I am a universalist. I make this opening statement to provoke some thought but mostly I make this statement because Psalm 117 makes it. The claim to be a universalist might be taken as both a narrow and arrogant claim and one that is too wide and open. But this shortest of all the psalms makes it anyway without regard for the connotations. All people of all time and all locations are invited and exhorted to praise and extol Yahweh, the God of a small nomadic nation of biblical history.

This universal invitation is put out there for one universal reason: Yahweh’s faithful love endures forever. Nations come and nations go. Great leaders rise to power and fall. People are born and people die. Wars are fought and peace treaties are made. The poem of Ecclesiastes 3 comes to mind with its contrasting statements of many human experiences. Throughout the shifting sands of human experience there is one thing that remains more constant than concrete: God’s love. God never withdraws divine love from human subjects. This is another universal. If this does not motivate praise then what will?

This may be the shortest of all the psalms but the subject of the psalm—God’s love—is unfathomably, eternally, incomprehensibly long and wide and deep and high. The Hebrew word HESED which is translated as unfailing love, steadfast love, eternal love, etc. appears 125 times in the book of Psalms. It is by far the dominant theme in the collection [indeed in all of Scripture] and so it seems only right that the shortest psalm in the collection sums it up in a succinct fashion.

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“Like the dew of the morning’s womb” [110:3] is an amazing turn of phrase even if there is a disclaimer in my footnote that says “The Hebrew for this sentence is unclear.” Here on the west coast we sometimes complain about the fog and mist in the morning but it is the lifeblood of the rainforest with all its plants and creatures as well as the valley’s agriculture that feeds millions of people. The divine womb has birthed all of creation and continues to give it life. Your grace is new every morning.

There have been a few others I have noticed lately: A creative insult in 108:9 “Moab is my washbasin, on Edom I toss my sandal.” In 107:27 “They reeled and staggered like drunkards” is a vivid metaphor for being caught on a boat in the midst of a violent storm. Psalm 104 is full of metaphors. I especially liked v.2-3 “Yahweh wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.”

What good metaphors are you noticing?

 

My excuse for the lack of posts is that the first few weeks of classes demand all my energy and attention! So I will cheat and post my lecture notes on Psalm 107. I hope it makes reading more meaningful. This Psalm is carefully crafted and some scholars believe that the original psalm was verses 4-32 with an introduction and conclusions added later.

1-3 Introduction: “Let the redeemed give thanks”

  • 1 is a common liturgical exclamation in temple worship [1 Chronicles 16:34; Jeremiah 33:11] as well as other psalms [106:1, 118:1, 136:1].
  • “redeemed” could refer to those delivered in the exodus or those from the exile
  • The 4 directions are not only geographical but is seen as the number of completion, i.e. the circle is complete. Note there are 4 groups of the redeemed in the rest of the psalm to correspond to the 4 directions.

4-32 Litany of Thanksgiving: by 4 groups of the redeemed

4-9 “Those who wandered in the desert”

  • The desert is very common imagery in the psalms for obvious reasons: Israel, Babylon, Egypt, etc. are all in a desert region. Thus this is very literal as well as metaphorical.
  • A city symbolizes security, settledness and permanence.
  • The prayer and the response of delivery in 6,13,19,28 is very much the same. The exhortation to thanksgiving in 8,15,21,31.
  • They type of deliverance in each refrain is unique to the problem of distress stated earlier.

10-16 “Those who were imprisoned”

  • Imprisonment is often a symbol of sinfulness and here it is directly seen as a result of sin, i.e. because of rebellion [v.11]
  • This could also refer to the exile, e.g. hard labor [v.12]or even the slavery in Egypt from which God released them
  • 14,16 shattering the bars and bringing light to darkness are also NT images of salvation [Acts 16:30; Luke 4:18; John 9]

17-22 “Those who were sick and dying”

  • Again v.17 makes the connection between illness and sin
  • These are “fools” whose illness seems entirely self-inflicted, a result of their rebelliousness, e.g. gang members who get shot
  • But even these the Lord heals!
  • 22 They are to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving [see Leviticus 7:11-15]

23-32 “Those who were lost at sea”

