Thursday, March 7, 2013

Psalm 18 - a short meditation on complete

Bosco Peters posts on the meaning of life - 42. Anyway - 42 is 6 x 7. And 6 is the number of the human, 7 the number of completeness. So 42 represents the complete human. What then is the nature of completeness in the Psalms?

The word occurs frequently, its first usage in Psalm 7 verse 9 - Judge me יהוה for my righteousness and for my completeness in me.  Really! Who requests such a prayer!

Well, perhaps completeness is not independent of the One who judges and the same One who teaches humanity knowledge.  This is early in the Psalms - so let's see where the concept takes us.

Psalm 9 is an equally mysterious usage.
But when my enemies turn back
let them stumble and perish from your presence
For you have made my judgment and my case
You sit enthroned judging right
God, you rebuked the nations
You made wickedness perish
You have erased their name forever and ever
Here the enemy is completed
the desert in perpetuity
and cities you have wiped out
perished is their memory of them
Completed seems a strange turn of phrase. Most translations render it as finished (JB, REB) or vanished (RSV) or some equivalent. NETS has that their swords… failed completely. The word is complete. The same word as Psalm 15:2, 18:24+, 19:8, 14. Psalm 104.35 has a similar usage to this verse. All other uses are positive. Perhaps the completeness of the enemy is desirable even for the enemy. Note the reference to judgment, as if Psalm 7 was being answered. It is important to note also that Psalm 8, as the first of the 7 psalms that precedes the 8 acrostics is included in the answer. Psalm 8 celebrates the one to whom rule is given at the creation, the human. How then will we rule?


Perhaps we will rule according to the pattern in Psalm 15, continued in Psalm 26 through a walk that is complete, (whatever that means). Walk is of course, one of the fundamentals of Psalm 1:1. It is reflected in the overall frame of Psalm 26, itself strongly reflecting Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is also reflected in Psalm 112. A word from Psalm 1 occurs in every verse of Psalm 112.

The word for completeness is used repeatedly in Psalm 18:

and I am complete with him
and I have kept myself from my iniquity
and יהוה turned to me for my righteousness
for the purity of my hands before his eyes
with one who is kind you show yourself kind
with one who prevails complete you show yourself complete
with the pure you show yourself pure
and with the devious you show yourself tortuous ...
This God, his way is complete
the promise of יהוה refined
he is a shield to all who take refuge in him
for who is God apart from יהוה?
and who a rock except our God?
This God girds me in force
and he gives the completeness of my way

The secret of completeness begins to emerge. I have rendered the word תמם (tmm) always as a form of complete. It is variously translated as blameless, upright, end, accomplish, finish, consume. The tone of the word is for me contained in the sense of finding one’s complement. Complete may include the moral, but that is not its primary sense. Blameless, for example, is a word defined by the negative, to be without blame. It denies a positive aspect for the word it might render and it limits its application to the moral world. It seems to me more appropriately associated with innocence than with completeness. Complete may require destruction or an end, but it is not ultimately destructive or terminal. The ending of self-destructive behaviour, for example, will result in healing and completeness that could not possibly be known within the tortured bounds of a self-destructive life. And how will one who is so tortured desist from the self-destroying behaviour? Perhaps it will be by following this servant’s testimony and example from Psalm 18.

The psalms are worth a careful, detailed, close study. The story of this word continues in Psalms 19:8, 14, 25:21, 26:1, 11, 37:18, 37, 38:4, 8, 41:13, 64:5, 7, 73:19, 78:72, 84:12, 2, 101:2, 6, 102:28, 104:35, 119:1, 80. This would no longer be a short meditation if I continued. [Note verse numbers may vary in the Hebrew psalms from the English.]

If completeness is in God, can we tie it to the number of perfection and the answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?  Keeping the human aspect, the suggestion in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a good one:  6*7 = 42.

Note: Translations above are those in my book, Seeing the Psalter, a complete exploration of the patterns of recurrence in the Psalms.