Saturday, December 1, 2012

Psalm 105

I have four items for my write-up today on Psalm 105.  Psalm 105 is about God's great deeds in the times of the patriarchs, Joseph, and the Exodus.

1.  I tend to agree with the scholars who consider Psalm 105 to be post-exilic.  Why?  Because I think that Psalm 105 would especially have spoken to Israelites who lived during Israel's post-exilic period, during which time there were still a number of Jews in exile.  Psalm 105 emphasizes God's promise that Israel would possess the land, but it also makes the point that God is working even when Israelites are away from their land: Joseph being bound in fetters and iron in Egypt did not disrupt God's plan for him, and God sent plagues on Egypt when the Israelites were slaves there.  But God also stood up for God's people when they were in the Promised Land in a state of vulnerability, for vv 12-15 say that, when God's people were few in number and were moving from kingdom to kingdom, God would not allow anyone to harm them.  Psalm 105 may relate to Israel's post-exilic period, when Jews were in the Promised Land yet were still subservient to a foreign power (Persia) and vulnerable to enemies.  Its message to Israel at this time was probably that God was still at work and had a plan for God's people, even though life in the Promised Land was far from ideal, and a number of Jews were still away from the Promised Land in exile.

Something else to note is that vv 44-45 affirm that God brought Israel to the Promised Land that they might observe God's law.  Granted, that is talking about the Conquest, which was a part of Israel's grand narrative, but could that point have also been mentioned because it was relevant to Jews who themselves had come to the Promised Land, after a period of exile?  The message here could be that, yes, God loved God's people, had a plan for them, and gave them the gift of the Promised Land, and yet Israel had a responsibility to obey God's law.  Possession of land was not an end in itself, for God's giving the land to Israel was part of a larger purpose: for Israel to be God's people and to be holy, as God is holy.

2.  Psalm 105:13-15 says (in the King James Version): "When they went from one nation to another, from [one] kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes; [Saying], Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm."

This is most likely talking about the patriarchal period, when God's people went from kingdom to kingdom and were vulnerable to such rulers as Abimelech of Gerar.  Many commentators interpret the part about the patriarchs being prophets in light of Genesis 20:7, in which God calls Abraham a prophet who can intercede for Abimelech.  (And the Midrash on the Psalms says that Rebecca was a prophetess, for, in Genesis 27:42, she could have only learned about Esau's statement about killing Jacob from the Holy Spirit!)  But in what sense were the patriarchs anointed? 

Interpreters have tackled this question in a number of ways.  Eusebius of Caesaria said that there was a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the patriarchal period, and the patriarchs were anointed through the Holy Spirit, whereas anointing came to be by oil during the time of Moses.  Others say that, by being anointed with the Holy Spirit, the patriarchs had greatness, spiritual abilities (i.e., prophecy), and inviolability.  A similar proposal is that the patriarchs are said to be anointed because they had offices that later involved being anointed with oil: the patriarchs were prophets, they were priests in that they offered sacrifices to God, and they were kings or royal figure because they were ancestors of royalty, plus the name "Sarah" relates to being a princess (Genesis 17).  Augustine has an interesting solution.  Because anointed is Christs in Greek, Augustine asks if the patriarchs are called Christs because they were Christians, for John 8:56 says that Abraham saw Christ's day and was glad.

In terms of my view, perhaps the patriarchs in Psalm 105:15 were anointed by the Holy Spirit, for Isaiah 61:1 talks about the Spirit anointing someone to the task of liberation.  In Israel's post-exilic period, there was a conception of spiritual anointing, so, if Psalm 105 is indeed post-exilic, its author may have had that concept in mind when he referred to the patriarchs as anointed.

3.  Psalm 105:23-25 says (again, in the King James Version): "Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham.  And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.  He turned their heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants."

Augustine really wrestles with the part about God turning the hearts of the Egyptians to hate the Israelites in Egypt, which surprised me, since Augustine has long struck me as one who believed in predestination and had little trouble with God forming some people unto dishonor (a la Romans 9:18-22).  But Augustine has difficulty accepting that God might have turned human hearts towards sin.  Augustine proposes instead that the Egyptians were already prone to envy, and God brought that envy out of the Egyptians by multiplying the Israelites, to the Egyptians' chagrin.  For Augustine, God was not turning good hearts towards sinfulness, but God was agitating already envious hearts by blessing Israel.

4.  Matthew Henry and Charles Spurgeon both note that Psalm 105 is long, and the lesson that they draw is that we should let the Spirit move, whether that leads to short prayers or long prayers.  I prefer to set aside at least ten minutes each day for prayer and Bible reading, but there are times when I really get into my prayer and study of Scripture and thus end up going longer.  Moreover, on some days I only do one daily quiet time of ten minutes, but on other days I do more than one daily quiet time.  On days that I do more, I may be depressed or sad or mad or otherwise agitated and I especially need prayer to help me to get through the day with a stable state of mind.  Or I may do multiple daily quiet times on a given day because I'm enjoying my time with God.  God loves me, whether I spend ten minutes with him on a given day, or more.  God would love me even if I didn't spend any time with him, but prayer is a time for me to make myself available to God and to cultivate my relationship with God.

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