Psalm 130 – Wait, Watch, Hope

Psalm 130 has played a major role in Catholic piety. It has inspired church musicians for centuries. No fewer than thirty-six works by major composers such as Mozart, Handel, Mendelssohn, and Schoenberg have been attributed to this psalm which is best known by its Latin incipit ‘De Profundis’ or translated into English as, “out of the depths.”

Psalm 130 is one of the seven penitential psalms; the others being psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. These psalms often express deep sorrow for sin and ask God for help and forgiveness. The superscription (that which is found in your Bible just before the first verse and appears as a title) calls this a ‘song of ascents’ These psalms may have been sung by pilgrims ascending the road to Jerusalem (which was on a mountain) for the three great festivals or it is possible that the Levites may have sung these psalms as they ascended the fifteen steps to the temple.

Psalm 130 is a prayer for help at a time of deep personal need. Grief, depression, illness, poverty, abuse; any of these experiences, and so many more, can plunge us into a darkness so deep that it can feel almost like death. While this is an individual’s prayer it also serves also as an invitation to the community of believers to hope in the promise of redemption.

The psalm begins with a cry to the Lord from the depths (Hebrew: ma‘amaggiym). The word ma‘amaggiym is used for deep mud that mires one’s feet (Psalm 69:2) and deep waters that overwhelm the sailor and his cargo ( as in Ezekiel 27:34). These images are helpful here, because the psalmist is writing, not about mud or water, but about something (we know not what) that has overwhelmed him.

It is the psalmist voice that dominates the first two verse when he uses the words, ‘I cry’, ‘MY supplication’, ‘ MY voice. There is a sense of desperation, for the psalmist pleads to God to be ‘attentive to the voice of my supplication’. Yet at once we can also see that this cry comes from a deep relationship and from a sense of confidence. Notice that the Psalm has the word ‘YAHWEH’ written in your text as ‘LORD’(all capitals) and the word ‘Adonai’, which is a title for God, also found in your text, written as ‘Lord’ ( L is capital while the rest are small letters). The familiarity with God prompts the psalmist to keep switching, four times in the psalm, from the holy name of God to his title as Adonai.

This familiarity of the psalmist with God, reiterates his confidence that God will hear and respond to every cry of pain that stems from the relationship he shares with God. He knows that God is merciful; in fact he insists on proclaiming this characteristic of God. It’s like when you approach a person, you know their character, you know if they will and can do something for you. You will only approach them when you know your plea will be heard. The psalmist knows the character of God not from a book but from a personal relationship with him. This is what the psalm encourages us to do too, to build that relationship with God.

Spread the love ♥
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Continue Reading

Psalm 138 – He’s got the whole world in HIS hands

Have you ever written God a thank you note? Psalm 138 which is categorised as a psalm of thanksgiving is a good example of a note of gratitude that is written by David to God. This gratitude to God is also expressed by David amid trouble and opposition, all the while relying on God’s help and entrusting the future to God’s care, as we will see in the Psalm.

It is the first in the final collection of eight psalms identified as “of David” in the Psalter (138-145). It is quite evident that the psalm was composed after its author had come through a rather tight scrape. At the heart of this challenge that the psalmist faced is an account of God’s deliverance. The account of deliverance is very short in this psalm: “On the day I called, you answered me…” (138:3).

The psalm is a total of eight brief verse and may be divided as follows: I thank you, God (1-3), this is our God (4-6), you are with me (7-8). Psalm 138 gives thanks to God in the presence of three groups: the gods (verses 1-3); the kings of the earth (verses 4-6); and enemies (verses 7-8).

The psalm opens with thanksgiving to God, a thanksgiving that oozes with tremendous gratitude that ‘comes from the heart’. This thanksgiving is seen in the number of times that words ‘thanks’ and ‘praise’ appear in the psalm. Interestingly the reason for the thanksgiving and praise is mentioned in verse 3 only as; “on the day I called, you answered me, you increased the strength of my soul.”

We are not told what the issue or challenge was except that the psalmist was convinced that his prayer was answered. Perhaps a deeper look might suggest that the problem or difficulty faced by the psalmist had not been eradicated but even continued to persist. Why do I say that? The psalmist thanks God for answering his prayer but even more for ‘increasing the strength of his soul’. In short the answer to the prayer was not the disappearance of the issue at hand but the courage given by God to bear the difficulty.

The word ‘soul’ in Hebrew is translated as ‘nephesh’ and should rightly translated in English as ‘my true self’ or ‘my innermost being’. This thought that God does not take away our trial but strengths our innermost being is reiterated in verse seven which is a mirror reflection of Psalm 23:4. Verse seven acknowledges that “while I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies.” Verse seven affirms that the issue at hand has not disappeared, the psalmist continues to walk in the midst of his troubles and his enemies wrath are still his troubles, yet because the Lord increased the strength of his soul  he is able to face the storm and is able to give thank with all his heart.

Spread the love ♥
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Continue Reading

 Good things in God’s time  –Matthew 7: 7-12 

Today we study Matthew 7:7-12. You could say we are entering the final lap, the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount covers some very diverse topics and spans  three chapters. 

When we read this text, we feel bound to ask if this Gospel is true? On the surface, it sounds like we have just been asked to make a wish list. We think of Jesus’ words as carte blanche. It looks as though whatever we ask for, whatever we seek, whatever door we open, God will give it to us. Hence, some people take this to mean just about everything; you can have whatever your heart desires, all you have to do is ask. Yet, so often our prayers seem to go unheard or unanswered. We tend to feel that our prayer was such a waste of time.

