Month: February 2012

“Let’s make a deal” (Psalm 119:17)

Deal bountifully with your servant,
so that I may live and observe your word (Psalm 119:17 NRSV).

In this verse, Psalm 119 moves into the Gimel section, where each of the eight verses begins with the Hebrew letter Gimel.  The phrase here “Deal bountifully” comes from the Hebrew verb gamal, which in the original text that lacked vowels would look identical to the word Gimel, both basically gml.  (Hebrew words beginning with Gimel are less common than words beginning with Aleph or Bet.)

In Psalm 13, the psalmist declares that he will sing because YHWH has “dealt bountifully” with him (Psalm 13:6).  Here, the psalmist commands YHWH to deal bountifully with him.  While I like the clarity of the NIV here, “Do good to your servant” it’s not as powerful as the NRSV’s (and ESV’s, NAS’s) slightly archaic sounding “Deal bountifully…”

What motivation does the psalmist use to encourage YHWH to “do good”?  It sounds like a divine quid pro quo. “OK, God, let’s make a deal. If you are bountiful with me, then I’ll follow your word.”  That’s not usually how people talk in Scripture, but you gotta like the boldness of the psalmist.  Also, we know from the previous 16 verses, that living and observing God’s word is exactly what the psalmist wants to do.

“God, thanks for dealing bountifully with me, so that I can live and observe your word.”

Can you think of other divine quid pro quo’s in Scripture?  Do you make deals with God? 

Is the psalmist Lord Voldemort? (Part 1)

(Just to be clear,  the psalmist isn’t Lord Voldemort (he’s fictional).  But blog titles are supposed to be provocative.)

At dinner with my family last night, I asked which fictional character is most associated with cursing?  (Cursing not as swearing, but as the opposite of blessing.)  They were stumped, so I gave them a few clues.  Eventually Shannon said, “Lord Voldemort”.  (If you’ve been living on another planet for the last decade, Voldemort is the evil magician who keeps trying to destroy Harry Potter with killing curses.)

This morning in my Psalms class we discussed cursing (imprecatory) psalms so I showed them an example from the highest grossing film of last summer (, Voldemort’s the one without a nose).

As we looked at Psalm 139, our class thought it odd how the pro-life psalm suddenly morphs into the pro-death psalm toward the end.  In the middle are the famous lines:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made (139:13-14).

That sounds great.  I’d put that on a poster.  But wait…

O that you would kill the wicked, O God…
I hate them with perfect hatred
(Psalm 139:19, 22).

Not really poster material there.  Apparently, not everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made.  The psalmist utters a killing curse (in Hebrew it sounds exactly like Avada Kedavra).  Has the psalmist become Lord Voldemort?

So, what would you say to someone who’s troubled by the curses of Psalm 139?  (more to come…)