August 29, 2007

Penny Dreadfuls?

Category: Literature :: Permalink

In his recent article on the last Harry Potter book (which, I warn you in advance, contains many spoilers), Alan Jacobs compares the Harry Potter books to the old penny dreadfuls.

A little more than a hundred years ago, a number of British educators, journalists, and intellectuals grew exercised about the reading habits of the nation’s children. The particular target of their disapproval was the boy’s adventure story—the kind of cheap short novel, full of exotic locations and narrow escapes from mortal peril and false friends and unexpected acts of heroism, that had come to be known as the “penny dreadful.” Surely it could not be good for children to immerse themselves in these ill-made fictional worlds, with their formulaic plots and purple prose; surely we should insist that they learn to savor finer fare.

G. K. Chesterton, however, wrote “A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls,” pointing out that the things these books contained are also found in great literature and arguing that the “penny dreadfuls” are actually more ethically sound than a lot of the things that more sophisticated people read:

The vast mass of humanity, with their vast mass of idle books and idle words, have never doubted and never will doubt that courage is splendid, that fidelity is noble, that distressed ladies should be rescued, and vanquished enemies spared … . The average man or boy writes daily in these great gaudy diaries of his soul, which we call Penny Dreadfuls, a plainer and better gospel than any of those iridescent ethical paradoxes that the fashionable change as often as their bonnets.

In his review, Jacobs goes on to speak of the Harry Potter books as penny dreadfuls.  After all, as he says, “It is a story full of exotic locations and narrow escapes from mortal peril and false friends and unexpected acts of heroism; it is a story which suggests that courage is splendid and fidelity noble.”  And near his conclusion, he writes:

It should be obvious at this point that the Harry Potter books amount to something more, far more, than your average penny dreadful. But they belong, firmly, to that moral universe, even as they expand it beyond what we might have thought possible. Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliché known to humankind: “Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.” The Harry Potter books are like that: every trope and trick of the penny dreadful raised to the highest power and revealed in all their glory.

I love that Umberto Eco quotation, and I appreciate what Jacobs is saying.  He is certainly a perceptive reader of Rowling’s novels.

And yet I do wonder if it’s really fair to put Harry Potter in the category of “penny dreadfuls.”  The Hardy Boys books could easily fit in that category, although they’re probably tamer than some of the books Chesterton was speaking of and Frank and Joe themselves were perhaps more restrained that some of Chesterton’s heroes.  But these books are full of adventures to be faced with pluck and courage.  And yet there’s virtually no maturation taking place in the entire series.  Each book presents a set of adventures, a set of challenges, a mystery to be figured out.  But that’s it.

On an adult level, virtually any novel by Agatha Christie could be seen as a sort of grown-up “penny dreadful.”  Hercule Poirot does not change.  He doesn’t mature and grow.  Nor does Hastings.  Nor does Mrs. Marple.  They’re always the same and only the mysteries they solve change.  For that matter, all the novels of P. G. Wodehouse, which are almost the same novel anyway, while certainly not “dreadful” in any sense, are similar to the penny dreadfuls in that they simply present a series of (highly enjoyable) incidents.

But Harry Potter is far different.  Yes, the Harry Potter books can be classified as “genre fiction.”  They are fantasy novels.  They are also school stories, which is a genre unique to Britain where public schools are boarding schools.  But a novel which is genre fiction is not necessarily the same thing as a penny dreadful.  The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel, but it’s a far cry from the Hardy Boys or the adventures of Dick Deadshot.

And the Harry Potter novels, it seems to me, are far closer to The Lord of the Rings than they are to any of the penny dreadfuls of the past or present. 

