November 29, 2007

Study or Office?

Category: Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

My friend from seminary, Michael Shipma, on the name of the room the pastor works in:

My parents served as custodians in the church of my youth on and off for a handful of years. This meant that I spent a lot of time playing with my Hot Wheels car collection under the church pews, interspersed with emptying classroom waste baskets, dusting windowsills, and the occasional running of the vacuum, banging into as many chairs and floorboards as possible.

A fond memory often comes to mind when I recall those days. The pastor of the church, Rev. Bob Vander Schaaf, asked me to help him in his study one late afternoon. The job, to me, seemed monumental. He wanted to remove his books from his shelves that lined the wall (it looked like the Great Wall of China to this young lad), have those shelves dusted and the books returned to their proper place. Apparently, he didn’t think he could accomplish this task without the assistance of an eight-year-old, so into his study I went for a few hours. I recall the time was filled with me climbing up and down a chair, books in hand, standing on tip toes in an effort to get those hard to reach places with a dust rag, and then handing him his books as he returned them to their original location. I remember we talked. A lot. I don’t recall about what, probably about school, how I’m getting along with my sister, am I minding my parents, and so on. In exchange for my services (or, more likely, in exchange for my getting in the way), I received ten cents. That ten cents was as good as gold. It’s indescribable what a couple of hours of the pastor’s time and a dime will do for an eight-year-old.

I’ve invited you into this memory because I have used a word you might not be familiar with, or at least you don’t hear used very often. Study. I used it, not as a verb, but as a noun – used to refer to the room reserved in the church where the pastor does his sermon preparation and from which all his ministerial labors emanate.

It is a word that at one time was in the common vocabulary of church members. That important room was always called the “study.” And we all had a sense that something wonderful and important and mysterious went on in there. In my mind’s eye as a child, that room was where the pastor met with God during the week so that he knew what to say on Sunday.

But somewhere along the way, something changed. The “study” gave way to the “office.” Looking back, I can’t really recall when that change took place. Certainly, it changed in different places at different times in different ways for different reasons. But one thing is certain – with the change in word came a change in our perception of that room.

Words mean something. Words reflect our ideas of things. With the change from “study” to “office” came the idea that the pastor’s task is not study in God’s Word, prayer, and giving counsel to God’s people. The task became perceived as administrative. The pastor is no longer engaged in the daily task of giving God’s people spiritual guidance; he’s running an organization, one that has goals and flow charts and staff evaluations and vision statements, one that refers to members as “tithing units” and evaluates the faithfulness of pastors based on the number of “tithing units” assimilated that year and how much the budget has increased.

I have an office, because my vocation is primarily administrative. Pastors Mark and Shawn, however, have studies, because the tasks we have called them to are different. They are not running an organization; they are leading a people. Something wonderful and important and mysterious is to go on in those rooms. In those rooms they are to be in the Word, to be engaged in prayer, to be engaged in giving us counsel. It is where, in a very real sense, they meet God so that they know what to say on Sunday.

I encourage you to recover the significance of words. To recover the use of the word “study” in referring to the place in the church set aside for the pastors will be a corporate confession of what we believe about the work of the pastor and that work’s significance in the life of God’s people.

Posted by John Barach @ 10:43 pm | Discuss (2)

“Thy Kingdom Come!”

Category: Prayer,Theology - Pastoral :: Permalink

On the threshold of Advent, it’s good to remember that Christ came so that God’s kingdom would come on earth.  But He did not merely come to establish God’s kingdom on earth.  He came so that we would long and work and pray for God’s kingdom to come more and more on earth, for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Paul Buckley provides a helpful meditation on our prayer “Thy Kingdom Come.”  Here’s a paragraph to whet your appetite:

“Thy kingdom come … on earth as in heaven.” That’s a plea. But I doubt many of us experience it as much more than pretty words until we get some heartfelt sense of the present disjointedness between heaven and earth. We’ve got to feel in our gut, as Hamlet did after that horripilating midnight interview with the ghost, that “the time is out of joint.” We’ve got to feel the pinch. I suspect that my brothers and sisters in Asia and elsewhere feel it more keenly than most of us in the West do. The ones I met gather every morning at 5:30 to pray. I take it their circumstances have taught them something about the importance of prayer, perhaps especially a prayer such as “Thy kingdom come.”

