Saturday, September 8, 2012

Psalm 93

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 93.

The Septuagint says that Psalm 93 was for the day before the Sabbath, when the land was made habitable.  Augustine believes that this relates to creation, whereas Marvin Tate refers to another view that it concerns the return of Israel from exile.  Either way, Psalm 93 is about God ruling as king even though there are threatening floods and mighty waters.  Creation is relevant to this theme, for a significant part of God's act of creation was taming the waters so that there could be an orderly cosmos, and even after creation God restrains the waters from wreaking havoc (Job 28:11; Psalm 24:2; 74:14-15).  While Genesis 1 tones down the motif of God battling chaotic waters to create a cosmos (a motif that is in the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish), God's limitation of the waters still seems to play a role in there being life on earth.  In Genesis 1, God separates the waters above from the waters beneath.  In P's flood story, it was the unleashing of the waters that were above and their combination with the waters beneath that led to the Flood, which destroyed humanity (Genesis 7:11).  In short, removing the limits on water results in cosmic destruction.

But the waters in Psalm 93 can also be symbolic of troubles and enemies.  The Psalmist often describes his troubles or his afflictions at the hands of his enemies as waters (Psalm 18:16; 32:6; 69:1), and Tate mentions examples of the Hebrew Bible portraying the nations that are hostile against Israel and her God as waters (Isaiah 17:12; 51:9-15; Jeremiah 6:23; 50:52; cf. Psalm 2).  Psalm 93 may be expressing the Psalmist's hope that, in the same way that God became king or demonstrated kingship by taming the waters of chaos, so likewise God would establish order by restraining or defeating Israel's enemies (unless the Psalmist is rejoicing that God has already done so!).

Psalm 93:5 states (in the King James Version): "Thy testimonies are very sure: holiness becometh thine house, O LORD, for ever."  What does that have to do with God as the creative tamer of the chaotic waters?  Regarding the house of God, in Enuma Elish (and I think other ancient Near Eastern tales as well) the creator god's defeat of watery chaos preceded his habitation of a palace.  We see a similar idea in Exodus 15:17, the Song of the Sea: God has defeated the waters and God's enemies, and now God will dwell in a sanctuary.  The Temple----which is holy because God dwells therein----may be relevant to God's battle with chaos because God dwells in the Temple after defeating the forces of destruction.  Or, alternatively, perhaps the idea is that God dwells in the Temple as ruler, and so Israel need not fear any enemies that will come against her, for she has God in her midst!

What about God's testimonies being sure?  How does that pertain to God's battle against chaos?  There are at least three views on this.  First, I was going through my notes that I took during Stephen Geller's class on the Book of Psalms at Jewish Theological Seminary, and I saw that Geller referred to the view that the word translated as testimonies (eidotecha) is actually from the Hebrew word adi, which means ornaments----the idea meaning that the regalia that God wears as king are very sure.  That would fit the overall theme of Psalm 93----that God is or has become king.  Second, Tate refers to the view that the testimonies are the traditions of God's salvation history, and he cites Deuteronomy 4:45 and 6:20.  This would coincide with the overall theme of Psalm 93, for did not God throughout Israel's salvation history act as king by defeating the forces that threatened God's people?  Yet, I'm not convinced that the testimonies in Deuteronomy 4:45 and 6:20 refer to salvation traditions rather than laws.  Third, the testimonies could mean laws, which is what they are in Psalm 119 and other passages.  Tate states that Psalm 93:5 relates to Psalm 93:1-4 because God's "guidance for human conduct has proved true and reliable----as stable as the throne of God and the earth."

I wish I could agree that the laws that are attributed to God in the Bible are true and reliable.  For example, the Bible's prohibition on homosexual activity has resulted in a lot of pain for many people with a homosexual orientation, and that leads me to question whether every single stipulation in the Bible results in human well-being.  But there are many laws contained in the Bible that are conducive to human order----such as the ban on murder and theft (principles that other cultures contain as well).

Moreover, does God truly tame chaos?  Perhaps we can see evidence that God does.  For instance, Hitler was defeated.  And there is a degree of progress in certain societies, as old prejudices and tyrannies are discarded.  And yet, evil still remains.  Some may even feel that evil is more powerful than good in today's world.  But there are people who still move forward with hope----hope that we will have the sort of Sabbath rest that may be the topic of Psalm 93.

3 comments:

  1. James - what is the difference between being under law and being under God? It is too subjective to remove the legal aspect of under law and think about being under the teaching that is 'from' and 'in' God - or 'in Christ'?

    That is I think the issue re tenderness between two people. It is abhorrent that tenderness should be reduced to dominance for the pleasure of one at the expense of another. This is teaching from God and is also able to be written. But the letter kills if the thought taken from it is not in God also.

    Such tenderness is demonstrated in the life of Jesus. The refusal to distance himself from tenderness even when faced with his own death places him in a broad place. (Psalm 18 vv 20 and 37 Hebrew numbering).

    Somehow, we too should learn from that same source - not words alone, as if that were possible, but words mediated in the body of tradition and in the Spirit that continually meditates on these things with a mind open to new questions. I say we, because the learning is difficult for the 'assembly' - the body politic - as well as for each of us. I did not arrive at open and inclusive conclusions about homosexuality via some 'straight' path - as if all teaching has one meaning only.

    There is lots of teaching, by the way, that I do not embrace. Some is foreign to me because of the tradition and culture I have grown up in, and some I consider devoid of experiential base. It is a difficult problem to be inclusive when one does not tolerate some things. But I have boiled my expressible reasons down to exclusion of violence, exploitation, fear, and things like that. If I am motivated by 'fear' - as if I might offend God by my acceptance of friends whose life-style is different from mine, then I think I am not hearing the teaching that is from God.

    One of the difficulties with sexual issues be they same or other gender, is that our individual learning is complex and tortuous. Kindness is the first priority when the task is difficult.

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  2. Hi Bob. I'd probably have to read your comment again. My impression from my first reading is that you're talking about an interpretation of Scripture that coincides with tenderness, and also a dialogue with Scripture.

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  3. Yes - I think tenderness coincides with Scripture.

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