Saturday, May 24, 2008

Psalm 11

I usually read the Psalms in the NIV, but today I decided also to read the NET. I came across a very interesting prayer. The NIV renders Psalm 11:6, "On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot." The NET interprets the verbs as jussives, not indicatives, rendering 11:6, "May the LORD rain down burning coals and brimstone on the wicked! A whirlwind is what they deserve!"

Wow. Subtle, but huge diffference. In the NIV, the psalmist is describing (in general) what happens to the wicked. In the NET, the same verse is a prayer that God will bring down fiery coals on the wicked. Yikes! What a conclusion to the Psalm.

Ultimately, this Psalm is about confidence in the Lord's ability to protect "the righteous." The psalmist is under attack, and his advisors are telling him that he needs to flee to the mountains. The psalmist asks, "Why would I want to do that? God is righteous. He will protect me." Then, he calls down the thunder.

As I have written before, I don't think these kinds of prayers are appropriate today. I think the Old Testament was written by a people with a worldview that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in this life. I think theology developed so that by the time of Jesus, folks were looking to the eschaton for justice. (See discussion of N.T. Wright's book.)

But I do think that this Psalm has relevance to us today. I like Psalm 11:4, "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; his eyes examine all people." (NET) Perhaps here you have a twofold expression of God's reign. On the one hand, the Lord's throne is in heaven, so He can see the whole earth. On the other hand, He lives in His holy temple, i.e. He is present with His people.

God is indeed the cosmic ruler. He is completely distinct from His creation and He is able to do with it what He pleases. At the same time, He is very present in His creation. He sees injustice. He sees pain. He hurts with us. I think this Psalm is also a call to us to be on the look out for injustice. I don't think we should be calling down the thunder when we see it (although, perhaps we should), but we should certainly be hurting with those who hurt.

"Father, I confess that while my eyes are often on the lookout for injustice, too infrequently am I willing to enter into the lives of others and hurt with them. I pray that Your Spirit would change this about me. I confess that too often I worry about schedules, about deadlines, and about expectations; and I don't worry enough about people, about loving my neighbor, about hurting with those who hurt. I pray that I would judge the 'success' of my life not on what I accomplish, but on who I love. I thank You for caring for me. I thank You for looking out for me. I thank You for hurting with me. Amen."

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