April 30, 2007

Psalm 19

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the Director.
A Psalm.
By David.

The heavens are declaring the glory of God
And the work of his hands the firmament is proclaiming.
Day after day it pours forth speech,
And night after night it declares knowledge.
There is no speech and there are no words;
Unheard is their voice.
Into all the earth goes their line
And to the end of the world their utterances.

For the sun he has placed a tent in them.
And he is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
He rejoices like a mighty man to run his course.
At the end of the heavens is his starting-point
And his circuit is to their ends.
And nothing is hidden from his heat.

The instruction of Yahweh is blameless,
Restoring the soul.
The testimony of Yahweh is certain,
Making wise the naive.
The precepts of Yahweh are right,
Gladdening the heart.
The command of Yahweh is pure,
Enlightening the eyes.
The fear of Yahweh is clean,
Standing forever.
The judgments of Yahweh are trustworthy,
Altogether righteous,

Desirable more than gold
And more than much fine gold,
And sweeter than honey,
Even drippings from honeycombs.
Moreover your servant is illumined by them;
In guarding them there is great reward.

Errors who can discern?
From hidden ones acquit me!
Also from presumptuous acts keep back your servant.
Let them not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless
And I will be innocent of great transgression.
May they be acceptable — the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart — before you, Yahweh,
My rock and my kinsman.

A few comments about this Psalm:

1. For some reason, several translations add the word “where” into the first stanza: “There is no speech and there are no words where their voice is not heard.”  I suppose that’s because the next lines say that their utterances go to the end of the world. But I prefer not to add “where.”  Instead, I take this Psalm to be saying that the firmament-heavens don’t use speech or words and no one hears their voice, and yet they do declare God’s glory everywhere.

2.  I really don’t understand why, but the NKJV has for the last line “My strength and my redeemer.”  The word in Hebrew refers to a rock.  It’s a word that’s translated “rock” elsewhere in the NKJV (e.g., Deut 32:4).  But here, they rendered it strength, thereby obscuring both the symbolism of God as a rock and the connection to other passages which refer to God that way.  I wonder why.

3.  The last word of the psalm is often rendered “redeemer” (as in the NKJV example above).  It’s broader than that, though.  It’s the word for a close relative, a kinsman.  Now it’s true that kinsmen were given the task of redeeming their relatives and avenging them and so on, but translating this word as “redeemer” may obscure the force of the word, namely, that Yahweh Himself is described as our kinsman, our close relative.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:28 pm | Discuss (0)
April 28, 2007

Wisdom Isn’t Technique

Category: Bible - OT - Ecclesiastes,Feasting :: Permalink

I’ve recently been reading Jeff MeyersA Table in the Mist: Meditations on Ecclesiastes with my wife.

Unlike many commentators, who see Ecclesiastes as a sort of negative apologetic (“Everything is vanity … apart from Jesus“), Meyers presents Ecclesiastes as biblical wisdom throughout.  The author isn’t a lapsed Solomon or a cyncial Solomon or a Solomon on a bad day or a Solomon trying to convince us that without God everything is useless.  Rather, the author is a wise Solomon, trying to teach us to view life from the right perspective.

I’ve often heard that wisdom is “applied knowledge.”  It’s “know-how.”  As Meyers says,

American Christians often read wisdom literature anticipating concrete, functional advice.  Ask an American what wisdom is and you are likely to get an answer that has to do with practical know-how.  You will be told that a wise man knows more than theory; he knows how to do things.  A wise man, therefore, will be able to figure things out.  More than that, he’ll be able to fix things.  So wisdom is the ability to figure things out and the practical skill to get things done — to control one’s life and circumstances (p. 27).

Not so, says Meyers.  In fact, when we start reading the wisdom literature in the Bible, we find remarkably little “how-to” information and nothing about how we can control our lives.  In fact, it’s just the opposite:

The other mistake we make about wisdom is to think that godly wisdom gives us leverage such that we can learn to control our lives through the acquisition of biblical knowledge and skill. The idea here is that biblical wisdom is “how-to” wisdom: how to have a successful marriage, how to raise children, how to do business.  The outcome can almost be guaranteed if the proper techniques are used.  The mistake is to think that biblical wisdom gives one control.  As Packer writes, “So far from the gift of wisdom consisting in the power to do this, the gift actually presupposes our conscious inability to do it!”

That is the message of Ecclesiastes.  What the author intends to teach us is that real biblical wisdom is founded on the honest acknowledgement that this world’s course is enigmatic, that most, if not all, of what happens is quite inexplicable,  incomprehensible to us, and quite out of our control. We cannot leverage the course of the world this way and that to suit our petty purposes.  The godly wise man and woman will humble concede that God has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about his providential purposes.  Therefore, all of our attempts to influence or comprehend the world and the course of our lives are futile, useless, vain, and empty.  Vanity of vanities.  The wise man learns to walk by faith and not by sight.

