Saturday, October 5, 2013

Psalm 128

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will post Psalm 128 in the King James Version (which is in the public domain), then I will comment.

1 A Song of degrees. Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.
2 For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.
3 Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.
4 Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.
5 The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.
6 Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel.

1.  What particularly interested me in my study of this Psalm was the various ideas that scholars have offered for the Psalm's Sitz-im-Leben and original purpose.  E. Gerstenberger speculates that Psalm 128 was originally linked to "female domestic cult practice", and that the part about Jerusalem and Israel was added later.  Leslie Allen refers to the view that Psalm 128 was a welcome for a host at the door of the host's house.  Allen mentions other ideas, too: that Psalm 128 was wisdom teaching that had nothing to do with the cult, yet incorporated cultic language; that Psalm 128 was a cultic text incorporating wisdom language; that Psalm 128 was used at the autumn festival, when its theme of fertility would have been especially appropriate; that Psalm 128 welcomes the faithful pilgrim to the sanctuary; that Psalm 128 is a priestly blessing seeing the pilgrims off as they are leaving; etc.  E.W. Bullinger interprets the Songs of Degrees in light of the reign of Hezekiah, which includes the failure of the Assyrian Sennacherib to conquer Jerusalem, and also Hezekiah's recovery from his sickness.  According to Bullinger, v 2's statement that "thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands" is contrasting that sort of situation with one in which others partake of the fruit of the faithful Israelite's labor (Leviticus 26:16; Deuteronomy 28:30-33, 39, 40; Amos 5:11).  Could Psalm 128 be about the deliverance of Israel from her enemies, in either a historical or an eschatological sense, which would allow Israelites to enjoy the fruit of their labor?

2.  Psalm 128 is somewhat like the prosperity Gospel in its emphasis on material prosperity.  Leslie Allen states that the New Testament retains "categorical promises of material endowment" (Matthew 6:33; II Corinthians 9:6-12; cf. Philippians 4:19), although it has a "less earthy emphasis."  I question whether the New Testament is as keen on the righteous becoming rich, as various parts of the Old Testament are, for the New Testament seems to me to talk about material provision, not material riches.  God will provide for our needs, but not necessarily our greeds, in short.

There may be a sort of communitarian prosperity Gospel in the New Testament, however.  Mark 10:29-30 says: "And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,  But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life."  You see here a promise of houses and lands, but that corresponds with inclusion in the Christian family.  Could that be because the Christians are sharing their houses and lands with one another?

Speaking of a communitarian prosperity Gospel, W.O.E. Oesterley states regarding Psalm 128: "The welfare of the individual is conditioned by that of the community", and this is assured when the God of Israel is worshiped at Jerusalem.  God can take care of the individual when everyone around him or her is starving: this occurred in I Kings 17, when a woman who helped Elijah managed to eat throughout a time of famine.  But maybe there's another message within the Bible as well: that we take care of the me by taking care of the we.

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