Derision, the Slave Trade and Psalm 119:51

The insolent utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law (Psalm 119:51).  

Wilberforce WThe primary human behind the abolition of the slave trade in England, William Wilberforce, memorized Psalm 119 (see Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, p. 48 by Eric Metaxas).  Since I can’t do that, I’ve decided to blog through the 176 verses of this the longest chapter of the Bible all of which are devoted to the psalmist’s obsession with the word of God.

For awhile I was doing one verse each week, but then health problems derailed me in the fall of 2012, and I skipped a few months.  I’m slowly getting back to it.  I’m now in the third verse of the seventh section (I’ve finished only 29%), the Zayin section where each of the 8 verses begin with the Hebrew letter Zayin.  Good English Bibles will show you where the 176 verses are divided into 22 groups of 8, and give you the Hebrew letter title for each section.

Getting back to our story, the psalmist is being derided, mocked and taunted by the insolent, arrogant and proud.  Why?  The psalmist doesn’t tell us, but it seems connected to the psalmist’s love for God’s law.  Despite the derision, the psalmist refuses to turn away from God’s law, suggesting that their abuse could have led the psalmist to reject or abandon it.

There are a lot of reasons why people today might be derided as they cling to God’s commands.  Wilberforce was derided by the people of his day because he threatened the status quo by advocating that the slave trade be eliminated.  Since all people were made in God’s image (Gen. 1:27-28), he believed they were all equally worthy of respect.  I would imagine that his love for Psalm 119 would have encouraged him to stand firm in the face of opposition, specifically as he realized from verses like 51 that the psalmist also experienced persecution.

Modern day Christian abolitionists like Gary Haugen, founder of International Justice Mission (see Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian) fight against global slave trade because of values they find in God’s word.  In the face of opposition, they, like the psalmist, do not turn from God’s law.

Who do you know that is being derided for their adherence to God’s law?  Zayin

This is Zot (Psalm 119:50)

This is my comfort in my affliction,
that your promise gives me life (Psalm 119:50).

ZOTZOT.  That’s the Hebrew word for “this” (the feminine form actually, ze is the masculine), which is how Psalm 119:50 begins, which makes sense since it is the second verse in the Zayin section of Psalm 119 (verses 49-56) where all 8 verses begin with the Hebrew letter Zayin.   (Apparently ZOT is also a noise emitted by aardvarks while capturing their prey.)

What do you do when your discouraged?  Sleep?  Eat?  Shop?  Run?  Read blogs?  Write blogs?  All of the above?  I don’t shop, although I do like to buy books.

When the psalmist is discouraged, he turns to God’s promise.  Which one?  Any of them. All of them.  I turn to Psalm 119, but the psalmist couldn’t do that yet, because it was still being written.

Psalm 119:50 promises that God’s promise gives life.  How does that happen?

1) God’s promise gives us hope, something we all need, particularly when life is rough.  Hope sustains, and focuses us on the future when things will be better because God will have worked to keep his promise.

2) God’s promise gives us comfort.  We realize that God’s word is full of people who, just like the psalmist here, were in affliction.  We aren’t alone as others were depending upon God and his promises alongside us in our affliction.  Affliction themes appear repeated throughout this psalm (119:50, 67, 71, 75, 93, 107, 153).

3) God’s promise gives us God.  It is his promise (“your” is the most common word in Psalm 119, always attached to a Torah synonym).  God is the one who makes the promise and he’s the one who will keep the promise.  Focusing on his promise deepens our relationship with God, because it keeps us looking to him.

When I was struggling in the fall of 2012 with stomach reflux, sleeplessness and voice problems, God’s promise gave me hope and comfort.  God didn’t promise that he would heal me instantly.  It took 6 months, but he comforted me in the midst of my pain.  God was present.

What gives you life in the midst of affliction?  


Cursing, Baby Bashing, and Psalm 137

What do you think of Psalm 137, the end of the psalm where it talks about blessing people who bash babies heads against the rock?

I was asked about it during a job interview and didn’t have a good answer.  If I had a better answer I think I would have gotten a job in England back in 2005.  (I started working at Biblical in 2006.)

While I can’t say I like Psalm 137:9, I’m glad it’s in the Bible.

In this blog for Biblical Seminary I discuss this highly troubling text.

Check it out here: Cursing, Baby Bashing, and Psalm 137.

psalm-1379-christian-bible-girl-baby-religion-1351402656Apparently atheists love this verse.  I found this image on what appears to be an atheist website:

Christians should be troubled by, but not afraid of, this verse.  I hope my readers who consider themselves Christians know people would consider themselves atheists who they could discuss Psalm 137 with.

A student told me yesterday that her atheist professor embarrassed her in front of the class when he asked about another troubling text, the rape of the Levite’s concubine in Judg. 19.  She still vividly remembers this experience decades later.

We Christians too often ignore these troubling texts of the Old Testament, so when they come up in discussions with atheists, agnostics or skeptics, we don’t have an answer.

Check out the Biblical blog for some of my thoughts (I hesitate to call it the “answer”).



Are you pissed at God?

I’m the divine anger guy.  I’ve written articles recently on “Wrath” in the Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets (IVP Bible Dictionary) and Divine Wrath and Divine Compassion in Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem.

So, when I was looking at the CBS news website today and I ran across an interview with Ian Punnett, author of How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God: Or Anyone Else for That Matter I was intrigued.  Human anger?  Perhaps a new topic to focus on?

Here’s the link if you want to listen to the interview with the author.  It’s good.

I haven’t bought the book yet, but I probably will just based on the title.  It’s currently in the top 200 on Amazon and the #1 book on prayer right now.

He starts out with an angry tweet from Steve Johnson, wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills who was pissed at God (after he dropped a pass).  Johnson took flack for his angry outburst since people think that pious people don’t talk like that to God, but Punnett thinks he shouldn’t have.  Scripture is full of people who are angry at God.

I could have used this book during the fall when I didn’t understand what God was doing in my life.  I will probably have opportunities in the future when this book will be relevant to my life.  Although, it would be OK if I didn’t.

How do you pray when you’re pissed at God? 

Be careful, though, you don’t want to get struck by lightning.