Ecclesiastes is the book about faith in the Old Testament.  It tells how the man of faith looks at the world.  We are told that a wise and faithful person will come to embrace the perspective of Solomon that all of life is “vapor”!  The life of faith is not grounded in our ability to discern the meaning of everything in the world.  Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction concerning things not yet seen (Heb. 11).

Life in itself is unable to supply the key to the questions of identity, meaning, purpose, value, and destiny.  Only God holds the key, and he must be trusted with it.  He does not make copies of the key for us to use.  You do not get to keep God’s key in your back pocket.  Sooner or later, if you are a believer, you are going to have to actually trust God to keep the key to life.

To the extent that we have learned true wisdom, our part as Christians is to fear God and keep his commandments, to receive and use the gifts of God with joy and gratitude, that is, to eat, drink, work, love our husbands and wives, rejoicing in all of these things, all the while knowing that we cannot understand his ways and must not attempt to play god in his world.  We must not try to gain leverage to manipulate the world to our petty purposes.  That is the wisdom of Solomon (pp. 16-17).

Encouraging words for me as a man and as a church planter.  So much of my work doesn’t bear immediate fruit and I may never see the fruit from a lot of what I do.  It’s entirely possible that after all my work to plant the church here, this congregation may eventually have to fold.

I read a lot of books about church planting and evangelism, but as I do I’m also aware, at least in part because of what Meyers is saying here, that there’s a temptation.  The temptation is to seek the right techniques.  If only I could master the right techniques, the church would grow.  People would come.  We’d have the vibrant, culture-enriching, culture-transforming community that this city needs. If only I could do the right things, learn the tricks, gain control.

But with church planting as with all of the rest of life, seeking that kind of control over your life is like trying to shepherd the wind, as Ecclesiastes says.  God works out His plans, and my calling as a man and my calling as a church planter is to obey God, to do what He’s called me to do, to labor faithfully, to put up with the frustrations, to love my wife and family, to love the people of God, to love people in the world around me, to eat and enjoy my food (especially my wife’s cooking!), to drink the good stuff (especially red wine and dark beer and the occasional Scotch), to feast with family and friends, and to be merry, trusting in God because He holds the key to life.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:56 pm | Discuss (8)
April 24, 2007

Psalm 18

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the Director.
By the servant of Yahweh.
By David, who spoke to Yahweh the words of this song
On the day Yahweh snatched him from the palm of all his enemies
And from the hand of Saul.
And he said:

I love you, Yahweh, my strength.
Yahweh is my cliff and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God is my rock; I will take refuge in him,
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my high place.
To the praiseworthy one I call: “Yahweh!”
And from my enemies I am saved.

Encircling me were cords of death
And torrents of Belial terrified me.
Cords of Sheol surrounded me;
Confronting me were snares of death.

In my oppression I called “Yahweh!”
And to my God I cried out.
He heard my voice from his temple,
And my cry came before him, into his ears.

And the earth shook and quaked,
And the foundations of the mountains trembled;
And they were shaken because he was angry.

Smoke ascended from within his nose
And fire from his mouth devoured;

Coals blazed forth from him.
And he bowed the heavens and came down,
And gloom was under his feet.
And he rode on a cherub and flew,
And he soared on the wings of the wind,
He made darkness his hiding place, his booth around him:
Darkness of waters and clouds of vapors.
From the brightness before him his clouds passed –

Hail and coals of fire.
And Yahweh thundered in the heavens
And the Most High gave his voice –
Hail and coals of fire!

And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
And great lightning bolts, and he routed them.

And the channels of the waters were seen,
And uncovered were the foundations of the world,
At your rebuke, Yahweh,
At the blast of the breath of your nose.

He reached from above. He took me.
He drew me from mighty waters.
He snatched me from my strong enemy,
And from those who hate me for they were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
But Yahweh was my support.
And he brought me out into a broad place;
He rescued me because he delights in me.

Yahweh rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands he repaid me,
Because I have guarded the ways of Yahweh
And have not wickedly departed from my God,
Because all his judgments were before me
And his statutes I did not put away from me.
And I was also blameless before him
And I guarded myself from my sin.
And Yahweh has repaid me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

With the loyal one you show yourself loyal.
With the blameless strong-man you show yourself blameless.
With the pure one you show yourself pure.
With the devious one you show yourself shrewd,
Because you save humble people,
But haughty eyes you bring low;
Because you light my lamp.
Yahweh, my God, illuminates my darkness.

Indeed, by you I run against a troop,
And by my God I leap a wall.
The Mighty One — blameless is his way;
The word of Yahweh is proven;
A shield is he to all who take refuge in him,
Because who is God except Yahweh?
And who is a rock except our God?
It is the Mighty One who clothes me with strength
And makes my way blameless,
Making my feet like a deer’s,
And on my high places he makes me stand.

