Friday, February 4, 2011

Psalm 8 and 144

Clearly psalms 144 and 8 are a pair. They are linked by at least two unique things in the Psalter. The first is the question what is humanity. It is phrased slightly differently in the 2 psalms. And the second is a nice touch, the use of fingers. (Only used twice in the Psalter - like the eyelids of dawn in Job, also clearly a poetic frame.)

How does יְהוָה our Lord (8) whose fingers touch the winter sky, teach our fingers to war (144)? Does the Bible encourage violence with these images? At a recent discussion at the Center for Studies in Religion and Society concerning the place of religion in the courts, besides the tension between externally visible signs of religious belief and the inner frame of sincerity, the real issue that came up was the potential for harm and the willingness of a society to pay the cost of institutional protection of citizens from harm.

While there are a few questions begged, and I expect my own wit to be honed in this environment, I am struck that the psalms which are formative of those who know the covenant of mercy (psalm 149) should use this image of war which clearly does tend to the harm of others, (like the 30,000 soldiers killed in the rout of Israel by the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 or thereabouts.)  What is the teaching about harm implied in the psalms?