236: THE PSALMS – What a load of sycophantic paranoia!

“A very warm welcome to the last Zingcreed Post of 2013, written in Malaysia, where most of the women I see wear the hijab to work: refueling my plane, directing traffic, assembling scaffolding on a building site or in the retail trade. A subject for a future Post. Plenty of variety on the Zingcreed blog!”  Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.

After reading the Book of Proverbs in my pocket sized  Gideons bible I have moved on to the Psalms. I am not impressed. The writer of these tedious chapters may have been King David, but whoever he was he needed psychiatric help. The poor bloke is totally paranoid. To say “they’re all out to get me!” might be acceptable in one Psalm, but to gone about it for over 100 of them definitely suggests God isn’t answering his prayers! One might comment “How monotonous are thy Psalms, Oh Lord!” Perhaps he’s trying to get into the Guiness Book of Records for ‘most winges per page’ record. He ought to sing that song: you know, the one that goes “Everybody hates me, Nobody loves me, I think I’ll go and eat worms.”

Paranoia aside, this guy is a real creep. A sniveling, grovelling psychophant (which I can’t spell!) To see what I mean check out Ps. 65, 66, 69:19.

  • “We shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, thy sacred temple. With awesome deeds Thou dost respond to us in righteousness, oh God of our salvation who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth and of the remotest seas; those who live farthest away stand in awe at Thy signs. ” (Ps 65)
  • “Sing out to glorify his name; render him glorious praise…How awe-inspiring are are Thy works…all the earth shall do Thee homage. I will enter Thy house with burnt offerings, I will pay thee my vows.” (Ps 66)
  • “Thou knowest my reproach, my shame and my dishonour…” (69:19)
  • and “I will carefully observe the path of the perfect. When wilt thou come to me?. I will behave in my home with heartfelt integrity. I will not allow a base thought to attract my attention. I despise crooked practices; they shall not gain hold on me. A perverse nature shall be absent from me; I will not entertain evil…I look to the trustworthy in the land to be my associates….He who practices deceit shall not stay in my home; ….Morning after morning I will do away with all criminals within the country that I  may eliminate all those who practice sin.” (101:2-8)

The writer evidently thinks that by buttering up his God (who is stronger than your God), God will smite his enemies. But he never does. David the crawler carries on trusting that his God will come to the rescue one day, in the teeth of all the evidence. Perhaps that is the point of the book.

What I like about him is his doubts. He is almost atheist in his exasperation at his God’s hiding from him, forgetting him and forsaking him. Almost as if his God didn’t actually exist! I spell all this out in detail below.

TO BE CONTINUED WHEN THIS HOTEL LOBBY, WHERE I AM WRITING THIS, STOPS SMELLING OF PAINT! THE MAN WITH THE ROLLER IS PAINTING THE WALL ROUND MY FEET! TIME TO GO . SEE YAH!
Another day, another country. This time not a bar stool but a soft yellow and blue armchair in a games parlour where the keys for w,a,s,and d are orange, and where the woman at the next keyboard is laughing hysterically at something on Youtube.

Some verses in the Psalms that strike me as amusing or odd (they’re probably on Youtube too!)

  •  “…by my God I can leap a wall.” (19:29)
  • “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; yes the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them to skip like a calf.” (28:5-6)
  • “When with rebukes because of iniquity thou dost correct a person then Thou dost consume his winsomeness like a moth; truly all mankind is as a vapour.” (39:11)
  • “Thou takest note of my roaming; put my tears into Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?” (56:8)
  • “Moab is My wash-basin, over Edom will I throw My shoe.” (60:8a)
  • “But thou hast magnified my horn like that of the wild ox; I am anointed with invigorating oil.” (92:10)
  • “The mountains melt like wax before the Lord.” (97:5)
  • “Let the rivers clap their hands and the mountains sing praises together.” (98:8)
  • “I am like a pelican in the wilderness, like an owl among the ruins. I lie awake and feel like a sparrow alone on the roof.” (etc.) (102:2-10)
  • “The sea saw it and fled, the Jordan flowed backwards. The mountains skipped like rams and the hills like lambs. who turned the rock into a water pool, the flint into a fountain of water!” (114:3,4,8)
  • “Their heart is as unfeeling as grease.” (119:70a)
  • “You wife will be as a fruitful vine inside your house; your children like olive plants surrounding your table.” (128:3)
  • “The plowmen plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.” (129:3)
  • “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (131:2)
  • “Thou didst possess my inward parts, and didst weave me in my mother’s womb…My bones were not hidden from thee when I was made in secrecy and intricately fashioned in utter seclusion.” (139:13,15)
  • “Let not my heart incline to evil so as wickedly to busy  myself with evil deeds, with men who practice iniquity; I will not eat of their dainties.” (141:4)
  • “Let all the ungodly together fall into their own nets, while I myself pass safely by.” (141:10)
  • “Our sons are like plants, raised to full size in their youthful vigour; our daughters like sculptured corner pillars after a palatial pattern.” (144:12)
  • “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, neither does he take satisfaction in the legs of a man.” (147:10)

