Saturday, February 25, 2012

Psalm 65

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will write about Psalm 65. I have four items:

1. There are different ideas about what Psalm 65 is about. Is it a prayer for rain? Is it thanking God for rain that has already taken place and encouraging Israelites to pay off the vows that they have made to God when they were asking God for rain? Is it about Israel's return from exile, God's subjection of Israel's enemies, and the inauguration of a time of peace and prosperity? Perhaps the Psalm is about God's restoration of order, period, in both the natural and also the human realms. That brings me to my second point.

2. In the Hebrew, Psalm 65:1 says "to you silence praise". There are different ideas about what this means. One idea that I liked was that of the medieval Jewish exegete Rashi, who said that any praise that we make towards God is inadequate, since it can never be exhausted. That resonated with me because I often find words inadequate as I attempt to express myself, and, when I try to put a powerful experience into words, that can end up lessening the power of the experience. Another idea is that God wants for us to be silent and at peace as we wait for him (Psalm 37:7). I wonder, though, if the idea in Psalm 65:1 is that God's sanctuary is a place of peace and tranquility, which is illustrated by silence (see here). And, in Psalm 65, God is working to bring that peace and tranquility to the world, as God silences the seas and the tumult of the peoples (v 7) and influences people on the edges of the earth to fear Him (v 8). Silence is not only a sign of peace and tranquility (in contrast to noise and tumult), however, but it may also indicate reverence towards God, which people will show to God when he intervenes. That brings to to my third point.

3. Is Psalm 65 exclusivistic or inclusivistic? Psalm 65:4 blesses those whom God chooses and causes to approach, which sounds rather exclusivist. But v 2 says that all flesh will come to God, and v 8 talks about people at the uttermost parts of the earth fearing God, which sounds inclusivist. Some attempt to interpret these verses in an exclusivist manner, saying that "all flesh" in v 2 refers to all Israel, and that v 8 either indicates that God is frightening Israel's enemies, or that God will restore the exiles of Israel who are at the uttermost parts of the earth. In this scenario, Psalm 65 is primarily about God's love for Israel, not his love for the nations. I do not know whether Psalm 65 is exclusivistic or inclusivistic. I will say, though, that rain and fertility (themes in Psalm 65) appear throughout the world, which may indicate that God is interested in all peoples on the earth. And yet, one reason that Christians pray "Thy Kingdom Come" and work to help the poor is that there are many areas that are not prosperous. In any case, the issue of God's blessing of the world brings me to my fourth point.

4. V 3 states (in the KJV): "Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away." Commentators have stated that this means that people need forgiveness in order to enjoy prosperity from God (i.e., rain, defeat of enemies, etc.). In the Jewish Study Bible, Marc Brettler and Adele Berlin refer to Deuteronomy 11:13-17, in which God threatens drought on Israel if she fails to obey his commandments. This says that rain in Israel is conditional on her spiritual condition, explaining why she needs forgiveness. Does one need forgiveness from God in order to receive rain, however? Jesus says in Matthew 5:45 that God sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. In Acts 14:15-17, Paul says that God witnessed to himself when he sent rain to the nations, even when they were walking in their own ways. In my opinion, it's important for me to seek God's forgiveness: for me to realize that I have erred and to ask for God to forgive me, on the basis of the blood of Christ. But does that mean that I should assume that those who are not Christians lack God's blessing? Who can set boundaries on God's love?

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