The Simple Ruminations of an Irishman on the Psalter

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fast For The Invisible Children

Invisible Children

I was teaching a peace and justice class to my juniors last year and one of my students gave me this movie called Invisible Children. She wanted me to play it for the class during one of our double periods. It was about a crisis happening in Uganda. It thought “why not”? So I played the movie for my class. It was excellent. The story goes like this:

These American guys, (friends) heard about an unjust war taking place in Uganda, but they didn’t know very much about it. So, they decided to travel there to find out what it was all about. They brought their cameras, intending to bring back some footage. The ended up finding out a lot more than what they expected. They discovered that thousands of little children are—currently—being forced into a war as mercenaries. We’re talking about 10, 12 year old children! They are stolen and are then trained for war. They become so immersed in killing that, all they can think of is blood. Little children cry as they tell their stories. They cry out to God for help.

The footage that the guys took was made into the film Invisible Children. They sell this film on their website, which is dedicated to relieving the children from their suffering. Also, they sell bracelets, which are made in Uganda, by those children who have not been abducted. These bracelets are to remind us of the suffering children. The money that is made is put back into the community in Uganda. Initially, they planned on building a new town for the people, but now the money is being put into education.

Oftentimes, many of us today hear of so many atrocities happening all over the world, that we figure we cannot wage a sufficient war against all of them, or any of them. We take a look at all of the evils in the world and give up before even trying. And when it comes to something like a crisis Uganda, which is so far away, we tend to think that we cannot have any impact there. Because nowadays we have the T.V. etc., we hear of so many atrocities all at once. And what happens is we get overwhelmed. Sometimes we just say a prayer to keep our consciences quiet for a time. But what happens after a while is we become complacent and even comfortable in our powerlessness. And the end result of all of this is that we train ourselves to be learn to be unloving. But God wants us to be actually running in this race.

So let me tell you what I have in mind. An acquaintance and I have decided that we will fast on Oct 18th for the Invisible Children. We decided that if we try to take on just some of what these poor children suffer each day, then God will be pleased. Perhaps God might even be moved to have mercy on them. My friend and I decided to email all of our friends about this and to invite them to join in the fast. So hopefully, if you are reading this, you too will email your friends and family etc. It would be amazing if hundreds and hundreds of people were fasting on this day for the Invisible Children of Uganda. Jesus suffered for us. All I'm suggesting is that it would be great if we could follow His example. The little cross we plan on picking up is the cross of hunger, and the slight suffering that comes with that.

If you decide to join in this fast, it would be really encouraging to know about it. Please email me so that I can count up the number of people and post it on my blog. Thay way, when you fast, you can do so knowing that so many others are out there fasting. Knowing that there are others involved can help us be all the more excited about it.

If you desire to buy the DVD Invisible Children or the bracelets for their cause, please go to www.invisiblechldren.com

If you decide you will fast for the children in Uganda, please email me here at damienjconnolly@hotmail.com and I will add your name to the number, which will get posted on this blog.

It must be made known that this fast is about the Invisible Children. Not me. Not my friend. Not anybody...except for the Invisible Children. It is also worth noting that this fast is an interdenominational effort.

Finally since I am the one calling this fast, I feel obliged to say that I am not promoting pregnant women fasting, little children fasting, elderly people fasting, and (of course) fasting for very long periods of time. Please use your wisdom. And if you do fast, please use your wisdom when coming off of your fast (they say that a small salad is a good thing to eat after a fast).

Ps. If you want to email your friends about this fast, you are more than welcome to copy this post into an email, if you feel it would help to explain the situation.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Psalm 21 (g)

8 All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head.

9 He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delighteth in him.

Here we have the despicable attitude of all those who surround Jesus. Jesus said nothing. Nothing could be said. They did not deserve his words. Therefore, silent he kept.

10 For thou art he that hast drawn me out of the womb: my hope from the breasts of my mother.

11 I was cast upon thee from the womb. From my mother's womb thou art my God,

Most translations render the word “for” as “yet.” The Word Biblical Commentary completely leaves out the word “but” or “yet.” In the WBC, the sentence reads: “you are he that hast drawn me out…” In my opinion, the verse is trying to convey the idea that “even though this is happening to me, I trust in you. It is the most natural thing for me to do. Because that is what I have always done, from the time of my infancy. I've always been trusting in God.”

