Psalm 27

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 27 and its interpreters.  I have four items:

1.  I like Peter Craigie’s comments on page 232 of his Word Biblical Commentary on Psalms 1-50.  Craigie states that the Psalm “refers…to living permanently in God’s presence; such a life was regularly punctuated by actual visits to the temple…”  Craigie continues: “It was deliverance from military threats that would make possible the permanent dwelling in God’s house; and it was faith in God, renewed in his house, that contributed to fearlessness in the face of military threats.”

I can not imagine being in the midst of military threats, and I am not sure if my faith in God would give me the composure that I’d need in that kind of situation!  I have intense worries about lesser things than military battle, even though I believe in God!  But I will admit that being in God’s presence—at an encouraging church, or in prayer, or at a recovery meeting, or among those who love me—can give me the strength to get through life.  I’m reminded in those settings that life is about more than my successes and failures, and that there are people (including God) who care about me.  But I especially appreciate the times when I can worship God after a tough situation—such as taking a test that I may or may not have passed.  For me, it’s a small-scale version of the Israelites worshiping God after their Exodus from Egypt!  When I am distressed, I am certainly drawn to God; but I also enjoy relishing God when I am in a state of relaxation, after the passing of trial.

2.  I talked above about how community can bring encouragement to a person.  But the Psalmist makes an important point in v 10: that God will gather him up even though the Psalmist is forsaken by his very own parents.  Joel Osteen appealed to his verse when he said that, even if everyone on the face of the earth dislikes us, we can still have assurance that God loves us.  Although I have not arrived at the point where everyone dislikes me, this verse has given me comfort.

This verse has given some people difficulties, however, because they wonder when exactly David was forsaken by his parents.  Some have said that this verse concerns children leaving their parents after adolescence to go out on their own.  One Jewish interpretation applies v 10 to David’s parents having sex in an irregular fashion, meaning that David’s very conception was unusual and miraculous.

Then there was an article by scholar Shalom Paul, which I read in the October 1, 1982 Vetus Testamentum.  Paul compares Psalm 27 to the Babylonian Theodicy, and he notices that the Theodicy talks about a man who has become an orphan.  But Psalm 27 goes beyond the Theodicy, Paul argues, in its assertion that God will take care of the orphan.  Whether God does that or not is difficult to determine: Exodus 22:22-24 presents God punishing those who oppress orphans, but that doesn’t necessarily insure that the orphans are living a decent life.  God’s approach in the Torah appears to be to create a just society in which orphans will not fall through the cracks.  And yet, the Psalmist still decided to have hope that God would protect orphans.  It doesn’t hurt to hope!

3.  The Masoretic Text of Psalm 27:8 states (in my translation): “To you (2ms) my heart said, ‘seek (2mp) my face’; your face, LORD, I will seek.”  This is an odd verse.  So the Psalmist’s heart is telling God (who is addressed in the plural) to seek his (the Psalmist’s) face, right before the Psalmist affirms his own intention to seek God’s face?  That doesn’t make much sense!

Consequently, it’s no surprise that the King James Version emends the text to read, “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, LORD, will I seek.”  The Septuagint that is on my BibleWorks doesn’t make much more sense than the Masoretic, for it states: “My heart said to you, ‘He sought my face’; your face, Lord, I will seek.”  But Peter Craigie refers to a Septuagint version that has, “My heart said to you, ‘I have sought your face’; your face, Lord, I will seek”, and Augustine interacts with this particular reading.  This version makes more sense, for, here, the Psalmist is affirming and reaffirming his seeking of God’s face.  But Peter Craigie’s conclusion is that the “variety of renditions in the versions indicates the possibility that the original text was corrupt at an early stage…”

This is a legitimate text critical conclusion.  But religious Jewish interpreters have derived theological points from the Masoretic Text as it stands, with all its difficulty.  One interpretation of Psalm 27:8 that I found was this: David is speaking for God when he exhorts Israel to seek God’s face.  That means that David is speaking from his own heart, but his words are the words of God for Israel.  Rashi sees the concept of human beings representing God in Job 13:8 and 33:6.

Another interpretation, which is in the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll, is that God has placed in the Jews’ heart the desire to seek God’s face.  The Psalmist, therefore, is praying God’s words, which God has placed in his heart.  God has placed in his heart the exhortation to all Israel to seek God’s face.

There are things that I dislike and things that I like about this interpretation.  What I dislike is that it reminds me of Calvinism: Calvinists have sought to reassure people that they are part of God’s elect by telling them that the very fact that they are seeking God is evidence that they belong to God, for they would not have a desire to seek God had God not placed that desire within their heart.  Personally, I don’t desperately seek assurance that I am saved or that God loves me.  I just assume that he does.  If my assurance is based on my emotions about God—or whether I am seeking God appropriately—then it is resting on a pretty un-sturdy foundation, for I don’t feel good about God all of the time, nor do I seek God consistently (or at least I don’t seek him in the manner that some Christians think I should).  Plus, my problem with Calvinism is that it depicts God drawing some people to himself, but not others, as if those other people are pieces of garbage.  Is that what I should be seeking?

