Category Archives: Psalms

Review of @fortresspress’s “The Vine and the Son of Man: Eschatological Interpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism”

In the last few decades, academia has produced few, but great intertextual scholars. I suspect that soon we will add a name such as Andrew Streett to that list. His work, The Vine and the Son of Man traces the interpretation and reinterpretation of Psalm 80 in Early Judaism, ending with the Gospel of John. But, it does more than that. Indeed, Streett offers an interdisciplinary approach — Second Temple Judaism, rhetoric, canonical theism, and intertextuality — to understanding not just how the Fourth Evangelist used Psalm 80, but so too the inherited methodology allowing him, or requiring him, to employ the strategy. This volume is a richly rewarding experience whereby the reader is able to digest the complete context of Psalm 80.

And a very detailed introduction, Streett begins the work in earnest with an examination of Psalm 80 in its historical context. He presents his speculation that it was originally a response to the end of the Northern Kingdom, offered to call to God’s remembrance the covenant. Already, we can see why this particular psalm could become important to early apologists defending the messiahship of Jesus. It includes vine imagery, the request for a strong leader, and the restoration of the nation. Thus, the original context supplied the needed theology to develop John’s Son of Man imagery.

Following this, Streett examines the psalm within it’s setting of the psalter. This first use of the psalm allowed the receptive audience (the 6th century BCE) to see it pertaining to them. Further, by placing it within Book III of the psalter, Psalm 80’s already rich royal connection is magnified, assuming an eschatological presence that produces the connection to the Temple and Jerusalem. This is interesting in of itself because it allows the reader to see how portions of Scripture are shaped by their literary placement.

I a (not-as) convincing chapter on Daniel 7, the author argues that the natural imagery of Daniel’s Son of Man vision is supplemented by Psalm 80. He bases this on the beasts, primarily. I remain unconvinced, wishing he had devoted more time to intertextual clues — or included this chapter either in, or after, the following chapter in which he examines our psalm within Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism (chapter 4). In this portion, Streett investigates such works as pseudo-Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand how Psalm 80 figured into their works. It is during this time, and with the help of the developing eschatological hope, Psalm 80 is reworked to represent better what early Christians would have recognized as the “real” meaning. Had Street placed his chapter on Daniel within this framework, it would be more convincing.

Streett’s chapters on Mark are completely convincing — not simply because he delves deep into the concept of allusion and what this means when reading texts into, or out of, of another. In chapter 5, he stands out from the crowd(s) — the crowds arguing neither for Daniel 7 or Isaiah 53 as the genesis for the suffering Messiah — holding Psalm 80 as the theological instigator for seeing Jesus’s passion as necessary and “biblical.” Chapter 6 deals well with Mark 12.1-12 and its allusive connections to Psalm 80. Streett continues to build upon the idea of intertextuality, connecting Mark to his theological heritage — Second Temple Judaism. By doing so, he gives a literary depth to Mark rarely seen by a surface reading.

In his seventh chapter, Streett tackles Psalm 80 in John 15.1–8. He does not simply offer the psalm as the only intertext, but examines it next to the passages commonly associated with pericope such as Isaiah 5.1–7 and Sirach 24.17–21. He maintains that while other passages may contribute to John’s choice of words here, it is Psalm 80 supplying the spine of the passage.

How did we read the New Testament without the aid of Psalm 80 before? Sure, we did pretty well for ourselves, having rested easily enough on Psalm 110 — but, it seems we were lacking something. And if we ever believed christology suddenly sprang forth ex nihilo, we missed something there as well. Often times, we are told scholars live to find something new. Here, Streett brings back something old and gives us more things to consider in reading the New Testament. He helps us to understand just how Jewish, and continuous, New Testament theology really is. It is a rewarding experience for those seeking to understand the zygote of the New Testament as well as how previous texts were used, reused, and transformed by later writers.

Psalm 74 – Leviathan, Creation, and the Destruction of the Temple

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.
The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t read Psalm 74.1-23 go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait.

Done?

(note, this is a quick post to get an idea down on paper)

In Psalm 74, labeled in the NAB “Prayer at the Destruction of the Temple,” we read in two parts. Part 1, v1-11, the destruction of Solomon’s Temple is in view. This should not be up for discussion since the psalm lays out a perfect lament for the fall of the House of the Lord/David.

In part II, v12-23, the Psalmist recounts God’s creative acts, including fighting the monster Leviathan. (Note, this account of creation is vastly different than either Genesis 1 or Genesis 2-3. By the end of the psalm, the author has turned back to asking God to defend Israel.

The Temple and God’s Creation is in view.

I have long maintained that this is the view in Isaiah as well. (I would say other scholars, but since I don’t have the time to list them, I’ll just claim this and hope others don’t mind). Likewise, I think this is the view in Mark 13 (as discussed in my book on the Gospel) and in Revelation.