12 Depart not from me. For tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me.

Even though David/Jesus asked God in verse 1 “why have you forsaken me?” here David/Jesus asks God not to depart from him. How can this be? Is David contradicting himself? Certainly not! There is therefore, a sense in which God is with David/Jesus, even though, by all *appearances* he is not with him. But that is the point—God had abandoned Jesus only by outward appearances. This verse then, seems to destroy the Calvinist notion that God completely turned his back on Jesus as he was dying on the Cross. The Calvinist notion is that Jesus actually became sinful with mankind’s sins as he was dying on the Cross and that God punished Jesus for the sins of mankind instead of punishing mankind. But, this cannot be. Jesus was a “Spotless Lamb.” In the Old Testament, only spotless lambs could qualify to make up for sin. How could a spotted lamb make up for sin? Jesus—God could never be sinful.

Jesus’ prayer is for God not to depart from him. And God did not depart from Jesus. Jesus is saying to God: “don’t depart from me because I have no one else to help me.” The point is, at a time when everyone else had abandoned him—even his own friends, the one person who did not abandon Jesus was God, the faithful one. Jesus’ own disciples (save John) abandoned him as he was being scourged and beaten.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Psalm 21 (f)

5 In thee have our fathers hoped: they have hoped, and thou hast delivered them.
6 They cried to thee, and they were saved: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
7 But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people.

David contrasts his present situation with that of his ancestors. They were faithful to God and God was faithful back. But David finds that God is not faithful to him. There could only be 2 possible reasons for God’s seeming faithlessness:

(a) God is not holy, or
(b) David was not as holy (worthy of God’s faithfulness) as he thought he was.

David has already dispelled the notion that God is not holy by referring to “our fathers” and how God always came through for them. But now he must deal with the remaining question...the question of whether David himself is holy and deserving of God’s faithfulness.

Now, David knows in his heart of hearts that he has been faithful to God. But the world looks on at him and calls him a “worm.” This is the very same word that Bildad the Shuhite used to describe Job. Here are his words (Job 25):

2 "Dominion and awe belong to God;
he establishes order in the heights of heaven.
3 Can his forces be numbered?
Upon whom does his light not rise?
4 How then can a man be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
5 If even the moon is not bright
and the stars are not pure in his eyes,
6 how much less man, who is but a maggot—
a son of man, who is only a worm!"

Bildad’s comment is interesting because Bildad did not believe that Job was holy, innocent or just. Hence he called him a "worm." Granted Bildad seems to call all of mankind a worm; nevertheless, this is the word that sticks in Job’s mind.

Back in psalm 8, David praised God’s creation. He said, “what is man that thou art mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” David then went on to say that God had placed man in a privileged position in the order of creation. Mankind has been placed over every other created thing (inicluding worms!). In fact, all created things have been “placed under his feet.”

Here is psalm 8 again:

4 What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings [c]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Yet Bildad’s comment lowers man’s dignity below the level of a worm! How can he say that?

Thus, when David/Jesus, in the midst of trial and suffering exclaims that he is a worm, he is not saying that he is a worm in *his own* estimation. Far from it! Because David/Jesus knows that he has been faithful to God; he knows that he does not deserve his present fate. What David means is that all those who surround him consider him to be a worm; and by worm, he means a low-life. When people see David they judge him to be scum...faithless, and unholy.

When Jesus quotes from psalm 21, he is basically alluding to the experience of both David and Job. He is saying that he feels judged by all who surround him, just as David and Job felt judged. They judge him to be an unworthy sinner because he is suffering like an unworthy sinner who is forsaken by God. David felt abandoned by God, Job felt abandoned by God and now Jesus feels abandoned by God and treated as a sinner.

Oh Jesus, what you went through for us. In our estimation you are the King of Glory! Have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Psalm 21 (e)

What exactly is verse 3 saying?

This is a tough question to answer, because each translation places a different emphasis on a different part of the verse. For example, the NIV stresses how God IS holy (irrespective of anyone’s belief), whereas the RSV stresses how God is APPRECIATED for his holiness by the people. Given the flow of the psalm, I would have to say that the RSV sounds better. Let me explain.