He trained my hands for the battle
And a bow of bronze was bent by my arms.
And you gave me the shield of your salvation,
And your right hand supported me;
Your bending down has made me great.
You broadened my steps under me
And my ankles did not slip.
I pursued my enemies and overtook them
And I did not return until I destroyed them.
I shattered them and they could not rise;
They fell beneath my feet,
And you armed me with strength for the battle;
You make those who rise up bow down under me.
As for my enemies, you gave me their neck;
And as for those who hated me, I destroyed them.
They cried out, but there was no one to save;
To Yahweh — but he did not answer them.
And I beat them like dust upon the face of the wind;
Like mud in the streets I poured them out.
You delivered me from the contentions of people;
You made me the head of the nations:
A people I did not know serves me.
When their ear hears, they obey me.
The sons of foreign regions cringe before me.
The sons of foreign regions wither
And they come trembling from their hideouts.

Yahweh lives! And blessed be my rock!
And exalted be the God of my salvation,
The Mighty One who gives me vengeance
And subdues peoples under me,
Delivering me from my enemies;
Yes, from those who rise up you will raise me high;
From the violent man you snatch me.
Therefore I will thank you among the nations, Yahweh,
And to your name I will psalm –
The one who makes great the salvations of his king
And shows loyalty to his anointed one,
To David and to his seed forevermore.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:24 pm | Discuss (2)
April 21, 2007

Trinity & Two Witnesses

Category: Bible - NT - Revelation,Theology - Trinity :: Permalink

Ever wonder why Scripture requires two or three witnesses to establish a matter?  Here’s Gary North’s answer:

The Christian view of God is trinitarian.  God is three Persons, yet also one Person.  Each Person always has the corroborating testimony of the others.  Therefore, God’s word cannot be successfully challenged in a court.  Two Witnesses testify eternally to the validity of what the other Person declares.  Each has exhaustive knowledge of the others; each has exhaustive knowledge of the creation.  The truth of God’s word is established by Witnesses. — The Dominion Covenant: Genesis, p. 458.

North goes to discuss another instance of the principle of two or three witnesses:

The doctrine of the two witnesses also throws light on the New Testament doctrine of the rebellious third.  In Revelation 8, we are told that a third of the trees are burned up (v. 7), a third of the sea becomes blood (v. 8 ), and a third part of the creatures and ships in the sea are destroyed (v. 9).  A third part of the rivers are hit by the star from heaven (v. 10), and a third part of the sun, moon, and stars are smitten (v. 12).  In Revelation 9, we read that angels in judgment work for a time to slay a third part of rebellious mankind (v. 15), to testify to the other two-thirds of the coming judgment, yet they do not repent (v. 21).  A third of the stars (angels) of heaven are pulled down by Satan’s tail (Rev. 12:4).

Why these divisions into thirds?  Because for every transgressor, there are two righteous witnesses to condemn him.  God’s final judgment is assured, for in God’s court, there will always be a sufficient number of witnesses to condemn the ethical rebels (p. 458).

“The rebellious third” may not be the best name for what North is talking about; it’s more “the non-rebellious two-thirds,” who function as witnesses, but that’s a clunky term to use.  North may be on to something here, and what he says is intriguing.  In biblical history, however, there certainly seem to be times when more than a third of mankind is rebellious (e.g., during the time of Noah).  I’m not sure how North’s thesis fits with that.  But the division into thirds in Revelation and the judgment striking only one third may have something to do, as North says, with the two witnesses requirement.  Grist for the mill….

Posted by John Barach @ 6:17 pm | Discuss (1)
April 19, 2007

Chocolat

Category: Feasting,Movies :: Permalink

Last night, in lieu of our usual Bible study, we watched Chocolat.  I had loaned our copy to a friend during Lent, which is the perfect time to watch the movie since that’s the setting of the story, and when he returned it I thought it would be good to watch with the congregation.  There are spoilers in what follows, so if you haven’t seen the movie and you might want to, stop reading right now.

Now watching this movie with the church may seem strange given that several reviewers think this movie promotes neopaganism.  Roger Ebert, for instance, writes: “Chocolat is about a war between the forces of paganism and Christianity, and because the pagan heroine has chocolate on her side, she wins.”  Denis Haack seems to agree, calling it “a postmodern fable about neo-paganism, Christianity, and the quest for tolerance in a pluralistic world.”  And Brian Godawa spells it out in detail:

Neopaganism can be seen as the driving force behind the Oscar-nominated Chocolat (2001), written by Robert Nelson Jacobs from Joanne Harris’s novel.  In this clever version of neopagan redemption, an entire French town is oppressed by the moral scruples of a patriarchal Roman Catholic mayor.  The town is then scandalized by the arrival of a mysterious single mother, who rejects the mayor’s “conventional” religion in favor of her Mayan mother’s pagan origins.  She arrives in the middle of Lent, no less, and opens a chocolate shop. Chocolate is a metaphor in the film for forbidden passions, and soon the chocolate seller turns the town upside down with her free-spiritedness. She helps a physically abused wife to leave her husband and empower herself in feminist fashion. The mayor opposes her and attempts to reform the wife beater along traditional religious lines, also known as Christian repentance. His attempts fail, showing the inadequacy of Christianity to solve the problem. But the mayor continues on in his obsessive campaign against her and the “immoral” gypsies she keeps company with, until he can no longer hold back his own passions for the chocolate she wields. He finally gives in and consumes the brown stuff with Dionysian abandon, learning that so-called intolerance and old-time Christian religion are no match for the alleged “freedom” of feminist neopagan liberation (Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews, pp. 125-126, cited without comment by Doug Wilson).

So why watch such a movie with the congregation?  Because there’s more to this movie than neopaganism.

Even if Ebert and Haack and Godawa are correct in their interpretation of the movie, it still gives the church a lot to think about.  As Denis Haack says,

Like Babette’s Feast, it celebrates the goodness of God’s creation and the glory of human creativity. Both films remind us that food is more than just nutrition — good food, well made and served with love, nurtures both community and a proper sense of delight. The scenes in which Vianne stirs her chocolates on the stove are filmed with a delicious sensuality, and the feast given in Armande’s honor near the end of the film is warmly human and deeply inviting.

Watching this movie ought to remind us that we aren’t gnostics and that food and the enjoyment of it isn’t sinful.  The sooner we stop calling things “sinfully delicious” or referring to things that give us physical pleasure as “decadent,” the better off we’ll be.

Furthermore, the movie ought to remind us of our calling.  Ebert ends his review this way:

I enjoyed the movie on its own sweet level, while musing idly on the box-office prospects of a film in which the glowing, life-affirming local Christians prevailed over glowering, prejudiced, puritan and bitter Druid worshippers. That’ll be –  as John Wayne once said– the day.

I don’t care about box-office prospects, but shouldn’t this be the day, the day that Christians start becoming known for being joyful and life-affirming, for embracing all that is truly good and beautiful, for delighting in the pleasures of food?

But I’m not persuaded that Ebert, Haack, and especially Godawa are correct.  Is this really a movie about paganism triumphing over Christianity as Ebert thinks?  Hardly.

Vianne

As for Godawa’s review, I don’t know if there are two sentences in it that are correct.  Is neopaganism the driving force?  Nope.  Does the movie present “neopagan redemption”?  Nope.  Does chocolate represent forbidden passions?  Nope. Is the movie about feminist empowerment?  Nope. Are the mayor’s efforts to reform the wife-beater “Christian repentance”?  Hardly.  And on and on it goes.

 

Now it’s true that Vianne is a pagan.  She’s under the influence of the pagan gods, it seems, who drive her from place to place when the north wind blows.  In particular, she seems bound to her mother, whose ashes she carries with her in an urn.  There are Mayan statues in her chocolaterie.  Vianne doesn’t go to church, and a small boy peeking through her window tells another, “I’ve heard that she’s an atheist.  Furthermore, she plans a fertility festival for Easter Sunday.  So certainly there’s more than a little paganism going on here.

As Godawa says, and it’s about the only thing he gets right, Vianne opens a chocolaterie during Lent.  Now I don’t know much about what Lent would be like in a Roman Catholic community in France in 1959, but it seems to me that a lot of people today, including those who give up pleasures for Lent, don’t really understand Lent either.

Lent is about repentance in connection with Jesus’ death, not simply abstinence from things that give us pleasure.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and runs for forty days, but if you count the days, you’ll find that there are more than forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday.  Why?  Because there are a lot of Sundays in that period and Sunday is never a fast day.  That’s what people seem not to understand.  Sunday isn’t a fast day; it’s a feast day.  And therefore I’d argue that if you’re fasting from something (chocolate, for instance) during Lent, you ought to be eating it on Sunday.  Otherwise, you’re turning the feast day into a fast day.

But in this small town somewhere in France, the whole of Lent is a time of abstinence from physical pleasures and certainly from chocolate.  The abstinence is key to the moral fibre of the town, it appears, and that moral fibre is due largely to the influence, not to say the iron hand, of the mayor who even edits and later writes the new young priest’s sermons.

Fascinatingly, as Doug Jones points out in one of the few good reviews by Christians I’ve seen (the other is by Jeffrey Overstreet), the mayor “puts the chocolatier in the same category as the Huguenots — a curious insertion, given that most moviegoers won’t know who Huguenots are.” The chocolatier, with her attitude toward the traditions of the city and her emphasis on love and joy, is being associated deliberately with the Huguenots, that is, with the Reformers.  That’s worth thinking about.