One way of getting at the difference, it seems to me, is through something C. S. Lewis says in A Preface to Paradise Lost when he compares Homer and Virgil.  Virgil has a much bigger sense of time than Homer does, Lewis says.  More than that, he is interested in the turning points in history, the points of transition.  Homer and the Greeks were focused more on the timeless; Virgil is interested in the changes that make history.  Lewis writes about the Aeneid,

In a sense he [Aeneas] is a ghost of Troy until he becomes the father of Rome.  All through the poem we are turning that corner.  It is this which gives the reader of the Aeneid the sense of having lived through so much.  No man who has once read it with full perception remains an adolescent (p. 37).

Furthermore, Virgil, unlike Homer, is concerned with vocation, the kind of calling that is both duty and desire and that drives me to leave behind things they might otherwise love: “To follow the vocation does not mean happiness: but once it has been heard, there is no happiness for those who do not follow” (p. 39).

Virgil thus took a great step forward:

I have read that his Aeneas, so guided by dreams and omens, is hardly the shadow of a man beside Homer’s Achilles.  But a man, an adult, is precisely what he is: Achilles had been little more than a passionate boy.  You may, of course, prefer the poetry of spontaneous passion to the poetry of passion at war with vocation, and finally reconciled.  Every man to his taste.  But we must not blame the second for not being the first . With Virgil European poetry grows up.  For there are certain moods in which all that had gone before seems, as it were, boys’ poetry, depending both for its charm and for its limitations on a certain naivety, seen alike in its heady ecstasies and in its heady despairs, which we certainly cannot, perhaps should not, recover.  Mens immota manet, “the mind remains unshaken while the vain tears fall.”  That is the Virgilian note.  But in Homer there was nothing, in the long run, to be unshaken about.  You were unhappy, or you were happy, and that was all.  Aeneas lives in a different world; he is compelled to see something more important than happiness  (pp. 37-38).

Perhaps the application to the penny dreadfuls and Harry Potter is already clear.  The penny dreadfuls are Homerian, if you will.  They simply tell of adventures and derring-do.  They are boys’ literature.  But Harry Potter, like The Lord of the Rings, is much more Virgilian, even though it deals with a boy.  It deals with him as someone growing up to become a man, someone bound by a vocation which is both duty and desire and which is more important than mere happiness.

But let me go a step beyond Lewis: Greater far than Virgil is the story of Christ, the epic which is Scripture.  I was struck as I read Lewis’s chapter by some of the similarities Lewis traces between Virgil’s approach and some Scriptural themes, which was part of Lewis’s point.

And yet it strikes me, too, how much more mature the story of Scripture is than even the story Virgil tells, for it is not simply the story of the great hero who follows his vocation in spite of tears, grows to maturity, and then attains a glorious triumph and the establishment of an eternal city.  It is the story of the great hero who suffers and dies en route to that victory, whose suffering and death is that victory, the great hero whose true heroism consists in his laying down his life for his friends.  Virgil doesn’t yet know that sort of self-sacrifice and to Homer’s heroes it would be reprehensible, the mind of a slave, as it was even to the Roman culture at the time of Christ.

And that is the story that Harry Potter is closest to: certainly not Homer or the penny dreadfuls with their brave heroes and derring-do and one set of adventures after another, not even Virgil with his teary-eyed hero stoically aiming at his destiny, but the story of Christ.  Unlike the penny dreadfuls, these novels are one consistent whole and that whole is a story of maturation and Christ-like self-sacrifice.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:23 pm | Discuss (3)
August 28, 2007

Solempne

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

In the midst of a discussion of epic poetry, C. S. Lewis says something that our culture, not least our church culture, desperately needs to hear.  It has to do with the Middle English word solempne:

This means something different, but not quite different, from modern English solemn.  Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary.  But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity.  The ball at the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a “solemnity.”  The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity.  A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est.  Feast are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts.  Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not.

The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for pomp — and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of “solemnity.”  To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in.

Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connexion with vanity or self-conceit.  A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast — all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity.  This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity.  The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather, it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual. — C. S. Lewis, A Preface to Paradise Lost, p. 17 (paragraph breaks added).