Posted by John Barach @ 10:10 pm | Discuss (0)
November 27, 2007

Psalm 46

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 the sons of Korah.
Upon Alamoth
A song.

God is for us a refuge and strength;
A help in troubles he has been found — exceedingly!
Therefore we will not fear when the earth quakes
And when the mountains shake in the heart of seas.
Its waters will roar and foam;
Mountains tremble when it swells.  Selah.

There is a river — its streams will make the city of God rejoice,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in her midst; she will not be shaken.
God will help her at the turning of the morning.
Nations roared; kingdoms shook.
He gave his voice; the earth melts.

Yahweh of hosts is with us!
A high place for us is the God of Jacob.  Selah.

Come!  See the doings of Yahweh,
Who has put desolations in the earth,
Stopping wars to the end of the earth:
The bow he breaks and he cuts up the spear;
Chariots he burns in the fire.

Stop and know that I myself am God.
I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in the earth.

Yahweh of hosts is with us!
A high place for us is the God of Jacob.  Selah.

A few comments about the translation of this psalm:

(1) In the title, alamoth means “virgins,” and upon alamoth may be a musical term (e.g., “For sopranos”).

(2) In line 4, “in the heart of seas” may be the location to which the mountains are moved: they are shaken into the midst of the seas.

(3) In line 12, “He gave his voice” means that he gave utterance to it, he gave it forth.

(4) In line 14, “high place” is another word for a refuge, a high spot where the enemy can’t get at you. “Fortress” doesn’t quite work because it doesn’t get the sense of height which is associated with this word.  Unfortunately, the term “high place” sounds too much like the high places where Israel worshiped, so that it has bad connotations instead of good ones and connotations of worship instead of protection.  If you have another suggestion for this, besides “refuge,” which I already used to translate the word at the beginning of the psalm, I’d be glad for it.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:17 pm | Discuss (0)


Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

A parable by Doug Wilson:

There was a certain minister who decided one day, while studying the Scriptures, that an appropriate posture while confessing sin was the posture of kneeling. He raised this as a possibility during a congregational meeting, and suggested that the church look into obtaining kneeling benches.

To his surprise, the opposition to this suggestion was immediate and adamant. The spokesman for the opposition declared that such activities “looked Roman Catholic to him, and as for him and his house, they were not about to get on the road to Rome.”

In response, the minister reached for his Bible and opened it, but to his shock and dismay, he was told to “put that down.”

“We don’t care what you might pull out of there,” the man said. “In our Reformed tradition, we don’t kneel. We are not going back to Rome.”

“Certainly not,” the minister said. “You don’t need to. You are already there.”

Of course, the man was shocked and offended, along with those whose heads had been nodding while he had been speaking. “What do you mean by that?” he snarled.

“Our Protestant forefathers protested against the Roman Catholic church because many of their practices were not biblical. They were told it did not matter, that the tradition of their church determined what they were going to do. You have just summarized this position very nicely.”

The man was at a loss for words, and while he was gaping, the minister continued.

“The Scriptures everywhere testify against this attitude. You don’t care what God says to do. You care what it looks like to others. And when we begin kneeling to confess, this will have to be one of the first sins we must confess.”

Posted by John Barach @ 2:50 pm | Discuss (2)
November 26, 2007

Work and Jobs

Category: Uncategorized :: Permalink

Some wisdom from Doug Wilson:

Dominion is a frame of mind and heart. It is not marked by work only — because slaves also have to work. The difference is this: slaves work at a job; Christians are summoned to a calling. When jobs diminish, or are taken away, or simply are not present, those with a slave mentality do not know what to do. When the first pioneers arrived here in Idaho (a little over one hundred years ago), there were no jobs whatsoever. There was a lot of work to do, but no jobs.

Considered at this level, jobs are not there for people who know how to work (although that is fine). Jobs are rather the creation of those who know how to work. In other words, jobs do not create work. Rather, work creates jobs. But try explaining that to some people.

The same thing, by the way, applies to the pastoral ministry.  There may not be a lot of jobs, a lot of churches looking to call you to be their minister.  But there’s a lot of work to be done.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:18 pm | Discuss (0)
November 20, 2007

Psalm 45

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 lilies.
By the sons of Korah.
A song of loved ones.

My heart is boiling with a good word;
I myself am saying, “My works are for the king.”
My tongue is a pen of a skilled scribe.

