Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

What’s in a Title?

You know those titles of the Psalms? The ones that are usually in small caps? Did you know that those are part of the original Hebrew text? There isn’t a known edition of the Hebrew scriptures that doesn’t have those titles so we should assume they are inspired along with the rest of the text.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:1–3)

The title of Psalm 30 is, as best as we can determine, inspired. Psalm 30 is written by David or about David (“of” can mean either) and it is about the dedication of the temple. David had died before Solomon built or dedicated the temple (1 Kings 2:10) so this may be a song David had written to be sung at that event. Or it is written to describe David and his relationship to the dedication.

Now, David didn’t rise from the dead and attend the dedication of the temple (Acts 2:29), but David and the temple mean more in the Bible story than they do solely in the Psalms and so they mean more in the Psalms than they do at first read there.

There is a Biblical promise of David’s son who would build the temple and reign forever (2 Sam. 7). In one sense, that was Solomon since he built the temple. But in another sense it isn’t since he didn’t reign forever.

The connection between the temple and resurrection in the New Testament is clear:

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:19–22)

The Psalm goes on in verse 9:

What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?

Again, death is involved but the question the Psalmist asks is if there was to be profit in his death. Will the dust praise God? Again, Jesus gives the answer:

As [Jesus] was drawing near [to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey]—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:36–40)

Jesus is heading to his execution, his crucifixion. His death, complete but not final, will ensure that the rocks and the dust they will become don’t need to praise God. His death will draw in people who will praise God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23).

Chance Eclipsed

On earth, we get a total solar eclipse because our sun and moon are just the right size and they and the earth just the right distances apart. These eclipses give us a great wealth of information and allow us to research the cosmos.

We’re also just the right distance from the sun so that we don’t bake or freeze. And our moon is just the right size and distance so that it induces tides and it keeps our planet tilted at the right angle to allow seasons. This video explains it well:

For reference, consider what a lunar eclipse recently looked like on Mars:

The only intelligent life in the solar system is on the planet with a transparent atmosphere and a moon that perfectly eclipses the sun. If humanity is the result of random chance alignment of atoms, then not only is it astounding that those atoms should give rise to humanity, but it is also astounding that they should give rise to humanity that would become intelligent enough to figure out science and that those atoms should happen to be on a planet where observation of the universe would be pretty much optimal. It is almost like the universe wants to be understood by us. Or perhaps God wants us to see and understand the universe so we can understand something bigger than ourselves.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1 ESV)

ADDED: The very existence of this sized moon around this sized planet with this type of atmosphere is incredibly improbable. “Current theories on the formation of the Moon owe too much to cosmic coincidences.

The Church and The Bible

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” – 2 Kings 2:9-10

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. – Acts 1:8-9

I don’t want to make too much about this but I find it interesting that Elisha received a portion of the Spirit that was on Elijah as he watched Elijah be taken into heaven and in Acts there is an emphasis put on the coming of the Holy Spirit and Luke clearly points out that the disciples watched as Jesus ascended. Then the Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost.

To be fair, I think Luke’s point is clear in the next verse: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It just seems that the parallel is kind of obvious.

The other thing I noticed in reading the first three chapters of Acts is how the very early church relied upon and interpreted scripture. The book begins with the disciples asking if Jesus will now restore the kingdom to Israel. That’s a biblical question since the the idea that the Son of David will restore the kingdom is a matter of biblical exegesis.

Then there is the apparent parallel to Elijah. Next the disciples gather and Peter interprets Psalm 69 and 101 to mean that they should replace Judas as an Apostle.

Then Pentecost comes and the Spirit fills the disciples so that they start preaching in various languages. When the disciples are accused of being drunk (because, you know, drunk folks can speak other languages fluently) Peter again interprets scripture. He cites the book of Joel to explain what the crowd is seeing and then returns to the book of Psalms citing Psalm 16 and 110 to explain who Jesus is.