So far, David is saying how he is experiencing God as distant. This would seem to suggest that God is not holy (objectively). But then, according to the RSV, it is almost as if David said (this is a long paraphrase):

“But this is completely unlike You! You have NEVER been know to forsake ANYONE! I mean, all throughout our history, you have come to save those who have been faithful to you (which I will talk about in the next verse). All of our ancestors have known and have experienced your faithfulness to them. Therefore, no one has EVER known you to be an unholy God. For crying out loud, “you are enthroned as the Holy One, you are the glory of Israel.” No one knows you as anything else other than Holy. Your seemingly unholy disposition towards me now, is at complete odds with all the records."

This is what I think the verse means.

God be with you this Lent as you study his sacred Word.

Psalm 21 (d)

Here are some different translations of the next verse (4/3)

DR: But thou dwellest in the holy place, the praise of Israel.
NIV: Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
RSV: Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel
KJV: But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
NAB: Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel.

It is hard to tell which words are the original words. I don’t think anybody knows for sure. But that shouldn’t stop us from at least hypothesizing.

So far in this psalm, David has been explaining how abandoned he feels. This would naturally lead others to think that God is not holy, since He is not being faithful to David, as David had been to Him. By all appearances then, God would seem to be anything but holy. Anyone who would let his own greatest fan, greatest worshipper, greatest friend etc. die without extending an arm of help...surely that person cannot be reckoned as holy. Surely David had been wrong about God all along. And herein lies the problem. Just a few psalms earlier, David was telling the world, “to the faithful, he shows himself faithful.” But now, God seemed to be anything but faithful. By all appearances then, God seemed not to be holy, for he seemed to have abandoned David.

But when David cries out “but/yet you are holy…” he is saying that what is occurring to him does not reflect God’s holy character. David is saying, “despite the present circumstances, despite all appearances, you ARE holy.”

Friday, March 31, 2006

Psalm 21 (c)

Translations of verse 3

DR: O my God, I shall cry by day, and thou wilt not hear: and by night, and it shall not be reputed as folly in me.

KJV: O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

NIV: My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest

RSV: O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no

Again, we have the same old problem with translation. Usually, I am really into the DR, but in this case, as with the last verse, I will side with the NIV and RSV. This is because the DR doesn’t make much sense in light of the rest of the psalm. For before this verse, David laments the fact that God does not hear him, and after this verse, David expresses how he is looked upon as a fool for his faith in God. The only way the DR can work is if we interpret it to mean that despite the seeming fact that God has abandoned David (and is abandoning David), he is still convinced that his crying will, ultimately, not be in vain. He is sure that God will deliver him. This is what he means by “it shall not be reputed to me as folly.”

That said, I do find myself siding more with the NIV and RSV, because the above reconciliation of the DR with the overall meaning of the psalm is a little forced. And for someone expressing great feelings of agony, such words of quiet confidence do seem out of place. I think we will be safe therefore with the NIV, which in fact also makes reference to the KJV.

The references to “day” and “night” are striking. David cries in the “day” but feels that his cry does not reach God’s ears. He also “cries” at night, but he “finds no rest.” We must ask ourselves what kind of “rest” David is talking about here. Is it physical rest, or is it spiritual rest. Or perhaps David is speaking of resting from his crying (which seems to be the meaning implied by the KJV). David has been known to “labor in his groaning” (Ps 6).

In saying that he finds no rest, David is craving heaven where we will be able to enjoy eternal rest with our God. Parenthetically, the number 666 is generally associated with the devil. But it can also signify a state of unrest. David finds himself stuck on the number 6, as it were and is reaching out for 7…but is unable to grasp it. The one positive thing about David’s experience however, is that he has not stopped searching for rest. But in not giving up faith, David “attained to a better resurrection” (Heb 11:35) in the end.

Psalm 21 (b)

Translations of verse 2:

1. Far from my salvation are the words of my sins.
2. WBC: “My moaning is of the distance of salvation.”
3. “my roaring is the distance of my salvation.”

The problem with not knowing Hebrew, is not knowing Hebrew! What is the most correct translation of this verse? Which do we go by?