Doubting David, an early agnostic
(definition of agnostic: one who holds that we know nothing of things beyond material phenomena- that a First Cause and an unseen world are things unknown and (some would add) apparently unknowable [coined by T.H.Huxley in 1869]) (i)

  • “Why dost Thou stand at a distance, O Lord? Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?” (10:1)
  • “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me?” (13:1)
  • My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, so far from helping me and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I call by day, but Thou dost not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (22:1-2)
    The words famously quoted by Jesus as he died; but he wasn’t really forsaken – there was never any ‘God’ there in the first place.
  • “Thou didst hide Thy face; I felt disaster.” (30:7b)
  • “Lord, how long wilt Thou look on?” (35:17)
  • “O Lord, be not far from me. Arouse Thyself and awake to my judgement…” (35:22b-23a)
  • “Forsake me not, O Lord; O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord…” (38:21-2)
  • “O Lord, make haste to help me.” (40:13b)
  • “My tears have been my food day and night, while they keep on saying to me,’Where is your God?’ ” (42:3)
  • “Why hast Thou forgotten me?” (42:9a)
  • “Why hast Thou cast me off?” (43:2)
  • “But now Thou hast cast us off and put us to shame; nor dost Thou go forth with our armies.” (44:9)
  • “Thou hast surrendered us as slaughter-sheep, and didst scatter us among the nations. Thou didst sell Thy people dirt-cheap and hast made no profit by their price. Thou didst make us a taunt to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to those around us. Thou didst make us a byword among the Gentiles, a shaking of the head among the peoples. Yet Thou has crushed us in the wild-dogs region; yes. Thou has covered us with the shadow of death. Awake! Why sleepest thou, O Lord? Arise, cast us not off for ever! Why dost Thou hide Thy face? Why dost Thou forget our affliction and oppression?” (44:11-24)

In the midst of all this agnosticism, this apparent doubt about his Lord’s very existence, this hypocrite has the gall to say “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God’…” (53:1 and 14:1). Far from being a foolish thing to say, it is an eminently reasonable reaction to the Psalmist’s woes. He looks like the foolish one to me! (N.B. the preachers who delight in using this verse always quote it out of context and never mention the verses I’ve listed here. It would undermine their point that all nonbelievers are fools.)

David hasn’t finished doubting yet!

  • “O God, thou hast cast us off, thou hast scattered us…Thou hast made Thy people to endure hardness.” (60:1,3)
  • “O God save me, for the waters come up to my lips; I am sinking in deep mire and there is no place for me to stand; I have come to deep waters and a flood overwhelms me. I have cried until I am exhausted; my eyes grow dim while I wait for my God.” (69:1-3)
  • “Do not turn thy face from Thy servant, for I am in trouble; answer me speedily.” (69:17)
  • “Cast me not off in my old age; forsake me not now that my strength is spent.” (71:9)
  • “O God, why hast Thou cast us off forever?” (74:1)
  • “Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will He never again be favourable? Has His love ended eternally? Has His promise failed to all generations?” (77:7-8)
  • “Then the Lord was aroused as one from sleep, like a strong man heated from wine.” (78:65)
  • “O God do not stand by, mute and inactive, O God!” (83:1)
  • “Why Lord dost thou reject my soul and hide Thy face from me?” (88:14)
  • “How long O Lord? Wilt Thou hide Thyself forever?” (89:46a)
  • “Return O Lord, How long?” (90:13)
  • “When wilt thou come to me?” (101:2)
  • Psalm 142 out of 150, and he’s still wingeing! “…there is no-one cares about me. My every refuge has disappeared; no one seeks my welfare.” v.4) and “…do not hide Thy face from me…” (143:7)

