Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Psalm 109 - Theology

Nice place to start, eh?

Maybe you have not read Psalm 109 recently. In some Psalters, it is truncated to 15 verses with the guts removed, Hebrew verses 6 to 20. The situation is in fact far more than this. I have just read the section on Liturgy and Psalmody in Christian tradition in Susan Gillingham's Psalms through the Centuries for the period of the 20th and 21st centuries. Now I understand where those priests were coming from when they removed all the cursing verses from the daily and weekly office. It was a trend. It has been a trend. The people are not able to face the demons that are in themselves. People might think that it is God's will to curse the enemy.

And people did. Again from Gillingham, Psalm 109 was applied by those such as the Lollards who sought reform in the late medieval period and they applied against the clergy and church leaders (p. 115).  Ha - good move. If I had known Psalm 109 in the 1950s, I and my fellow students would have applied it in our residential school and we, the poor and needy, might well have taken strength from it.

So here are the questions: what does God do? What does God say in this Psalm? - answer - nothing. The poet may expect some action, but it is not to happen. The poet may expect a response, but there are no words in the poem from God. But there is hope in the last verse that Yhwh will stand at the right hand of the needy to save him from those judging him.

There is still theology in this psalm: within it we know that the poet praises God, expects a voice, knows that there is judgment and severance from memory, before Yhwh continually, (a nice contradiction - how do you forget that which is before Yhwh continually) and recompense, that Yhwh can be appealed to for the sake of your name, for the good of your mercy, for help, for mercy, for the knowledge in the enemy that Yhwh has done it. Yhwh has a hand in this. But ultimately, the poet realizes that Yhwh will bless and the poet's polemics relax into the traditional hope for shame in his enemies.

Still much to learn from this psalm. Notice how the sequence of the words from verses 16 to 20 form the backbone of the resolution of the complaint: 9 words reused in sequence, as if the poet were reflecting on human betrayal and polemics and leaving the judgment to Yhwh. However we apply the NT usage of this Psalm, (see Neale and Littledale for some detail here) it cannot be seen as justification for hatred and violence on the part of the worshiper. But those who preach will have to do more than eliminate the psalm from the Psalter.

Selected recurring words (16 to 31)

Word and gloss * first usage12345678910VsRoot
עשׂות to do
חסד mercy
עני poor
ואביון and needy
* קללה denial
בברכה in blessing
וילבשׁ as he clothed himself with
* קללה denial
* יעטה wrapping him
נפשׁי me
עשׂה deal with
חסדך your mercy
עני poor
ואביון and needy
* יקללו let deny
תברך you will bless
ויבשׁו let them be ashamed
ילבשׁו let clothe themselves with
* ויעטו and let them wrap themselves
בשׁתם with their shame
אביון the needy
נפשׁו him

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