Playing favourites… (Psalms 18-20)

December 1, 2010

This whole process is really changing the I think about and interact with the Bible. Books I thought I’d loathe I’ve turn out to love and books I thought I would write about until the cows come home, not so much. This is beginning to be the case with Psalms. “Yes, David, we get it, the Lord your rock, your fortress etc, and yes we know he delivered you from your enemies. Change the blooming record!” I don’t think I’d ever noticed how militaristic some of the psalms were, but reading them the day after Joshua and Judges seems to bring that side out of them. Like in Psalm 18 (by far the longest of today’s psalms) where we told about the “God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me” and with whom David can “crush a troop”. Great stuff. Psalm 20 does put this is a context though; “Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God” (20:7). David’s joy in His victories is because God has delivered him, not because he is great himself…which is something at least…

But I’m being stubborn, Psalm 19 is exquisite and has nothing to do with earthly victory. As the NRSV puts it, it focusses on “God’s glory in creation and law.” It begins with that famous phrase “the heavens are telling of the glory of the Lord.” And later it becomes an ode to the law:

 The law of the Lord is perfect,
   reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
   making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
   rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
   enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
   and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb.

I love this stuff! The beautiful poetry, the elegant outpouring of worship it’s inspiring. But then I think, is this allowed? Can I just pick my favourite psalm and ignore the other two? Shouldn’t they all be equally edifying? But they’re not. Not in this moment, any way. And we all do it. “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23, coming soon to a blog near you) is as famous as famous can be, but I can’t remember ever hearing Psalm 20 in public. Should we just admit that there are some bits of the Bible that just really hit the nail on the head? Have we already created a hierarchy within scripture? The bits we read and that bits we leave to one side, maybe look at occasionally, thank you very much…

Having said all that, last week when I was reading the psalms I skipped ahead to Psalm 18 (cheating I know, I’m just too keen!) and the words of verse 6 really comforted me. So perhaps there is just a time and place for each verse, each Psalm, each book. If this process is teaching me anything it’s that I won’t get what I expect from scripture. I’m loving reading Job in a way I never thought possible, and actually looking forward to reading the letters of Paul despite their rather baffling nature. Though now I’ve said that I’ll probably struggle with them both this week! The important thing is that my assumptions about certain parts of the Bible are being challenged. Okay, so Joshua is still “the one with all the killing” in my head, but it’s more that that too.

This book is not predictable, even when you know the stories. And that’s why we love it, isn’t it? 

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2 Responses to “Playing favourites… (Psalms 18-20)”

  1. AJR said

    Picking and choosing in scripture is something we all do, it’s one of the reasons I have taken the approach to my blog that I have, so I can’t avoid any of the less palatable bits. We do it with some of God’s commandments even. After all, how many christians keep kosher? Yet there are those out there who use verses which are among some of the Jewish law we ignore to justify the persecution of LGBT and even the subjugation of women. Why is it that we feel we can choose to follow some commands but not others? I don’t know but I think it comes from the same place as chosing to skirt round some of the more difficult to deal with passages of scripture. The Bible was never meant to be an easy read I guess.

    • Indeed, AJR, indeed. It’s important to have a consistant approach to scripture, but then not too consistent; we can’t treat poetry live history; we can’t treat law like letters. And it’s a big challenge for those who want to practice incluvisity in their churches and lives because there’s a lot of difficult stuffin the Bible that seem pretty exclusive! I guess for me the point of reference for all this has to be the person of Jesus; how do we read through the prism of his life, death and resurrection? I don’t have the answer but I know its a blooming good question!

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