Anyone else see God’s creative acts tied directly to the Temple?

 

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Books to Read NOW – Libya, Responses, Terror

This post was originally one of the spate coming out when Osama was killed. Now, in the midst of more turmoil directed towards the United States, I feel like they are needed once more.

Temper the Psalms with the Gospels, just saying, but when you are done with that, read this one:

Click to Order
Click to Order

And this one:

Click to Order
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Sunday School: Language of Science and Faith – Psalm 8: Creation of Political Victory?

This week, we are reading the introduction for the Sunday morning discussion. (I am using the Kindle app on my iPad 2) I’ve already read this book once, for review, so this time, I am reading it again for discussion points. One of those was the author’s use of Psalm 8 to showcase the ancient way of speaking about Creation. I think that there is a lot of things going on in this Psalm – and it doesn’t really have a lot to do with a physical Creation. Like Genesis 1, it is more polemical:

O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! Your glory is higher than the heavens.
You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers — the moon and the stars you set in place — what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you should care for them?

Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority — the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents.
O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! (Psa 8:1-9 NLT)

That singular use of the Psalm is about Creation, but not about a scientific understanding of the act of creating. It doesn’t say how, but tells us why. First, I sense that it is polemical because of the mention of the enemies and of the ultimate victory of God. Second, the Psalm is dealing with the people of Israel, unless I read some of this wrong, being God’s ultimate vicars. Anyway, like Genesis 1, I find that this Psalm is less about the how, but more along the lines that Creation is God’s because He alone created and gave it to humanity. Because of this, this rule by humanity, God’s name will fill the earth.

Reflecting on Psalm 119

Yesterday evening, I was reading ahead in the lectionary, and the responsive reading came from Psalm 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30.

This is the section of the acrostic in which the verses all start with dalet.  If you are familiar at all with Biblical Hebrew, you could look at the English translation and guess the word that repeats at the beginning of several verses.  It is derech, which the NAB and NRSV translate consistently as “way” in this text.

“I told of my ways …. Make me understand the way of your precepts … Put false ways far from me …. I have chosen the way of faithfulness.”  I think there is a helpful progression to see here from a devotional standpoint.  Getting to the way of faithfulness requires acknowledging one’s own way, asking for understanding and abandoning false ways.

Yet beyond this, the Psalm made me reflect back on my own religious experiences.  I have been a part of two very different religious communities that have had different dominant metaphors related to that of “the way.”  And I’m not entirely sure as to why, so I’m just thinking out loud.

For quite a number of years, I was a Southern Baptist, and I recall the idea of the “walk” being more prominent than in the Catholic community where I now make my spiritual home (e.g. “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and “In the Garden” were important hymns).  In my current community, I think that the concept of “journey” is much more prominent.

I am not making any value judgments here.  I appreciate very deeply my experience in a Baptist community (though I do like to prod my Protestant friends, as they do me).  I think both of these metaphors are valuable.  And, I know my memory is also faulty.  Maybe these distinctions are all in my head.   Perhaps the distinctions are more perceived than real, i.e. you walk on a journey.

Yet if I had to try to pinpoint the uptake from this, I think with the concept of the walk my former community was more interested in where a believer was at the present moment.  In my current community, people seem more interested in the journey, i.e. where am I today in relation to where I was yesterday and where I want to be tomorrow or a year from now.

Of course, I think both of these perspectives are necessary.  I just find it interesting that certain aspects of metaphors related to the idea of “the way” have seemed more prominent in the two different communities.

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Palm Branches: Intertextually Reading Revelation, Psalm 118, Maccabees and the Psalms of Solomon

Last night during our small group study on the Book of Revelation, the leader who happens to be the pastor of the congregation, said something that caught my attention. He mentioned the use of palm branches in Revelation 7.9 and the use of the palm as a symbol of Jewish nationalism during the Maccabean period. Both of these subjects – Revelation and Intertestamental literature – interest me to the point of being an obsession.

The seventh chapter of Revelation occurs as an interlude between the sixth seal and the opening of the seventh seal which contains silence and the seven trumpeters. In this interlude, after the great destruction brought on by the sixth seal, John is allowed to see the victorious people of God during the peace that God had proscribed (Pax Romana?) for the earth in preparation for the final assault. During this heavenly scene, John heard a number of the sealed of Israel, but didn’t see them. This list which was given has been argued over as it excludes two of the tribes and gives Levi an inheritance. However, while John only heard the number of Israelites which were to be sealed, he saw a great numberless multitude from the Gentile nations. I have to wonder if this places John in a more Gentile community than previously thought, seeing that he heard a number and must proceed with that on faith, but for the Gentiles, he was able to see the countless souls saved. It is verse nine, however, which catches my attention:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; (Rev 7:9 NASB)

