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Psalm 19, Two Books

Psalm 19 speaks of the revelation from nature in the beginning.  this portion reminds us of a statement found in a confession of the Reformed Church tradition.  Generally this is a Fresh Read so we don’t quote theologians from previous centuries.  However, this was heard at a lecture on the spirituality of John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club.  Muir was raised in the Scots Presbyterian tradition and his writings are filled with language of the scriptures – particularly the Psalms.   This quote is from the Belgic Confession, which sprang out of a time of great persecution by the state church against the reformers.  It speaks clearly and eloquently about the Two Books of revelation:

Article 2: About the Knowledge of God

Moreover, we know God by two means, first, by the creation, preservation, and government of this whole world. For it is before our eyes as a most beautiful Book in which all creatures, from the least to the greatest, are as certain letters and marks through which the invisible things of God can be examined and understood, certainly His eternal power and His divinity as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. This knowledge is sufficient for convicting any given people and rendering them inexcusable. But He also bears His very self to us, much more clearly and openly, in His holy and divine Word; indeed, as much as is expedient in this life for His glory and for the salvation of His own people.

Psalm 11, Don’t stop at verse 3!

Perhaps you have heard verse 3 quoted.

“when the foundations are being destroyed,

what can the righteous do.”

We hear it quoted with the thought by traditional people that morality has decayed beyond repair, and the institutions of faith and society are turning to dust.  OK, if that is your view of morality. (We tend to think that things are mixed – perhaps we have gained in the areas of race relations, while we have lost in the area of sexual responsibility.)  However, don’t stop at verse 3 because the Psalm does not either. 

Verses 1-3 present a dark picture.  The wicked crouch in the shadows to pick the good guys off one by one with their poison arrows.  There is a debate in verse 1 between the Psalmist and another, or maybe with himself – should I flee to the mountains like the birds? 

We have seen traditionalist take to flight.  They decide it is time to escape the culture – the schools, maybe even the electrical grid.  History would seem to show that when the floods come, no safe hill is high enough.

The Psalmist proceeds with the recognition that, even if our institutions are crumbling, God remains on his eternal throne.    The Lord sees and takes note of the wicked and the righteous.  He will certainly give the wicked their comeuppance.  It may not be today or tomorrow, but the judgment of God is coming.  It is like the Bob Dylan song, “Slow Train Coming”

People starving and thirsting, grain elevators are bursting
Oh, you know it costs more to store the food than it do to give it
They say loose your inhibitions, follow your own ambitions
They talk about a life of brotherly love, show me someone who knows how to live it
There’s slow, slow train coming up around the bend.

Verse 7 is interesting.  Instead of an inclusio– where he ends at the beginning point – the Psalmist takes us to a new thought.  He does not tell us that the foundations on the earth are in good shape, or are due to be rebuilt.  He seems to say, “Suppose the foundations are destroyed, all can not be lost.  The upright have God.”  God loves justice, and will bring it, we understand, on the earth.  The final thought is, however, that we will see his face.  This is not escapism – because the realism of the earthly fight is there.  He seems to say that there is Someone more that makes all this meaningful.

Don’t stop at verse 3, read the whole psalm.  it is not pessimistic, but ultimately and realistically optimistic.  It is optimistic because the world is not finally run by impersonal forces.  It is run by a Person.




Psalm 5:3 I Present, what exactly?

We know Psalm 5 from the KJV based song, which we will enjoy singing this Sunday.  However there is an interesting case of how to translate.

Scripture song:  “O Lord, in the morning, will I lift up my prayer unto Thee and will look up.”

