Saturday, October 19, 2013

Psalm 130

For my weekly quiet time today, I will blog about Psalm 130 and some of its interpreters.  Click here to read the Psalm.  I will use as my starting-point something that Adele Berlin and Marc Zvi Brettler say in the Jewish Study Bible on vv 3-4:

"The theological notion expressed is that God must forgive since all people sin (see Job ch 7), and forgiveness rather than punishment causes people to hold God in awe.  No ritual is necessary for this forgiveness, and the sin is completely erased..."

I have three items:

1.  Berlin and Brettler affirm that Psalm 130 promotes an atonement that occurs without ritual.  There seems to be a difference of opinion about that within scholarship, however, for Leslie Allen argues that Psalm 130 can fit within the context of the cult.  I admit that Psalm 130 asks God to forgive out of a desire to preserve the human race, since no one would stand were God to take account of iniquities; moreover, Psalm 130 presents God's forgiveness as something that encourages people to fear God, which may differ from saying that one should fear God in order to be forgiven.  But I question whether such themes are inconsistent with cult or ritual.  Yes, God probably desires to preserve the human race, and the Psalmist may hope that this sentiment will persuade God to cut people some slack.  And, yes, when God forgives people, that gives them the motivation to love and to revere God.  But does that have to preclude performing rituals or concretely doing something to encourage God to exercise mercy?  I'm open to that kind of theology, but I question whether it's present in Psalm 130.  I can't prove it or disprove it either way.

2.  If Berlin and Brettler are correct on the theology of Psalm 130:3-4, the implication might be that it deems blood atonement to be unnecessary for one to receive forgiveness from God.  The thing is, there are Christian interpreters who maintain that blood atonement is actually a significant part of Psalm 130.  Augustine says that v 4 affirms that there is propitiation with God, and he interprets that in reference to blood sacrifice.  The Greek word in v 4 that Augustine sees as propitiation is hilasmos, which the Gingrich lexicon defines as "expiation, sin offering."  But the LXX's hilasmos translates the Hebrew word selichah, which simply means forgiveness.  (Israelis mean "excuse me" when they say "selichah.")  The LXX may be adding an element of blood atonement to Psalm 130:4, or it may not be doing that, since expiation does not absolutely have to entail blood atonement, for one could arguably come up with a theology in which God expiates sin without blood atonement.  In any case, I do believe that the LXX opens the door for one to interpret v 4 in reference to blood atonement, since one of the meanings of hilasmos is  "sin offering".

Psalm 130:7-8 mention redemption, and there are Christian interpreters who believe that this pertains to blood atonement.  V 8 affirms that God will redeem Israel from her iniquities, and there are Christians who argue that God did this through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But does redemption have to entail blood atonement?  Granted, there are plenty of places in the Hebrew Bible where redemption occurs with a price (Exodus 13:13; 34:20), but there are also places where the Hebrew word for redemption, p-d-h, simply means to free from servitude (Deuteronomy 7:8; 13:6; Jeremiah 15:21; 31:11), or to deliver one's life from danger (Psalm 34:23; II Samuel 4:9; I Kings 1:29; Job 5:20; 6:23), without reference to a price.  I draw here from Holladay.  In short, I don't think that redemption from iniquities in Psalm 130:7-8 necessarily entails blood atonement, the same way that I doubt that vv 3-4 necessarily promote atonement apart from a cultic context or blood sacrifice. 

3.  Psalm 130 emphasizes God's mercy and forgiveness after Psalm 129, an imprecatory Psalm that asks for God to punish Israel's enemies.  Do these two Psalms contradict one another?  Well, I don't think that I have to say that Psalm 129 and Psalm 130 are perfectly consistent with one another, for they are two different Psalms that were later placed inside of the same collection, the Songs of Degrees.  At the same time, one can ask why these two different Psalms are placed next to one another, when they have such vastly different themes and messages.  The Nelson Study Bible says that, after the Psalmist calls for God's punishment of his enemies, he takes a look at his own heart and recognizes his own need for God's mercy.  The idea here may be that the latter sentiment serves as a check on the former.

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