At first glance, this psalm seems as simple as 1-2-3. But even Rev. Spurgeon gets it wrong.
It compares humanity to YHWH as servants to Master and maids to Mistress — as slaves.
Spurgeon, however, sees the roles as children to Father, though those words are not used.
The preacher misses the point — that slaves “are … filled with contempt” for the Master.
But maybe Spurgeon hated his real father. He also says humans are blind, “devoid of sight.”
The psalmist, though, admits that our fates as slaves simply depend on the Master’s mercy.
The first verse of this “Song of Ascent” is familiar from a hymn that my mother often sang: “I was glad when they said to me, / ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’” Mom’s life was one of words and music. Toward the end of it, she had no words left to share, but she could still hum the tune.
The actual psalm is about Jerusalem, the city of peace, a place where the 12 disparate tribes of Israel could hike up — or ascend — Mount Zion to worship together. Spurgeon takes this psalm a step further, saying, “[T]hose who break the peace of the [Christian] church deserve to suffer.” The old preacher mentions “[s]trife, suspicion, party spirit, [and] division,” in particular, within the church as being “deadly things.” But those “ingredients” — another term he uses — sound much like the hatefulness baked into every evangelical Christian church that I ever attended in my life. The song ends: “For the sake of my brethren and companions, / I will now say, ‘Peace be within you.’ / Because of the house of the Lord our God / I will seek your good.” Don’t misread that last word as I did. It’s “good.” And if we can’t sing all of those words, maybe we can hum a few bars.
This is probably the second most familiar psalm in its entirety, next to the 23rd Psalm. It’s short, another “Song of Ascent” — inspirational lines to sing while going up or, in this case, looking up.
It was read at the funeral of Senator Sam J. Ervin, a grandfatherly figure and country gentleman who found big-city fame in the halls of D.C., but returned to his tiny hometown in the hills of N.C. “I will lift up my eyes to the hills — / From whence comes my help?” Reading the verse now after hearing it often, I noted its punctuation — an em dash in the middle, a question mark at the end. People don’t recite the verse that way, as if the speaker has made a statement and then pauses for an instant — in wonder or deep thought or confusion, maybe — before asking their question. The answer, of course, comes in the second verse: “My help comes from the Lord, / Who made heaven and earth.” I do agree, except that I don’t spell “Lord” as the Old Hebrew psalmist does. And I’m not so sure that “the hills” alone are God’s Country, as it were. The iSoul is everywhere, in everything; from Hawksbill at sunrise to Bird Island at sunset; and in every breath we do take.
This short psalm is all about dealing with a liar. Although — or maybe because — he was a fibber himself, King David hated serial liars with a passion. He wanted them to drop dead.
The king’s impassioned plea in this very first “Song of Ascents” is one that we all can easily relate to: “Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips / And from a deceitful tongue.” Aaa-men. That has been my prayer for eight years now. I hate liars — one, in particular. And while ol’ YHWH’s at it, He can please save us from the long red tie, fake tan, and bad combover, too.
This is a good psalm, believe it or not, for Ash Wednesday. It’s the longest psalm of all — 176 verses filling 10 pages in my study bible. It’s basically all of the psalms balled in one long song.
After wading through this plodding composition, I’m ready to give up reading all psalms for Lent. No, just kidding. There are a few good lines — like a song with rotten verses but a great chorus. When I was a child, my folks signed me up for the Bible Memory Association; but since I spoke as a child, I called it Bible Memorization. That was easier to say and made perfect sense to me. Now, being a grown man, I’ve put away childish malapropisms, but I still remember, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, / That I might not sin against You” — which is this psalm’s 11th verse. Then there’s the evergreen comprising the 105th verse: “Your word is a lamp to my feet / And a light to my path.” Those were two verses I heard when I whined about memorizing Bible verses. Knowing what I do now, I would have picked other lines to learn — verse 83, for instance: “For I have become like a wineskin in smoke….” Imagine a fresh-faced six-year-old reciting that simile! Another good line is in verse 90: “You established the earth, and it abides.” That sounds just like the verse in Ecclesiastes that inspired the title of the best post-apocalyptic novel ever published. Yes, the earth abides, and so does The Dude, even though this fellow has become not so much like a smoky wineskin, as, like, a soiled Persian rug that, you know, tied the room together, man. Still, most of this longest of all psalms is the same old shazbot — David’s self-righteousness and paranoia about enemies lying and scheming against him. He was the King, but he was no Dude.
