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Comfort and Joy - Biblical Psalms Invoking Encouragement and Judgement
Stop Me If You've Heard This One
The Psalms of biblical record have so inculcated the sentiments of Western culture they prove "familiar" when heard again for the first time. But while many exclusively associate the Psalms with praise, dozens of the lyrical compositions depict authors in pain,desperately reaching out to a more powerful entity for aid and succor. Ofter, such Psalms make for intriguing and practical study for those in the midst of personal crisis. The following, brief interpretations are designed to elucidate thoughtful analysis on such compositions.
Psalm 9 - Judgment and Joy
“Judgment Day” may connote apprehension in even devout Christians. Take, for example, the parable of the sheep and the goats. In it, the Son of Man separates the faithful and unfaithful not based only on their infractions and virtues. He also condemns the “goats” for never undertaking certain actions that would demonstrate their belief. Condemnation “in absentia” signifies one of the many reasons that the idea of judgment in contemporary society is viewed with anxiety or disdain. Judgment during the Davidic reign was an altogether different prospect. Jewish eschatology had not developed a comprehensive understanding if an afterlife, especially one that encompassed judgment and potential damnation. Instead, the idea of judgment was more readily related to the sundry civil trials overseen by appointed Levites or priests. Criticisms of such courts mirrors modern concerns over civil justice; one can receive as much justice as one can afford.
The prospect of even receiving a hearing incited hope among the dispossessed and oppressed populace. The chance to have one’s case plied before God’s throne (represented by his divinely appointed magistrates) instilled the hope that one could receive perfect justice sieved through the leadership of the Creator. Such is the sentiment espoused in Psalm 9 magnified on a national scale. The inspired author, King David, declares the need for celebration in the face of defeating an overwhelming enemy. Rather than note the triumph through typical victory honors—pillage, plunder, parade—David uses the event as a precept for widespread worship. Like the peasant who has won a claim against a seemingly insurmountable defendant, David acknowledges his victory derives exclusively from God. He insists that all human accomplishments pallor with time in the face of God’s eternal potency and justice. The comparison between God’s judgment and omnipotence cannot be ignored by the analytical reader. Here, David suggests that the judgment of God proves righteous because of its steadfast presence; a God that saw and remembered his covenant with Abraham as the Israelites suffered in Egyptian bondage; a God that fulfilled his promise to David in while the future king fled from the vengeful Saul.
Anglican Chant - Psalm 13
Psalm 13 - Seeking Attention
In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis records the process of mourning his late wife, Joy, with the following passage: “But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become.” One finds “cold comfort” that the twentieth century’s most well-known apologist struggled with abandonment in the face of overwhelming bereavement. The quote bears a resemblance to the sentiments found in Psalm 13. What is surprising about the latter religious petition is its source, the House of David. One may expect such petitions from biblical figures like Job that endured extreme suffering. However, the Psalm in question was recorded at the height of King David’s sovereignty over Israel: why might such a blessed kingdom evoke this level of anguish? The secret to understanding this challenging Psalm lies not in focusing on its record of hardship but rather in its indictment of God’s absence during such “dire straights.”
Biblical history proves replete with sundry individuals that faced insurmountable obstacles with the divine assistance of their creator. But one wonders if Moses, Joseph or even Abraham would have fared as well without constant contact from the LORD? Such ideas comprise the true feelings behind Psalm 13, which focuses on the existential crisis of God’s apparent absence during times of significant need. That even King David experienced moments of doubt offers surprising comfort during our own times of loss, frustration and despair. If even the anointed ruler of Israel’s “golden age” endured such periods of depression, then surely believers of all backgrounds may anticipate such “valleys” of emotional turmoil from time to time.
Psalm 13 is described by Latin scholar Ernest Lassier as a didactic arrangement; its purpose during periods of worship was instruction and admonishment rather than communication with God. This seems natural for two reasons. First, it proves the sincerity of the composers sentiment since there would be no cause to communicate with a God that had hitherto not responded to the psalmist’s pleas. Second, the passage is directed at human believers to remind them that some moments in life will seem impenetrably confusing, regardless our station or status.
Psalm 81 - Kampen Boys Choir
Psalm 81 - The Oracle of God's Protection
Here, the inspired composer calls for praise regarding a particular reason; that the LORD has saved Israel from a threat comparable to Egyptian captivity. The image chosen by the lyricist—”drawing back the hand”—proves especially resonant to those familiar with the history of Israel’s Canaan conquest. Joshua, for example, declares that he will only “turn his hand away” from God’s enemies only when they have been wholly annihilated. The ram’s horn, mentioned early in the call to praise, references a “national” call to an array of events—service, war, penitence. In this passage, God calls fro the admiration of his followers not out of need or recognition. Rather, the psalmist infers that recognizing God’s dominion over Israel’s enemies is a proper response to the creator’s omnipotence; that God’s inheritors will have evaded a deeper understanding of the LORD’s covenant with his chosen people. It is via praise that God communicates his grandeur and omniscience. In this sense, worship becomes as much a benefit to believers as a credit to God.
Even a cursory reading of the Old Testament reveals the fickle memory of Israel regarding God’s promises. Time and again, the people of Israel show little compunction to remember those crucial moments in which God has demonstrated his capacity and willingness to save his “children” from a score of devastations and foes. Hence, the call to worship proves as necessary as any other national intersession; God’s people must be compelled to recall their creator’s sovereignty over all ills and catastrophes so they can once again turn to that benevolent source at future moments of need. It is no accident that the lyricist analogies Egypt during this psalm. The centuries long captivity of Israel under the oppression and persecution of Egypt before the Exodus signified for many Jews the ultimate testimony of God remembering the “cries of his people” even when they had long forgotten his covenant. In this instance, the inspired writer feels the urgency of communicating God’s abiding role as a protector and sanctuary by demanding Israel continuously acknowledge the LORD’s greatness through sustained and sincere praise.
Sing On Joyful Pilgrims!
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