Yet we read in 92:5,6, “How great are Thy doings, O Lord! How deep are Thy thoughts! An unthinking person does not understand; a fool cannot grasp this.” Sounds like he’s describing himself! He’s even more split in Ps 108 where in one place he writes “For Thy loving kindness is higher than the heavens, and Thy faithfulness soars to the skies…may Thy glory tower over all the earth!” (4,5) but in total contrast in v. 11 “Hast Thou not cast us off, O God? Thou dost not go out O God, with our armies.” Having some difficulty making his mind up, isn’t he? Not a ringing endorsement for the Almighty at all. The way to extract THAT from the Psalms is to be SELECTIVE!

The poor

  • “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be lost forever.” (9:18)
  • “Because of the oppression of the poor and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise says the Lord; I will grant him the safekeeping for which he longs.” (12:5)
  • “O Lord, who shall stay in Thy tabernacle; Who shall dwell on Thy holy hill?…(He) who does not give his money for interest, and who will not take a bribe against the innocent.” (15:1,5)
  • “This poor man called and the Lord heard, and saved him out of all his troubles.” (34:6)
  • “Evil-doers have drawn the sword and have bent their bow to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those upright in conduct. Their sword shall enter into their own heart and their bows shall be broken. Better is the little that the righteous have than the riches of many evildoers.” (37:14-16)
  • “For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise His prisoners.” (69:33)
  • “For he will deliver the needy, when he calls, and the poor, who has no helper. He will have pity on the weak and needy and will save the souls of the needy; from oppression and violence He shall redeem their soul; and precious is their blood in his sight.” (72:12-14)
  • “There He causes the hungry to settle that they may build a city to live in, sow fields and plant vineyards and gather fruitful harvests.” (107:36–37)
  • “The poor, however, He lifts out of their afflictions and miseries and makes their families like a fruitful flock.” (107:41)
  • “He distributes freely to the poor and his righteousness will stand firm for ever…” (112:9)
  • “He raises up the poor from the dust and lifts the needy out of the ash heap.” (113:7)
  • “I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread.” (132:15)
  • “who administers justice on behalf of the oppressed; who gives bread to the hungry – the LORD, who loosens the chains of those who are bound. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD protects the immigrants; He relieves orphans and widows…” (146:7-9)

The weak and afflicted

  • “O Lord, Thou hast heard the longing of the afflicted; Thou dost establish their heart; thou dost incline Thine ear to render justice to the orphan and the oppressed, so that no earthly mortal may terrify them anymore.” (10:17-18)
  • “Blessings are his who considers the weak…” (41:1a)
  • “Dispense justice to the weak and the orphan; vindicate the wretched and needy! Deliver the lowly and the oppressed, rescue them from the hand of the wicked.” (82:3-4)
  • “He gives the barren wife a home to live in, now the joyous mother of children.” (113:9)
  • “The Lord takes care of the helpless; I was brought low, and He saved me.” (116:6)
  • “I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the of the afflicted and the rights of the poor.” (140:12)

