Saturday, September 29, 2012

Psalm 96

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 96.  I have two items.

1.  Erhard Gerstenberger contends that Psalm 96 was risky within its exilic or post-exilic historical context.  Here Israel is, subjugated to a foreign nation, and Psalm 96 boldly declares that the gods of the other nations are mere idols; calls upon the nations to worship the superior God of Israel, who reigns; and anticipates a time when the God of Israel will come in judgment.  According to Gerstenberger, such a message would probably strike Israel's foreign captors as rather subversive, and so Psalm 96 most likely was not proclaimed publicly within the "police-controlled imperial states", but rather was used in modest congregations and "closed worship services".

What's ironic about what Gerstenberger is saying is that Psalm 96 does not appear to be a Psalm that encourages the Israelites to tip-toe daintily in proclaiming their beliefs about God and the nations.  Rather, it encourages the Israelites to declare God's glory among the nations, and it calls upon the nations to worship the God of Israel.  That's pretty bold!  Gerstenberger acknowledges that Psalm 96 may express a desire that Israel bear witness to God's glory before the nations during the Persian Period, and Daniel and Esther come to Gerstenberger's mind as examples of such witnesses.  Gerstenberger's point may be (and perhaps I'm reading things into his comments) that Daniel and Esther bore witness to God's glory, yet they did so in a non-subversive, non-threatening manner.

2.  An issue that comes to my mind as I read Psalm 96 is eschatology.  Psalm 96 expresses the anticipation that God will come to judge, and that even nature should be happy about this.  I think about Romans 8:18-23, in which Paul affirms that all creation groans for the manifestation of the children of God, when it will be delivered from corruption.  In my opinion, it's important to highlight that God is to be God, not only of a tiny sect of people, but of all of the nations and ethnic-groups, as well as all of creation.  That shows a vast extent to God's care and concern!  And yet, Psalm 96 upholds the unique status of Israel when it calls on the nations to come into God's courts with an offering----they are to honor God's sanctuary in Israel.

While Psalm 96 has high expectations about the future, it also appears to encourage the Israelites to rejoice in the present.  V 2 says that they are to show God's salvation on a daily basis.  And Psalm 96 affirms that God, even now, is above the gods of the nations.  In a sense, Israel, even in a state of subjugation (assuming that Psalm 96 indeed does date to the exilic or post-exilic periods), can taste of God's salvation and rejoice in it----either because she has intense hope that God will bring about God's righteous rule, or she is experiencing God's goodness right where she is sitting, or both.  Her song may be new because she is expecting God to perform a new act of redemption, or because she feels a fresh wave of appreciation for God's goodness (and both have been argued by interpreters, as they have sought the meaning of the "new song" in v 1).  Maybe both are true.

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