Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Angels gazing and children despised

OK - just skip the next bit if you don't read Hebrew or Greek. (I don't read Greek but I can sort of figure it out.)
הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם
 מִבְּזוֹת אַחַד
 הַקְּטַנִּים הָאֵלֶּה
 כִּי הִנְנִי אֹמֵר לָכֶם
 אֲשֶׁר מַלְאָכֵיהֶם בַּשָּׁמַיִם
 רֹאִים תָּמִיד אֶת־פְּנֵי
אָבִי אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמָיִם׃ 

Ὁρᾶτε μὴ καταφρονήσητε
ἑνὸς τῶν
μικρῶν τούτων
λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν
ὅτι οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτῶν ἐν οὐρανοῖς
διὰ παντὸς βλέπουσιν τὸ πρόσωπον
τοῦ πατρός μου τοῦ ἐν οὐρανοῖς
What are we to make of the NT having read the Psalms?

This is a very serious question. I should read first the Septuagint in Greek - but then I might never get back to the NT. I have quoted a Hebrew translation above to see if I can find resonances with the TNK that I might not see with the NT Greek. Here is a word for word translation of the Hebrew. (This is also a good exercise for me since I now don't have to use a dictionary for every word!)
You keep from despising one of these little ones. For note well, I say to you, that their angels in the heavens gaze continually on the face of my Father who is in the heavens.
Keep / guard, reminds me of Psalm 121 where keeping (שׁמר) is repeated 6 times. In that psalm, it is יהוה (Yhwh, the LORD) who does the keeping. I like the Hebrew plurality of the heavens. Heavens are always plural (though often translated as singular). Plural is more mysterious and less like a bowl over the top of the head of the earth, waiting for a haircut. The particle הִנְנִי appears to be extra over the Greek, a kind of plural version of the common 'behold'. There is perhaps some emphasis in the Greek that my ear does not hear. I see it is repeated in this dynamic French translation.
Gardez-vous de mépriser l'un de ces petits; je vous l'affirme, en effet, leurs anges se tiennent continuellement en présence de mon Père dans les cieux.
Gazing is not given as a rendering in the French. Regardent would be the literal gloss. The phrase 'in the heavens' appears only once. I am guessing that the duplication is removed in some manuscripts.

The RSV paragraphs this verse at the beginning of the parable of the lost sheep. But I think it more suitably closes the bracket begun in Matthew 18:1.

What about these little ones? In Psalm 34 I translated בנים, (sons and daughters) as Little ones, L for the acrostic. But little ones might remind us more of Psalm 8 where splendour is chanted מִפִּי עוֹלְלִים וְיֹנְקִים "from the mouths of babies and nurslings". Rashi reminds us that the word for babies is cognate with filth. Whoops - watch out for the despising!  The Hebrew here is used only twice in the Psalms, 104, both small and great, feminine plural, of the creatures dependent on God and 115 masculine plural as above, of the blessing of all who fear יהוה.

Continually (tamid). This is the nature of the children. Theirs is the kingdom (Matthew 19:14 and par). The continual offering is a note in Paul - "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17 and other places.)

The face of my Father - the presence of God. This face / presence is everywhere in the Psalms. Read them. Note particularly Psalm 68:1-11.

I hardly ever say what the text means to me! These meanderings on Matthew remind me of George MacDonald's image cited in Lewis, The Great Divorce, of the immensity of the soul of the human, somehow playing out the reality of its existence on an invisible heavenly chess board. There is judgment against those who do violence to these little ones. See Psalm 58, the last two verses:
The righteous will be glad for he gazes on vengeance
He will wash his footfall in the blood of the wicked
and an earthling will say
surely fruit for the righteous
surely there is a God judging in the earth
No distant heaven here, but the presence of judgment. (And Do Not Destroy this Psalm - pun).

I am currently reading Sarah's Key, a novel about the Vél, d'hiv, that once suppressed and ignored but now more infamous rounding up of French Jews in 1942 by the French police into the vélodrome d'hiver for deportation to the death camps.

If the angels are gazing, are they also doing their job of protecting (Psalm 34)?
hovering, the angel of יְהוָה surrounds those who fear him and rescues them.
How many generations does a rescue take? How much gazing effects a rescue? The Jewish Annotated NT mentions several places of angels guarding humans, but not Psalm 34 - curious.

Surely this heaven and earth image has to change in our minds. It is commonplace that the heavens are far away. But perhaps heaven is close and an effective refuge in that effects on earth are known in heaven faster than a text message and the blue-tooth connection from heaven to earth is as efficient. So he says in verse 5: whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Elaborated in Mark 9:37. And for children, Matthew 19:13-15 as noted takes up the subject again.)

I asked my wife what she might say about this verse and she said, read the poets and listen to Mahler.