Daily Bible Study Tips –
Selected Psalms, 1 – 50
Psalm 1 (5/18/09)
This week's scriptures are about choices: good choices, bad choices, and the results of choices. One of my all-time favorite movie lines is from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Indy and the bad guy have made it to the repository that contains an ancient knight, the Holy Grail, and about a zillion other cups. The knight says you have to pick out the Holy Grail for yourself. The bad guy picks out a bejeweled gold chalice, dips some water, and drinks. Then he shrivels, withers, moans, dies, turns to dust, and blows away. The old knight says, "He chose ... poorly."
A couple days ago we thought about how young children must be to go to Heaven if they die without being baptized. The book of Jonah implies that children who can't tell their left hand from their right hand are okay, but most scholars, theologians, and denominations take that to be an idiom meaning that the children have not learned to choose between Good and Evil. The age at which children are generally able to choose is generally taken to be about 12 or so. The writer of today's psalm talks about the people who are able to choose and who have chosen. Those who choose Good are happy – they are like a tree with deep roots, and they will stand in the winds of Judgment Day. Those who choose Evil are like chaff, and they will be driven away by those winds.
What does your Bible say in the first part of Psalms 4:4? The Hebrew word ragaz
, "tremble," is variously translated in this verse as "Tremble," "Stand in awe," "Be moved with anger," "Be angry," "Tremble with fear," and even "However angry your hearts," depending on which translation you are reading. Ragaz
means tremble, shake, or quiver, and when it's applied to people, it seems to mean "tremble with some unspecified strong emotion." Many translators prefer to specify the emotion.
Let's look at the context a little bit. David says, "Ragaz
and turn from your sins. Silently search your heart as you lie in bed. Offer the proper sacrifices and trust the LORD." Imagine silently searching your own heart as you lie in bed, in the dark, just you and God. You contemplate your sins. I don't know about you, but at this point I might be angry. How on earth could I have been so stupid, or so careless, or so cruel, or so ... ? I might tremble with anger about my sins.
Back to your own contemplation. You decide to give up your sins. Now what? Can the unholy me possibly be accepted back into the presence of a holy God? Ouch! Probably you are a less sinful person than I am, but I have reason to tremble in fear.
OK, over to you again. You offer sacrifices of repentance, and you trust God, because you know
that Jesus came to save you, and has saved you and cleansed you from your sins. That is awesome
! That makes me tremble with awe.
So overall, I think the translators who specify the emotion are cheating you out of some of the content of this wonderful psalm about sin, repentance, and the goodness of God.
Psalm 9:9-20, A Psalm of David (6/15/09)
David was an accomplished harpist and composer; about half of the 150 psalms in the Bible are attributed to him. David had a close relationship with the LORD, and it should be encouraging to the rest of us that he talked or sang to the LORD about whatever was on his mind. Sad, glad, mad, or bad – David took it all to the LORD.
Psalm 20: A Note on Hebrew Poetry (6/8/09)
Probably you have no trouble recognizing a poem when you see one. In English, poems are usually characterized by rhythm and rhyme. Let's say I start out with these two lines:
Do DOO do DOO do DOO,
Tah TAT tah TAT tah TAT.
In English you expect the next two lines to look like this:
Po POO po POO po POO,
Kah KAT kah KAT kah KAT.
Hebrew poetry is different, so it can be difficult to recognize when it's translated. Hebrew poetry typically is made up of couplets that are (1) parallel, (2) supplementary, or (3) contrasting:
1. Here's a little poem for you,
A couplet for you who are reading.
2. Here's a little poem for you,
And it is twelve words long.
3. Here's a little poem for you,
It is not prose, and it's not for your neighbor across the street.
Once you know what to look for, you can usually see these types of couplets in your English translation of the Bible. Hebrew poetry also is very big on alliteration (pretty pink poems) and word play (Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana). Hebrew poems, like English, often have the same number of syllables in each line. These latter three characteristics are usually impossible to see in translation. See if you can find the couplets in today's psalm, which is a poem that talks about God's keen interest in human political history.
Psalm 22:1-7, 25-31 (5/4/09)
From Abraham onwards, the Jews recognized that the message of salvation given to them was not for them alone. They were "blessed to be a blessing."
Even though they frequently forgot the part about "being a blessing," as we also routinely forget, the Old Testament overflows with references to God's eventual Lordship over all the peoples of the earth.
The prophets – including David – predicted that not all of the Jews would participate in God's plan for them, and unfortunately this turned out to be the case. First the ten tribes of Samaria fell into apostasy and were lost to the kingdom of God, and later most members of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin fell away as well. Only a tiny remnant remained loyal to God – but from this seed the Jewish nation continued to grow and eventually brought forth the Messiah. His righteousness was and is declared to the new people that has been born from the Jews for both the Jews and the Gentiles: the Christians.
Earlier this week, we saw that God changed the names of Abraham and Sarah
to show that they had come to a turning point in their lives and to commemorate that turning point through the meanings of their new names. The first verse of today's psalm has the words "All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!" God also changed the name of Abraham and Sarah's grandson Jacob after wrestling with him all night. Jacob wouldn't let go of God until God blessed him. God changed his name to "Israel," which sounds like the Hebrew words for "he strives with God." Hold on to God, and he will bless you!
Domestic sheep are completely dependent on the people who take care of them. There are feral horses – that is, wild horses who descend from domestic horses that escaped from their owners. There are feral cattle, feral goats, feral pigs, feral donkeys, feral dogs, feral cats, and feral ducks and chickens, but to the best of my knowledge, there are no feral sheep.* Sheep cannot survive without someone to take care of them. The Bible says that we are sheep, and the LORD is our shepherd.
* It turns out that there are a few feral-sheep populations, primarily on islands with no predators.
There are also a couple species of wild sheep, which isn't what I was talking about. (1/29/13)
Psalm 23 (4/28/09)
An email making the rounds says that a Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible, Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the chapter. Little Rick was excited about the task, but he just couldn't remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line. On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, and that's all I need to know.'
David knew that just as he was the shepherd who took care of his father's flocks and protected them from lions and bears, the LORD was the shepherd who cared for him and protected him from human predators. The LORD was David's shepherd, and that was all he needed to know.
Psalm 27 (10/20/11)
We had a nice young man doing some work in our home the other day. (Have you noticed that the “nice young men” are getting older? They used to be in their early twenties, but now they’re in their late thirties. I don’t know what’s going on.)
Anyway, the conversation came round to church, and he said he often goes to two or three different churches to attend worship on a Sunday. He said he “just doesn’t feel right” if he doesn’t go to church. He’s got a lot in common with David, who says his main request is that he be allowed to dwell in the house of the LORD every day.
Psalm 29 (6/1/09)
This week we're going to think about voices, mostly about the VOICE OF GOD
. Everybody knows that God has this big, deep, rumbling voice, right? Like James Earl Jones. Have you every heard God depicted as a tenor? No. And as a matter of fact, this is one of those rare places where pop culture lines up with scripture. Not only does scripture portray God as a basso profundo, but his voice is full of majesty and power – power to break cedars and shake the wilderness. No wonder God was able to speak
the cosmos into existence!
Selected Psalms, 1 – 50
Selected Psalms, 51 – 100
Selected Psalms, 101 – 150
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