Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Leaning Wall

How long will ye imagine mischief against a man? ye shall be all slain; ye shall be as a bowed wall, or as a wall shaken.
Psalm 62:3

That was the Geneva Bible. The NRSV renders the above verse this way: 

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

This is very different from the Geneva Bible's translation, which I used at the top. I'm not talking about the difference between wall and fence, which is relatively minor, but about what the wall and/or fence and/or dam are being compared to. In the NRSV, it's the victim, but in the Geneva Bible, it's the oppressors.

Here's how I would translate this verse:

How long will you continue your assault on a person? You shall all be killed, as a tottering wall, a dam about to give way.

The point is that, in the Hebrew, it's evident that the weak structure isn't the righteous person under attack, but the structure that's threatening him or her. 

Though it's probably not exactly what the psalmist intended, I like how Calvin interprets these words:

"Some think that the wicked are compared to a bowing wall, because it threatens every moment to fall to the ground, and they, upon every sin which they commit, tend more and more downwards, till they are precipitated into destruction. But it would seem as if the allusion were somewhat different. A wall, when ill built, bulges out in the center, presenting the appearance of nearly twice its actual breadth; but, as it is hollow within, it soon falls to ruins. The wicked, in like manner, are dilated with pride, and assume, in their consultations, a most formidable appearance; but David predicts that they would be brought to unexpected and utter destruction, like a wall badly constructed, and hollow in the interior, which falls with a sudden crash, and is broken by its own weight into a thousand pieces."

It is pride then that causes the wall to bow. And the aspect of it that seems most intimidating is the very thing that is its greatest weakness. The real danger is being anywhere near it when it self-destructs under its own weight. And such is the way of evil people. Their greed or their lust for power causes a great apparent swelling. But can they stand under their own weight?

Though evil seems bigger than life, I know that you stand between your little ones and those who are so swelled with pride and greed and violence. Protect them when it all falls to pieces, and may the new life that arises from the ruins be lived according to the principles of your realm. Amen.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Yet My Soul

Yet my soul keepeth silence unto God; of him cometh my salvation.
Psalm 62:1

I'm using the Geneva Bible today to render what I think is closer to the true meaning of Psalm 62:1. The NRSV begins, "For God alone..." but the Hebrew word translated here as "alone" (or "only") is actually "but" or "nevertheless" or "yet." The Psalmist, like Martha in the kitchen, is distracted by many things. We can almost picture, just before Psalm 62 opens, that she has been rebuked by the Lord, who shows her a better example: 

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.
—Luke 10:41-42

Hence the sudden beginning, as though we're already in the middle of a thought. "[I am distracted by too many things,] yet for God, my soul will keep its peace—only God can be the source of my wholeness."

I hope to remember this today and in the future. When I am distracted or overwhelmed, it's never too late to start out a prayer with a But....

But it's for you that I will keep still, Lord. Only you can make me whole, and only you can see me to the end of my journey. So for you I will wait, lest I be tempted to come to my own end. Amen.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Doña Gloria y Don José

Today is Colombia's Independence Day, so to Doña Gloria Inmarse Sivle from Don José Cañucí: ¡Feliz Día de la Independencia!

🇨🇴 P.S.

🇨🇴 It all started over a flowerpot in Bogotá somehow.

As I Journey

Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
Psalm 61:4
Israel came to know God while they were still a pilgrim people. Long before there was a temple of wood and stone, there was a tabernacle—a tent that could be carried from place to place—in which God was said to dwell. Longing for God was expressed, then, as dwelling in God's tent, even while the pilgrim was on the move The faithful felt as secure and happy there as a baby bird under the shadow of its parents' wings.

Christians, too, are a pilgrim people, and know the tabernacle not as a tent, but as a body—the body of Christ, the church. No song captures the connection between the Hebrew discovery and the Christian experience of God's presence better than this song written by the Roman Catholic Petites Sœurs de Jésus (here sung by Anabaptists):

Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey;
I'll tell everybody about you wherever I go:
you alone are our life and our peace and our love.
Lord Jesus, you shall be my song as I journey.

Lord Jesus, I'll praise you as long as I journey;
May all of my joy be a faithful reflection of you.
May the earth and the sea and the sky join my song.
Lord Jesus, I'll praise you as long as I journey.

As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant,
to carry your cross 
    and to share all your burdens and tears.
For you saved me by giving your body and blood.
As long as I live, Jesus, make me your servant.

I fear in the dark and the doubt of my journey;
but courage will come 
    with the sound of your steps by my side.
And will all of the family you saved by your love,
we'll sing to your dawn at the end of our journey.