If 1 is correct, then David is saying that he ought not to be suffering since he has put his sins behind him. He has entered into the realm of grace and should be suffering (mortally) any more.

If 2 or 3 is correct, then David/Christ would be “moaning” or roaring because he suffering. But how are we to understand “moaning” or “roaring” as “the distance of my salvation”? This could mean:

(a) When he stops moaning/roaring he will be saved, OR

(b) David feels that God is immensely far away.

I bleieve that b is the correct option. But what is “the distance of our salvation” anyway? Well, when Adam and Eve sinned, they put a great distance between mankind and God. This distance needed to be bridged, but no man could bridge the gap. Only an infinitely perfect God could bridge that gap. And that gap was bridged by Jesus as he died. This is what I understand as the “distance of salvation.”

Therefore when David says: “my roaring is the distance of my salvation” he means that his roaring, his crying out to God for mercy, is not reaching God’s ears. His cry for mercy is just leaving his lips…he feels that his cry goes up, but it fades away into the wind. The infinite gap between him and God is too much. He cannot cry any louder, he cannot roar with any greater efficacy. His cry can only go so far…but it does not reach the ears for which it was intended. As David was suffering, he felt “forsaken” by God. He felt that even his most earnest cries faded into the distance, but could never reached God, because God dwelt in a place infinitely far away.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Psalm 21 (a)

Psalm 21 is well known for the fact that Jesus quoted it as he hung from the Cross. Unfortunately however, that is about as much as we know of the psalm. Very few of us have made the time to look at the psalm in detail to try to understand it at all. When we understand the whole psalm we will understand a whole lot better what Jesus meant when he quoted from it. We can be sure that Jesus knew this psalm (and all the psalms!) by heart.

Of all the verses in psalm 21, the opening line is the least well known. This is probably because many have written it off as being part of the title, which is not inspired. However, this first verse is inspired indeed. Its words are quite enigmatic:

1 Unto the end, for the morning protection, a psalm for David.

Immediately, we find ourselves with many questions. What is the morning protection? Is this psalm to be prayed in the morning? Is it to be prayed at night, in anticipation of the morning? Did David write this psalm himself, or was it written for him? Is this even the correct translation of the verse?

It is interesting to note how the Word Biblical Commentary translates this verse:

“For the musical director. According to the Doe of the Dawn. A psalm of David.”

What a difference! The WBC tells us that the Doe of the Dawn was probably a musical piece which is meant to accompany the psalm, hence the request for the musical director. Here also, it is intimated that David is the actual composer of the psalm, rather than just the recipient thereof.

For now, we will let verse 1 rest. We will come back to it later.

2 O God my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me?

Up till now, we were told that God responds favorably to David whenever David calls. For example: “God knows the way of the just” (Ps 1:6). We are told: “I have cried to the Lord with my voice and he hath heard me from his holy hill” (Ps 3:5); “When I called upon Him, the God of my justice heard me” (Ps 4:1); “…the Lord shall hear me when I shall cry unto him” (Ps 4:4); “For to thee will I pray: O Lord in the morning thou shall hear my voice” (Ps 5:4); “Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity: for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping” (Ps 6:9); “When my enemy shall be turned back: they shall be weakened and perish before thy face” (Ps 9:4); “Have mercy on me, O Lord: see my humiliation which I suffer from my enemies” (Ps 9:14); “Thou seest it [the wicked in action], for thou considerest labor and sorrow that thou may deliver them into thy hands” (Ps 10:14); “The Lord hath heard the preparation of the their [the poor] heart” (Ps 10:17); “His eyes look on the poor man; his eyelids examine the sons of men” (Ps 10:5); “For the Lord is just, and hath loved justice: his countenance hath beheld righteousness” (Ps 10:8); “By reason of the misery of the needy, and the groans of the poor, now will arise, saith the Lord” (Ps 11:6); “how long dost thou turn away thy face from me?” (Ps 12:1); “Consider and hear me O Lord my God” (Ps 12:4); “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God” (Ps 13:2); “I set the Lord always in my sight, for he is at my right hand that I be not moved” (Ps 15:8); “I have cried to thee for thou O God hast heard me: O incline thy ear unto me and hear my words” (Ps 16:6); “But as for me, I will appear before thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when thy glory shall appear” (Ps 16:15); “Praising, I will call upon the Lord: and I shall be saved from my enemies” (Ps 17:4); “In my affliction I called upon the Lord, and I cried to my God: And he heard my voice from his holy temple and my cry before him came into his ears” (Ps 17:7); “And the Lord will reward me according to my justice; and according to the cleanness of my hands before his eyes” (Ps 17:25); “They cried, but there was none to save them: to the Lord, but he heard them not” (Ps 17:42); “He hath set his tabernacle in the sun…” (Ps 18:6); “May the Lord hear thee in the day of tribulation: and defend thee out of Sion. May he be mindful of all thy sacrifices…The Lord fulfill all thy petitions” (Ps 19:7).