ESV:  “…in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch”

NIV: “…in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation”

NRSV:”…in the morning i plead my case to you, and watch”

NASV: “in the morning I will order my prayer to Thee and eagerly watch”

The Hebrew says something like “ the morning I place my  (________) before You…”

In other words there is a verb, a posessive pronoun, a prepositon and an object pronoun, but no noun.  It does not say what it is that the Psalmist sets before God.  The Verb (ydk) can refer to preparing a sacrifice, sticks to make a fire, a legal case, setting a table, aligning for battle and arranging words.  (That is a summary of the Hebrew Lectionary.)  Thus the interpreter and the translators have to decide what is being laid before the Lord.  It seems several of these make good sense.  To lay a case before the Lord is a kind of prayer, arranging words is a prayer, offering a sacrifice (there were morning sacrifices at the temple each day) is also plausible.

One wise seminary professor told us that “bible translations are a form of commentary, therefore look at the better translations.”  This is a verse where that plays out well.

What is one to do?  Can you say, “In the morning i will lay it before the Lord”?  That seems too vague.  Maybe you can rotate the options with each reading?  No, that is only funny for seminarians.

It seems to us that Psalm 5 is about praying (in context), so whether his prayer is in the form of a sacrifice (which would not be the literal case for David, who was not a priest, but it could be a metaphor), or a legal case or a prayer, it amounts to about the same thing.   He is clearly in the psalm dealing with disreputable enemies and he is seeking God’s assistance and assurance.  That boils down to prayer.

One other thought, having a suggestive lack of a noun enriches the options.  Perhaps the point is that we think on the word-gap from different perspectives.  Leaving a gap adds to our meditation.

Readers should note that in High School, Fresh Read received a high score for “tolerance for ambiguity.”  Some careers do not work for “tolerance for ambiguity” such as bridge builders or rocket engineers.  However, reflective spirituality is sometimes served with a little “tolerance for ambiguity.”


Chaff – updated

Most of us are not farmers.  So when we read in Psalm 1, “they are like the chaff that the wind drives away”. we don’t share the experience.  So think “peanut skins”.  When you open a peanut, you rub off the red bitter skin before you eat nut.  Where does that skin go?  It blows away in the wind.  It becomes nothing.

Compare that to a strong, fruitful tree that is well watered.

Psalm 1 – Wisdom and Torah

If you read here, you know the interest in Wisdom Literature that we have.  What is interesting to note in Psalm 1 is how it intertwines Wisdom themes with the Torah, and this at the head of the Psalter.

Like Proverbs, for example, Psalm 1 speaks of two paths, two results (prosperity or destruction), certain characters to avoid (sinner, wicked, mocker), vivid metaphor (tree, chaff), which are both natural images (wisdom embedded in creation), and logical processes of choice and consequence.  So Wisdom themes run from the first to the last.

Like the Prophets, Psalm 1 stands in judgment over us depending on how we respond to the words of the LORD, the covenant making God.  Wisdom usually avoids such strongly worded covenantal language as law, judgement, assembly and even the LORD’s name.

The focus of Wisdom is not always directly focused on God’s word.  It is also found in God’s word in nature, (go to the ant, O sluggard).  Here in Psalm 1 the focus is on a meditative and obedient relationship to the God of the covenant through the scriptures.  (“Law” means more than commandments, it certainly includes all of the “Torah”, but also all scripture).

We circled words about Wisdom in green and about Law/Covenant in red and they were intertwined through the Psalm.   So here lies one clue to drawing the two threads of scripture together.

The Fear of the Lord is a key idea in Wisdom Literature, and Psalm 1 links that to the Word of the LORD.


Psalms Re-Start

Psalm 1 written in the style of wisdom literature, serves as an introduction to the Psalms as a whole, along with Psalm 2.  Psalm 1 shows the benefit to the individual of a deep, reflective and lived out relationship with the word of God (the law).  Psalm 2 shows that there is something very personal about all of this, and that we need to make our peace with “the Lord’s anointed”.    Psalm 1 shows consequences of individual obedience and disobedience to the word and Psalm 2 shows it at a national level.

FRESH READ – 2008, our read through the Bible program continues.  At the mid point, the Psalms readings re set to Psalm 1.  We will be preaching on Psalms during the summer.