And if that song comes close, then perhaps this prayer by the Anglicans of New Zealand comes even closer:

God, you have given us a lodging in this world but not an abiding city. Help us, as a pilgrim people, to endure hardness, knowing that at the end of our journey Christ has prepared a place for us. Amen. 
—A New Zealand Prayer Book

Thursday, July 19, 2018

To the Rock

From the end of the earth I call to you I call to you when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
Psalm 61:3

Oh! sometimes the shadows are deep,
and rough seems the path to the goal,
and sorrows, sometimes how they sweep
like tempests down over the soul.
O then to the rock let me fly,
to the rock that is higher than I!

Oh! sometimes how long seems the day,
and sometimes how weary my feet!
But toiling in life’s dusty way,
the rock’s blessèd shadow, how sweet!
O then to the rock let me fly,
to the rock that is higher than I!

Then near to the rock let me keep
if blessings or sorrows prevail,
or climbing the mountain way steep,
or walking the shadowy vale.
O then to the rock let me fly,
to the rock that is higher than I!
 Erastus Johnson (1871)
Whatever my lot, be it wearily sad,
or actively busy, or joyously glad;
in each joy and sorrow, my God, be thou nigh—
oh, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

R.A. Searles

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Out of Bowshot

You have made your people suffer hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.
You have set up a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it out of bowshot.
Psalm 60:3-4

These two verses are a bit odd, but I think I can make sense of them. In the garden, Jesus prayed that God would "let this cup pass from" him, referring to the agony of the crucifixion. The idea that our difficulties are a lot that has been given to us like a cup of wine, then, is not unheard of, even to those who have never studied Hebrew idioms. But here it is expressed in a psalm which refers to the difficulties God either lets us suffer or sends our way: they are like a cup of wine that makes us "tremble"—which is a better translation of תַּרְעֵלָה (tremor or tremulous) than "reel" in my opinion. I wonder if Bonhoeffer wasn't thinking of Psalm 60 when he penned these beautiful words:

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming   
with bitter suffering, hard to understand, 
we take it thankfully and without trembling,   
out of so good and so belov'd a hand.

The next verse is very different from those which preceded it, and stands in stark contrast to the bitter cup of suffering. I picture Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech when he was contemplating suicide:  

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer 
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, 
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, 
And by opposing end them?

The person of faith, though, has an option that others may not realize even exists. In the battlefield of life, there has been raised a banner, just out of bowshot, which we may run to to find safety. Faith in God may not remove us from the battlefield—indeed it is God's will that we remain engaged—but when we are overwhelmed, we need not give in, and we need not fall. For me as a Christian, the emblem of safety is nothing other than the Lord's Supper. There I eat the bread that strengthens me for the journey, and drink the cup that makes my steps firm.
When the storms of life are raging, Lord, stand by me to uphold me, beneath me to keep my steps firm, before me to show me the way, and above me as a banner of safety. Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

In the Morning

I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
Psalm 59:16

Verses 16 and 17 are a further demonstration of why Psalm 59:9 is incorrectly translated in most modern versions of the psalms. Verse 9 refers to "his strength"—note the ending on the Hebrew word: עֻזּוֹ. While v. 16 has a different ending, indicating "your strength": עֻזֶּךָ, in v. 17, there's another ending, rending it "my strength": עֻזִּי. 

I don't really want to talk about that this morning, however. I just wanted to show how valuable it can be to look at the Bible in its original language. What inspires me this morning is morning itself. The psalter portion appointed for the day I was born says that "weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning" [Ps. 30:5b], and that pretty much describes what's happening in Psalm 59:16. The danger is real, but even in the midst of dire threat, the psalmist is able to affirm that s/he will be singing for joy at sunrise. The protection offered by God in the time of distress is so real that, even before reaching safety, the psalmist celebrates what's to come.

I suppose this could be dismissed as the power of positive thinking if we were to take it out of its original context. But the context is so fraught with danger, so full of bad news, that it's not exactly possible to accuse the psalmist of "positive thinking" when most of the psalm appears to be so negative. Happiness in God, therefore, isn't found in denying reality, but in incorporating the bad news I experience into the promise of good news to the faithful.

Keep me true to you, O God. Transform me not into a Pollyanna who sees only the positive, but into a David who keeps the faith when all else seems to have gone wrong. If my present is filled with danger, pain, or sadness, help me through your word to remember victories of the past and to look forward to the coming victory in Jesus Christ my Sovereign. Amen.