In the course of the movie, it does appear that Vianne brings new life to the community in various ways all of which can be summed up in terms of love and food.  When a battered woman, Josephine, escapes from her husband, Vianne takes her in and teaches her to work in her kitchen.  Contrary to Godawa, this isn’t “feminist empowerment.”  It’s love.  And that love, combined with and expressed in chocolate, is life-changing.

The mayor, meanwhile, takes on the task of reforming Serge, the wife-beater.  He forces him into the confessional.  He requires him to attend catechism classes with the little boys.  He trains him to eat with good manners.  He makes him wear a suit.  Are these changes “Christian repentance,” as Godawa suggests?  Far from it.  The man’s outward behavior changes, but his heart doesn’t.  The law can’t change the heart, and neither can memorizing doctrine or going through the motions of repentance.

In a striking juxtaposition, the film shows the priest placing a thin wafer of bread in Serge’s mouth and then switches to Vianne’s daughter placing a chocolate cookie in Josephine’s mouth.  Which has the power to change people?  The chocolate, of course, but the change is due to the context of love and the failure of the host in the Mass to change Serge is due, not to “the inadequacy of Christianity,” as Godawa thinks, but to the inadequacy of the law.

 

Vianne and Josephine serve chocolates.

The law can’t change you, but love can.  And when sin reaches its deepest point, the law, represented by the mayor, runs out of options and can only condemn and banish.

But Josephine isn’t the only one to change.  One way to get to the heart of a movie, I suggest, is to ask: Who changes?  Godawa points to the change in Josephine and to the change in the mayor at the end of the movie.

But Vianne herself changes.  She used to move on when the north wind blows, but this time she chooses to stay and lets the north wind blow away the ashes of her mother.  She isn’t bound by the pagan gods any longer but chooses to settle in this Christian town.  More than that, it appears that she’s going to settle down with a man, providing the security and stability her daughter longed for.  As Doug Jones points out, “Even the chocolatier and her pirate lover abandon their lives of Dionysian chaos to lead stable, middle-class lives in the village.”

The priest also changes. But perhaps that’s not the best way to put it.  All along, the priest has displayed an attitude which is different from that of the mayor. When we first see him, he’s singing “Hound Dog” and dancing, and when the mayor catches him in the act, he confesses that he has “a weakness for American music.” Later, when the mayor talks about how they ought to respond to the gypsies, the priest tries to talk about Jesus’ very different way of treating people.  The priest is young and inexperienced and at first he’s dominated by the mayor, but the priest knows that Jesus’ teaching isn’t the mayor’s.  The priest is not an enemy who will be conquered by neopaganism.

But at the end, the priest succeeds in escaping from from under the thumb of the mayor and preaches his own sermon on Easter Sunday, a sermon in which he stresses the incarnation, the true humanity of Jesus.  He says, too, that our goodness is not defined by what we abstain from and avoid but by what we embrace and who we include.

And as we look around the church, we don’t find that all of Vianne’s friends have left the church to form a new community around her.  We find them all there.  True, Vianne isn’t there.  But her associates are.

This is a new church, appropriately so since it is Easter morning, the time of new birth.  And the new birth is not, as the mayor suggested, the rebirth of our moral awareness.  It’s the coming to life again of Jesus Christ, Jesus the man.  The old gnostic legalism is replaced by love and by a delight in the goodness (and tastiness!) of God’s creation.  And the chaotic paganism which prompted the crisis doesn’t triumph but rather is rejected.  And while the former pagan and the rootless gypsy don’t join the church, they do choose to make this largely Christian community their home.

And shouldn’t this be true of us: That we, as the church, are the ones who delight in chocolate, who love the pleasures of the bodies God gave us, who rejoice in God’s good creation, who welcome the strangers and shelter the hurting, who have the fulfillment of paganism’s longings, and who are known, not only and not primarily for what we reject but for what we love and embrace?

Chocolat helped focus us on that goal, and so did the dark chocolate my wife supplied in abundance as we watched the movie.  Watch it and enjoy it and let it stir your imagination as you think about how to live as the church in the world.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:23 pm | Discuss (4)
April 17, 2007

Psalm 17

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A prayer.
By David.

Hear, Yahweh, a just cause!
Listen to my cry!
Give ear to my prayer
Which is not from deceitful lips.
From your face let my judgment come forth;
Let your eyes look with equity.
You probe my heart;
You visit me at night;
You test me; you do not find anything.
I have resolved that my mouth will not transgress.

As for the deeds of man,
By the word of your lips I have guarded myself from the paths of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your tracks;
My feet have not slipped.
I myself have called upon you
Because you will hear me, O God!

Incline your ear to me;
Hear my speech.
Set apart your loyalties,
You who save by your right hand those who take refuge from those who rise up.
Guard me like a pupil, an eye’s daughter;
In the shadow of your wings hide me
From the face of the wicked who devastate me,
The enemies who, for my soul, surround me.