You are handsome, more than the sons of Adam.
Grace is poured out on your lips.
Therefore God has blessed you forever.

Gird your sword on your thigh, warrior,
Your majesty and your splendor.
And in your splendor, advance!
Ride forth for the sake of trustworthiness and humble righteousness.
And your right hand will teach you fearful deeds.
Your arrows are sharp —
Nations under you will fall! —
In the heart of the king’s enemies.

Your throne, God, is forever and ever.
A scepter of rectitude is the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness.
Therefore God your God has anointed you
With oil of gladness more than your companions.
Myrrh and aloes and cassias are all your garments,
From palaces of ivory, from them they have made you rejoice.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
The queen stands at your right hand in gold from Ophir.

Hear, daughter, and consider and incline your ear,
And forget your people and your father’s house,
And the king will desire your beauty.
Indeed, he is your lord.
And bow to him!

And Daughter Tyre will come with tribute
Your face they will appease —  the rich of the people.

All glorious is the king’s daughter inside;
Of gold embroideries is her clothing.
In variegated garments she is brought to the king;
With virgins behind her, her companions, being brought to you.
They will be brought with rejoicings and joyful shouts;
They will come into the palace of the king.

Instead of your fathers will be your sons;
You will make them rulers in all the earth.
I will make your name to be memorialized generation after generation.
Therefore the peoples will praise you forever and ever.

A few comments about the translation of this psalm, which I’ll preface by saying “skilled scribe” at the beginning is right: there’s a lot of skill here that isn’t so easy to convey in English.

(1) In the title, we have the words “upon lilies,” which may refer to the song’s tune or perhaps (somehow) to the contents of the song.  We don’t know what the word maschil means.

(2) In lines 12-13, the sentence seems to be “Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies,” but in the middle of the sentence there’s an interjection (“Nations will fall under you!”).

(3) In line 16, the king’s scepter is described as “a scepter of rectitude,” which means that the king’s rule, represented by the scepter, is characterized by rectitude, uprightness, fairness, and justice.

(4) It’s possible that line 21 should be translated “From palaces of ivory, stringed instruments have made you rejoice.”

(5) In line 29, some translations have “Daughter of Tyre,” but I suspect that this is a genitive of apposition like “Daughter Zion,” where Zion is herself the daughter.  Here, this is Tyre, spoken of as a daughter.  I’ve supplied the words “will come” in this line, which may be what’s implied, though it’s also possible that the thought goes like this: “Daughter Tyre with tribute will appease your face” (which means: give you a gift that makes you favorable), and in particular “the rich of the people” will do that.”  It’s not unheard of for the Psalms to switch between singular (“Daughter Tyre”) and plural (“they”).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:11 pm | Discuss (0)
November 19, 2007

God’s Holiness

Category: Theology - Trinity :: Permalink

Too often, our systematic theologies and even our Reformed confessions of faith begin with a generic and non-Trinitarian discussion of God and then include a section on the Trinity later, before going on to other matters.

So, for instance, the Belgic Confession has an article on God, who is described as “one only simply and spiritual Being,” who is “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good” (Art. 1).  Then there are several articles on God’s revelation (Arts. 2-7) before we get to a discussion of the Trinity (Arts. 8-11), and then we’re on to creation and providence and so forth. 

While what the Belgic Confession says is true enough, its description of God in the first article is non-Trinitarian.  It could even be a unitarian description, since it “defines” God without mentioning that He is three Persons.  It emphasizes His oneness but doesn’t breathe a word about His threeness.  By itself, it is sub-Christian.

Of course, this article of the Belgic Confession isn’t by itself.  It’s accompanied by Articles 8-11, which are explicitly Trinitarian and Christian.  But still, the structure of the Confession raises the question whether it’s possible or desirable to discuss or describe the God of the Bible in generic terms without mentioning the fact that He is Triune.

The Westminster Confession of Faith starts with God’s revelation and then has a chapter entitled “Of God and of the Holy Trinity.”  That’s better than the Belgic, but still in this chapter we hear first about the “one only, living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection,” and so forth.  In fact, we have two subsections about “God” before we hear that “in the unity of the Godhead there be three persons.”

Again, the initial “definition” or description of God is non-Trinitarian.  I don’t say that the Trinity is tacked on as an afterthought, but it doesn’t play any role in the basic description of God or of His attributes.  That is to say, wisdom and holiness and freedom and grace and mercy and goodness and truth and all those other things which the Confession ascribes to God are not presented in any Trinitarian way.