Capitalism

  • “His mouth is full of cursing, deceit and oppression; under his tongue are trouble and sin. he sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent; his eyes watch stealthily for the unfortunate…by drawing him into his net he catches the afflicted, who is crushed and sinks down; thus do the unfortunate fall by his powers…lift up thy hand O God; forget not the afflicted.” (10:7-12)
  • “Upon the wicked he will rain snares: fire, burning sulphur; and a scorching wind will be the portion of their cup.” (11:6)
  • “All my bones shall say: ‘Lord, who is equal to Thee, delivering the afflicted from one stronger than he, and the poor and needy from him who robs him.'” (35:10)
  • “The wicked borrows and does not pay back; and the righteous is generous and donates. For those who are blessed of him shall inherit the earth; but those who are cursed of him shall be eliminated.” (37:21-22)
  • “And to Thee, O Lord, belongs covenant love , for thou rewardest every man according to his work.” (62:12)
    This resonates with what Kropotkin, the anarchist, and Karl Marx, the communist, were saying in the nineteenth century. See Zingcreed Posts Marx’s Christian roots and The Christian roots of Communism.
  • “May he (the king) judge the poor among the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.” (72:4)
  • “For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They suffered no violent pain; their body is well nourished. They do not share the troubles of mortals, nor are they plagued like others. Pride therefore encircles their neck; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes swell out from fatness, their heart overflow with illusions…Truly such are the wicked; they are secure and their riches increase.” (73:3ff)
  • “They boast freely, they speak arrogantly; all the wrongdoers brag about themselves. They trample on Thy people, O LORD. They oppress thy heritage. They kill the widow and the immigrant; they murder orphans.” (94:4-6)
  • “Can a corrupt government be allied with Thee, one that organizes under the pretense of law? They join forces against the life of the righteous; they convict innocent people.” (94:20-21)
  • “Let it be recalled that it never occurred to him to show kindness; instead he persecuted the poor, the needy, and the broken-hearted even unto death.” (109:16)
  • “It is well with him who is generous and ready to lend, the man who conducts his business with fairness. such a man will never be laid low, for the just shall be held in remembrance for ever.” (112:5-6)

Some familiar verses

  • “The Lord is my stronghold, my fortress, and my deliverer;  my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.” (18:2)
  • “The heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament is showing his handiwork.” (19:1)
    I’ve heard these somewhere – perhaps when my mum used to sing Handel’s Messiah in Gloucester Cathedral every Boxing Day with the Choral Society: wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Or maybe it was compulsory hymn-singing at school, or my years as a bass in recitals put on by my old school choir? Whatever; they’re familiar to me!
  • “Let the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing in Thy sight, O Lord.” (19:14)
  • “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (22:1)
    Jesus’s words from the cross, of course. As I’ve said this abandonment is a major motif running through the Book of Psalms. Jesus, a descendant of the author, we’re told, is quoting the most appropriate verse of the most appropriate book!
  • All of Ps 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) and Ps 24 (“The earth is the Lord’s and all that therein is”) were sung (and enjoyed) by me as a kid, and I didn’t even go to a church school! That’s religious indoctrination carried out by the British state for you!
  • “As a deer pants for water brooks so my soul longs for Thee, O God.” (42:1)
  • “God is for us a refuge and a fortress; found to be a mighty help in troubles.” (46:1)
  • “Be still and know that I am God;” (46:10a)
  • “In God I trust.” (56:11a)
  • “Better is a day in Thy courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to live in the tents of wickedness.” (84:10)
  • “For in Thy sight a thousand years are as yesterday… and as a watch in the night.” (90:4 etc.)
  • “Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Stand in His presence with awe, all the earth.” (96:9)
  • “Make a joyful sound to the Lord all ye lands! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing.” (etc) (100:1-2)
  • “I raise my eyes towards the hills. Whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (etc) (121:1-2)
  • “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” (122:1)
  • “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion.” (137:1)
    Was it Boney M. or those 4 Swedes dressed in white who made this a hit? Less well known is the last verse,”Blessed be he who will seize your evil children and dash them against the rock!” (137:9) Don’t often hear that one sung in church – perhaps that’s why St Paul’s Cathedral in London like latin so much. So the congregation won’t know what they’re singing about!

Miscellaneous

  • “Thou dost make me know the path of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” (16:11)
  • “Make me to know, O Lord, my end, and the length of my days, what it is. Let me know how transient I am.” (39:4 etc.)
  • “A man’s days resemble grass . He blossoms like a flower in the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, with not a sign that it has ever been there.” (103:15-16)
  • “Behold, in sinful state was I born and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (51:5)
  • The menagerie! For a nature tour of verdant Palestine see Ps. 104:10-25.
  • “Teach us so to number our days that we may acquire discerning minds.” (90:12)
  • “See, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live harmoniously together! It is like the precious oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard, Aaron’s beard, flowing down upon the edge of his garments.” (133:1-2)

Israel’s foreign policy?