Their fat hearts they close up;
With their mouth they speak proudly.
In our steps they have now surrounded us.
Their eyes they set to cast us down to the ground.
His likeness is like a lion who longs to tear,
And like a young lion sitting in secret places.

Arise, Yahweh! Come before his face! Make him bow!
Rescue my soul from the wicked with your sword,
From men with your hand, Yahweh,
From men of the world whose portion is in life.
But as for your treasure, you fill their belly.
Their sons are satisfied
and they leave their surplus to their children.
And I — in righteousness I shall see your face;
I shall be satisfied with your form when I awake.

The last line of the third stanza may mean that these enemies want to kill him. But it may refer to the enemies’ desire (which is what “soul” often means):  “My enemies, in greed, surround me.”

“Their fat heart they close up” is literally just “their fat they close.” It may indicate that they’ve closed up their hearts from God and from other people, but it may also simply mean that they are enclosed in fat, no longer sensitive to God or people.

In the last stanza, some think the psalm is saying that God stuffs the wicked with His treasure until His judgment eventually comes . But it fits better, I think, to take “your treasure” as God’s people, whose belly God fills and whom God blesses with children and a heritage.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:06 pm | Discuss (0)
April 14, 2007

Portland

Category: Family,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

As part of my imimigration process, I had to go to Portland to have my “biometrics” taken this week.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with immigration-speak, that’s fingerprints, signature, and a photo.  Yes, for all of that I had to drive four hours to Portland, stay overnight, and then drive four hours back.

The trip was uneventful.  Well, except for the event at the start.  I tried to play a CD and discovered that the player was jammed somehow.  It’s been doing that on occasion recently, but this time I couldn’t even make it eject my six-pack of CDs so that I could start over.  I’ll have to see if I can get the dealer to do it for free as they did the first time it happened.

So instead of listening to the CDs I’d picked, I had to listen instead to some old cassettes.  Several of these I hadn’t heard in years.  I started off with The Rainmakers’ The Good News and the Bad News, which I’d remembered (and still enjoyed) for Bob Walkenhorst‘s clever lyrics, moved on later to The Innocence Mission‘s self-titled album, which I appreciating more now than when I first bought it.

On the way home, I played Elvis Costello’s Spike and Peter Case’s great Peter Case Sings Like Hell.  When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be Peter Case.  I saw him in concert at the Edmonton Folk Festival, where other performers included Lucinda Williams, Sugar Blue, T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, David Mansfield, and a whole bunch of other people who had played on albums together and who sat in on each other’s sessions during the festival.  Ever since then, I’ve been playing my own version of “Walkin’ Bum,” which I heard Peter Case perform, though my performances out on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton weren’t nearly as good as his version on this cassette.  No wonder I didn’t really make a lot of money by busking.

I arrived at the USCIS office in downtown Portland at about 7:30 and had to wait in the cold wind until they opened the doors at 8:00.  I had expected that, in spite of my 8:00 AM appointment, I’d be there until at least noon.  Imagine my surprise when I walked out the doors again at 8:19!

But as I stood in line inside the building, waiting for my appointment, I noticed something which struck me as funny at the time.  Inside, where the prospective immigrants sat waiting to be called and fingerprinted, there were some rows of chairs, all facing a television.  What would you expect to be on the TV?  Perhaps you’d expect something about what it means to be an American citizen.

Well, yes and no.  It turned out to be the movie Footloose.  The title song was playing as I stood in the line, and by the time I sat down we were hearing the sermon that opens the movie.  The movie, in case you haven’t seen it, is about a fundamentalist town and a boy who moves to town and introduces dancing to the teenagers and breaks apart the fundamentalist culture that had prevailed.  When you think about it, perhaps this movie really did reveal something of what American culture is all about.

Instead of heading straight home, I walked a few blocks and a few blocks over to Powell’s City of Books where I waited a few more minutes in the cold until they opened at 9:00.  I spent about five hours there, not only because there are so many books to look at but also because it was remarkably hard to find what I was looking for.  I’d made up a list of books I wanted to look for and had checked the online database to find where the books were located, but a database is one thing and a book shelf is another and the two didn’t always correspond.  In the end, though, I walked off with a glorious haul.

After a brief stop at the Whole Foods store, I poked around Everyday Music, where I picked up James Hunter‘s People Gonna Talk, All the Roadrunning by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, and Joe Henry‘s wonderful Scar, which I’ve been listening to again and again today.  And then I headed for home.

Oh, along the way, I heard to a couple of Biblical Horizons conference lectures by Peter Leithart, one on Calvin’s view of the state and the other on how revivalism shifted the church’s story from the theocratic one about Jesus’ ruling as king over the world to the democratic story about the growth of individual freedoms.  I also played some old Mars Hill tapes, one of which opened with a helpful discussion of sentimentalism by Alan Jacobs.

