Sunday, March 12, 2017

Reading Through the Psalms #6 (73-89)

Psalms volume 2We now move into the third book of the Psalms (73-89) today accompanied by Psalms, vol. 1, The College Press NIV Commentary, by S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn. I am posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual, quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

Psalm 73 begins the 3rd book of the Psalms (73-89). Most of these songs are laments about the fallen temple and ask God, "How long?" before the fallen temple and fallen Davidic dynasty are restored. Psalm 73 is a "theodicy" asking God why he doesn't deliver on the covenant with David. Psalm 74 asks the same question but answers it with a strong statement about the power and faithfulness of God in the past. Psalm 75 answers the question with its strong hope from the covenant promises that God will come at the perfect time to judge the wicked and righteous.

What shall I lack in heaven with you, [besides you] I desire nothing on earth. Psalm 73, 48

Basically the psalmist is saying that God (Yahweh) is the true King, sovereign over the cosmos, not Marduk (battler of chaos) or Ea (earth) or Shamash (sun). And this sovereignty includes both creation and salvation of a people. Keel notes: “The contexts of Pss 74 and 89 … demonstrate … that the primeval event is by no means separable from the saving acts performed by the deity in the battle against evil ‘in the midst of the earth’ (Ps 74:12).” Psalm 74, 62

“When Ps. 75:3, 4 declare that God will right the pillars of justice in the earth, the upside-down moral world of Psalm 73 is rectified, as is the humiliating situation of Psalm 74.… Psalm 75 promises (vv. 3, 4, 8–10) this long-awaited judgment on the wicked, and thereby rekindles hope in the eventual fulfillment of Psalms 1–2 and 72.” Psalm 75, 68

76-80 are meditations or prayers (probably exilic) focusing in on God's Covenant with David and asking for restoration of the Kingdom or mulling over why it has not happened yet. 76 pictures God as a sleeping "Lion of Zion." They ask the lion to rouse and extend His power over Zion again. 77 is a meditation that sees the tragedy and humiliation in the present, looks to God's amazing national miracles in the past and implores the people of Israel to trust Him to do it again for the future. 78 is a long history lesson about what God did in the past and an assurance to the nation that they will be restored. 79 is a prayer about Israel's humiliation, a reminder of how God has kept covenant in the past, with a vow of worship that will be kept when God intervenes. Finally 80 is a prayer for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom.

The name of God (Yahweh) is not only known and feared by Judah, it is now feared by all the kings of the earth. The “Lion” from Judah cannot be ignored any longer: he is renowned, resplendent in light, awesome, and One to be feared. Our warrior God is triumphant! Psalm 76, 73.

The psalm invites us as readers to ponder the mystery of the ‘unknown tracks’ of God in the midst of our distress. Has his loyal-love (v. 9) failed? Can we still trust his promises? Verses 12–21 give us the basis for an affirmative answer, but the decision is ours.” The psalm is left open-ended! Psalm 77, 79

Therefore, within Book III the final strophe of Psalm 78 (vv. 65–72) is more than a rehearsing of God’s covenant with David, but rather becomes the pledge of an eventual restoration of Zion which now lies in ruins and of another shepherd like David. In the midst of complaints and laments, the promises of Psalms 72, 75 and 76 have been reaffirmed. Psalm 78, 82–83

But Israel had not chosen the Lord; he had chosen them to be his people in accordance with his promise to Abraham, not because they possessed some particular merit. And although they have broken their covenant, they are still God’s people. So they plead for mercy and renew their promise of allegiance to him. They have sinned, but God may forgive. They are in need, and God is compassionate. They are scattered, but the Lord is their shepherd. Psalm 79, 96

Read in its entirety, the psalm is seen to be one of hope and confidence. It is, from first to last, a prayer of confident faith, uttered by a community of believers who recognize God as their shepherd. It is he who first planted this nation as a choice vineyard. In anger he has permitted an enemy to overrun her (because of her sins?). But he who has lavished such care upon the land surely will hear the prayers of a penitent people, rescue them, redeem them, and restore them as his flock once again. Psalm 80, 97–98