This particular book was published in 1942.  Imagine what Lewis would say today if he saw the clothes that are worn, not just by congregants but by pastors.  We have embraced the casual and we have almost completely lost any sense of solempne.  Even the examples that Lewis provides probably sound archaic to many of us.

About the only time we experience solempne today at all, I suspect, is at a wedding.  For the most part, brides and grooms still want their weddings formal.  They want the bride to be glorious in white, the groom next to her in black, the wedding party, not in shorts and T-shirts but in more glorious clothing (except for those cruel brides who choose ugly dresses for their bridesmaids).  As well, we still expect to hear certain formal words during the service (“till death do us part” or “so long as you both shall live” or something like that), though even here we find the encroaching grubbiness of our obsession with casualness, as couples have started writing their own vows and generally doing a sloppy job of it.

Still, weddings give us a taste of solempne.  The wedding isn’t gloomy.  We’re rejoicing.  But a hush falls over the audience as the couple exchanges vows, and few people would think it an improvement if the pastor cracked a joke at precisely that moment.  During the couple’s first dance, no one would appreciate hilarious commentary from the DJ.  Weddings may be the closest we come to solempne.

Church services used to be and certainly were in Lewis’s time, but they aren’t any longer.  There are churches that sing solemnly in the sense that they sing gloomily.  Songs about joy can be slowed down enough that the true joy comes when the song is finally over.  But such churches are rare and getting rarer all the time.  Today, it isn’t strange at all to see a minister in a Hawaiian shirt making jokes and telling stories in front of a congregation or to find that the service itself has little formal order and that every effort is made to make things seem informal and easy-going.

The older emphasis on solempne had to do with the specialness of the occasion and that had everything to do with who was present and what was being done on that occasion.  Today, it seems, we want special occasions without special language or special clothing or special behavior.  Lewis might conclude that that simply means that we don’t want any occasion, least of all a church service, to be truly special.

Yes, the special language would sound stilted over coffee at Starbucks.  Yes, the special clothing would be uncomfortable at the beach.  Yes, that sort of behavior would look strange at the mall.  But on this occasion we aren’t at those places; we’re here, now, doing this special thing at this special time and the only way it becomes special is through the activities and garments and diction that are associated with solempne.

Later, Lewis writes:

The desire for simplicity is a late and sophisticated one.  We moderns may like dances which are hardly distinguishable from walking and poetry which sounds as if it might be uttered ex tempore.  Our ancestors did not.  They liked a dance which was a dance, and fine clothes which no one could mistake for working clothes, and feasts that no one could mistake for ordinary dinners, and poetry that unblushingly proclaimed itself to be poetry (p. 21).

Will anyone claim that our lives are all the richer for having lost the solempne our forefathers rejoiced in?

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:31 pm | Discuss (3)
August 27, 2007

Psalm 33

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!

Exult, you righteous ones, in Yahweh!
To the upright, praise is fitting.
Give thanks to Yahweh with a harp;
With a ten-stringed instrument psalm to him!
Sing to him a new song!
Play well with a loud shout,
Because upright is the word of Yahweh,
And all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The loyalty of Yahweh fills the earth.

By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made;
And by the spirit of his mouth, all their host.
He gathers as a heap the waters of the sea,
Putting in storehouses the deeps.
Let them fear Yahweh —  all the earth!
Of him let them be afraid — all the inhabitants  of the world,
For he himself spoke and it was;
He himself commanded and it stood firm.

Yahweh destroys the counsel of the nations;
He frustrates the thoughts of the peoples.
The counsel of Yahweh will stand firm to eternity;
The thoughts of his heart to generation and generation.

Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh,
The people he chose for his inheritance.

From heaven Yahweh looked;
He saw all the sons of Adam.
From the place of his habitation he gazed
At all the inhabitants of the earth.
It is he who fashions together their hearts,
Who understands all their deeds.

No king is saved by greatness of force;
A warrior is not rescued by greatness of strength.
A false hope is the horse for salvation,
And by the greatness of his force he will not deliver.
Look, Yahweh’s eye is on those who fear him,
On those waiting for his loyalty,
To rescue from death their soul
And to keep them alive in famine.

