Monthly Archives: November 2014

Psalm 3- Hope in the Heart of Brokeness

Gapare Traversi Die Erordung Amnons beim Gastmahl Absaloms (1752)

Gapare Traversi Die Erordung Amnons beim Gastmahl Absaloms (1752)

 Psalm 3

<A Psalm of David, when he fled from his son Absalom.>
 O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me;
 2 many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.” Selah
 3 But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
 4 I cry aloud to the LORD, and he answers me from his holy hill. Selah
 5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the LORD sustains me.
 6 I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
 7 Rise up, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
 you break the teeth of the wicked.
 8 Deliverance belongs to the LORD; may your blessing be on your people! Selah

Psalm 1 begins with happy/blessed are those and Psalm 2 ends with happy/blessed are all who take refuge in the the Lord, and then we begin a series of laments in Psalm three and four as well as six and seven. There is something more to this than some simple sort of life and a blessed life (my preferred translation of the word in Psalm one and two) is not an easy life. In my experience some of the people who have the strongest faith are those who have been through the most difficult and harrowing struggles. To be a person ‘after God’s own heart’ does not grant one an untroubled life and there is a need for an expression of desperation, a faithful cry for help in the midst of the struggle.

The superscription of the Psalm takes us back to one of the dark moments in the story of King David and in the narrative this is a part of a series of dark times for the king which so many have placed their trust in. After 2 Samuel narrates the story of David and Bathsheba, where David has sex with Bathsheba and conspires to have her husband Uriah the Hittite killed and the immediate after effects of this with God sending the prophet Nathan to David, the child dying and then a new hope with the birth of Solomon (2 Samuel 11 and 12) we reach a story of a deeply broken royal family. Absalom and his sister Tamar of children of one of David’s wives while Ammon is his son by another wife. Ammon conspires to bring Tamar into his room and then rapes her and King David does nothing to Ammon, his oldest son. Furious with his brother and the king’s inaction Absalom takes vengeance himself and during a banquet murders Ammon, his brother. Absalom flees, but is later welcomed home and forgiven. Once Absalom is home he begins to create his own power base and several years later leads a coup which forces David from Jerusalem and leads to Absalom’s eventual death. (2 Samuel 13-18). In the heart of the brokenness where families have failed, where forgiveness has been turned away, where power has been seized and life is at risk, the superscription places the words within that story.

In a world where we think God helps those who help themselves, the Psalm points to a different reality. God helps those who cannot help themselves. (Elizabeth Actemeir, et. al., 1994, p. IV: 692f). In the narrative world of the story of David evoked in the superscription and in the opening verses the surrounding people believe there is ‘no help for you in God.’ But for the Psalmist, the Lord is shield, refuge and strength. Even in the times where it seems like hope is lost the persistent faith of the Psalmist calls out to God and trusts that there will be an answer. The petitions of the Psalmist are great and their foes are many and yet the confidence that the petitioner holds to comes from the God who has sustained them. There is the trust that even in the crisis that the Psalmist can entrust deliverance into the Lord’s hands and the even as their name may be uttered as a curse, the deeper reality is that they are a part of the people the Lord has set apart as a blessing.

Psalm 2 – The LORD’s Messiah

  Psalm 2

Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain?
 2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and his anointed, saying,
 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,
 6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
 7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me,
“You are my son; today I have begotten you.
 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
 9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
 10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
 11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling
 12 kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

Psalms 1 and 2 introduce the Psalter and while Psalm 1 highlights one of the major foci of the Jewish people, God’s law the Torah, Psalm 2 focuses on the Messiah, the Davidic King.  Perhaps this Psalm was at one point used in coronations or in some other ritual setting within the nation of Israel or later the kingdom of Judah, and it reflects back upon some mystical time when Israel was an empire that ruled over vassal kings. There is an idealization of the dominion and power of the Davidic kingship which reached its peak under Solomon and would from that point forward be a small kingdom caught among the rise and falls of empires in Egypt, Assyria and Babylon. Even with the focus on the Lord’s anointed (literally the Lord’s messiah) the focus, as through out the Psalter, is taking refuge in the Lord.

For Christians this is one of the Psalms that has often been read through the image of Jesus, particularly verse 7 “You are my son; today I have begotten you” and while Christians should not forget that this Psalm originally refers back to a Davidic king part of the living witness of scriptures allows people to hear the words echoed in a new way in a new era. Yet if one is going to listen to this Psalm in terms of Jesus one does have to wrestle with the militaristic language of verse 9 (You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel) and yet this is not that much different from some of the triumphal language lifted up by Paul and others in the New Testament.

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath

Bible paintings in the Castra center, Haifa-Samuel Annointing David and David and Goliath


Psalm 1 and 2 taken together lift up the Torah and the Davidic King as two of the foci of the way of life outlined within the meditations contained within the Psalter and yet both Torah and King are to point back to the LORD. The linkage at the beginning of Psalm 1 (Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked) and the end of Psalm 2 (Happy are those who take refuge in him) joins the king and the law together as ways in which God establishes God’s rule among God’s people. As in many of the other Psalms the LORD will laugh at the movements of the nations and empires and for a nation that frequently found itself under duress from other kings and rulers perhaps this Psalm was its own revelation of God’s rule in, with and under the movements of the kings and empires around them. Perhaps like King Arthur for the Anglo-Saxon time it reflects back to the time of the once and future king, the one who was a ‘man after God’s own heart.’ To a simpler or perhaps better time. Perhaps it is a part of the imagination and story that allows the people to maintain their identity in the midst of dispersion and exile, of disillusioned hopes of rebuilding the temple and their loss of power and status in the world. Perhaps this was one more way in which they were able to see the shade pulled back and trust that the LORD was the one who was in control rather than the other gods and lords and powers. And perhaps it is wise to remember that the Psalter is poetry which attempts to express truth that transcends the situation that the people may have found themselves in. Or perhaps a more cynical approach would look at this as a form of self-aggrandizement of the Davidic kings, granting themselves divine authority and  granting themselves a position of ‘sons of God’ in a way that the Caesars in Rome would later do in a different way.

I choose to read this in a non-cynical way. I am certainly influenced by the post-modern hermeneutic of suspicion but at a certain level I have had to learn to trust. To let the words wash over and to listen deeply for the wisdom in the poetry. The God of the Hebrew people, the same God the Christian people would come to know, was deeply involved in the world. Politics and power were not separate things but a part of the engaged and sacred reality of their God who engaged the world.  A God who can laugh at the movement of armies and empires and who is their refuge and strength as Psalm 46 and other places will remind them. Who when the kings of the earth seem to be taking counsel against the chosen people in Zion or in all times and places throughout the world, who still reigns and holds those who rebel against God’s rule in derision. The one who reads and approaches and meditates on the Psalter as a way of understanding how God approached them in the earth find the blessedness (happiness) by taking refuge in this hope, this poetry and this narrative.