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Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

The famous rhetorical question of the eighth Psalm is widely mis-gauged:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalms 8:3–4 ESV)

The assumption behind the question is too often thought to be that human beings are too measly and pathetic to warrant such divine attention. In fact, the context suggests just the opposite: there is some intrinsic glory—albeit a veiled glory—in human beings that holds YHWH’s gaze:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas (Psalms 8:5–8 ESV)

Next to the massive dimensions of the moon and the stars, humans are manifestly small creatures. One might not expect YHWH to find them fascinating and worthy of his care. Yet in spite of their humble bearing, we read that YHWH is mindful of them, cares for them, indeed has exalted them over the rest of creation. (more…)

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As the Psalter works its way down the home stretch toward its finale in the 150th psalm, the gloves come off. Doxology reaches to a stretch, digs down to bedrock, summons even the unseen powers and convenes heaven’s lights.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

(Psalms 148:1–6 ESV)

In the ancient Israelite context, calling upon sun and moon to praise their Maker is brave. They were often worshiped as gods themselves. It is also polemical: they are put in their place.

They do not seem to mind, in the psalmist’s opinion, though worshippers of the heavenly bodies might beg to differ. The psalmist imagines heaven’s lights praising YHWH at full throat simply for the privilege of having been created at his command so that they can do so.

There is, we are asked to accept, no corner of heaven or earth where praise is rightly withheld. If there is war in heaven, celestial conspiracies afoot, they are forgotten as the psalmist reaches forward to how things should be. Will be.

The most awesome, the most mighty, the high and almost holy, even these burst into song when their time comes. They know their place, and are glad in it.

How much more we mortals, elevated as we are now to sing along without too much embarrassment about our little voices, trembling hands, sad yesterdays.

Perhaps He commanded us, too, into existence so that we could sing like this, eyes moist because we are not yet fully home.

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The faint heart is often insomniac. What is it about the 3:00 a.m. hour, so full of worries, fears, and untimely wakefulness? As though on schedule, eyes open and the faint heart races. Life’s shadows loom taller and more menacing than usual. Improbable fears seem perfectly plausible. Things that will shrink into proportion in the light of day take the shape of lethal threats and impassable walls. The sixty-first psalm relieves us of at least one of our disabling fears: that we cannot pray because our heart is faint. (more…)

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After detailing the radical bent-ness of the wicked, the writer of the thirty-sixth psalm finds himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of YHWH. The LORD’s loving justice is everywhere.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. (Psalm 36:5–6 ESV)

The Hebrew Bible does not traffic in the notions of omnipresence or ubiquity to which thoughtful readers of the Bible would eventually lay their hand. It’s natural dialect is more concrete, more this-worldly. Yet, in spite of what might seem to our habits of thinking a limitation, the Hebrew poet knows how to say exactly what he wants to say. (more…)

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The thirty-second psalm is all but drunk with sweet release.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2 ESV)

Like most durable truths, this one has been hard won. Whatever the shattering failure of the writer, it led to writhing that seemed a sickness unto death:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:3–5 ESV)

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We loathe the moment when our conversation partner looks distractedly over our shoulder. Or fidgets with his keys. Or gives the appearance of listening, but with her eyes empty as clouds, her thoughts elsewhere.

We long for eye contact. We were made for face-to-face. (more…)

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Convinced of his integrity, the writer of Psalm 26 pleads for vindication with a confidence that tender souls might find disturbing.

We must understand that the writer has done precisely what the ‘wisdom psalms’ instruct the novice in life to do if he wants to become both just and wise. The psalmist can speak transparently about his trajectory in life because he has followed the game plan. It is not that he has beat out his neighbors in some cheap contest of personal rectitude. Rather, YHWH’s plan for the development of a human life has proved reliable. Except, so far, for the part about vindication. (more…)

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