Our soul has waited for Yahweh;
Our help and our shield is he,
Because in him our hearts will rejoice
Because in his holy name we have trusted.
Let your loyalty, Yahweh, be upon us,
Just as we have waited for you.

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:22 pm | Discuss (0)
August 24, 2007

Lewis on Williams

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Although C. S. Lewis delivered the lectures which became A Preface to Paradise Lost at the College at Bangor, he chose not to dedicate the book to the college. Instead, he dedicated it to Charles Williams, in part because his own lectures reminded him of Williams’ lectures at Oxford, lectures on John Milton’s poem “Comus,” but lectures which did more than just impart some knowledge about Milton or the poem because they also focused on the virtue Milton was praising:

The scene was, in a way, medieval, and may prove to have been historic. You were a vagus thrown among us by the chance of war. The appropriate beauties of the Divinity School provided your background. There we elders heard (among other things) what we had long despaired of hearing — a lecture on Comus which placed its importance where the poet placed it — and watched “the yonge fresshe folkes, he or she,” who filled the benches listening first with incredulity, then with toleration, and finally with delight, to something so strange and new in their experience as the praise of chastity.

Reviewers, who have not had time to re-read Milton, have failed for the most part to digest your criticism of him; but it is a reasonable hope that of those who heard you in Oxford many will understand henceforward that when the old poets made some virtue their theme they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted. — C. S. Lewis, “Dedication: To Charles Williams,” A Preface to Paradise Lost, p. v.

I love this description of Williams’ lectures. Williams didn’t have a degree, but Lewis had managed to get him a chance to lecture at Oxford. Lewis describes the second lecture briefly in the quotation above, but he described it in more detail to his brother in a letter:

On Monday, C. W. lectured nominally on Comus but really on Chastity. Simply as criticism it was superb — because here was a man who really started from the same point of view as Milton and really cared with every fibre of his being about “the sage and serious doctrine of virginity” which it would never occur to the ordinary modern critic to take seriously. But it was more important still as a sermon. It was a beautiful sight to see a whole room full of modern young men and women sitting in that absolute silence which can not be faked, very puzzled, but spell-bound: perhaps with something of the same feeling which a lecture on unchastity might have evoked in their grandparents — the forbidden subject broached at last. He forced them to lap it up and I think many, by the end, liked the taste more than they expected to. It was “borne in upon me” that that beautiful carved room had probably not witnessed anything so important since some of the great medieval or Reformation lectures. I have at last, if only for once, seen a university doing what it was founded to do: teaching wisdom. And what a wonderful power there is in the direct appeal which disregards the temporary climate of opinion — I wonder is it the case that the man who has the audacity to get up in any corrupt society and squarely preach justice or valour or the like always wins? — C. S. Lewis to Warnie Lewis, 11 February 1940, in Letters of C. S. Lewis, pp. 339-339.

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Posted by John Barach @ 11:25 am | Discuss (1)
August 23, 2007

Descartes the Humorless

Category: Philosophy :: Permalink

Let us turn a last time to the venerable Descartes, our adversary, the great seducer of the modern world. In this booklet on method, he seriously, without any trace of humor, complained that man had impressions before his mind developed to the full power of logic. For twenty years, so his complaint runs, I was impressed confusedly by objects which I was unable to understand. Instead of having my brain a clean slate at twenty, I found innumerable false ideas engraved upon it.

What a pity that man is unable to think clearly from the day of his birth, or that he should have memories which antedate his maturity. Have these naive confessions of the demigod of modern science, the inventor of the mind-body dualism, met with the only success that they deserve: unending laughter?