  • “The Lord brought to nought the counsel of the gentiles. He frustrated the purposes of the people.” (33:10)
  • “Thou, O Lord God of hosts, God of Israel, arise to visit all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil.” (59:5)
  • “He gave them the lands of the heathen; they reaped the fruit of their labours.” (105:44)
  • (The Lord) “…will execute judgement among the nations; He will fill them with corpses, and their chieftains He will shatter over a broad land.” (110:6)

Cruelty and violence

  • “O daughter of Babylon,…blessed be he who will seize your evil children and dash them against the rock!” (137:8a,9)
  • (The Lord) “… will execute judgement among the nations; he will fill them with corpses, and their chieftains He will shatter over a broad land.” (110:6)
  • “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who teaches my hands to wage war, and my fingers to do battle.” (144:1)
  • “Let their throats voice hymns of adoration to God, with the two-edged sword in their hands, to bring retribution upon the nations…etc.” (149:6,7)
    “May coals of fire be dropped upon their heads, or let them be cast into trenches unable to rise!” (140:10)
  • “When their judges are hurled down along the sides of a rock, then they will listen to my my words, for they are pleasant.” (141:6)

Jehovah is just one God out of many

  • “…our Lord is above all Gods…” (135:5)
  • “The Lord is to be revered above all gods.2 (96:4)
  • “…bow before Him in worship all ye gods!” (97:7)
  • “Thou transcendest far above all gods.” (97:9)
  • “The idols of the nations are gold and silver, the work pf human hands. though they have a mouth they do not speak; though they have eyes they do not see; though they have ears they do not hear; there certainly is no breath in their mouth.” (135:15-17)
    The God of Zion is a mental invention rather than a metal one, but a human invention for all that. These extracts show quite clearly that the Hebrews believed in the existence of many other Gods besides their own beloved Yahweh (Jehovah), i.e. they were polytheistic.

Faith, Trust, Praise

  • “You will not fear night’s hidden terrors, nor the arrow that flies in the daytime.” (91:5) etc.-the whole chapter spells this out in beautiful detailed baroque prose.
  • “The rivers have risen, O Lord; the streams have swirled up with their roar; the floods are surging high. Above the sound of expansive waters, of mighty ocean breakers, the Lord on high stands supreme.” (93:3-4)
  • “The works of His hands are faithful and right and all His decrees are trustworthy, standing firm for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.” (111:7-8)
  • “They swarmed around me as bees; …; in the name of the Lord I beat them down.” (118:12) and the rest of Ps. 118 is in like vein.
  • “Proclaim among the nations that the Lord is reigning; the world is established, it cannot be overthrown, and He judges people with uprightness. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea in its vastness continually roar; let the fields and all they contain give glory; all the trees of the forest rustle with praise before the Lord.” (96:10-13)
  • “Make a joyful sound to the Lord, all ye lands;break forth in joyful song; yes, sing praises! Make music on a harp for the Lord…With trumpets and sound of a horn shout ye before the King, even the Lord!” (98:4-6)
  • “The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all.” (103:19) and all the rest of 103.

The experts say:(ii), (iii) (iv)

Date written: approx.1400-300 BCE
Authorship: 1-41 David
42-72 David and Korah
73-89 Asaph
90-106 Anonymous
107-150 Anon. and David.
Solomon, Ethan, Moses and Heman may have contributed.
Nature: A collection of hymns, prayers and liturgies…personal human experience…emotion unplugged…real feelings…petty…’Book of Mood Swings’…roller coaster…   heights and deepest despair…champagne and strychnine.
Unique: the longest book in the Bible; contains the longest chapter in the bible (119 has 176vv) and the shortest (117 has only 2 vv); Ps 117 is at the midpoint of the protestant bible with 594 chapters before it and after it.

Sources:
(i) Chambers Twentieth century Dictionary , Chambers (1972)
(ii) Borg, Marcus “Reading the bible again for the first time” (2001)
(iii) Page, Nick “The Bible Book. A user’s guide” (2008)
(iv) Kent, Paul “Know your Bible illustrated” Barbour (2007)

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