Saturday, December 22, 2012

Psalm 108

For my weekly quiet time, I studied Psalm 108.  The content of Psalm 108:1-5 is also found in Psalm 57:7-11, and the content of Psalm 108:6-13 is also in Psalm 60:5-12.  Psalm 57:1-6 contains the Psalmist's hope that God might deliver him from his enemies, then Psalm 57:7-11 talks about the Psalmist singing God's praise among the nations, God's mercy, and the Psalmist's desire that God might be exalted.  Psalm 60 reflects the Psalmist's disappointment at his people's painful setbacks in battle, and Psalm 60:5-12 requests God's deliverance, affirms the Psalmist's belief that God is in control of the land of Israel and surrounding nations, and expresses hope that God will assist God's people in battle.

What is the impression that is made when Psalm 108 copies and pastes (if you will) Psalm 57:7-11, and follows that up with Psalm 60:5-12?  What we have is the Psalmist in Psalm 108 first talking about singing God's praises among the nations, God's mercy, and the Psalmist's desire that God be exalted, and then following that up with a request for God's deliverance, an affirmation of God's control over Israel and surrounding nations, and an expression of hope that God will assist God's people.  I'd say that Psalm 108 is much more positive than Psalm 57 and Psalm 60, for Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 focus a lot on problems, whereas Psalm 108 highlights the solution, namely, the sovereign and merciful God.  Moreover, Psalm 108 starts by affirming the importance of praising God before it asks God to help God's people, whereas Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 start out by describing the problems, then they turn their attention more to the solution. 

Psalm 108 reminds me of the Lord's Prayer, whose first half is about God's exaltation and overall agenda (i.e., the kingdom of God), whereas the second half contains the petitioner's requests----for food, forgiveness, and deliverance from temptation.  In essence, God comes first in the Lord's Prayer, then the petitioner's needs.  I also think of II Chronicles 20:21-22, in which King Jehoshaphat of Judah puts the praise choir in front of the Judahite army as it goes out to confront the aggressive Moabites and Ammonites.

I can identify with Psalm 57 and Psalm 60, in which the Psalmist vents about his problems before he gets to praising God. I have found myself in those sorts of situations: I need to let out my anger and fear in prayer before I can feel sufficiently at peace to praise God.  But I can also understand why Psalm 108 goes another route: sometimes, it's important for me to remind myself of God's greatness before I get to my problems in prayer, for a variety of reasons: to affirm that my problems are small compared to God, to highlight that God is more important than I am (as eager as God is to hear about my problems, since God loves me), and to remember that God has an agenda that is above and beyond me, yet also includes me.

A number of scholars date Psalm 108 to Israel's post-exilic period.  The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary says that, whereas Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 concerned "the consolidation and power of David's own reign", Psalm 108 is about the Messiah.  Perhaps the commentary means that Psalm 108 expresses Israel's hope for a coming Messiah who will deliver her.

In my opinion, both interpretations make sense of the structure of Psalm 108.  Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 appear to concern emergency situations----a person is harassed by enemies, one's army is doing poorly in battle.  Some argue that these Psalms reflected David's problems, whereas others contend that they were Psalms that were to be used for certain emergency situations.  Either way, the relevance of Psalm 57 and Psalm 60 to a context of emergency is probably why these Psalms frantically focus on problems before they arrive at a a greater state of hope.  Psalm 108, however, within a post-exilic context or a context in which Israel is hoping for a Messiah, is not set in an emergency situation.  At least that's my opinion.  Granted, Israel does not regard her situation as ideal or even as positive, for she desires God's intervention.  And there may still be times when she especially feels the heavy hand of her oppressors and thus earnestly yearns for redemption.  But, overall, she's not in an emergency situation, but rather a long-term period of national ills that she experiences.  Because every day stinks, she's not particularly frantic.  Consequently, her method of prayer as she attempts to cope with this long-term problem is to comfort herself with the realization that God is good and sovereign, and then to express the hope that God will assist her in battle and restore her sovereignty.

No comments:

Search This Blog

Loading...