But I have liked the concept that God has placed in every human being the desire to seek him, as long as such an insight is not used to dismiss the views of atheists in a condescending manner, as some Christians have done when they have said, “Those atheists really believe there is a God, since God has put in every heart the desire to seek him, and so their atheism must be rooted in their sinful rebellion.”  Not trying to understand, or at least respect, where people are coming from obviates bridges from being built.

I remember a sermon that one person gave in an Armstrongite church that I used to attend.  This guy was not exactly a powerful preacher, but he made a powerful point.  He talked about a period in his life when he was backsliding from God, as he hung out at Hooter’s, or did things just as bad (which I could not picture, since this guy wasn’t exactly Mr. Cool!).  But, eventually, he listened to a voice inside of him that said, “I love you”, and he decided to follow that voice.  He encouraged us to do the same.  I appreciate the idea that God is always there—inside of us—reminding us of his love.

4.  Psalm 27:13 is another verse that has baffled readers!  The verse states (in my translation): “If I did not (Hebrew—lule) believe to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  But the verse does not complete that thought!  What would have happened had the Psalmist not had faith that he would see the LORD’s goodness in the land of the living?

Consequently, translations have supplied some words.  The King James Version has, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  The New American Standard Version has, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  The Septuagint lacks the troublesome lule, however, and so it reads, “I believe to see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”  The New Revised Standard Version follows that particular version, in this case.

A solution to the problem in Psalm 27:13 is to say that the apodosis (the “then” clause) is in the preceding verse, namely, v 12, for there are places in the Hebrew Bible in which the apodosis precedes the protasis (the “if” or “unless” clause”).  Examples include Deuteronomy 32:26-27 and II Samuel 2:27.  If this interpretation is correct, then Psalm 27:12-13 is saying something like: “Do not give me over to the will of my enemies, for false witnesses and ones breathing out violence would have risen against me, had I not believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  The idea here may be that God has protected the Psalmist up to that point, on account of his faith, and so the Psalmist hopes that God will continue to protect him.

Jewish exegetes have approached the lule in other ways, however.  One interpretation is that the Psalmist’s use of the word is an expression of doubt on his part that he will receive a reward in the World to Come.  But the medieval Midrash on the Psalms offers a more positive interpretation: it traces the use of the word lule in the Hebrew Bible and concludes that the word often occurs when the topic is merit within the covenant relationship.  Examples include the merit of Israel’s forefathers (Genesis 43:10), which brings blessing on Israel; the merit of God when he acts on Israel’s behalf (Isaiah 1:9); the merit that one gains by studying Torah (Psalm 119:92); and the merit of faith (Psalm 27:13, our present verse).  In Judaism, there are many reasons that God may honor or reward a person: the merit of somebody else (the ancestors, according to Judaism, but Christians apply this sort of concept to the merit of Jesus Christ), or God’s own grace and love, or a desire to learn God’s ways, or trust in God.  For the Midrashist, the word lule expresses profound points about God’s covenant relationship with Israel.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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1 Response to Psalm 27

  1. Hello!

    You wrote: “Personally, I don’t desperately seek assurance that I am saved or that God loves me. I just assume that he does. If my assurance is based on my emotions about God—or whether I am seeking God appropriately”

    I would like you to consider the following words about relating to the Creator and salvation. I write you this out of care.

    I would like to comment on that.
    [To differentiate,]
    Did you know that the historical Jewish Mashiakh called Y’hoshua, from Nazareth, was a Torah-observant Jew and so was his followers called the Netzarim?

    This is what the Mashiakh – Messiah – must have taught about ‘salvation’ – if he was a legitimate prophet according to D’varim [Deuteronomy] 13:1-6:
    As stipulated in Devarim [“Deuteronomy”] 6:4-9,11:13-21 one is required to keep all of the directives of Torâh′ to one’s utmost—viz., “with all one’s heart, psyche and might [lit. “very”]“—”for the purpose of extending your days and the days of your children… like the days of the heavens above the earth” (i.e., eternal life).

    According to the Tan’’kh [the Hebrew Bible (which Christians call OT)] -Yekhezeqeil [“Ezekiel”] chapter 18 – the Creator confer His atonement in His loving kindness to those and only those turning away from their Torah-transgressions and (re)turning to non-selectively Torah-observance including mishpat. Everyone has transgressed the Torah and its possible to obtain forgiveness from the Creator in His loving kindness when living in the above way. The Creator has promised this in His Bible – which is in Hebrew – and He doesn’t lie.

    Thus, the way of ‘salvation’ in NT contradicts Torah and what the Mashiakh taught. Thus, it will not lead to eternal life. It is only an emotional filled experience that doesn’t describe a real encounter with the Creator. I am a former Christian and understand that after having studied Torah in Hebrew according to etymology. When I was a Christian I had a false belief in that I was safe and would come to heaven. I studied and now know better.

    Doing your utmost to follow the directives of Torah will lead you into an immensly meaningful relationsship with the Creator; and eventually continue the relationsship into the Realm of the Heavens.

    Anders Branderud


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