Master Builder - Psalms Praising God as Supreme Creator
Song of Ascent—Solomon’s Prescription for the Jerusalem Temple (Psalm 127)
While many Psalms are attributed to either King David or his court priests and musicians, the above composition derives from his son and final sovereign of the united kingdom, Solomon. King Solomon was tasked with planning and constructing the first Jerusalem temple. Though a well-known leader and paragon of wisdom in Judeo—Christian tradition, the Talmud regards Solomon as a major prophet due to his contributions in rabbinical instruction. This does not preclude Solomon from being regarded as a flawed figure among serious Jews. While the sovereign began his tenure on the Davidic throne as an avatar of God’s understanding and sage counsel, Solomon’s lapse into idolatry via an array of wives and concubines encumbered him with the blame for Roman Imperialism. According to Jewish apocryphal tradition, Solomon’s marriage to an Egyptian bride caused a sandbank to form in Mediterranean Sea, which eventually formed into the shores of Rome. Thus, Solomon’s betrothal to one of Israel’s sworn enemies eventually led to the downfall of his kingdom. Though not verified through biblical inspiration, the legend provides a bittersweet context to Solomon’s “Pilgrim Song” or “Song of Ascent.”
In this passage, the inspired author warns against constructing a home—any home—without the favor of an omnipotent and omniscient creator. The passage delves deeper than to forecast Jesus of Nazareth’s “wise and foolish builder” parable. Solomon also ascribes value to those that are blessed with offspring instead or alongside of bountiful properties. Loyal and faithful children echo the character and righteousness of their parents and signify God’s dispensation on a fruitful marriage. Regardless of the above legend’s veracity, scripture contends that Solomon failed to produce either honorable offspring or property exclusively devoted to the extension of God’s kingdom. Solomon’s eventual downfall into idolatry would cause the sovereign to contradict his prescription towards pilgrims in the above passage. Thus, Solomon’s composition at once serves as a hymn of praise and cautionary admonishment; to regard prosperity as a sign of giving “first fruits” to the creator; to guard against regarding success and wealth—whether children or property—as the products of one’s own merits.
Psalm 127 - Choir of St. Paul's Cathedral
From Womb to Pyre—The Righteous Invocation of King David (Psalm 139)
Searching—the word frames the chiastic Psalm in which David beseeches God to show wrathful judgment against his enemies. The term seems to serve as both evidence and challenge to the inspired author’s creator; that the writer encourages and at once defies God to verify the sincerity of his faith. The Psalm spends its majority praising God for so fully and intimately knowing the nature of his creation. In the verses detailing the close relationship between David and the Lord, the former serves as a surrogate for all creation; its heights and darkest depths. It may be reasonably claimed that, as a whole, the Psalm accedes closer to the “logos” wisdom espoused by the Apostle John in his eponymous gospel more than any other writing in the Old Testament. In this respect, the author ascents to both absolute humility and pride with the same utterances; David claims to understand if not “what” God knows then at least the heights of the Lord’s knowledge. At the same time, David’s recognition forces him to realize his diminutive stature in comparison to such an omnipotent cosmic sovereign. The author’s description of God’s whollistic knowledge of his creation embarks on several sections or “meditations”:
- Genesis—The opening narrative of God’s intimacy with his creation discerns that God knows not only David but all individuals from within the womb. The passage intimates that all peoples are sacred singularly because they are “knitted” by God.
- Paradox—David here attempts to quantify the impossible, the sum of God’s knowledge. Even more, the author surmises that God’s state of being remains unchanged, waking and dreaming, light and darkness.
- Vengeance—In this section, David assets his faith and confidence in the omniscience of God for a singular purpose, vindication over enemies. In particular, David wishes his enemies smote because they question God’s power.
- Challenge—Finally, David calls God to verify the purity of motives; that the author seeks righteous judgment not to assuage his own damaged pride but rather to assert the supreme power of Lord.
The overall proposition of David’s exegesis resides in a singular question: if God truly harbors dominion over all creation, why does he allow some his making to display such rebellion? Ultimately, the Psalm reveals the inspired author’s confusion regarding sapience; that one whose will is so totally aligned with God cannot fathom why any entity would pursue such spiritual insurgency.
Delight and Fear - Dedication for the Second Temple (Psalm 147)
Similar to other Psalms describing the construction of Jerusalem, the above composition begins by asserting that God is the sole author of the holy city. Unlike many Psalms, however, the inspired author compares the Lord’s inception of Jerusalem to the world’s creation. The composition extends this analogy further by listing the innumerable plaudits of Israel’s true God; populating the sky with clouds; feeding humans and beasts; girding the city’s walls; controls the weather. The sum of this resume serves as both encouragement and reminder to the reader. God, the creator of all earth’s wonders, has also bestowed his law upon the nation of Israel. Hence, the followers of Judaism have been granted a special dispensation and responsibility. God’s elect have been given intimate knowledge of how an omnipotent and omniscient creator desires his most refined creation (humanity) should abide in his world.
Alongside this prescription, the author provides a pronouncement that has proven cryptic to many students of the Psalm: “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse/ nor his delight in the legs of the warrior/ the Lord delights in those who fear him/ who put their hope in his unfailing love.” The scripture yields several questions: why does the author choose the word “fear” instead of a more ameliorating virtue—faith, righteousness, charity. If the scripture referred to another entity besides God, what would the reader’s appraisal be of one that takes “delight” in fear? Several explanations persist for understanding this challenging verse:
Several translations substitute the word “fear” for “awe” to clarify the composition’s meaning. This suggests that the key to Godly fear derives from a proper understanding; that the acolyte recognize God, not humanity, is the author of all good things.
It may be argued that fear constitutes the beginning of respect, a virtue the diaspora children of Israel at times failed to exhibit in proper scope. The verse reminds God’s chosen people that though God’s grants immense blessings, such dispensations are not an entitlement.
Psalm 147 - King's College of Cambridge
Creator and Guard of Creation:
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