Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Psalm 19:7-14
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”

This psalm celebrates the work of God in creation and the particular way God has acted to sustain God's people through the giving of the law. Even though creation displays God's glory and power, God does not stay removed; the psalm will show concrete ways in which God is involved with creation. And we have the opportunity to find challenge and comfort in these ancient words as we seek to live as faithful people of God.

Students of the Bible suggest that Ps. 19 is a compilation of two distinct poems. Verses 1-6 extol God as creator of all things, especially the sun; while vs. 7-14 celebrate the Torah as God's gift to humanity. Even if this view of the psalm's construction is true, it has been given to us as a single psalm, and deserves to be read as such.
The psalm resounds with the praise of God and answers the question, “Who is the God of creation?” Ancient peoples held that there were many gods; they paid homage to their gods in ways that crossed cultural boundaries. Hymns similar in structure and language to the biblical psalms have been discovered in the Middle East. These hymns extol Marduk, Ishtar, Chemosh, and other gods and goddesses. Creation is one of the key features of these hymns. Yahweh, Israel's deity, was one among the gods. However, as Israel's faith and religion developed, the priests began to make an awesome claim: the God of Israel, Yahweh, is the God of creation, El. Psalm 19:1-6 uses the Semitic name for God, Elohim, the plural form of El. The wonder of creation reveals the glory of God; the sun, thought in ancient religions to be a divine being, moves across the sky-dome in and out of its bedchamber at the behest of God. Verses 7-14 make it clear that the God whose name Israel knows (Yahweh) is the God of the cosmos, the sole creator and redeemer. Just as God has ordered the heavens and the earth, with the illumination of the sun shining on the paths we walk, so too has God given the Torah, the Law, as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).

"The law of the LORD is perfect,” declares the psalmist. We may have trouble wrapping our minds around a connection between "law" and "perfect." After all, the laws passed by our legislatures and councils are far from perfect. In our experience, "law" more often refers to overly complicated and convoluted codes and rules. Law-abiding adults recognize that society's laws are not uniformly just. No human law is perfect or can ensure a perfectly just society.
Even in an imperfect world, we know the importance of law in preserving order and promoting the common good. As such, human laws, however flawed, reflect the perfect law of God, which was given that God's people might live in peace, unity, and fidelity. God's Torah has a far richer meaning than what we think of as law. Rules and codes are definitely a part of the Torah, but the word also means "instruction" and "teaching." As Scripture, Torah also includes the stories of God's interaction with God's people from the day the first people were created. It especially focuses on the promises God has made to Israel. Through Torah, God instructs the people in the ways they should live.

Further, the Torah provides content for the covenant God has established with God's people. God's law provides the community's boundaries for our relationship with God and with each other. The Law of the Lord is life-giving. It is not a burden but a gift from God that has the power to revive the soul. Properly understood and observed, the Torah is greater than gold and sweeter than honey.

The psalm lifts up the two ways theologians contend that we know God: natural revelation and special revelation. What is true for both forms of revelation is that they are initiated by God. We can only know God if God chooses to be known.
Natural revelation encompasses our knowing God through contemplation of the creation. The wonder of the heavens, the sun, the moon and the stars; the grandeur of the sea and its amazing creatures; the intricacies of the human being; and the mysteries of life, death, growth, and love testify to the presence of a divine designer. That we can detect order and rhythm in the natural world and its processes witnesses to a creator who imposed an order and rhythm on creation. As the psalmist insists, "The heavens are telling the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). Natural revelation, however, does not lead to saving knowledge.

Special revelation insists that God speaks to humanity, issues a call to us, and makes a claim on our lives. God tells us how we are to live and how to be in right relationship with God. Rather than being the harsh demands of an impersonal God, Torah is the gift of a loving God to a beloved people. God speaks through Scripture in these ways, and most significantly through the logos, the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. Special revelation tells us that the God of creation entered human history to speak the word of salvation and guide us into all righteousness.
Natural revelation may be thought of as a general word to humanity. Special revelation is a personal word.

Psalm 19 ends with familiar words: "Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer." Preachers pray these words before they preach a sermon. Even though we might be inclined to think of these words as a "preacher's prayer," nothing in the psalm indicates that these words apply only to a few of God's people. These words are for all of God's people. And they apply to all of our words, thoughts, and deeds. The psalm invites us to call on God to guide us in our daily lives. God has given a gift to help us live faithfully: the Torah.

The law of the Lord is perfect. It is worth more than gold. It tastes sweeter than honey. But the life of the person who wants to embrace the Torah is not without challenges. Living according to God's righteousness cannot be accomplished alone. Psalm 19 recognizes that even if we embrace the law and live as God wants us to live, we won't be able to do it perfectly. Sometimes it may be obvious when we do something wrong, but other times those errors will be hidden. We may do something wrong that at the time seems like the right thing to do. The psalm includes acknowledgment that our lives will include such mistakes; through the psalm's words God calls us to repentance.

The law that is celebrated in many different ways in Ps. 19 is clearly not a burden for those who sing or pray its words. It's not a trap or a path leading to quicksand. The law opens up new possibilities for those who embrace it. The law has the power to warn the people of God about the wrong directions they might want to go in their lives. But the law also offers rewards to those who embrace it. Torah is given to help us to love God with everything we have and with everything we are, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. When the law is received as a gift from God, it has the potential to help transform our lives that we might be more faithful in our love for God and for those with whom we live and work each day.

In relation to Ps. 19:14, what kinds of words and meditations might God find acceptable?
How have you found the law of the Lord or the Torah to be life-giving?
How does the law help us maintain a healthy relationship with God and others?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

Monday, June 6, 2011

“O LORD, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Psalm 8

Many scholars think that Psalm 8 was written during Judah's (the Southern Kingdom's) exile in Babylon (about 587 to 538 BC). How did it come to this? To make a long story short, despite the fact that God was faithful to the people of Israel, leading them out of Egypt, providing for them and sustaining them as a people and later as a nation, the people went back to worshiping other gods AGAIN!   It was the golden calf times a thousand. Despite warnings from several prophets, the people just didn't get it. Moses wasn't around anymore to argue with God so God finally let Israel suffer the consequences of its actions. By the year 930 BC the nation of Israel had been divided into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah). In 720 BC, the Northern Kingdom was conquored by the Assyrians. The people of Judah may have thought they were safe when Assyria was defeated by Babylon (Iraq) in 612 BC, but that wasn't the case. Babylon continued to grow more powerful ans in 587 BC the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, destroying the Temple and deporting most of the people to slavery in Babylon.