For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 43 and its interpreters. I have two items:
1. The Psalmist wants God to deliver him from an ungodly nation so that he can return to God’s hill and dwelling to worship God. The Psalmist in v 3 asks that God might accomplish this by sending forth his light and truth, and the word translated as “truth” can also be rendered as “faithfulness”.
There are different interpretations of this verse. The fourth century Christian exegete Theodore of Mopsuestia says that the light is contrasted with darkness, which is the Psalmist’s experience of calamities. The light, according to Theodore, is God’s support, which frees one from calamities. And the word “truth” means that God’s support is firm. Jewish interpreters interpret the light and the truth in reference to the Messiah and Elijah, with some viewing the light as the Messiah and the truth as Elijah, and others reversing the applications. Orthodox Jewish thinker Samson Raphael Hirsch affirms that the light and the truth are the Torah, the study of which disperses the gloom of the Jews even while they are in exile. Some view the reference to light in v 3 in terms of God’s clothing himself in light (Psalm 104:2), which may mean that the Psalmist is hoping for God to manifest himself and his faithfulness and to intervene to return the Jews to Zion. And E.W. Bullinger interprets the light and the truth as the Urim and the Thummim, which David lacked during his flight from Absalom. Bullinger’s point may be that David was longing to have access to God’s guidance through the Urim and the Thummim (which the high priest wore) so that he could get back to Jerusalem.
I see two kinds of interpretation here: One says that the Psalmist expresses hope that God’s light and truth will deliver the Psalmist from his calamities, whereas the other (namely, that of Rabbi Hirsch) holds that God’s light and truth sustain the Jews in the midst of their calamities, dispelling their gloom. I like the latter concept because I appreciate the notion of diving into the Torah when one is suffering in order to cope—the Torah, with its laws and stories and principles of justice. I have done this on numerous occasions (with the Bible, that is). At the same time, I would bet that even Rabbi Hirsch would maintain that the Jews also got hope from the Torah that their situation would concretely become better.
Peter Craigie, like many scholars, treats Psalm 43 as a continuation of Psalm 42, in which (according to Craigie) the Psalmist despairs even more as he fondly recalls his past experiences of worship at God’s sanctuary. But Craigie says that Psalm 43 marks a shift: that the Psalmist is moving from introspection and nostalgia to hope in God, who has the power to deliver him. Personally speaking, I look for God’s deliverance and breakthrough. At the present time, however, I will continue to cope and to use my current situation as an opportunity to become closer to God. That’s what wilderness experiences are for. That brings me to my second item.
2. The Psalmist in Psalms 42-43 does not primarily focus on receiving physical blessings, although he would like for his experience of oppression to end. Rather, the Psalmist desires God. His main topic is on returning to the sanctuary so that he can worship and celebrate God. In Psalm 43:4, the Psalmist calls God the joy of his rejoicing. One could ask why the Psalmist couldn’t enjoy God even outside of the sanctuary, and the answer may be that the Psalmist felt that he was more in God’s presence when he was at God’s earthly dwelling-place.
At my church’s Bible study group, we listened to Tim Keller (on a DVD) say that the prodigal son and the older son in Jesus’ parable both wanted what their father had, not the father himself, the same way that many desire blessings from God, but not God. As Hank Hanegraaff continually asks, do we want the master, or what is on the master’s table? I must admit that I desire a relationship with God because I feel that can give me joy and security. To correct that situation, I think it may be helpful for me to come up with reasons that I should love God. The first century Greek historian Plutarch, in Aristeides 6:3, says that people envy the gods’ incorruptibility and fear their power, but they love the gods for their justice. God’s righteousness is a reason to love God. But worship in the Hebrew Bible also entailed thanking God for the harvest. One can love God for God’s love and goodness and righteousness, while also praising God for what he offers us from his table.