Saturday, August 24, 2013

Psalm 122

Psalm 122 is about going to Jerusalem, as well as desiring Jerusalem's prosperity and peace.  Last week, I shared songs about Psalm 121.  This week, allow me to share this song, which is about the first line of Psalm 122: "I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the LORD" (KJV).

What I'd like to focus on in this post is Psalm 122:5: " For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David."  Patrick Miller in the HarperCollins Study Bible says the following: "Jerusalem is praised...as a place where just judgment may be found (cf. Deut 17.8-13; Isa 2.2-4; Mic 4.1-4)...See 1 Kings 7.7.  On the responsibility of kings for rendering justice and judgment in Jerusalem, see 2 Sam 15.1-6; 1 Kings 3.16-28; Jer 21.12; 22.15-16."

Miller cites a lot of passages there.  In Deuteronomy 17:8-13, the levitical priests are the ones at the central sanctuary who pass judgment in difficult cases.  In some of those other passages, however, such as Jeremiah 21:12 and 22:15-16, God appears to want the Davidic monarch to execute justice.

The reason that this whole issue stood out to me when I was reading and studying Psalm 122 was that I had recently listened to a podcast on I Kings.  The podcasts are done by Matthew Ryan Hauge and Craig Evan Anderson, both of whom have Ph.Ds.  They're excellent, in my opinion, for they go into I Kings in depth, explaining why people are acting as they are in the text.  In the podcast on I Kings 3:4-15, in which Solomon asks God for wisdom so that he could judge the people, one of the hosts was saying that Solomon here was trying to usurp power that did not belong to him.  The host noted that Deuteronomy 17:8-13 says that the levitical priests are to be the ones who are to judge, but here Solomon was, wanting to be the judge himself.  (UPDATE: Looney under my blogger post notes that Deuteronomy 17:9 mentions a judge who was not a Levite.  As I look again at Hauge and Evans' notes about their podcast, they, too, seem to acknowledge the existence of non-Levite judges.  Still, their argument appears to be that kings, according to Deuteronomy, were not the ones who were to judge.)

I think that the host is raising important issues, but I am not entirely convinced by his interpretation, for a variety of reasons.  For one, how do we know that either Solomon or the narrator of I Kings 3:4-15 was aware of the law in Deuteronomy 17:8-13?  My impression is that there are many scholars who date Deuteronomy later than King Solomon.  Moreover, while the Deuteronomist indeed added things to I Kings, my understanding (based on what a number of scholars have said) is that he did not write all of the narrative in I Kings himself.  Couldn't the part of the story about Solomon asking God for wisdom so that he could judge the people be prior to the time of the Deuteronomist?  If so, then maybe the narrator is not portraying Solomon as doing something wrong in wanting wisdom so that he could judge; rather, the narrator may assume that Solomon's request is reasonable, since kings in those days judged.

Second, God in I Kings 3:4-15 approved of Solomon's request for wisdom.  There is no indication in the text that Solomon was illegitimately seeking to usurp power that belonged to someone else.

Third, I do not know how Hauge and Anderson approach the diversity of Scripture----if they believe that the Bible contains different voices with different ideologies, or if they believe that all of the Bible is the viewpoint of God.  The thing is, the Hebrew Bible strikes me as rather diverse on the issue of who should judge.  Deuteronomy 17:8-13 says that the Levitical priests should, but there are other passages that are either okay with the Davidic king judging, or that encourage the Davidic king to do so.  How do we know that I Kings 3:4-15 is not one of the voices that presumes that the Davidic king should judge?

But things may be messier than I have implied so far in this post.  The reason is that, while Psalm 122 appears to be okay with the Davidic king judging, it appears to have been influenced by Deuteronomic thought.  Psalm 122:4 mentions giving thanks to the name of the LORD.  That is a Deuteronomic concept: that the house of God is a place where God has put God's name, not a home that God himself inhabits.  Psalm 122 may adopt some aspects of Deuteronomic ideology, but not other aspects.  Or could the Deuteronomistic School have changed its mind by coming to accept the role of the Davidic king as judge over Israel?

2 comments:

Looney said...

Deuteronomy 17:9 says that they will go to "the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office". The judges weren't Levites. But - ignoring the UK news - it is hard to imagine a king who does not judge.

James Pate said...

Yeah, they do look separate. The Levites judge, but they're not the only judges. I think I read a while back that the "secular judges" (if that's an appropriate term for them) in Deuteronomy relate somehow to the judicial system that Jehoshophat appointed.

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