I’ve often heard people criticize sentimentalism, but I haven’t always been sure they know what they’re talking about.  For instance, the charge of “sentimentalism” often gets levelled against Charles Dickens but I’m not persuaded the charge really fits.  Jacobs defines sentimentalism as a wallowing in emotion for the sake of emotion and doing so in a way that cannot stand up to evaluation.

He was reviewing The Bridges of Madison County, which is not only sentimental but downright maudlin, and pointed out that the reader isn’t supposed to think about the story; he (or more likely, she) is simply supposed to feel something.  The more you think about it, the less it “works.”  Is it really possible, for instance, that this four-day affair could help strengthen the woman’s marriage?  If you’re contemplating adultery, Jacobs said, you might want to think so and this book might encourage you in that direction, but it doesn’t stand up to evaluation.  If assessment kills an emotion, he said, then it deserves to die.

And then I arrived home to my wife and daughter, whom I’d missed.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:42 pm | Discuss (1)
April 10, 2007

Psalm 16

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A mikhtam.
By David.

Guard me, God,
Because I take refuge in you!

You have said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord.
There is nothing good for me apart from you.”
As for the holy ones who are in the land,
“They are also majestic. All my delight is in them.”

Multiplied are their troubles who set a bride-price with another.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
And will not take their names upon my lips.

Yahweh is my allotted portion and my cup;
You yourself will hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, my inheritance is pleasing to me.

I will bless Yahweh who has counseled me;
Yes, by night my kidneys instruct me.
I have set Yahweh before me continually;
Because he is at my right hand I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
Yes, my flesh will dwell in security,
Because you will not abandon my soul to Sheol
Nor will you make your holy one to see decay.
You make known to me the path of life;
Fullness of joys are with your face;
Pleasures are in your right hand forever.

In the second stanza, there’s a phrase that’s hard to translate. “Set a bride price” is my best shot. The word mohar likely refers to a bride-price, money negotiated with a woman’s father but given to the woman. So the idea here may be, as James Jordan suggests, that the wicked are making negotiations with a false god (a false father) to bribe Israel to follow them (as a bride).

Posted by John Barach @ 4:14 pm | Discuss (0)
April 9, 2007

Greek in the Pulpit?

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

There are preachers, generally of the expositional sort, who frequently refer to the original languages in the sermons.  They build their theologies from the tense of Greek verbs (“The verb here is the aorist which refers to punctiliar action in the past”) and spend time in their sermon on word studies (“The word here is ekklesia, which is derived from ek, which means ‘out’ and the verb kalein, which means ‘to call’….”).

Sometimes what they say may be in error.  But even when it’s not, I still wonder how helpful such appeals to the original language really are in a sermon.  In exegesis?  Yes, it helps to know the original language and to do word studies and so forth.  In a sermon?  Not so much.

But here’s the main reason I rarely refer to the original languages when I preach:

But the congregation were wrong, I think, in imputing fault to the sermons of Dean Drone.  There I do think they were wrong.  I can speak from personal knowledge when I say that the rector’s sermons were not only stimulating in matters of faith, but contained valuable material in regard to the Greek language, to modern machinery and to a variety of things that should have provded of the highest advantage to the congregation.

There was, I say, the Greek language.  The Dean always showed the greatest delicacy of feeling in regard to any translation in or out of it that he made from the pulpit.  He was never willing to accept even the faintest shade of rendering different from that commonly given without being assured of the full concurrence of the congregation.  Either the translation must be unanimous and without contradiction, or he could not pass it.  He would pause in his sermon and would say: “The original Greek is ‘Hoson,’ but perhaps you will allow me to translate it as equivalent to ‘Hoyon.’”  And they did.  So that if there was any fault to be found it was purely on the side of the congregation for not entering a protest at the time.  — Stephen Leacock, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, p. 83.

Posted by John Barach @ 1:21 pm | Discuss (8)
April 6, 2007

Psalm 8

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

For the director.
On the gittith.
A Psalm.
By David.

Yahweh our Lord, how supreme is your name in all the earth,
Who have set your splendor upon the heavens!
From the mouth of children and infants you have established strength, because of your oppressors,
To silence enemy and avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
Moon and stars, which you have set firm,
What is needy-man that you remember him,
And the son of Adam that you visit him?
And you made him lower a little while than the gods,
And with glory and honor you will crown him.
You will make him ruler over the works of your hands.

All things you have put under his feet:
Sheep and oxen — all of them,
And also beasts of the field,
Bird of heaven and fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

Yahweh, our Lord,
How supreme is your name in all the earth!