This section concludes the section of Book 3 written by Asaph (73-83). Psalm 81 continues the theme of lament for Israel's state as exiled people with a call to remember what God did in the Exodus and to repent and hope in His promise of restoration (celebrate the feast of Tabernacles). In Psalm 82, YHWH presides over the assembly of the "gods" and condemns them for their misuse of power and lack of justice and announces His plan to rule the world with justice and mercy. 83 is a lament over Israel's precarious national situation and  a reminder that God never has, and never will, allow His enemies to destroy His people.

It is the four concluding verses that give the cause for jubilation. Here we have a standing offer of God’s mercy even for his wayward people if they will return to him and walk in his way. And that is surely reason enough to sing hallelujah—then, now, and for all time to come, for this is an “open-ended” offer of mercy, not restricted to one particular group of apostates. Psalm 81, 108

Power should always be used to help the helpless, relieve the oppressed, and lift up the weak. When leaders and judges do not do this, they become the “wicked” and the “unjust.” Psalm 82, 112

Somehow the psalmist desires a positive outcome for all these “cursing” statements—the seeking of God’s name, Yahweh! Here is evidence that the motivation for this outburst is not simply a desire for vengeance. Deal with them, yes. Pursue them, yes, as long as they persist in this plan of conquest. But why should God so deal with them? That they may seek the name of Yahweh. Psalm 83, 120–121

Psalms 84-85 are from the "Sons of Korah." 84 is a lament longing for the free and easy access the psalmist once had to the temple, the presence of God and worship with His people. 85 confesses the sin of the nation and the desire to be restored to the land and its blessings.

With perseverance comes strength and the pilgrim moves from one level of strength to another. Keeping one’s eye on the goal (to see God?) can overcome all kinds of obstacles. Psalm 84, 125

God, in his righteousness, makes a way for a return to him in righteousness—redeemed, forgiven, and reinstated as a true child of God, and dedicated to live henceforth as a child of God ought to live. When this righteousness which is of God would be the possession of the people once again, manifested in their lives, “peace” (šālôm) would be realized—righteousness and peace would have embraced and kissed each other (middle east style!). Psalm 85, 134

Psalms 86-89 bring Book 3 to a close. Psalm 86 is a prayer asking for restored blessing based on God's character as a merciful and compassionate God. 87 praises Zion as the place where God has chosen and names all who trust God as its citizens. 88 and 89 are meant to be read together. 88 is the darkest of all the psalms. It seems to leave the reader hopeless. The answer is God's great promise of an eternal kingdom of a ruler from David's family who will rule with justice and blessing. But, the psalmist sees only a world of exile and oppression and he wonders when the promise will be fulfilled. But, the psalmist knows that God is faithful, the darkness will pass and God's great kingdom will come in its time.

With singleness of purpose, with a united heart, he would reverence the Lord. This is the center of the psalm! This is the heart of his prayer...The desire to know God’s way because he wanted to live it precedes his commitment. Psalm 86:12–13, 141

The land of one’s birth is not an issue. That which is essential is to know God. And for all who know him, Zion, the city of God, is home—Zion is his birthplace. Psalm 87, 146

And so we leave him where we found him at the beginning, pouring out his heart to God from a darkness that has but one ray of light—God is “the God of my salvation” (v. 1). With this faith, no larger than a mustard seed, the devoted servant of God would hold on! Psalm 88.18, 153

Then what became of God’s promise to David of a kingdom with its throne occupied by the seed of David forever? It seems that open-ended question of the psalm will be answered by Books 4 and 5 of the Psalms. In Book 4 the emphasis is “God reigns!” In Book 5 the hope is expressed in a coming “priest-king” who will indeed sit on David’s throne forever (cf. Psalms 110 and 132). Psalm 89, 165

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