Much the same thing could be demonstrated from any number of systematic theologies.  First, we hear about “God” and His attributes are presented.  Then we hear that this “God” who has already been described and “defined” is also Triune.  And then we go on to examine His works.  The structure gives the impression, doesn’t it, that we can first know who God is and what He is like and then add to that knowledge the fact that this same God is also three Persons, but that additional information doesn’t inform or affect our consideration of God’s attributes.

But what if we started from the beginning, not simply with the one “God” but with the God of the Bible who is both one and three, equally one and three?  What if we started with the Trinity and then understood and described all of God’s attributes in terms of the Trinity?

Consider the simple biblical statement that God is love.  What would that mean for a God who is not triune?  Perhaps we could say that a non-triune God could love His creation, but that love would depend on the existence of the creation.  Without the creation, there would be no love and it would not be eternally true, then, that “God is love.”  Only of our God, the triune God, can it be said “God is love,” for the Father has always loved the Son and Spirit, the Son has always loved the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit has always loved the Father and the Son.  In our theology, therefore, the attribute of “love” must be defined and discussed in terms of the Trinity.

What about holiness?  I’ve learned a lot in this regard from Peter Leithart, and my thoughts in this blog entry owe a lot to his reflections.  They were sparked, in fact, by this old post on his blog:

I work on the assumption that all the attributes of God are Trinitarian, relational attributes. How does this work with an attribute like “holiness,” which, by most definitions, describes God as wholly un-related? The key is to notice that the language of holiness in Scripture describes things and persons claimed by God, or places where God is specially present. Holiness as a moral attribute describes a life in conformity with one’s being possessed, consistent with the claim that God has laid upon us. This can be applied to the inherent holiness of God: To say that the Father is holy is to say He is possessed by the Son and lives in conformity with that possession. Likewise, the Son is holy because He is possessed and claimed by the Father and lives in conformity with that claim. The Spirit is of both Father and Son, and thus is holy. There might also be some connection between notions of “holy place,” where God dwells in glory, and perichoresis, the mutual “dwelling-in” of Father, Son, and Spirit. Each person is “sanctified” by the indwelling of the other persons.

Leithart’s comments are a helpful start, but it seems to me that we need to do more work, not least in our systematic theologies, to make the Trinity central to all of our thinking about God.  And if we ever write a new confession of faith or revise the old ones, let’s put the Trinity up front.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:53 pm | Discuss (1)

Cells and Systems

Category: Science :: Permalink

Still going through old blog entries, I came across this interesting thought from Peter Leithart:

Why does biology start with the cell and work upwards? Why explain biological phenomena in terms of cell activity, rather than cell activity in terms of the activity of larger systems? No doubt there is experimental evidence to support this approach, but I find it prima facie doubtful. In many other areas, we know that a combination of units is greater than the sum total of the units that comprise it. A basketball team is often better (sometimes worse) than the individual players that make it up; there is such a thing as “team” that has real causative effect on the outcome of a game and is not reducible to “players” or even “players + coach.” I suspect there’s some causative power at the system (organ, organism, whatever) level that cannot be reduced to the sum total of the cell activity.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:58 pm | Discuss (0)
November 13, 2007

A Means to a Means

Category: Prayer :: Permalink

Prayer, like everything else, was meant for a means of joy; but, in our knowledge of the good as evil, we have to recover it so, and it is not an easy thing.  Prayer is thought of as a means to an end, but the end itself is sometimes only the means to the means, as with all love. — Charles Williams, He Came Down from Heaven, pp. 27-28.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:19 pm | Discuss (0)

Active vs. Liturgical?

Category: Theology - Liturgical :: Permalink

Leadership Journal just published the results of a recent survey of American Christians from which, the article says, there emerged “portraits of five distinct segments,” each consisting of about 20% of the total.  They named the segments “Active, Professing, Liturgical, Private, and Cultural Christians.”

What strikes me as particularly weird was the inclusion of “Liturgical Christians” as a category distinct from all others.  (“Distinct” is their word.)  Liturgical Christians, they say, are “predominantly Catholic and Lutheran,” which is already a bit odd since Episcopalians are liturgical, too, to say nothing of some Reformed churches. 

