Sunday, April 6, 2014

Psalmody Psunday: (Catching Up) on Psalms 71 and 19

Let me dust off the ol' blog here…

Yes, back to that magnificent idea I had to meditate on and write about the Psalms.  It was a fine idea, wasn't it?  So fine that I did it once and then have missed a few weeks.  Sigh.  Enough about me, though, let's talk about God!

Psalm 71 (the entirety of which can be found here)

Thank you, Holy Spirit, for inspiring David to write his psalms and for inspiring the founders of the canon to include them.  There are plenty of parts of the Bible that modern folks can point to and laugh at its old-fashionedness or just bizarre stories (I'm looking at you, Leviticus and Judges).  "What an irrelevant religion," they might scoff.  Still, I'd wager that most of us have felt the emotions called to mind in the Psalms (and certainly in Lamentations). Psalm 71 is a great example.

"Oh God, do not be far from me!  Oh my God, hasten to my help!"  (v. 12)

I think it is Anne Lamott who says that her favorite prayers are "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God," and "Thank you, thank you, thank you."  I remember feeling scandalized the first time I read that.  How can you call it a prayer to take God's name in vain?  If you're not taking it in vain, of course! if you are legitimately calling out to God, your God!  That is what David is doing.  He is crying out for help.  People are conspiring against him in his old age and frailty.  That must have been scary.  And yet, two verses later, he says:

"But as for me, I will hope continually,
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteousness
and your salvation all day long.
I do not know the sum of them.
I will come with the mighty deeds of the Lord God.
I will make mention of your righteousness, yours alone." (vs. 14-16)

Hmm, that usually isn't my automatic response.  Wow, my life is falling apart…I know! I'll openly and publicly praise God and talk of his mighty deeds!  Perhaps it wasn't David's automatic response, either. Perhaps it took him years of practice, and part of why he wrote the Psalms down was to remind himself continually what to do in times of trouble.

How should I, then, praise you yet more and more in my time of trouble, Lord?

Psalm 19 (the entirety of which can be found here)

My mother-in-law read this psalm as a toast to us at our wedding reception.  At the time, I was not sure why she had selected it, since the beginning of it seemed to have little to do with marriage.  But I'm sure she was thinking more of the latter half of the Psalm.  

"They [the judgments and laws of the Lord] are more desirable than gold, yes, much fine gold.
Sweeter also than honey, than the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them your servant is warned,
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep your servant back from presumptuous sins
let them not rule over me;
then I shall be blameless
and acquitted of great transgression." (vs. 10-13)

How often do I treat the laws of the Lord as being better than gold and sweeter than honey?  

Not very often.  In fact, I usually feel neutral towards them at best and resentful of them at worst. Does this passage only refer to the laws of the Old Covenant?  In other words, should Christians still be able to agree with David that the judgments of the Lord are better than gold, sweeter than honey (or in my case delicious vanilla macchiatos, since I don't really like honey), or should Christians look upon this Psalm as being essentially old in its nature and no longer relevant to us who seek our righteousness apart from the law and are under grace instead (cf. Romans 6)?    

In looking up that passage in Romans, I was intrigued to see some neato-mosquito parallels (color coded for your convenience.)  

"Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!…but thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you became obedient to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having become freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness…But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome is eternal life.  The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:12-15, 17-18, 22-23)

Compare that with this part of the psalm:

"They [the judgments and laws of the Lord] are more desirable than gold, yes, much fine gold.
Sweeter also than honey, than the drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them your servant is warned,
in keeping them there is great reward.
Who can discern his errors?
Acquit me of hidden faults.
Also keep your servant back from presumptuous sins
let them not rule over me;
then I shall be blameless
and acquitted of great transgression." (vs. 10-13)

And here we have--from my analysis, at least--a beautiful example of the harmony of the Old and New Testaments, and also a beautiful harmony of faith and works.  It is God who frees us from being slaves to sin by his grace.  We do not un-sin our way out of death to life.  God's free gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  We do not accomplish that on our own.  It's grace. 

The Apostle Paul, of course, predicts where we might go from there.  "What then, shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  May it never be!"  We don't get to kick back and do whatever we like just because we have faith in God's salvation by grace.  

What ought we to do?  

Framed negatively, not to offer ourselves and our energies to the whims and lusts (or passions) of sin, just as David asked to be kept back from presumptuous (or willful) sins.  

Framed positively, to offer ourselves and our energies to God to be instruments of righteousness, just as David said that in keeping the laws of the Lord there is great reward.  

One last parallel passage, this one spoken by Jesus:

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.  Do not think I came to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps them and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:16-19)

Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and he is the giver of endless grace.  And He asks that we follow and teach the commandments of the Law (the same ones that David pronounced to be better than gold and sweeter than honey), so that we will be great in the kingdom of heaven.  

Ties together pretty well, I'd say.  

[This should go without saying, but I completely and utterly broke my rule about only spending 5 minutes to write about Psalm 19!  Oh well, time meditating on God's word is always time well spent!]

Next week's randomly chosen Psalm: Psalm 83

1 comment:

  1. congratulations! this a way to pray the psalms - making prayer a living experience!

    ReplyDelete