May 30, 2012

Lift Your Eyes to the Hills

Category: Bible - NT - Matthew,Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

Is there an allusion to Psalm 121 in Matthew 17?

Matthew has just told us about Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Up on the mountain, Jesus is shining “as white as light” and a “bright cloud” overshadows them, which ought to make us wonder if that light was visible to those down below. But when Jesus and his three mighty men come down the mountain into the dark world below, they find a demon-possessed boy. That’s what Mark tells us. But Matthew tells us that the boy was moonstruck. I’m not entirely sure what that means and I’m not persuaded that it can simply be identified with epilepsy, though it seems similar. But what’s important here is that the word implies a striking by the moon.

Now consider Psalm 121, which begins:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
  From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
  Who made heaven and earth.

In Matthew’s Gospel, who is on the hills? Jesus is, where he shines with glory. He is the one from whom help comes for those down below, and they ought to be expecting it, though as the story shows they are not. Interestingly, the man who comes to Jesus for help calls him “Lord.”

The psalm goes on:

The sun shall not strike you by day,
  Nor the moon by night.

Here we have, it seems, exactly what the boy was suffering from: he was struck by the moon. But his father calls upon the Lord, who was on the hills, and his son is rescued.

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Posted by John Barach @ 3:11 pm | Discuss (0)

Deaf, Dumb, and Demon-Possessed (Mark 9)

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

In his wonderful A Study in Saint Mark, Austin Farrer notes some of the patterns that converge in Mark 9:14-29.  Here’s one:

Exorcism of child at parent’s request (Mark 7:24-30); Healing of a deaf-mute (Mark 7:31-37)
   Healing of a blind man (Mark 8:22-26)

Exorcism of deaf-mute child at parent’s request (Mark 9:14-29)
   Healing of a blind man (Mark 10:46-52) (Farrer, 41).

Later, Farrer points out that Mark has four healings in connection with family relations:

(1) A mother(-in-law) is healed at the request of a son(-in-law) (Mark 1:29-31)

(2) A daughter is healed at the request of her father (Mark 5:21-43)

(3) A daughter is healed at the request of her mother (Mark 7:24-30)

(4) A son is healed at the request of his father (Mark 9:14-29)

Interestingly, the first two involve opposite sexes (son and mother, father and daughter) while the last two involve relatives of the same sex (mother-daughter, father-son). I’m not sure what the significance of all of this might be, but Farrer points out that the sequence culminates in the healing of a father’s son, a son moreover who first falls down “as if dead” and then is raised up and arises — using two words associated with resurrection in the rest of Mark’s Gospel:

The healing of the “son of the father” prepares our minds most directly for what the climax of the Gospel is to reveal, the resurrection of the Father’s only Son. It is directly after being proclaimed Only Son by the Father’s voice that Jesus descends the mountain to heal the son of the father (Farrer, 51).

In fact, Farrer goes further:

It is indeed the function of the healing at the mountain’s foot to draw together all the themes of healing in the previous signs. To begin with, it fuses exorcism with restoration of sensitive powers [i.e., hearing, seeing, speaking], for the demon exorcised is a spirit of deafness and dumbness. It completes the theme of parental intercession, and revives the theme of resurrection. For the boy being exorcised falls as dead, and must be raised by the hand like Jairus’s child before he can enjoy his new and purified life (Farrer, 51-52).

Later in the book, Farrer returns to this story:

The exorcism beneath the mountain which Christ comes down from glory to perform is an enacted parable of his coming passion. In face of scribal hostility and unbelief, and of weakness in disciples who cannot pray, Christ masters the devil, but only through a falling dead and rising up again (Farrar, 152).

Then, toward the end of the book, Farrar draws together several patterns, showing how Mark’s Gospel starts with distinct exorcisms, healings, and cleansings and then begins to combine things so that the same event is both a healing and a cleansing (e.g., the woman with the flow of blood) or, as in Mark 9, an exorcism which is also a healing. About this story in Mark 9, Farrer says:

The last healing in the series … seems perfectly expressive, it seems to have everything. It is the expulsion of Satan, it is the quickening of the spiritual powers, it is health through falling dead and rising again, it is the salvation of the son of the father. But still it is a mere symbol, a mere foreshewing; we must go forward into the passion and resurrection of Christ to find the substance of salvation (Farrer, 315).

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Posted by John Barach @ 2:45 pm | Discuss (0)
May 3, 2012

Psalm 64

Category: Bible - OT - Psalms :: Permalink

I have 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.

Hear, God, my voice in my meditation;
From the terror of my enemy guard my life.
Hide me from the counsel of evildoers,
From the tumult of the troublemakers,

Who have sharpened like the sword their tongue,
Have aimed their arrow, a bitter word,
To shoot in hiding places at the blameless;
Suddenly they shoot and they do not fear.
They strengthen themselves with an evil word;
They report hiding snares;
They have asked who will see them.
They search out iniquities: “We have perfected a searched-out plan.”
And the inward part of man and the heart is deep.

And God has shot them, with an arrow, suddenly;
There are their wounds,
And they make their tongue stumble against them.
They will shake — all who look upon them.
And all men will fear and declare the work of God,
And his act they will understand.
The righteous will rejoice in Yahweh and take refuge in him,
And they will boast, all the upright in heart.