It’s also very hard for me to believe that Catholics and Lutherans (and Episcopalians) make up only 16% of American Christians.  Surely that means that many people in liturgical churches are counted in the other categories.  Surely there are people who are members of liturgical churches but who are also what the survey calls Private Christians or Cultural Christians.  And surely there are members of liturgical churches who are also Professing Christians and Active Christians.

Liturgical Christians, we’re told, are “regular churchgoers,” have a “high level of spiritual activity, mostly expressed by serving in church and/or community,” and “recognize [the] authority of the church.”  But how, then, are they “distinct” from Active Christians or Professing Christians?

It seems fairly likely to me that these segments didn’t actually arise from the results of the survey, as the article claims, but that the surveyers themselves imposed these categories, perhaps through the sorts of questions they asked and the assumptions they brought to the survey.  I suspect that asked questions based on a certain set of assumptions (“This is what constitutes an ‘active Christian'”), but that they found that there were people who didn’t fit into the categories created by those assumptions (“What do we do with these liturgical people?  How about we make a new category!”).  But what were those assumptions?

What, in the surveyer’s mind, distinguished these Liturgical Christians from the Christians in the other categories?  I imagine the fact that they regularly attend church distinguished them from the people in the Professing, Private, and Cultural Christian categories.  And I suspect they weren’t included as “Active Christians” because they didn’t do some of the practices or agree with some of the beliefs that the surveyers thought were necessary for someone to be considered an “Active Christian.”  Either that, or they did something or believed something that “Active Christians” don’t.

But which beliefs?  Which practices?  Was it that they tended not to be as active in personal Bible reading, though they heard the Word in the liturgy?  Was it that they didn’t evangelize (or beat themselves up for not evangelizing) as much as people who ended up in the Active Christian segment?  Was it that they didn’t affirm that salvation was through Jesus Christ?  Or was it that they recognized the authority of the church, a characteristic which is listed for Liturgical Christians but not (!) for Active Christians?

The survey itself doesn’t seem particularly valuable to me, but its value may be, not only that it reveals that fully 60% of the Christians surveyed don’t seem to be committed to the church, but that it reveals how evangelicals think about liturgical churches.  As someone who is planting a church which is both evangelical and liturgical, it interests me to know that people in the evangelical world see a sharp distinction between “active Christians” and “liturgical Christians.”

Posted by John Barach @ 1:35 pm | Discuss (1)
November 12, 2007

Psalm 44

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 sons of Korah.

God, with our ears we have heard,
Our fathers have recounted to us,
The work you worked in their days,
In the days of old.
You, with your hand, displaced nations and planted them;
You smashed peoples and spread them out.
Indeed, not by their sword did they possess the land,
And their arm did not save them,
For it was your right hand and your arm and the light of your face,
Because you favored them.

You are he, my king, O God!
Command salvations for Jacob!
In you our oppressors we will gore;
In your name we will trample those who rise up against us,
Because not in my bow will I trust,
And my sword will not save me,
For you have saved us from our oppressors,
And those who hate us you have shamed.
In God we have praised all the day;
And your name unto eternity we praise.  Selah.

But you have rejected and disgraced us
And you do not go out with our armies.
You make us turn back from the oppressor,
And those who hate us plunder for themselves.
You give us like sheep for food,
And among the nations you scatter us.
You sell your people with no gain;
And you have not increased by their price.
You make us a reproach to our neighbors,
A mockery and a joke to those around us.
You make us a byword among the nations,
A shaking of the head among the peoples.
All the day my disgrace is before me,
And the shame of my face has covered me,
Because of the voice of the reproacher and reviler,
Because of the face of the enemy and avenger.

All of this has come upon us and we have not forgotten you,
And we have not dealt falsely with your covenant.
Our heart has not drawn back,
Nor have our steps turned away from your path.
But you have crushed us in a place of dragons,
And you have covered over us with death-shadow.

If we have forgotten the name of our God
And spread our hands to a foreign Mighty One,
Will not God spy this out?
For he knows the secrets of the heart.
But for your sake we have been killed all the day;
We have been reckoned as sheep for slaughter.

Awake!  Why do you sleep, Lord?
Wake up!  Do not reject us everlastingly!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and our oppression?
Indeed, bowed down to the dust is our soul,
Stuck to the earth is our belly.
Rise up as a help to us!
And redeem us for the sake of your loyalty!

A few comments about the translation of this Psalm:

(1) We don’t know what the word maschil means in the title.

