The 4th book of Psalms
Last week, when talking about Psalm 101 I spoke about praying through the psalms in order to personalise them. That was all very well when the psalm was upbeat as that one was, but this is something different, a song of a person in distress. We have to make this our prayer as well. There will be some that when these Covid-19 restrictions are lifted will not be happy, and it could be me. Or You.
The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.
The layout is like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
let my cry come to you!
2 Do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress!
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call!
3 For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
4 My heart is struck down like grass and has withered;
I forget to eat my bread.
5 Because of my loud groaning
my bones cling to my flesh.
6 I am like a desert owl of the wilderness,
like an owl of the waste places;
7 I lie awake;
I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop.
8 All the day my enemies taunt me;
those who deride me use my name for a curse.
9 For I eat ashes like bread
and mingle tears with my drink,
10 because of your indignation and anger;
for you have taken me up and thrown me down.
11 My days are like an evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.
12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned for ever;
you are remembered throughout all generations.
13 You will arise and have pity on Zion;
it is the time to favour her;
the appointed time has come.
14 For your servants hold her stones dear
and have pity on her dust.
15 Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.
16 For the Lord builds up Zion;
he appears in his glory;
17 he regards the prayer of the destitute
and does not despise their prayer.
18 Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
19 that he looked down from his holy height;
from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
20 to hear the groans of the prisoners,
to set free those who were doomed to die,
21 that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
and in Jerusalem his praise,
22 when peoples gather together,
and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.
Psalm 102 ESV UK
23 He has broken my strength in midcourse;
he has shortened my days.
24 “O my God,” I say, “take me not away
in the midst of my days—
you whose years endure
throughout all generations!”
25 Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
27 but you are the same, and your years have no end.
28 The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.
He should have been happy, or so many would have thought. A refugee, probably born in exile, is returning home to their own country and to the centre of his religion, Jerusalem. The city and its temple are being rebuilt, they should be happy, but it comes over as being grumpy. What is wrong with this psalmist?
This is another psalm with no title or attribution in Hebrew. We have no idea who wrote this, but whoever he or she was it was around the time of the return from exile. The first eleven verses are looking back at the exile, and while praise for the new temple is here in the psalm the mood is still, in contrast to most of the psalms in this section, subdued. Dark thoughts from being in exile have not lifted. This is common in many people who have been through some physical or emotional trauma. They need to be given an outlet for their feelings and not subdued.
A week ago the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds, Marcus Stock, made a full apology to men who were sexually abused as boys at a seminary, in Mirfield close to where I went to school in Mirfield. The story, from the BBC is here. Why did it take so long? Bishop Marcus admits that the only time that the Roman Catholic Church had previously dealt with these men it abused in childhood was through the courts. Too many churches, not just the Roman Catholic Church, have been involved in physical, emotional and sexual abuse, including my denomination the Church of England. I pray that leaders of all churches will follow the example of Bishop Marcus and e open about abuse they has tried to cover up and give the abused a voice. If that does not fit in with the happy, everything is OK picture you are trying to project to the world, you need another different picture.
Back to the psalmist, who here has this right. He or she never lost their awe of God. God will always be alive while the lifespan of humans is short. God is permanent but creation can be undone. This psalm asks and answers the question of who God is, whilst leaving the question of what humans are to God unanswered. Other psalms, such as Psalm 8 tackle that question, but that is not a question that would be asked by a person with depression, it is understandable for this psalmist to be depressed, having been a long time in exile. Yet this psalm showing that viewpoint is included in the book of official worship songs. There are songs like this written for Christian worship, but I don’t hear them too often, more upbeat things are preferred: I’m not sure that is a good thing, I find the idea that you must be positive all the time to be toxic, chronic pain is not a choice.