Saturday, January 19, 2013

Psalm 112

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 112.  I have two items.

1.  Psalm 112:4 states in the King James Version, "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: [he is] gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous."  The New Revised Standard Version, however, renders it as, "They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous."

Is the righteous person the recipient of the light in the midst of the darkness, or is the righteous person himself that light, guiding and inspiring the upright ones?  When I look at the passage in the Hebrew, both appear to work.  The passage could be translated literally as, "There arose in the darkness light for the upright ones, gracious and compassionate and righteous."  Or it could be translated as, "He arose in the darkness, light for the upright ones, gracious and compassionate and righteous."  "He" in the second translation would refer to the righteous person, who is the topic of Psalm 112.

Moreover, what exactly is gracious, compassionate, and righteous in Psalm 112?  Is it the light that God sheds upon the righteous person, or is it the righteous person himself (or herself)?  Although the King James Version holds that the righteous person is the recipient of the light, it also appears to maintain that the righteous person is the one who is gracious, compassionate, and righteous.  But could it be that what is gracious, compassionate, and righteous is God's treatment of the righteous person, the light that God shines upon him in the darkness?  According to Strong's Concordance, the word rachum (compassionate) applies to God in the Hebrew Bible "with one possible exception" (which may be Psalm 112:4).  See here.  In general, rachum is used for God.

Which translation works better within the context of Psalm 112?  In my opinion, either one can work.  One can find in Psalm 112 a notion that God will be light to the righteous person in the midst of darkness, in the sense that God will deliver the righteous person, for vv 7-8 affirm that the righteous one will not fear bad news and will see his desire upon his enemies.  Moreover, Psalm 112 is about the prosperity that the righteous person will experience, and so the message of Psalm 112:4 could be that, in a world of darkness in which there are people who struggle to get by, God will take care of the righteous person.

Alternatively, it does seem in Psalm 112 that the righteous person himself is a light in the darkness.  He lends to people, and he gives to the poor( vv 5, 9).  In essence, he is a redemptive presence in a world of evil and suffering, and he inspires those who are inclined towards righteousness to do good deeds.

From a homiletical perspective, I prefer the second perspective: that the righteous one is a light in a world of darkness.  I think that the first perspective----that God sheds light on the righteous one----smacks too much of "God rewards the righteous", which could be abused by those who claim that those who suffer and are poor experience their affliction because God has punished them for wrongdoing (though some actually prefer the first perspective because it at least acknowledges that the righteous person will go through darkness, which balances out the cheery tone of much of Psalm 112).  At the same time, I do believe that we can be inspired to do good to others when we have tasted and seen that God is good to us: we can reflect God's light onto others. 

On a side note, there appears to be a similar issue in the use of Psalm 112:9a-b in II Corinthians 9:9.  Psalm 112:9a-b states (in the KJV): "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor; his righteousness endureth for ever..."  In II Corinthians 9:9, Paul quotes that passage in arguing that God will equip Christians for good works, which could mean that God will give Christians enough so that they can share with others.  Does Paul in his quotation of Psalm 112:9a-b mean that God will give to the poor so that they, too, could donate to charity?  Or is Paul saying that the righteous person is the one who gives to the poor, which coincides with the message of generosity in Psalm 112?  I think that the second interpretation would be more faithful to the original intent of Psalm 112:9a-b, which appears to be about the righteous person giving to the poor.  And yet, aside from the passages' meaning, there is a sense in which God gives to the poor through us: we become part of God's economy of helping people when we ourselves choose to be generous.

2.  Something that I get from Psalm 112 is that the righteous person has an unassailable core.  The righteous person is not afraid of bad tidings because he trusts in God; moreover, even in good times, he does not allow his wealth to make him complacent or hardened to the needs of others, for he lends to others, gives to the poor, and holds fast to righteousness.  The wicked of Psalm 112, by contrast, lack such equanimity, for they are upset when the righteous one is exalted, and their hope is thwarted.

A theme in Psalm 112 is that the righteous person will be known on account of his righteous deeds and God's blessing of him.  V 2 affirms that his children will be strong on the earth, v 8 states that "the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance", and v 9 has "his horn shall be exalted with honour."  But do things work out that way in real life?  Granted, there are good people who are known and are highly regarded for their goodness, but that's not the case with everyone.  In my opinion, I should strive for a core that leads me to do good, whether or not people notice or appreciate the good that I do.

I think also of a tension within the Sermon on the Mount: that Jesus tells his disciples to pray and to give alms in secret, while also exhorting them to let their light shine before others, so that others may see the good works of Jesus' disciples and give glory to God (Matthew 5:16; 6).  So should we be public about our righteousness, or not?  In my opinion, there is a sense in which I should do good deeds to be a part of the solution in this world----to be a light.  And yet, I shouldn't do those good deeds so much to be applauded, but simply because those good deeds are right and help others.

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