  • This is the longest stanza and the most foreign to the experience of Israel
  • The Hebrews were generally not seafaring people since the coast has no natural harbors, though during Solomon’s heyday they did have a fleet of ships [1 Kings 9:26-28] so the memory and the stories of this time could have continued.
  • The sea, because of it was considered the great unknown, the “end of the world” was a powerful image of calamity [Psalm 46:2-3; Acts 27:6-44 where Paul and companions are shipwrecked].
  • God is seen as the one who stirs up the sea [24-26] and the one who calms the sea [29] and guides them to a safe haven.
  • People have no chance [27] in the face of God’s power. We are but small and helpless.
  • This is also a symbol of the exile. Israel was a small nation but their God rescued them.

33-42 Closing Hymn: “God’s providential care”

33-38 God’s redemption in creation

  • This renewal of creation so that cultivation could begin clearly reflects the situation of the post-exilic community [e.g. Isaiah 41:18ff]. The desert became a land “flowing with milk and honey.”

39-42 God’s redemption of the afflicted

  • It is a common theme that the mighty are brought down and the poor and lowly are raised up, e.g. 113:7-9. This theme continues in the NT [see Luke 1:46-55 “Magnificat” and the entire life and work of Jesus].

42-43 Word of wisdom

  • Kind of a “this is the moral of the story” as in a wisdom psalm. It is not just a nice poem; it is about real life.
  • Other opening psalms to the books also contain wisdom nuggets about the rewards of good over evil [e.g. 1, 73, 90] 42-43 is the only one that doesn’t follow this pattern.

 

 

Psalm 103 and 104 are creation psalms of orientation which we noted way back when we read #8. The metaphors of 103 were a pleasure to read and 104 is appropriate for spending time outdoors, marveling at the wonders of creation. I’m in an office when I write this but as the last rays of summer soon disappear I hope you have a chance to experience 104 in its proper setting!

It begins with a new song [v.1] then moves to shouting [v.4] then various musical instruments join in [v.5-6] and finally bodies of water and mountains [v.7-8] join the happy chorus. This has to be one of the most positive psalms in the collection!

Why all this celebration? Judgment! Perhaps this seems like an oxymoron to us because we see from the perspective of the privileged and the powerful but if seen from the perspective of the poor and oppressed, the meek and the marginalized it makes total sense.

We just celebrated our 33rd anniversary. My wife just celebrated her 55th birthday [She gave me permission to say the number]. Although I’m going back to work in a few days for my 19th year as a professor, thoughts of retirement are beginning with less than ten years till the usual retirement age in Canada. Psalm 92:12-15 has some encouraging words for those of us who are in the second half of life. My body may be showing signs of deterioration but I want to still “bear fruit” and stay “fresh and green” as I age.

And another Steve Bell song is playing in my head! He re-released the song “Fresh and Green” based on Psalm 92, along with all his other songs based on the Psalms. The album came with a companion book of meditations and in the chapter on Psalm 92 he reflects on the faith of his aging mother. I too have benefitted from parents and parents-in-law who have modeled a righteous life into their senior years. I hope to be as fresh and green. “God is my rock” is comforting when life is changing.

 

I am reading Psalm 90 in light of the fact that 73 years ago the USA dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima [August 6] and Nagasaki [August 9]. It is a sobering remembrance but if we do not remember we are bound to repeat it. Psalm 90 is about the brevity of life so perhaps these events are an appropriate background for our reading the next few days. Hopefully none of us will meet a death so horrifying as the citizens of those cities experienced but this psalm does remind us how fleeting life is. Closer to home, today was also the funeral for a distant relative of mine whom I’ve never met—Samuel Isaac Brandt—who died suddenly at the age of 37. We do not know when we will breathe our final breath. This does not mean we live with a sense of dread but with gratefulness for each new day. CARPE DEIM! Seize the day! [v.15]

Although Psalm 90 has a kind of a hopeless and negative view of life [v.9-10], I find comfort in God’s timelessness [v.2] and unfailing love [v.14].

A few lines in the psalm also reminded me of Steve Bell’s song based on Psalm 90 from many years ago.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SorOK6H0qTM