We see that practically ALL of the quotations confirm the fact that David knows that God sees him. God sees David’s good life and is pleased; and God sees the wicked and is displeased. David has had a very intimate relationship with God all his life. Experience has shown him that if he is faithful to God, God will not forsake him. The only exception to this however is psalm 12:4 which reads: “how long dost thou turn away thy face from me?” (Ps 12:1). This shows us that at least once in his life, David felt God had abandoned him. But in the end, God showed himself faithful to David. His experience must have taught him that when God seems not to be listening (Ps 12:1), he is really listening. Thus, when we read in psalm 21: “why hast thou forsaken me,” we must remember that we have seen this before.

There is a big difference between psalm 12 and 21 however. The feelings of abandonment are so much stronger in psalm 21. The reason is because in psalm 12, the abandonment (in the proper sense of the term) had not as yet truly come. In psalm 12 David seems more anxious about the *possibility* of abandonment. For instance, he prays “enlighten my eyes that I may never sleep in death: lest at any time my enemy say: I have prevailed against him.” Psalm 21 on the other hand, tells us how the enemy *is* shaking his head etc. at David’s abandonment by God. And the feeling of lonesomeness and abandonment is so much more acute.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Quick Synopsis and a Short-Cut to Ps 21

I have to admit, my study of the Psalms is sinking a little. Trying to find the connections between them is very difficult. The connections that I see may only be connections in my mind. But I figure that if after studying the psalms I discover that the psalms are actually pieced together in a haphazard way, then at least I learned that much. At least I am trying. For now, I am jumping ahead to this psalm (21) because it is interpreted for me by the New Testament Passion scene. Jesus quotes from this psalm as he is being crucified. So, I am going to this psalm to get my bearings straight.

So far in my interpretation, I have seen all the psalms leading up to this point, David’s/Jesus’ death. Psalm 1 told us that there are wicked people, psalm 2 told us that the wicked people don’t like us, psalm 3 told us that the wicked people really don’t like us, psalms 4 and 5 tell us that we can pray against the wicked, even while we try to convert them (see earlier installments) psalm 6 tells us that we need to be humble in the presence of the wicked, psalm 7 tells us that the wicked will do their best to give us a guilt trip in order to slow us down, psalm 8 tells us the wicked have no excuse (God has been patient and merciful to them from day 1) psalm 9 tells us that we should look forward to the judgment of the wicked since they have made us suffer so, psalm 10 tells us that the wicked are “practical atheists”—they choose to disbelieve there is a God because there is no sign of His justice in the world, psalm 11 tells us that as we persist in the Christian walk, many will fall away and lose their faith to join the wicked, psalm 12 tells us that God has decided to act “now” on behalf of the righteous servants who are suffering at the hands of the wicked. (But this deliverance is forestalled). Psalm 13 David tells the wicked they are fools because he knows their end is coming, in psalm 14 David spells out for the wicked what they ought to be like to get to heaven, psalm 15 tells us that David’s body will not be corrupt forever (God will raise it) thus solidifying in our minds the notion that David is to die soon; psalm 16 shows us that as we near our hour of death, we need to pray for the grace of perseverance and salvation; it also tells us how David prayed to be delivered from the “wicked one”; psalm 17 shows us that if we live good and faithful lives, we can expect God to be faithful to us when we die.

Psalms 18, 19, 20 will be left alone for the time being. I will come back to them later. For now, I will explore psalm 21.

Stay tuned…