The Church has relied on the scriptures from the very beginning of her existence. And the Church relied on scriptures to inform how she should conduct her business, to explain her methods and in evangelism. We’re missing a lot if we think that we don’t need to follow what the scriptures say or if get the idea that they don’t speak to the situation of the church today. David wrote the Psalms about 900 years before Peter applied them so it isn’t like they have a limited shelf life.

Three Things

It was an interesting morning doing Bible study. I’m using a chronological outline to read through the Bible in a year and right now I’m reading through Jeremiah. Today was two chapters of Jeremiah and a few Psalms. Three things struck me.

I. Ethiopian Eunuchs are Great Guys! In Jeremiah 38 Jeremiah’s enemies toss him in a muddy cistern because he keeps telling people that God has given Jerusalem into the hands of Babylon. Jeremiah’s enemies don’t believe him and they think he is convincing the troops to give up. So sure, a cistern seems a logical place to put him. I guess they were too chicken to kill him themselves. Now for some reason Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, is living in besieged and surrounded Jerusalem. What is a foreigner doing in Judah while the country is under attack? He’s rescuing Jeremiah, that’s what he’s doing (Jeremiah 38:7-13). And here’s God’s response to Ebed-melech:

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah while he was shut up in the court of the guard: “Go, and say to Ebed-melech the Ethiopian, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold, I will fulfill my words against this city for harm and not for good, and they shall be accomplished before you on that day. But I will deliver you on that day, declares the LORD, and you shall not be given into the hand of the men of whom you are afraid. For I will surely save you, and you shall not fall by the sword, but you shall have your life as a prize of war, because you have put your trust in me, declares the LORD.'” (Jeremiah 39:15-18)

The next Ethiopian eunuch we meet in scripture is unnamed but likewise puts his trust in the Lord. In Acts 8 he’s riding along reading Isaiah 53 and wondering about the meaning. God sends Philip to him to explain and the eunuch gets baptized.

God blessed and worked through Israel and says that he’ll bless Egypt and Assyria (Isaiah 19:23) but Ethiopia is never mentioned specifically as a country God would favor. And eunuchs are the wrong sort of people. They cannot be circumcised and they cannot enter the temple (Deuteronomy 23:1) and yet here are two of them putting their trust in God and being blessed. I’m so glad that God chooses the least likely, that his favor is not a matter of ethnicity or physical properties. That means a person like me can find God’s favor. A person like you can too.

II. Incorruptible Governors. This one is a bit more circumspect of a thought. In Jeremiah 40, Jerusalem has fallen, Zedekaih has been blinded and hauled to Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar has set up rules to watch over Israel. In other words, the whole nation is now in exile. The poor are left to take care of the land and many who fled during the invasion have now returned to Israel. Word comes to Gedaliah, the Jewish governor, that one of the returnees has been sent to assassinate him but he doesn’t believe it.

For some reason this got me thinking of Jesus future reign on earth. He will return and the saints will be raised with him and rule with him (Revelation 3:21, 20:4) on this earth. This is fitting because how can you corrupt or intimidate a resurrected saint? What kind of bribe are you going to offer him or her? Can a threat of death be made that will sway them? What kind of material thing would they want to hoard for themselves? There could be no better vice-regents on earth than resurrected saints!

III. Heads. Psalm 74 was one of the Psalms I read this morning with Jeremiah 39-40. In it Asaph is lamenting that God has cast off his people and that God’s foes are scoffing. But Asaph has hope and he remembers God’s might. In verses 13-14 Asaph remembers that God “broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters” and also that he “crushed the heads of Leviathan” and “gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness.” So multiple sea monsters have multiple heads, that makes sense. But what I didn’t know is that Leviathan, who is a single beast, had multiple heads and God crushed them. If you look up “Leviathan” throughout the scriptures, you’ll see that it is described as a large, dangerous sea creature and one that God is always powerful over it. But in Job 41 Leviathan has one tongue and in Isaiah 27 Leviathan is yet to be crushed. So perhaps “Leviathan” describes a sort of creature rather than a single living animal. And one of them had multiple heads. That just struck me as cool.