(2) In lines 5 and 6, “them” refers to the fathers (line 2) in contrast to the nations which were displaced when Israel took the Promised Land.

(3) In line 11, “You are he, my king, O God,” may mean something like “You are he who did all of this.”

(4) In line 41, “dragon” is my translation of tannin.  Some translations have “jackals” or something similar, but the word is used in Scripture primarily to refer to sea monsters and first appears in Genesis 1, when God created the great sea-monsters on the Fifth Day.

(5) I haven’t studied this psalm carefully, but what puzzles me initially is when the psalm could have been written.  When was Israel defeated by enemies without having sinned against God?  That is, when could Israel say, “All of this has come upon us and we have not forgotten you and we have not dealt falsely with your covenant,” and so on?  Certainly not during the time of the Judges, and likely not during the time of the later kings.  So what’s the occasion?  Probably a glance at any commentary would reveal some possibilities, but … any suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 10:53 pm | Discuss (1)
November 6, 2007

Psalm 43

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!

Judge me, God!
And argue my case against a nation that is not loyal.
From a deceitful and evil man rescue me!

For you are God, my fortress.
Why have you rejected me?
Why do I go begrimed because of the enemy’s oppression?

Send out your light and your trustworthiness!
They will lead me.
They will bring me to your holy mountain and to your tabernacles.

And I will come to the altar of God,
To the Mighty One, the joy of my rejoicing.
And I will praise you with a harp, God, my God.

Why are you cast down, my soul?
And why are you making an uproar within me?
Wait for God, because I will still praise him as the salvations of my face and my God.

Some comments on this translation of this Psalm:

(1) Psalm 43 may be the last part of Psalm 42.  They have the same refrain, and Psalm 43 is the only psalm in Book 2 of the Psalms that doesn’t have a title.

(2) The opening lines ask God to judge (which here implies vindicate) the psalmist and to “argue his case.”  Both words in this last phrase, “argue” and “case,” are the same and have to do with a lawsuit.  If you have a better suggestion, that captures both the lawsuit language and the repetition, please let me know.  “Lawsuit my lawsuit” and “Case my case” don’t work for me.(3) In line 2, the psalmist speaks about “a nation that is not loyal.”  I’ve chosen to use the word “loyal” as a translation of the Hebrew word chesed because the word seems to be used for a special kind of covenantal loyalty and commitment or the behavior that flows from that bond.

So, for instance, David shows chesed to Jonathan by caring for Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth.  The action is mercy, but what’s underlying the mercy is the promise that David made to Jonathan, so that this mercy is a fulfilling of the covenantal commitment.

David doesn’t, however, show chesed to Uriah the Hittite, but instead seduces his wife.  Here, “mercy” doesn’t work at all as a translation.  But again, the idea is that of covenantal loyalty.  The king is bound to his warrior and is precisely bound not to harm his marriage.

Here, the term may mean that the nation is “ungodly,” as some translations put it.  That is, they are not maintaining their proper behavior toward God.  But it’s equally possible, I think, that it means that they are not maintaining chesed toward the psalmist or toward Israel.  That is, they are being disloyal and are breaking the bonds they have toward Israel instead of acting in terms of them.  The phrase could imply, too, that they are failing to provide the mercy and care that they ought to.

(4) Line 4 literally reads something like “you are God of my fortress,” but the implication is that God is the psalmist’s fortress.  The Hebrew genitive can often work that way.  Though it may look as if a phrase should be translated “Daughter of Zion,” it’s actually the case that Zion is the daughter.  So, too, here, I suspect: It isn’t “God of my fortress” but rather “God, my fortress.”

(5) In line 6, “begrimed” is a word that has to do with becoming dark.  The sense here is that the psalmist is mourning, perhaps putting dust and ashes on himself and “darkening” or “begriming” himself that way.  Perhaps I’ll go through all of these psalms and replace “begrimed” with “mourning” or something like that to get the point across better, but I wanted to do something to keep the sense of darkening that this word has in Hebrew.  Suggestions?  Does “Why do I go about darkened?” work?

(6) In the last line, which is an exact echo of the last line of Psalm 42, the phrase “the salvations of my face and my God” probably identifies God as the one who saves (more than once!) the psalmist’s face and who is also his God.

As always, I invite your comments and suggestions for improving my translations.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:04 pm | Discuss (2)