This brings up the serious question of what the omission of laughter, or its application, mean in the evolution of science. Scientists seem to be unable to grasp the folly of Descartes’ remark. Common sense, however, acts on the principle that a man who fails to apply laughter and weeping in the discovery of vital truth simply is immature. Descartes is a gigantically expanded adolescent, full of curiosity, loathing his mental childhood, and frustrating his mental manhood. — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “Farewell to Descartes,” I Am an Impure Thinker, p. 15 (paragraph breaks added).

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:51 pm | Discuss (0)
August 17, 2007

Basso Profundo

Category: Music :: Permalink

Some beautiful examples of Russian music with choirs featuring some basso profundos. First, here’s the St. Petersburg Chamber Choir singing Chesnekov’s “We Praise Thee,” from the Russian liturgy:

These guys can apparently hit G1, which is two octaves and a fourth down from middle C. (Go find that on a piano and try to hit that note.) At a little over a minute into that video, the camera focuses on a man whom I think is Passiukov (sometimes spelled Pasikov), who appears also in the last video here. Here’s another, this one from the Orthodox Singers Male Choir:

And finally, a longer clip. You’ll see Passiukov (or the guy I think is Passiukov) at about three and a half minutes into the video:

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:33 pm | Discuss (2)
August 13, 2007

Psalm 32

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!

By David.
Maskil.

Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose impurity is covered up.
Happy is the man to whom Yahweh does not impute liability,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away
In my groaning all the day,
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.
My best oil was turned into the droughts of summer.  Selah.

 

My impurity I acknowledged to you,
And my liability I did not cover up.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh”;
And you forgave the liability of my impurity.  Selah.

For this, let every loyal one pray to you in a time for finding you;
Surely when many waters rise they will not reach him.
You are my hiding place; from oppression you preserve me;
With songs of deliverance you surround me.  Selah.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should walk;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse, like a mule, having no understanding.
By bit and bridle he is harnessed for control;
He does not come near you.

Many are the pains of the wicked one;
But he who trusts in Yahweh: loyalty surrounds him.
Be glad in Yahweh and rejoice, you righteous ones,
And sing out, all you who are upright in heart!

A few comments about this psalm:

(1) In the title, maskil may mean “understanding, insight, wisdom.”  Here, it may refer to a song of instruction or may be a musical term.

(2) The word in line 8 translated “best oil” appears in only one other place, Num. 11:8, where manna is said to taste like “____ of oil.”  Many versions take it to be a cake of oil, but that doesn’t fit here in this Psalm.  Perhaps, as James Jordan suggests, it’s the best part of the olive oil pressing (“best oil”).  Here, it describes the man as a plant and the best oil is his own moisture.

(3) In his notes on this psalm, James Jordan points out that there are three different terms used for sin in the first and third sections of the psalm: transgression, which is basic sin or disobedience; the word may refer to rebellion; impurity, uusally translated “sin,” but “really meaning the defiling, death-result of sin”; and liability, usually translated “iniquity,” but “actually meaning the legal guilt incurred by sin.”

I haven’t studied the use of these terms sufficiently to be sure that they always have the sense that Jordan gives them, but it does seem, for instance, that the word translated “liability” does have to do with not only the sin itself (“iniquity”) but also with the guilt incurred by it.  So for now at least, I’ve followed Jordan in my translation of these terms.

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:49 pm | Discuss (0)
August 7, 2007

Thorns and Sweat

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

In his Trees and Thorns, James Jordan points out the connection between Genesis 2:5 and Genesis 3:18.  In Genesis 2:5, we’re told that before the Fall there were no shrubs and, while there were grain plants (Gen. 1), they hadn’t sprouted.  Because of man’s sin, however, the shrubs come up and the grain plants sprout in a way that carries out God’s judgment:

The judgment pronounced by God in Genesis 3:18 is phrased in terms of the two kinds of field plants.  The shrubs will now grow “thorns and thistles,” and the grains are eaten by the sweat of the brow.  The orchard trees are not mentioned, and in a sense are excluded.  Throughout the Old Covenant, men were never allowed to drink wine in the presence of God, and the Nazirite had to swear off all grapes and raisins as well.  The priests were, however, allowed to eat the showbread and the cereal offerings in holy places.  Man could fellowship with God in the field under the Old Covenant, but he was not admitted back into the Garden until the New (p. 10).