If we were to read Revelation 7.9-10 intertextually with Psalm 118 (an important Psalm for the New Testament authors), we note a few similarities, at the very least in the adoration of YHWH. While I don’t want to fully explore the use of Psalm 118 and Revelation 7 at the moment, I will note that during tribulation/affliction (Psalm 118.5; Rev 6.12-17) the Psalmist and John were both brought into a broad space (spaciousness, NETS) and given a time of rest. While Psalm 118.10-14 seems counter to that of Revelation 7.9-10, we see in this section the union of nations which surround the divine speaker. I note in Psalm 18, the nations are imagined as bees and a blaze of fire, perhaps symbolizing a noisy number. An important connection at the end of Psalm 118.26-28 is also to be found in Revelation 7.9-10 in that we see palm branches being used as a celebratory offering to the King and in the latter’s case, the Lamb as well (but notice that the Lamb in Revelation is still not on the throne). In Revelation 7.10, they complete the Psalmist’s instructions in Psalm 118.28-29.

Returning to the palm branches however, we find a connection made between them and the Jewish nationalism in the Maccabean period (as well as the entry of Christ into Jerusalem on the even of his Passion). When the Maccabean army recaptured Jerusalem, they celebrated with branches of the palm tree:

Those who were in the citadel at Jerusalem were prevented from going in and out to buy and sell in the country. So they were very hungry, and many of them perished from famine. Then they cried to Simon to make peace with them, and he did so. But he expelled them from there and cleansed the citadel from its pollutions. On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel. Simon decreed that every year they should celebrate this day with rejoicing. He strengthened the fortifications of the temple hill alongside the citadel, and he and his men lived there. (1Ma 13:49-52 NRS)

And later, when they rededicated the Temple,

Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after a lapse of two years, and they offered incense and lighted lamps and set out the bread of the Presence. When they had done this, they fell prostrate and implored the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes, but that, if they should ever sin, they might be disciplined by him with forbearance and not be handed over to blasphemous and barbarous nations. It happened that on the same day on which the sanctuary had been profaned by the foreigners, the purification of the sanctuary took place, that is, on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Chislev. They celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the festival of booths, remembering how not long before, during the festival of booths, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals. Therefore, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place. They decreed by public edict, ratified by vote, that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year. (2Ma 10:1-8 NRS)

Notice the direct, and maybe purposed, symbolism between this dedication and ritual acts proscribed in Psalm 118.26-29. (This might be paralled to Tobit‘s purposed fulfillment of Amos’ prophecy:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD. The LORD is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psa 118:26-1 NRSV)

There is a lot of intertextual thought between Revelation, the Maccabean books and John’s Apocalypse, but not enough space to explore it here. However, I believe that John is pointing to Psalm 118 here with the political overtones of Jewish nationalism. He heard the number of the Israelites but saw the multitude of Gentiles saved.

From here, however, I want to explore the shared imagery between Revelation 7 and the 17th Psalm of Solomon, although not specifically dealing with palm branches.

In Pss 17.26-29, the Messiah is seen gathering together the Holy People and judging the tribes (v26). Compare that to the tribes in Revelation 7 wherein they are given a border (compare Pss 17.28). However, in verse 29, the Messiah is said to now judge the peoples (tribes) and the nations (Gentiles). The pattern is followed in laying out the victorious in Revelation 7 with the number of the tribes heard first and the Gentiles seen later.  Interesting enough, Pss 7.30-34 unites Revelation 7 and 21 where the New Jerusalem is the center of the new world (order).  Note, then, Pss 17.35-36 and Revelation 19.5:

For he shall strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever;
He shall bless the people of the Lord in wisdom with joy.
And he himself shall be pure from sin so that he may rule a great people, that he may rebuke rules and remove sinners by the strength of his word (Pss 17.35-36 NETS)

From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. (Rev 19:15 NASB)

Drawing this back to Revelation 7, we see in  Rev 7.15-16 the promised care of the victorious people of God being cared for by the Lamb/Messiah. However, note the specific connection between Revelation 7.17 and Pss 17.40:

for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd (ποιμανεῖ ), and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev 7:17 NRS)

He shall be strong in his works and mighty in the fear of God, shepherding (ποιμαίνων) the flock of the Lord faithfully and righteously, and he shall not let any among them become weak in their pasture. (Pss 17.40 NETS)

John follows the pattern of the Psalms of Solomon and Psalm 118. Always, the Jewish peoples are first. Second, the Nations. Reading Revelation 7 next to Psalm 118, we find several connections, namely, that both authors see themselves in that moment of spaciousness between tribulations. Further, both are calling for judgment and justice. The Solomonic Psalmist, as opposed to the Davidic Psalmist sees that the nations, the Gentiles, will be ruled by the King (Ps)/Messiah (Pss)/Lamb (Rev). Existent as well is the political symbol of Jewish nationalism as an opposition to the Roman rule and the symbol of ritual sacrifice/dedication which we see developed in the Maccabean books – the palm branches. Reading Paul, I do not believe that he saw that the Messianic believers were any less Jewish, but more so. Perhaps John is picking this up as he draws both Jews and Gentiles under the rule of the Lamb.

