Summary: July 14, 2002 -- EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST --Proper 10 Psalm 65:[1-8] 9-14 (Psalm 65: [1-8] 9-13 NRSV) Your paths overflow with plenty. (Ps. 65:12) Color: Green Title: “Praise is not a luxury.”
July 14, 2002 -- EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST --Proper 10
Your paths overflow with plenty. (Ps. 65:12)
Title: “Praise is not a luxury.”
This psalm is usually categorized as one of thanksgiving, yet the word “thanks” never appears in it. It is really a hymn of praise, though not a pure one. There are elements of lament, forgiveness and petition in it as well. Furthermore, praise and thanks are a continuum. Pure praise recognizes God as God and extols his characteristics in a general, inclusive way. Thanksgiving recognizes God’s acting in behalf of a specific individual in a specific instance, though it also can be more general. Yet, both praise and thanks are the same recognition of God and same honoring of him, only the context differs and can range from the most inclusive on the one hand, to the most specific on the other. So, this psalm is difficult to classify according to presently accepted standards. Suffice to say that it is a song of praise for God’s great deeds, especially the giving of rain, the basis for physical life, and of thanks for the forgiving of sins, the basis of the death of a covenantal relationship with God.
This psalm may well be a revision of very ancient prayers in the light of the return from exile. As such, it is post-exilic in composition, but has many images that pre-date even the monarchy.
In verse one, Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed . A psalm of David. A song: It is generally accepted that phrases such as these found at the beginning of many psalms serve a variety of functions. They may classify the psalm, assign authorship, give indication of how it is to be sung, etc. There is no way of knowing when and by whom these markers were inserted, almost certainly long after the psalm was composed, and there is no certainty about what they really mean. The same “markers” do not always show up in both the original Hebrew and later Greek text. In this case the Hebrew assigns authorship to David, but in the Greek text, and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the return from exile are also mentioned. None of these “markers” affect the meaning of the psalms they introduce.
Verses two and three, to you: This is repeated three times in staccato fashion, emphasizing that Yahweh is due praise, not Baal, the Canaanite god of rain, or any other idol. Yahweh delivers; they do not. “Praise” means “recognition” and the psalmist, speaking for all those assembled “on Zion” the mountain where the Temple is located, in order to praise and thank God for forgiving their sins and indicating it by providing rain, without which they could not continue to live.
Our vows must be fulfilled: When a farmer sows the seed, he would typically promise God something if God grants growth. Since that has happened, the farmers are now in the Temple fulfilling their vows. However, the language has become general enough to apply to gratitude at any answer to their prayers. No specifics are given. It would apply to the cessation of war as well as the cessation of drought or any other need. By the time the psalms reached their final written form, language specific to an occasion, be it a prayer of lament or for forgiveness or of praise or thanks, has become “generalized” so that the same language is appropriate for a variety of contexts. The same is true for proverbs and parables.
You who hear prayers: In contrast to other gods, Yahweh actually hears and acts. A living God, he ensures the life of those who recognize him as the only God.
To you all flesh shall come: “All flesh” might at first have meant only “all Israelites,” but over time some Israelites realized their choice by Yahweh as his special people to be less a privilege and more a mission to “all flesh.” They realized that from the center of their world, Zion, Yahwism would radiate to the ends of the earth by their example of worship and behavior. Everyone belongs to Yahweh and it would be their mission to proclaim that fact.
In verse four, When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions. The recognition of Yahweh’s power prompts the recognition of the people’s abuse of their power, their sin. The verb, translated here as “pardon,” is Hebrew kapar and is related to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, an autumnal feast, which along with the feast of Tabernacles was a celebration of the last harvest of the year. Kapar/kippur denotes the removal of the primary effect of sin- a barrier between Yahweh and his people. While humans would perform acts such as offering sacrifice or giving atonement money or laying hands on a scapegoat and banishing it to the desert, the Israelite knew that God could and would forgive without any one these if the penitent sincerely prayed for it. “Atonement” is less the appeasing of an angry God than it is the removal of a barrier between God and humans. Thus, “pardon” or “forgive” means “restore the previous relationship.” Humans cannot earn this. God does it for his own sake and by his own power. The rituals of forgiveness are more for humans’ sake, to allow them to express their changed attitude, their contrite heart and broken spirit, rather than pay back to God.