Church Write-Up: Psalm 23:6 and Psalm 40

Here are some items from church this morning.

A. The theme of the service was Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” The youth pastor offered an interpretation of dwelling in God’s house forever. His interpretation was that the house is not a literal building but rather refers to God’s family: Christians are part of God’s house by being in God’s family, as God’s sons and daughters, and they shall be in God’s family for all eternity. Indeed, “house” (beyt) in the Hebrew Bible can refer to a person’s household or family. Israel was part of God’s family by being God’s firstborn (Exodus 4:22), and David, as king, was also the son of God (II Samuel 7:14). In the youth pastor’s interpretation, David was assuring himself that, whatever perils he may be experiencing, God is still his father.

B. The pastor in his sermon offered another interpretation of Psalm 23:6b. It does refer to returning to God’s presence in the Temple, which David desired while he was on the run from King Saul. But it also has the sense of being in God’s presence continually, over and over. Because the pastor referred to the Hebrew, I checked it out on my BibleWorks. I was surprised to find, not le-olam, the word usually translated as “forever,” but rather le-orek yamim, “for length of days.” The pastor said that the sense of Psalm 23:6b is that God forgives us continually. When Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy-times-seven (Matthew 18:21-22), Jesus was not setting a limit on the number of times Peter can forgive. Rather, Jesus was saying that God forgives always and continuously, so Peter should as well.

C. The pastor described the thoughts of three philosophers. The first was Toynbee, who believed in a divinely-guided progression upward of history. The second was Hegel, who saw a synthesis, which was neither necessarily progressive nor regressive. For example, Greek and Rome collided and produced something new: Greco-Roman culture. The third was Spengler, who saw history and life as cyclical, as people experience the same sorts of things again and again. The pastor related Spengler to the Christian life, as Christians sin and receive God’s forgiveness over and over yet often change in the course of life with respect to the sorts of sins that they commit. The pastor referred to the movie Groundhog Day, in which Phil wakes up each morning experiencing the exact same day over and over, until he is delivered from this cycle through his love for Rita. Christians are delivered due to God’s kindness and mercy chasing them, not merely sweeping up after them.

D. The Sunday school class talked about Psalm 40. Psalm 40 is David’s reflection on when he was fleeing from Saul. There was a lot of time between Samuel’s anointing of David and David actually becoming king. David, in this perilous interim, was wondering if God had forsaken him, or if he had committed some sin that displeased God and God was punishing him. Saul, meanwhile, was slandering David, saying David was trying to overthrow him, turning people against him so that they rejected and did not help him. David came to see God as his rock, someone on whom he could securely stand. In the Judean wilderness, people could stand on rocks, whereas they could easily sink in sand. David’s hope was that his enemies would be afraid and amazed when God delivered them, realizing that they cannot stop God. If they continue to oppose David, they will place themselves outside God’s deliverance.

E. V. 3 affirms that God put a song in the Psalmist’s mouth. A student commented that she sees singing as coming from us outside of our mouths, whereas v. 3 states that God put the song inside of the Psalmist. We cannot praise God without God putting the song there in the first place. The pastor talked about David’s statement in v. 8 that God’s law is in his inmost being. People feel things in their bowels, their inward being. God knows us, inside and out, but God put his Torah, Jesus, inside of us, such that the word made flesh connects with our inward selves.

F. The pastor talked about how pieces of Psalm 40 appear elsewhere in the Book of Psalms. He said that many scholars maintain that Jeremiah edited the Hebrew Bible. Deuteronomy threatens Israel with punishment if she was faithless to God, and Joshua-II Kings is about how that unfolded. Jeremiah was the primary prophet who proclaimed that message when Judah finally fell. My understanding is that scholars label this editor the Deuteronomist. Richard Elliott Friedman, initially, argued that the Deuteronomist was Jeremiah. But there are scholars who distinguish between the Deuteronomist and Jeremiah, noticing some differences between them in terms of their message.

G. The pastor commented briefly on Jesus’s parable in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant. The servant, by refusing to forgive someone else, was rejecting the king’s forgiveness of him. That is an interesting take. When we refuse to forgive others, we are affirming a system of strict justice rather than forgiveness, and we fail under a system of strict justice. This is somewhat helpful but only goes so far. I am fine with God liking and forgiving everyone. That does not mean that I like them or want anything to do with them.

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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