Saturday, March 10, 2012

Psalm 67

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 67 and its interpreters.

Psalm 67:1 states (in the King James Version): "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah."

That sounds like the Priestly Blessing in Numbers 6:24-26. Because Psalm 67:1 is so similar to the Priestly Blessing, scholars at one point dated Psalm 67 to Israel's post-exilic period, for the Priestly Blessing is contained in P, which is considered by several scholars to be exilic or post-exilic. But the discovery of the Priestly blessing inside of an amulet in a seventh-sixth century B.C.E. burial cave demonstrated that the Priestly Blessing dates back to Israel's pre-exilic period, and so sounding like the Priestly Blessing does not make a writing post-exilic.

But many scholars still believe that Psalm 67 had a post-exilic origin. Marvin Tate describes the setting of the Psalm as a time of vulnerability, when Jews were feeling "overwhelmed by the non-Israelite peoples around them, seemingly controlling the world." That fits all sorts of periods in Israel's history, but especially her post-exilic period. In the midst of this, the Jews were hoping that God might bless their land with rain, and that God's blessing of Israel would lead the nations to praise Israel's God. Erhard Gerstenberger states that (according to this Psalm) the nations will not only praise God for blessing Israel but also for blessing them as well, perhaps because they are recognizing that God is the source of their rain, too.

Many interpreters have ascribed to Psalm 67 an eschatological message: that God will restore and bless Israel, and that will lead the nations to spiritual enlightenment and to prosperity. We see this sort of theme in prophetic writings, especially those from the exilic and post-exilic periods----that God's restoration of Israel will bring the nations to God and accompany a new flourishing of the earth.

Others, such as Sigmund Mowinckel, have held that Psalm 67 does not concern so much what God will do in the future but rather what God does every year in the autumn harvest festival: God renews creation. There are Psalms that indicate that God rules the world in justice right now----or that at least express hope that God will execute justice very soon----rather than waiting for God to do so in the distant future. This sort of message may fit Israel's pre-exilic period. Either way, Psalm 67 is about hope.

This hope is for material prosperity but also for God's presence. Tate states that the Psalmist in Psalm 67 not only desires God's blessings but God himself. It's easy for many to say "Bummer" in response to this, for many of us see God as one who wants to cramp our style. But, as the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll says, drawing from Rashi and Sforno, the idea is for all of humanity to come to appreciate God's kindness and mercy. God is benevolent.

2 comments:

  1. This is a beautifully structured poem worth the quiet time. Note how verses 2 and 3 (Hebrew numbering) are a single thought even with the pause between the verses and the switch of persons from third to second person. Verses 4 to 6 have a similar pause in the middle of the stanza. Verses 7 and 8 mirror verses 2 and 3 leading to the identification of salvation with the produce of the earth.

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