Somehow I forgot to post this psalm earlier, so here it is now. A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) The word gittith in the title of the psalm may have something to do with the theme of the psalm or it may be a musical notation, but we don’t know exactly what it means. It may be the feminine of gitti, which refers to someone from Gath, and thus has to do with an instrument from Gath. Or it may be related to gath, a Hebrew word meaning “wine press,” and have something to do with treading out the grapes. Psalms with this heading seem to be joyful.

(2) The word translated “supreme” in the first and last lines of this Psalm is often rendered “majestic.”  But it occurs often in settings that emphasize Yahweh’s ability to overpower his enemies in battle (e.g.,

(3) In line 3, “oppressors” translates a word that is often rendered “enemies,” but which has to do with pressing hard. It’s not that Yahweh suffers oppression but that these people set themselves against Him, seeking to push Him away, and do so often by oppressing Yahweh’s people.

(4) In line 6, “set firm” renders a word that has to do with establishing something firmly. I would use “establish,” except that I’ve used it to translate another word earlier in the psalm. James Jordan has “fixed,” as in “fixed in place,” but I wonder if people wouldn’t hear it as “fixed” in the sense of “repaired.” So, though I’d prefer one word to two, I’ve gone with “set firm” for now.

(5) The word for “man” in line 7 usually refers to man as mortal and weak. Hence “needy man” in the translation.

(6) Line 9 says that Yahweh made man “lower than the elohim.” Elohim is the usual word for God, and so this verse may mean that man was created a little lower than God. But Hebrews 2:7 quotes the verse this way “You have made him a little lower than the angels.” I suspect, then, that the verse is saying that man is lower than the angels, who are sometimes referred to as “gods” because they reflect and represent God’s power at work in the world.

(7) As for “a little,” Hebrews takes it to mean “a little while.” If I had rendered it “a little lower,” it would seem as if it was indicating how much lower man is than the gods. By putting it where it is (“lower a little”), though it’s more awkward, I have hoped to preserve the ambiguity: Is it “a little bit” or is it “a little while”?  [Update: I’ve decided to go with “a little while,” for clarity. — JB]

For more on this Psalm, may I point you to my essay “The Glory of the Son of Man: An Exposition of Psalm 8,” in Peter J. Leithart & John Barach, eds., The Glory of Kings: A Festschrift for James B. Jordan (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, forthcoming 2010 … I hope).

[Revised, May 18, 2009 and Sept. 8, 2010.]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:05 pm | Discuss (2)
April 3, 2007

Web Browsing

Category: Miscellaneous :: Permalink

* 10 Ways to Avoid Building Community in the Church.  [HT: Mark Horne.]

* 10 Ways to Keep Me From Discovering Your Church.

* 10 Ways to Draw Me to Your Church.

* Alan Jacobs on serendipity, which has a lot to do with why I fliip through the pages of Greek and Hebrew lexicons to look things up instead of relying on Bible software to give me the “right” answers.

* Jeffrey Overstreet asks “Are movies increasing your capacity to see?”  

Posted by John Barach @ 12:01 pm | Discuss (3)
April 2, 2007

Psalm 15

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

A reminder: I’ve prepared these psalms for our liturgy, trying to be as accurate in my translation as possible. The alternation between plain text and bold is for responsive reading. I invite feedback on the translation!

A psalm.
By David.

Yahweh, who may sojourn in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks blamelessly
And who works righteousness
And who speaks truth with his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue;
He does not do evil to his companion;
And a reproach he does not take up against his neighbor.
Despised in his eyes is a reprobate,
But the ones who fear Yahweh he honors.
He swears to his hurt
And does not change.
His silver he does not give with interest,
And a bribe against an innocent man he does not take.
He who does these things
Will not be shaken forever.

In line 3, the word “blamelessly” has to do with integrity, wholeness, maturity, completeness. God told Abraham to walk before him and be blameless. Animals presented for sacrifice are to be blameless, that is, they are not to have a flaw.

The word “truth” in line 4 is broader than just the opposite of a lie. It’s trustworthiness: this man’s words are reliable, faithful. In line 5, the word for “slander” is related to the word for “foot.” It may imply going around to spread slander or perhaps, as James Jordan suggests, it means “to trip someone up.”

The background to line 12 (“He swears to his hurt and does not change”) is Leviticus 27, which discusses oaths and the possibility of exchanging one item vowed to Yahweh for another. The righteous man doesn’t try to make a switch to benefit himself.

The righteous man also cares for the poor. He doesn’t loan the poor money at interest, which the Law prohibited, and he also doesn’t accept bribes.  (This verse is not prohibiting all loans at interest.)

In line 8, a “reprobate” is literally a “rejected one,” that is, someone who has been rejected because of his open wickedness. The righteous man, however, will not be rejected and won’t be shaken out of Yahweh’s tent. Jesus is the man of Psalm 15, but in Him we also are the righteous ones who will walk in righteousness and sojourn everlastingly in Yahweh’s tent.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:15 pm | Discuss (0)