A multitude of comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In line 1, the word translated “meditation” can include anything that occupies one’s attention, and so Holliday suggests such things as “thought, consideration, (object of) concern.”  It can refer to a complaint, as it probably does here, but it may be broader than that.  Hirsch suggests that the phrase here means “When I give expression to … my inner agitation.”

(2) In line 2, the word translated “terror” can also refer to “trembling.”  Here, “the trembling of my enemy” is the trembling brought on by the presence of the enemy.

(3) In line 3, the word translated “counsel” here has the sense of “secret counsel” (Hirsch; cf. Amos 3:7) can also refer to a circle of confidants (Gen 49:6) and can be used in a good sense (Ps. 25:14; 55:15: “sweet counsel”).

(4) In line 5, Hirsch and some others have “whet” instead of “sharpened,” which is fine, but I am preparing these psalms for reading out loud in church.  Read out loud, “whet” in connection with “tongue” will probably be heard as “wet.”

(5) In line 7, “hiding places” uses the same root as “Hide” in line 3.  Many translations have “in secret places” or just “in secret.”  NASB has “from concealment,” which probably captures the idea.  It’s not the blameless man who is in hiding, but the attacker.  As for “blameless,” the word tam includes the sense of integrity, wholeness, maturity, completion.

(6) In line 8, “strengthen for themselves an evil word” is a bit awkward.  The verb can be used for strengthening in the sense of encouragement (2 Sam 11:25), and perhaps the meaning is that they encourage themselves with an evil word (plot, plan).  But it seems more likely that it is the word which is being strengthened, the bitter word being shot like an arrow.

(7) In line 10, “they report hiding snares” may mean that they talk about all the snares they’ve hidden, boasting about what they’re doing (Alexander).  But Hirsch may be right in taking this phrase to mean that as they tell or report (about whatever), they are laying snares.

(8) In line 11, in the phrase “Who will see them,” is the pronoun “them” a reference to the snares (line 10) or to the people themselves (Alexander)?  The latter is how some of the early versions took it, changing the question to “Who will see us?”

(9) With regard to line 12: Okay, you try translating this.  Literally: “They search out iniquities.  We have perfected/completed a searched-out searching-out.”  Alter emends the verb (from “we have completed” to “we have hidden”), but if we go with “completed,” Alter’s reading is something like this: “We have completed the utmost search.”  But Hirsch thinks it means something like “Let them investigate inquities.  We will be gone when a search is made.”  But that seems like a stretch to me.

(10) Line 15 is pretty tough, and this is an attempt at a rendition.  It seems to say “They are, their wounds/blows.”  Hirsch has something closer to “their blows came to be.”   NASB margin: “Their wounds happened.”

(11) Line 16 is extremely tough.  The verb is third person plural, with a third person singular suffix: “They make him totter/stumble.”  But many translations render this line as if the subject is God (“He makes them stumble”) or as if it is passive (“They are made to stumble”).  Hirsch in his commentary says that the subject is most likely the blows/wounds from the previous verse and the object is the tongue (which can be masculine or feminine, BDB), but in his translation, he appears to take the subject as the enemies: “They made their own tongue a stumbling block unto themselves.”  I’m not persuaded that the verb can have that sense.  Perhaps the AV is closest: “They will make their own tongue to fall upon themselves,” or, better, “against themselves.”

(12) Line 17 contains a verb that is often taken to be from ndd (“to flee”), so that it reads “All will flee….”  But it’s possible that whatever the root is, possibly nud, it refers to the sort of thing we find in Jeremiah 18:16 (“shake the head,” but there “the head” is explicitly mentioned) or Jeremiah 31:18 (“bemoan”).  Hirsch suggests that it refers to inner agitation, to being deeply moved in some way, but nud itself has the sense of shaking and so that’s what I’ve used … for now.

The psalm seems to me to be structured as a chiasm (and thanks to Jeff Moss for his contributions as we talked about this today):

A. Hear, God, my voice in my meditation;
From the terror of my enemy guard my life.

  B. Hide me from the counsel of evildoers,
  From the tumult of the troublemakers,

    C. Who have sharpened like the sword their tongue,
    Have aimed their arrow, a bitter word,

      D. To shoot in hiding places at the blameless;
      Suddenly they shoot and they do not fear.

        E. They strengthen themselves with an evil word;
        They report hiding snares;

          F. They have asked who will see them.

        E’. They search out iniquities: “We have perfected a searched-out plan.”
        And the inward part of man and the heart is deep.

      D’. And God has shot them, with an arrow, suddenly;
      There are their wounds,

    C’. And they make their tongue stumble against them.
    They will shake — all who look upon them.

  B’. And all men will fear and declare the work of God,
  And his act they will understand.

A’. The righteous will rejoice in Yahweh and take refuge in him,
And they will boast, all the upright in heart.

The A sections both deal with the voice of the righteous and with Yahweh’s protection.

The B sections contrast the counsel of the evildoers which leads to tumult and trouble with God’s work and God’s act.

The C sections deal with the tongue.

The D sections have arrows being shot.

The E sections are the words of the evildoers and their confidence.

The turning point, F, then is their question “Who will see us?”

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Posted by John Barach @ 11:03 am | Discuss (1)