This is the psalm I’ve been waiting for — dreading, even. It’s special, though not my favorite, by any measure. It’s like the day someone close to you died. Or the day an unlucky man was born.
One verse is familiar to those of us who’d rise and shine every weekday to Arthur Smith’s “Top of the Morning” radio show: “This the day the Lord has made; / We will rejoice and be glad in it.” In my mind’s ear, I hear the old “Guitar Boogie” man singing that verse — well, an older version of it, anyway, and in his Southern drawl. In my mind’s eye, I spy my family at the breakfast table. From there we’d move to the den where my dad would share “Our Daily Bread” — no, not more toast and jam, more like “Green Eggs and Ham” — our little booklet of daily devotional readings. Each day’s devotional consisted of a short Bible reading, a brief commentary and a “Thought for the Day.” Until I spent six weeks at Grace Hospital, that’s how every day of my childhood began. And then, years later, it was my younger brother’s turn — to spend weeks away from home and in the hospital, that is. He wasn’t in traction, though, like I’d been. But his case was much worse. On the dark morning of his first surgery, I was alone at home. Our mom was with Ken at Baptist Hospital. Our dad was in the car on his way to Winston-Salem. I would go there later in the day. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast that morning, if I ate anything at all. But I do remember what I read instead of “Our Daily Bread.” I opened my Bible to the 17th verse of this very psalm: “I shall not die, but live,” the psalmist says, “[a]nd declare the works of the Lord.” Later I learned that my mom and little brother had picked the same psalm at random that morning, just as I had. As we’re wont to do, I took it as a sign — as a promise, even. I wanted so badly for my innocent little brother to live and to walk again, and to beat the damned disease that was eating him alive. But, no. He survived that surgery and two other operations over the next three months. But this athletic boy never walked again, not after the radiation zapped him and the poison sapped him. Now at 64 — getting older, losing my hair — I look back on that morning in the fall of 1976, and I see that my 17-year-old self was right to read those words with hope. For it was really about me.
Shortest psalm and Bible chapter. Two verses.
“Praise the Lord!”
This psalm is easy to understand. The psalmist speaks as a man who was close to death, who prayed to his god for healing, and who then survived whatever physical malady he had suffered.
The superstitious speaker believes that if he hadn’t cried out for mercy, he would have died; and he pledges to forevermore praise the supreme power — YHWH — that he thinks spared his life.
My question now is the flip side of that old coin toss of the gods — you know, our expectation of either reward or punishment for our behavior on earth. Has good and bad ever really mattered?
I’m sure that question sounds silly to fundamentalists who are counting on an afterlife in heaven. But my real question is, why then do good things happen to “bad” people who never, ever pray?
This is the strangest psalm I’ve read so far — comparing Old Hebrew YHWH to the idols worshiped by everyone else in that ancient world back then.
These other gods are described as statues of “silver and gold, / The work of men’s hands,” without the senses whose organs this psalmist lists in detail.
“Those who make them are like them,” quips the poet. “So is everyone who trusts in them” — that is, with no sense at all, the wry writer must mean to say.
“But our Lord is in heaven,” the psalmist adds. “He does whatever He pleases.” Now, I’m not sure if that remark refers to YHWH’s independence or person.
Is the writer saying that YAH does have a working mouth, eyes, ears, nose, hands, feet, and throat? Is His body like that of an earthly man? And if so, why?
This short psalm again ties the Old Hebrew god YHWH to nature, describing His power over it:
YAH caused a drop in sea level, a change in a river’s flow, and earthquakes during the Exodus. These natural calamities all occurred near the oil fields of today — curses in and of themselves.