This judgment, therefore, points forward to one of the great privileges of the New Covenant.  We not only eat bread in God’s presence, which is something only the priests did in the Old Covenant; we also get to drink wine at God’s Table, which even the priests didn’t get to do.  The judgment is still in place and we still eat our daily bread by the sweat of our brow, but because Jesus bore the thorns and died, we get to eat bread and drink wine by the blood and sweat of His brow.

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:34 pm | Discuss (1)
August 6, 2007

Psalm 31

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.

In you, Yahweh, I have taken refuge.
Let me not be shamed forever.
In your righteousness deliver me.
Incline to me your ear;
Quickly rescue me.

Be for me a rock of refuge,
A house of strongholds to save me,
Because you are my rock and my stronghold,
And for your name’s sake you will lead me and guide me.
You will bring me out from the net which they hid for me,
Because you yourself are my refuge.

Into your hand I commit my spirit;
You have redeemed me, Yahweh, God of trustworthiness.
I have hated those who regard vain things of falsehood;
And as for me, in Yahweh I have trusted.
I will shout for joy and rejoice in your loyalty,
You who have seen my affliction,
Who have known the distresses of my soul,
And who have not shut me up in the hand of the enemy;
Who have made my feet stand in a wide place.

Be gracious to me, Yahweh, for I am in distress!
Weakened in irritation is my eye — my soul and my belly.
Indeed, wasted away in trouble is my life,
And my years in groaning;
My strength stumbles in my iniquity
And my bones are weak.
Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach —
And to my neighbors especially —
And a terror to my acquaintances who see me in the streets:
They flee from me.
I was forgotten, like a dead man, from their heart;
I became like a broken vessel,
Because I heard the slander of many —
Fear all around! —
As they schemed together against me;
To take my soul they plotted.
As for me, upon you I trusted, Yahweh;
I said, “You are my God!”
In your hand are my times;
Rescue me from my enemies’ hand and from my persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
Save me in your loyalty.
Yahweh, do not let me be shamed, for I have called on you!
Let the wicked be shamed, be silenced — to Sheol!
Silenced be the lips of lying,
Which speak against a righteous man insolently, in pride and in scorn.

How great is your goodness
Which you have stored up for those who fear you,
And worked for those who take refuge in you
Before the sons of man!
You will hide them in the hiding-place of your face from the conspiracies of men
You will store them in your shelter from the disputes of tongues.

Blessed be Yahweh,
Because he has made his loyalty wonderful to me in a fortified city.
And as for me, I said in my haste,
“I am cut off from before your eyes.”
Nevertheless you heard the voice of my prayers
When I cried to you.

Love Yahweh,
All you his loyal ones!
A preserver of the faithful is Yahweh,
Repaying abundantly the one who acts proudly.
Be strong and let your heart be firm,
All you who wait for Yahweh.

A few comments about this psalm:

(1) David says in line 31 that he was “forgotten like a dead man from their heart.”  Literally, it’s “from the heart,” but it’s the heart of the people who used to know him and acknowledge him.  Now they want nothing to do with him.  It’s not just “Out of sight, out of mind.” It’s deeper than that.  It’s “keep him out of our sight, out of our heart.”

(2) In line 54, David talks about how God has “made wonderful” His loyalty toward him “in a fortified city.” The word for “fortified” is also sometimes used for “besieged.”  It could be that David is praising God for bringing him safely into a strong city.  Or it could be that he’s  praising Him for protecting him even when the city was under siege.

(3) Toward the very end of the psalm, in line 62, “repaying abundantly” is literally “repaying until a remainder.” That may mean that Yahweh repays the proud until there’s some left over, until He’s paid him back and then some.  But it may just be an expression for a full and abundant repayment.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:54 pm | Discuss (0)