Saturday, September 22, 2012

Psalm 95

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 95.

Vv 1-5 exhort the people to worship God with joy and thanksgiving, for God is above all gods, possesses the earth's hills and depths, and created the seas and dry lands.  Vv 6-11 focus more on Israel: God is Israel's maker and shepherd, and Israel should hear God's voice rather than hardening her heart and testing God like the Israelites did in the wilderness, with the result that they did not enter God's rest, which is probably the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 12:9).  Some scholars believe that two psalms were combined into one to create Psalm 95.  Whether or not that's true, I agree with Peter Enns and others that what ties the two sections together is the statement in v 6 that God is "our maker"----the creator of Israel.  The first section presents God as the creator of the sea and the dry land, the second section focuses on Israel, and v 6 bridges the two sections by affirming that God is the one who created Israel.  God not only made nature, but God also made God's people.

At first sight, saying that the God of all of nature is the God of a specific nation turns me off.  Nature is so big, and Israel is so small.  Similarly, I am often revolted by the notion that the God who made the entire universe can be summed up in a couple of religions that emerged in Palestine, as if they have a monopoly in communicating who God is and what God does.  Shouldn't God be bigger than that, especially when there are so many people in the world who are not Christians? 

But perhaps one can incorporate biblical ideas into a notion that God presides over the vastness of the cosmos and humanity.  While there are parts of the Hebrew Bible that appear to be rather exclusivist and nationalistic (Deuteronomy 23; perhaps parts of Ezekiel), there are also many parts that present Israel as a nation that teaches other peoples about God (Deuteronomy 4:6; I Kings 8:41-43; Isaiah 49:6; Zechariah 8:23) and brings blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:3).  The peoples learn about God as they consider the wisdom of Israel's laws and see God's activity on behalf of Israel----both when God punishes her, and also when God saves her.  Regarding Christianity, Romans 8:21-22 talks about all of creation groaning, and yet God will deliver it from bondage and corruption.

But, just looking at Psalm 95 itself, why does the Psalmist talk about God's supremacy as lord and creator, before discussing God's relationship with Israel and her failure to heed God in the past?  Perhaps the idea is that Israel was wrong to complain before God and to doubt God's plan for her and God's ability to take care of her, for God's status as lord of all and as creator means that God is fully able to sustain God's people.  Praise of who God is, not ungrateful complaining, should be what characterizes the people of God.  I realize that people can get irritable and discontent.  I know that I do.  The Psalmist did a bunch of times!  So did Job and Jeremiah and Moses.  But I hope I do not get to the point where all I do is complain.  Somewhere within me, there should be gratitude.  Somewhere within me, I believe, there should be an appreciation of God's attributes and greatness, and a degree of trust in God's care for me.  I don't want to be like people in hell, as C.S. Lewis characterized them: having continuously bitter thoughts and not being able to turn them off.  Perhaps praise of God and listening to God's voice can counterbalance that.

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