This passage also raises certain questions; one from the text itself and the other a consequence of the thoughts in our heart. First, what does the word, ‘it’, refer to in the sentence, “ask and ‘it’ will be given to you?” In other words, when Jesus said, “ask, and it will be given you,” what might we expect to receive? The second, what is the ‘it’ in our life? In other words, if we were to ask God for something, what would it be?

This way of thinking pushes our materialistic nature and plays on the thought that if we ask God for anything (since he said so) we could have anything we wanted, as if in having IT (there is that word again) we would be happy. It sounds like “ask, and it will be given you” is a blank cheque, where all you have to do is fill in the amount and sit back. This way of thinking brings out the worst in us and leads us to think of life in terms of material wealth and of God as the ultimate sugar daddy.

This text is also misused especially by those who preach the prosperity gospel, sometimes also known as the health and wealth gospel. Such teachings say that God wants all Christians to be wealthy and healthy, and that if you are a Christian and you are not living in financial abundance and good health it is because you haven’t asked and haven’t believed God in what you are asking for. All you need to do is stand on the promises of God and claim your inheritance as a child of God.

Spread the love ♥
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Continue Reading

Psalm 51 – A Biography of Sin

Psalm 51 is a familiar picture of dust, disaster, and deceit. It is heartfelt cry to God from one who has committed an unspeakable sin in the eyes of God. The particulars of the sin are not enumerated in the Psalm itself, however the super scription added to the psalm fills in the blanks.

The historical background for Psalm 51 is 2 Samuel 11-12. David was in residence in Jerusalem while his armies are battling the Ammonites. He observes Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military generals, bathing on her rooftop. He sends for her, has intercourse with her, and then conspires and has her husband, Uriah, killed in battle. When Nathan confronts David with the implications of what he has done, David’s only words are, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:13). Psalm 51 could thus be read as the rest of David’s words; David’s confession of sin and his plea for forgiveness.

Awareness of sin can come through many different ways. In David’s case, awareness came as the prophet Nathan proclaimed it to him through his parable and his condemnation, “You are the man.” For many of us, awareness of our sin comes through the teaching of the church and personal reflection on our own shortcomings and sins. Awareness of sin can come through hearing the stories of those whom we have sinned against—either directly or indirectly, through systems of sin and oppression. Such awareness is crucial to the process of repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation.

Psalm 51 is, by any measure, one of the best-known and most often read penitential texts. Of the seven penitential Psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143), Psalms 38 and 51 are the only two that focus explicitly on confessing sin. This Psalm is often and fitly called the ‘sinner’s guide’. It is one of those bold and courageous prayers that contains all the promise we need to begin the process of reconciliation, renewal, and restoration this season offers us.

Psalm 51:1-17 can be dissected into four sections: verses 1-6 which address God’s character and human frailty, verses 7-12 which plead forgiveness and restoration, verses 13-15 which looks expectantly toward reconciliation, and verses 16-17 which offer closing thoughts on sin, sacrifice, and repentance.

Spread the love ♥
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Continue Reading

When David turned a test into a testimony. – Psalm 34

Psalm 34 is classified as an individual hymn of thanksgiving. There are fifteen individual hymns of thanksgiving that occur in the book of psalms. In them, psalm singers give thanks to God for deliverance from various life-threatening situations: illness, enemies, and dangers. Psalm 34 consist of 22 verses and while the liturgy of today’s Eucharist dwells on eight of them, I will also take you into a journey of the whole psalm. Please READ THE TEXT AND KEEP IT OPEN WHILE YOU FOLLOW THIS EXPLANATION. Then you will experience the miraculous healing in this psalm.

In Psalm 34, David praises God for deliverance from a life-threatening situation. How do we know this? If you look at your Bible you will see a title to the psalm or as we call it a superscription. In this case the superscription includes the name of the author and the circumstances that caused him to write the psalm. Most psalms include a superscription but scholars believe that the superscriptions were not originally written with the psalms that they accompany, but were added later.

This superscription places the psalm within a particular life situation of King David: “when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” Ironically, the Bible doesn’t include a story of David pretending to be insane before Abimelech. So how did this title get it all wrong? The only story in the biblical text that might be associated with Psalm 34’s superscription is found in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 which tells us of David feigning mental illness before Achish, king of Gath (Philistines). David fled from Saul and went to King Achish, not Abimelech but Achish recognized him and David was afraid for his life, so he feigned madness to disguise his true identity. It is possible that the person adding the superscription inadvertently substituted Abimelech’s name for Achish’s name.

Before we dwell into the psalm itself, we must acknowledge the psalms literary style which is unique. Psalm 34 is an alphabetic acrostic. What is that you may ask? Acrostic poems and psalms were the works of highly skilled literary artists. These psalms begin the first verse with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (alef) and each successive verse with the next letter of the alphabet. In short, they summarized all that could be said or that needed to be said about a particular subject, summing it up from alif to tav, from A to Z. The acrostic model is one of several models of Hebrew poetry and were most likely memory devices to aid in private and public. To write an acrostic psalm requires great ability and discipline, so it isn’t unusual that the psalmist skips a letter or two, as this psalmist does in this case.

Spread the love ♥
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
Continue Reading