  Who was the Psalmist?  Did David write all those psalms that mention him in the heading?  I discuss these questions in my latest Biblical Faculty blog post on Psalm 23:

I Am Your Shepherd David, Cindy, Sansung, Linda, Noah, Jason, and Xiaowei (Psalm 23, Part II).

The blog is dedicated to all the students I taught this past term.  I would have liked to include the sixty-plus names of these students, but that would have made the title of the post rather long.

Image from: http://www.freewebs.com/praiseyah/yhwhecards.htm (shortly after the photo was taken, the lion had a snack).

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The Most Overused Psalm (Psalm 23)

ShepherdRecently I posted my reflections on the most overused Psalm in the Bible on the Biblical Seminary faculty blog.

The Most Overused Psalm (Psalm 23).

This Psalm has been my friend of late.

Check it out.

 

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For I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love
 (Psalm 119:47).

Hurricane Sandy is blustering outside as I write this.  Yesterday, my reflux and other things made me feel miserable (a 7-up worked magic for me, not sure why, so after a bad afternoon, the evening was great).  I’m still feeling good today, so even though my seminary (Biblical) is closed for the hurricane, I’m at my office working on syllabi and a Psalm 119 blog. 

In the previous verse, the psalmist declares that he will speak of God’s laws before kings.  The ESV’s “For” at the beginning of this verse might suggest a strong connection linking verses 46 and 47 (typically a ki in the Hebrew), but since the Hebrew word behind the “For” at the beginning is just a simple conjunction (yes, you guessed it, a Vav since this is the Vav section of Psalm 119), which can be translated as “And” (NAS) or even left untranslated (NRSV), I won’t make a big deal about how the two verses are connected.

Makes you want to read your Bible, huh?

Delight for God’s law is a big theme in Psalm 119, appearing ten times (with links for the four I blogged on already: 119:14, 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 143, 174).  Torah-Delight (sounds like an exotic dish) is almost as popular in this psalm as Torah-Love, which appears twelve times (47, 48, 97, 113, 119, 127, 132, 140, 159, 163, 165, 167).The Psalmist was passionately in love with God’s law.  He delighted in it, like I delight in ice cream (although, I don’t eat it anymore because of stomach reflux!).

Now, you may well ask, how does one delight and love the law?  Great question.  One book of the Law (the first five books of the Bible) people have difficulty loving is Numbers.  The title doesn’t really capture most of us.  But I’ve been loving Numbers lately.  The book has spoken to me as I’ve been struggling with health issues (damaged vocal cords, stomach reflux, feeling lousy, a colonoscopy, an endoscopy, two mole removals on my shin).

Shortly after they blew it big time worshiping the golden calf (Exo. 32), the Israelites are still at Mount Sinai and YHWH gives them a series of simple commands: count everyone (ch. 1), arrange the camp like this (ch. 2), count more people (ch. 4).   And the great thing, they obey this time (Num. 1:54; 2:34; 4:49).  It’s like God wants to make it easy for them.  “OK, I told you not to worship idols, but you couldn’t obey that.  Why don’t we try counting.  1, 2, 3…603,550.”  Apparently, they could count properly.

When I have been feeling weak lately and unable to do much, it’s helpful to remember that sometimes God’s commands are really simple.  Like the command to count or the command to rest (Exo. 20:8-11).  I love the command to rest.  I delight in it, particularly now that I’m trying to recover my health.

Just found out power went out at home, gotta run!

God, deepen our delight in your law, even the book of Numbers. 

Image from http://bethaderech.com/torah-study/.

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I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame
(Psalm 119:46).

I’m hoping a few of you readers are kings.  Then I could be like the psalmist, speaking before kings about God’s laws.  I know a guy named Andrew King, and while he’s a great guy, he’s no monarch. But I don’t think that’s what the psalmist was talking about (he probably wasn’t thinking about Burger Kings either).

The psalmist was speaking about real kings.  Although back in the Old Testament times a “king” might only rule over a few thousand people.  In Genesis 14, there’s a battle between a coalition of four kings and a coalition of five kings, where it seems like a king is basically a ruler of a city, more like a mayor, but probably not democratically elected.

It would still take courage for anyone to speak before king about God’s testimonies.  What gives the psalmist confidence to do something so bold?  He knows that he won’t be embarrassed.

To succeed in public speaking you need confidence.  There’s nothing more painful than a public speaker who’s lost his confidence.  The psalmist has complete confidence in God and God’s word.

Where does the psalmist’s confidence come from?  It is difficult to say conclusively, but from what we’ve seen in the psalm, it’s from a lifelong relationship with God, and a complete commitment to live God’s word and sing the praises of God’s laws.

Yesterday in our Sunday school class, my wife Shannon led a discussion of a section of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says he came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17-20).  I was struck by how much Jesus loved, supported and taught God’s law.  According to Jesus own words, those that do the law and teach others to do so will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  I guess that makes both Jesus and the psalmist great.

God, make us great as we follow the examples of Jesus and the psalmist to speak of your law and to follow it. 

Image:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/marcbabej/2011/08/19/burger-king-decapitates-its-king-mascot-about-time/

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