Saturday, March 31, 2012

Psalm 70

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 70. I have three items:

1. Psalm 70 is similar to Psalm 40:13-17, only Psalm 70 uses "God" in some places where Psalm 40:13-17 has the tetragrammaton (YHVH). Consequently, there is a view within biblical scholarship that Psalm 70 is an Elohist Psalm, perhaps an Elohist adaptation of Psalm 40:13-17. But I don't think that is necessarily the case, for the tetragrammaton shows up in Psalm 70.

Why was part of Psalm 40:13-17 made into an independent Psalm? Keil-Delitzsch speculate that a fragment of Psalm 40 "accidentally came to have an independent existence." The Nelson Study Bible holds that there was a more deliberate process, however, for it states that "The description of the poor and needy was such a necessary element in the encouragement of people enduring troubles that this section was selected for individual use as a freestanding poem." And then evangelist Jimmy Swaggart says that Psalm 40:13-17 is about the sufferings of Christ, whereas Psalm 70 concerns Israel crying out to God for speedy deliverance during the Great Tribulation. Swaggart, like the rabbis, appears to seek a deep theological reason for repetition in the Bible.

2. Marvin Tate believes that Psalm 70 has a post-exilic origin. Psalm 70 refers to people who seek God, love God's salvation, and view themselves as poor and needy. For Tate, that fits the time of post-exilic factionalism, of the sort that we see in Isaiah 56-66, in which groups regarding themselves as true seekers of the LORD and seekers of God's presence feel marginalized by the religious establishment. That could be, but I am curious as to how a marginalized and poor group can afford to write a Psalm, since literary writing in the ancient world was more of an elite enterprise due (among other factors) to its costliness. Perhaps the community had elite connections or sponsors who could support its scribes.

The Midrash on the Psalms presents the view that Psalm 70:2-3 is about God's punishment of those who are envious of and angry towards the Psalmist. In Psalm 70:2-3, the Psalmist hopes that those desiring his hurt will be shamed, confounded, turned back, and confused. But is not the Psalmist's attitude similar to the attitude of his enemies: he desires the hurt of his opponents?

There are a number of cases in which Augustine says that passages in which the Psalmist appears to desire the hurt of his enemies are misinterpreted: that the Psalmist does not desire his enemies' hurt, but rather is saying what will happen to them: they will be punished. This is because Augustine regards a number of the Psalms to be the words of Christ himself, and Christ on the cross did not desire for hurt to befall his enemies. Rather, Jesus asked for God to forgive his enemies, for they knew not what they were doing (Luke 23:34). But Augustine cannot make that claim regarding Psalm 70:2-3, for the Septuagint for that passage uses the optative for the verbs, and an optative expresses a wish rather than simply saying what will happen.

In any case, once we get away from the political factionalism and "us vs. them", Psalm 70 does teach me the value of seeking God and God's presence, loving God's salvation, and avoiding destructive envy and anger.

3. The superscription says that this Psalm is to bring to remembrance. Could this be why this Psalm repeats much of Psalm 40:13-17: because we need to be reminded of Psalm 40:13-17's content? Perhaps, but "le-hazkir" ("to cause to remember") does not always appear in Psalms that repeat content from elsewhere in the Psalms, for it is in the superscription to Psalm 38, and that does not repeat what is elsewhere in the Book of Psalms.

I liked what Rashi had to say about Psalm 70's superscription, as he drew from the Midrash on the Psalms: that Psalm 70 is reminding the Jews about God after the restoration of Zion that the end of Psalm 69 talks about. The flock and the sheepcote have been restored, Rashi says, but Israel should not forget the shepherd, namely, God. This makes me think about God's desire for a relationship with us, and God's hope that we acknowledge him and not just his gifts, and that we thank him for those gifts.

I guess my main problem with Rashi's interpretation is that it does not appear to fit Psalm 70 as a whole, for, there, the Psalmist is asking God to deliver him speedily from his enemies, rather than trying to remember God after restoration has already taken place. Still, if we bring into the equation Tate's view that Psalm 70 reflects post-exilic factionalism, Rashi's interpretation might work. Israel has been restored, and there is a marginalized community that feels that it is seeking God and desiring God's presence, whereas the religious establishment is not sufficiently doing so. This marginalized community prides itself on remembering and reminding people of the shepherd, God, since it believes that so much of post-exilic Israel has forgotten God.

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