Seams From The Psalms

The Book of Psalms may look like a largely disorganized book of Hebrew poems but that’s not really the case. This apparent confusion comes from the fact that the Psalms have many different authors, speak of different situations and are not like historical narrative with a story that flows from chapter to chapter. One of the great things about preaching Psalms as a guest preacher is that I don’t have to spend a lot of time setting up the context. Each Psalm is a fairly self-contained unit of thought.

But that isn’t the whole picture. If you read through the Psalms systematically you’ll come across division markers. The divisions are titled Book I (Psa. 1-41), Book II (Psa. 42-72), Book III (Psa. 73-89), Book IV (Psa. 90-106) and Book V (Psa. 107-150). These are part of the Hebrew text and not modern publisher additions. At the end of each Book, or at each ‘seam’, is a doxological conclusion that appears to have been appended to the Psalm it follows. Also, each Book has some internal unity. Book I is largely composed of Davidic Psalms. Book II tends to use Elohim as God’s name more than it does Yahweh. Book III has fewer Davidic Psalms and more by Asaph. Book IV begins with a Psalm by Moses and he is a prominent character in the Book. Book V is more jubilant and ends the entire collection with celebration. It appears that the editors of the Psalms were careful and thoughtful in what they did. That shouldn’t be a surprise, right?

So I recently finished reading Book III and was struck by its seam. Psalm 89 is the final Psalm of the Book and it is a Psalm of Ethan the Ezrahite. 1Ezrah was a descendant of Judah (1 Chr 4:1, 17) so if this Ethan is a son of that Ezrah then he isn’t the musician mentioned in 1 Chr 15:19 since that Ethan was a Levite. There is an Ethan the Ezrahite who is compared to Solomon in wisdom. (1Ki 4:31) That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a contemporary of Solomon only that Solomon was wiser than he. It could be like saying that George Washington was wiser than Ronald Regan. They weren’t contemporaries it is just that while both are wise, one is wiser than the other. The first third of the Psalm (1-18) is all about God’s faithfulness. The second third (19-37) is about God’s covenant with David. The final third (38-51) is a lament that God has cast off David. The doxology in verse 52 is very brief, especially compared to the doxology at the end of Book II in Ps 72:18-19.

What got my attention is how Ethan counts on God’s faithfulness even in the face of a broken covenant. David was promised a son on the throne forever but now his crown is in the dust (39) and his throne is cast to the ground (44). And that’s how the Psalm ends and the Book ends. David is cut off. The next book contains three Psalms of David and those are the only mention of his name.

However, the Psalms generally move from sorrow to praise so we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the discussion of the kingship isn’t over with Book III and David’s crown in the dust. The Royal Psalms of Book IV (93 & 95-100) pick up the theme of the king once more and even extend it. The restoration of the kingdom now moves from David to Yahweh himself; “make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!” (Ps 98:6). These royal Psalms largely relocate our hope and the king to God himself!

And isn’t that what happened in redemptive history? David is the ideal king, Solomon is his mostly successful son but after them the kingdom is divided and the kings wax and wane (ok, mostly wane) in faithfulness till the are exiled by Assyria and Babylon. After the return there is no legitimate king on the throne. When Jesus comes, he is both the son of David and the Son of God. The role of king has moved from David’s failed line to God himself.

1 Ezrah was a descendant of Judah (1 Chr 4:1, 17) so if this Ethan is a son of that Ezrah then he isn’t the musician mentioned in 1 Chr 15:19 since that Ethan was a Levite. There is an Ethan the Ezrahite who is compared to Solomon in wisdom. (1Ki 4:31) That doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a contemporary of Solomon only that Solomon was wiser than he. It could be like saying that George Washington was wiser than Ronald Regan. They weren’t contemporaries it is just that while both are wise, one is wiser than the other.