I look up to the mountains – does my help come from there?

During recent discussions, this Psalm came up. As a resident of West Virginia, this is often a favorite of ours, considering that we are the Mountain State.Yet, when you analyze it, the mountains and their ‘help’ is condemned.

The NLT has a better translation than most, which depends mainly on punctuation.

Imagine yourself, standing in the valley, looking up at those mountains. You are a YHWH worshiper, in His land, watching His people bend to Ba’al. Where was Ba’al and the associated gods and goddesses worshiped? On the top of the hills and mountains. People would pray to these shrines. But, your help wouldn’t come from Ba’al, would it? Would you really want the help that the mountains could give you?

Instead, it is not the mountains which the Psalmist is looking to, but YHWH.

I look up to the mountains– does my help come from there?
My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.

Perhaps a reference to Elijah’s contest with the false prophets of Ba’al (1st Kings 18.27)

The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night.

Surely a cultic reference to the worship of the sun and the moon by the Ba’al worshipers. Yet, the people of God need not fear the natural or the pseudo-supernatural.

The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.
The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
(Psa 121:1-8 NLT)

So no, our help doesn’t come from the mountains. It comes from YHWH. The Psalmists opposes those mountains.

Is it just me of when you read LORD the voice in your head gets louder? But, read it aloud if you need too.

Sunday Psalm – Psalm 13

O LORD, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
Turn and answer me, O LORD my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.
But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the LORD because he is good to me.

The psalm is traditionally attributed to David, and in a time when his enemies, perhaps during the civil war in his later life, were for all intents and purposes, winning.

verse 3 – For Christ lighteneth souls, and maketh them to watch: but if His light He taketh away, they slumber. For for this cause to Him there is said in another psalm, “Lighten mine eyes, that I may never slumber in death.” – Augustine

There is little wonder why these psalms have survived for the centuries. Here, the author, surrounded by enemies still counts only on God’s unfailing love to rescue him. Through it all, the author still sings to God for His goodness.

From the Harley Psalter

I haven’t always been able to do so, have you?

Sunday Psalm – Psalm 129

A new feature I am trying… and if any contributor want’s to contribute, please do so!

Psalm 129:1 A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me.

Let all Israel repeat this:

From my earliest youth my enemies have persecuted me, but they have never defeated me.
My back is covered with cuts, as if a farmer had plowed long furrows.
But the LORD is good; he has cut me free from the ropes of the ungodly.
May all who hate Jerusalem be turned back in shameful defeat.
May they be as useless as grass on a rooftop, turning yellow when only half grown, ignored by the harvester, despised by the binder.

And may those who pass by refuse to give them this blessing:

“The LORD bless you; we bless you in the LORD’s name.”

(I would recommend all of Calvin’s commentary on this Psalm compared with what theologians do today with the Church and Israel)

Sinners are planning upon our backs; and what we devise against each other, they turn against us all: and we have become a new spectacle, not to angels and men, as says Paul, that bravest of athletes, in his contest with principalities and powers, but to almost all wicked men, and at every time and place, in the public squares, at carousals, at festivities, and times of sorrow. Nay, we have already–I can scarcely speak of it without tears–been represented on the stage, amid the laughter of the most licentious, and the most popular of all dialogues and scenes is the caricature of a Christian. (Gregory of Nazianzen)

Israel is personified into one single individual, or perhaps, every individual shares in the pains inflicted upon Israel, whether they contributed to the sins or not. How often we look at the problems of the world, the Church, even our neighbors with anything but empathy. We do not stand with others in their despair which may explain, in part, why do not proclaim victory in the arenas in which we fight.

This Psalm is meant to be sung together, as one, as often the choir hymns are, or the liturgy, to remind us of our oneness in the Body of Christ. Our sacraments are meant to engender this oneness – baptism into the community and into Christ; the Eucharist into unity with Christ. Marriage is meant to bring two to one. Despair should be used as a uniting feature, not one in which we use to shun those who are weak and defeated.

Paul, countering the accusation that he was a weak man, defeated, broken, listed some of this ‘weaknesses’, then writing,

Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? (2nd Corinthians 11:28-29 NLT)

Paul, through his weaknesses shared in those defeats of the congregations. Can we say the same thing about our level of empathy?

Do you share empathy with the old pastor or the young couple, the poverty-stricken people around the world, and even the Creation being murdered along the Gulf Coast? Can we share each other’s burdens?

Scott Brenner – Psalm 2

I am enjoying the different styles of Psalm Singing – haven’t found a bluegrass one yet, however.