Saturday, February 23, 2013

Psalm 117

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 117, which is the shortest Psalm (and, if I'm not mistaken, the shortest chapter in the entire Bible).  Psalm 117 states the following, in the King James Version:
"1. O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.   2. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD."

A question that is asked within the Jewish sources that I read is this: Why would the other nations praise the LORD for his kindness towards Israel, the presumed "us" of v 2? 

The Jewish exegete Radak said that, in the times of the Messiah, the nations will praise God for delivering Israel from their control and for God's faithfulness to Israel throughout the Diaspora.  I do not know why Radak thinks that the nations would praise God for these things.  Perhaps the nations admire God for sticking by his people through thick and thin, the same way that many of us may emotionally respond to examples of love and faithfulness that are for the benefit of others besides ourselves----examples in stories and in real life.  Many of us also like a good underdog story, and God, in exalting Israel, has lifted up a people that was despised for many years in the eyes of many.  Maybe the nations are impressed that the God of Israel was powerful enough to deliver Israel from their hands.

The thing is, although God in Psalm 117 may have a special love for Israel, there is a sense in which certain Jewish interpreters may hold that God's exaltation of Israel benefits the nations as well.  According to Artscroll, Radak said that the reason that Psalm 117 is so short is that it is about the "simplicity of the world order" that will exist under the reign of the Messiah.  Even the Gentile nations would benefit from an era of simplicity----of peace and righteousness!  Moreover, the Artscroll cites Yaavetz Hadoresh, which suggested that Israel will merit God's deliverance of her on account of her service to God, and the nations will recognize this and will actually be happy that they will be subservient to God's chosen people.  Many would probably like the concept of people being rewarded for their devotion, and they would prefer to be ruled by those who are good rather than by those who are bad.

Christianity, and I here think specifically of the Epistles of Paul, appeared to have a different idea, however.  It did not seem to envision the Messianic age as a time when the Gentiles would be subordinate to the Jews.  Rather, its idea was that the Gentiles would join the community of God and there they would be equal with the Jews, without having to be circumcised and keep the Torah.  Was this idea faithful to the Hebrew Bible?  Well, Isaiah 56 does, in some sense, portray Gentiles joining the people of Israel, taking hold of God's covenant, and keeping the Sabbath; I don't think that this goes as far as what Paul advocated, but it's sort of a step in that direction.  But, overall, when the Hebrew Bible talks about the Gentiles praising God, it does not seem to suggest that the Gentiles would do so as co-equals with Jews in God's covenant community, Israel.  Rather, Israel is God's chosen people, and the nations praise her God because they recognize his divine power as a result of his activity on Israel's behalf.

At the Bible study that I attend, I recently made the statement that there really is no evidence that the Bible is true.  Someone then responded that we can look at fulfilled prophecy and see that the Bible is divinely-inspired.  He referred to Hosea, which (according to him) says that Gentiles would become a part of God's people.  He noted that Hosea made this prophecy back when God's covenant was with Israel alone, and that the prophecy came true with the church.  He may have been implying that Hosea was ahead of his own time----that Hosea had to have gotten his vision from divine revelation because he by himself, within his own historical context, would not have come up with the idea that God would include the Gentiles in God's covenant people, for at that time the Israelites were God's covenant people.  And the fact that this prophecy was fulfilled, in his mind, is evidence that the Bible is God's word.

I did not entirely agree with this gentleman, but I did not argue with him, for I try not to be argumentative in my Bible study group.  The reason that I said that there is no evidence that the Bible is true was because people in the group were saying that we're saved by faith, and they were talking about how that's so much easier than salvation by works.  But I, and someone else in the group, was doubtful that even faith is all that easy!

I disagree with this gentleman for two reasons.  First of all, the passage in Hosea that is supposedly about the Gentiles becoming part of God's people----which Paul in Romans 9:25-26 cites as having this message----actually in its original context says no such thing.  Rather, the point of Hosea 1:9-10 and 2:23 is that God will re-embrace Israel after a period of rejecting her.  According to Hosea, God had called Israel "not my people" on account of her sins, but God will restore Israel and she will be God's people once again.  Second, I don't think that it would be a stretch within the time periods in which the Hebrew Bible was composed that an Israelite writer would have a favorable view towards Gentiles----that he would conclude that God is concerned for the Gentiles, as well as Israel.  Maybe he wouldn't go so far as to say that the Gentiles would join Israel and be co-equals with the Jews, without having to be circumcised or keep the law.  But he could arrive at the conclusion that Israel had some sort of mission to the Gentiles, and that Israel should welcome Gentiles who want to worship the LORD.  Within the Hebrew Bible, there are exclusivist voices, and there are inclusivist voices.  How did the inclusivist voices originate?  That's a good question.  Perhaps it occurred within exile, as Israelites were seeking an identity and encountered a variety of different peoples, and they concluded that they had a mission to the nations.  In any case, I don't see the inclusion of the Gentiles within the early Christian church to be solid evidence of fulfilled prophecy, as if that proves that God inspired the Bible; rather, I see it as taking a trend that had already existed within the Hebrew Bible a step further.

1 comment:

Bob MacDonald said...

I have been noticing how difficult it is to 'see' the interpretations of others. You have a good policy of not 'arguing'. My fighting nature wants to undermine those commonplace ideas that are indeed 'untrue'. While faith is a given, walking in completeness - or living that faith in obedience to the One who teaches us - surely this is a requirement - as the saying goes, a no-brainer. But some of us, most of us at some times, have the brain disengaged, or short-circuited by confession, a desperate hope that what is believed is true (but don't bring me too close to it). How then does one enable obedience?

Psalm 117 - a nice meditation - thanks again.

Search This Blog

Loading...