Saturday, January 4, 2014

Psalm 141

There are a number of difficult passages in Psalm 141, but, in this post, I want to concentrate on v 5.  In the KJV, the verse reads: “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.”

“Let the righteous smite me.”  In the Hebrew, the word translated as “the righteous” is in the singular, and so there is one interpretation that says that the righteous one in Psalm 141:5 is God: that the Psalmist is receptive to God’s discipline and chastising of him.  Keil-Delitzsch refer to scholars who think this, but I’d like to quote Jimmy Swaggart’s words in his study Bible: “‘The Righteous’ could only refer to the Heavenly Father.  God does not allow fellow Christians to smite each other.  Vengeance belongs to Him, and no one else.  It is proper for the Lord to chastise us, but not proper for anyone else to do so…”

I don’t think that Psalm 141:5 means what Swaggart says it means.  As Keil-Delitzsch note, “righteous” is not used as a “direct appellation” for God in the Hebrew Bible, which means that God is not called “the righteous one” in the Hebrew Bible.  God is said to be righteous, but he is not called “the righteous one.”  (UPDATE: An exception may be Proverbs 21:12, which seems to concern God's punishment of the wicked.)  Often in the Book of Psalms, when we see the term “the righteous” in the singular, it refers to the righteous human being.  The message of Psalm 141:5 is probably that the Psalmist welcomes rebuke from righteous human beings, and we see that sort of theme elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible (John MacArthur cites Proverbs 9:8; 19:25; 27:6; 27:17).

But I can understand why Swaggart might have preferred for the righteous one of Psalm 141:5 to be God rather than God’s people.  God’s people—-or those who call themselves such—-can be pretty nasty.  Swaggart probably felt that he had experienced this during his own scandals.  Whereas God’s people can put a person down without compassion or knowledge of all of the facts, God can be trusted to be a perfect disciplinarian because God is compassionate, knows the whole story, and is aware of what people need at particular stages in their journey.

But can God use rebuke from a righteous person?  I don’t rule that out; I just have a hard time putting a great deal of stock in the times that Christians have rebuked me, for I have felt that their rebukes have come from judgmentalism, narrow-mindedness, and incomplete knowledge of me and what I was going through.  That’s not to say that I found their rebukes to be totally off-base, for I can learn about how I am coming across from hearing people’s impressions.  But I have a hard time equating their judgments with God’s opinion, for I’d like to believe that God is more compassionate and fair than they are.

I should note that the Psalmist values rebuke from the righteous—-from those who do right.  Because humility is a virtue, one would hope that rebuke from a righteous person would correspond with genuine love and humility, rather than being a mere put-down that allows the person rebuking to feel superior.  I doubt that there is a whole lot of love and humility when Christians rebuke people they barely know on Facebook or in blogs.

2 comments:

Craig L. Adams said...

I think verse 5 is best understood in the light of verse 4: "Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil..." He is saying, essentially, 'if I get off-track, my there be someone (a righteous person) to correct me. Granted "strike" (הָלַם) seems very harsh. At least, as nasty and judgmental as Christians can get nowadays — it doesn't usually spill over into actual violence. Times have changed in that regard, at least.

James Pate said...

Thanks for sharing that observation, Craig. I agree that the Psalmist is recognizing his own vulnerability.

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