It’s hard to talk about Charlottesville. It’s also hard not to.
Thoughts on Psalm 70
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
…..O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
…..who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
…..who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
…..turn back because of their shame.
4 Let all who seek you
…..rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
…..say evermore, “God is great!”
5 But I am poor and needy;
…..hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
…..O Lord, do not delay!
This psalm has a notation at the beginning: “To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.” At least that’s how it’s translated in the New Revised Standard Version. Other translations suggest:
“To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. To bring to remembrance.” (New King James)
“For the director of music. Of David. A petition.” (New International Version)
“For the choir director. A Psalm of David; for a memorial.” (New American Standard)
The Tanakh translation of the Jewish Publication Society doesn’t pretend to know or guess and simply transliterates the Hebrew Word, printing the opening line as “For the leader. Of David. Lehazkir.” A footnote indicates that the meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.
It is a line full of mysteries. We do not even know whether the word translated as “of David” means “by David,” “for David,” or “in the style of David.” Maybe the Davidic house is the patron of the singer? We don’t know.
It is convenient, of course, to refer to the psalms as the psalms of David. There is, after all, witness that David was a singer/songwriter. But many psalms are without such names. And many have other names attached (Psalms 73-83, for example, are attributed ‘to’ Asaph). Reading the scriptures it is like finding letters in the attic. They are beautiful in themselves but, for the most part, we don’t know who wrote them, when or why. We try to piece it together from clues in the letter, from the style of the handwriting, from references in the text, even from the vocabulary and style. Letters of the Civil War, for example, have a very distinct look and style, but find a peace symbol at the end and you suspect the sixties.
“1 To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.”
We don’t even know if that header is from the time of the psalm or when it was gathered into a collection, or from some later editor. Maybe the headings were added when the temple had been destroyed and they needed to write down for the generations to come how songs were used. We don’t know.
It’s important to remember that our knowledge is limited. It is too easy to say, “The Bible says…” when what we are really doing is asserting our own values and opinions. We know what we think and verses that reinforce those opinions jump out as confirmation. We don’t see the ones that would speak differently. In the sciences they call it “confirmation bias”: we see what we expect to see.
But the scripture is generally not trying to confirm what we think we know; it is trying to get us to see differently. It’s why Jesus tells parables. It’s why the prophets preach as they do. Look at the way Amos seduces his hearers by proclaiming God’s judgment on their enemies before suddenly turning the spotlight on themselves. Or the way Hosea gets people listening with a scandalous story of infidelity. Or how Jeremiah grabs attention by shattering a clay pot in the city gate – or wearing a yoke in the temple precinct. It’s not without reason that the gospel writers tell so many stories of Jesus opening blind eyes and deaf ears.
God is trying to get us to see differently. So we must be wary of seeing what we want to see. We must come to the scriptures humbly. We must remember there is much we don’t know. The scriptures are like a candlelit room: Some things are clear. Some are lost in the shadows. And other things “we see dimly.”
We should attend to those things that are more visible, that are nearer to the light.
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So let me say this about Charlottesville. Love of neighbor is nearer to the light.
Kindness, compassion, mercy and justice (the fulfilling of our obligations to one another), these are all nearer to the light.
Anything that involves a baseball bat is far into the shadows.
Anything that involves a Nazi slogan like “blood and soil” is in the outer darkness.
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To pretend otherwise is to betray all the commandments, but especially the one about misusing the name of God. And there is a warning attached to this commandment. “You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7 and Deuteronomy 5:11)
We see dimly. But some things a very near to the light.
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8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)
“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.” (Luke 6:27-29)
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. 10For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; 11let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Peter 3:8-11)
Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALight_through_a_stained_glass_window%2C_cross%2C_wall_of_the_Marmor_(Frederiks)_Kirke_Copenhagen_Denmark.jpg By Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons