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Posts Tagged ‘Biblical Theology’

Psalms 23-29: Analysis

This is the donation thank-you essay for January 2008. Our studies in the Psalms go out month by month in response to donations. I’m putting this one up here as an example, and also because the version I actually mailed out contained several egregious arithmetical errors! So, here is the corrected version. 

We rendered the fourth set of seven psalms in Book 1 of the psalter, Psalms 23-29, during 2006. (That set is available for a donation of $25.00.) There again seems to be a cycle of seven here. As we progress through Book 1, we are attempting to uncover structures and patterns and progressions. Doubtless when we are finished, we shall have to go back and make some corrections. For now, however, I shall attempt to tease out what might be a fourth set of seven psalms. To begin with, the names of God in Pss. 23-29. (For some reason the apostrophes at the beginnings of ‘el and ‘elohim, etc., are sometimes reversed when this goes up on the website, just as they are reversed right here! I don’t know how to fix it.) We find a focus on the Name Yahweh:

              1-7                  8-15               16-22              23-29

Yahweh     yahweh 36     yahweh 35       yahweh 45       yahweh 60
God          ‘elohim 10       ‘elohim 8          ‘elohim 10        ‘elohim 3
Mighty One                     ‘el 2                  ‘el 10               ‘el 1
My Lord    ‘adonai 1         ‘adonai 2         ‘adonai 2
Most High   `elyon 1        `elyon 1           `elyon 2
Mighty Protector                                     ‘eloah 1

                    Total 48        Total 48         Total 70           Total 64

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. . . and the whole thing gets muddled. The words we traditionally use to translate Hebrew terms in the “sacrificial” system are confusing and often convey the wrong ideas. If we are going to understand Leviticus and the old world system of sacrifices and offerings, the first thing we have to do is get the words right.

This was brought home to me again this past week at the AAPC lectures. Peter Leithart spoke on the “purification offering.” But, in fact, it’s really not an “offering” at all. And I don’t believe”purification” really best translates the meaning of the Hebrew term. I highly recommend Peter’s lecture. But even he could not avoid talking about all of the rituals in Leviticus 1 as “offerings.” It’s ingrained in us. It’s very hard to overcome. Let’s talk about it.

We use English words to translate some of the Hebrew terms in Leviticus that are not helpful, but are in fact loaded with all sorts of unfortunate connotations. The book of Leviticus is a book of rituals (mostly) and the Hebrew terms used are extremely precise. I believe our Bible translations make these rituals obscure because of traditional, but inappropriate designations.

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I’ll start things off here. This year I’m preaching through the Gospel according to St. Luke. Over the past ten years I’ve preached through the Gospel according to St. Mark, St. John, and St. Matthew (in that order) in our morning services at Providence. It’s been eye-opening for me; and I hope also for my parishioners.

Right up front, the prophetic songs of Mary and Zechariah have forced me to rethink some deeply ingrained presuppositions. Zechariah sings about being “saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us” (1:71) and “being delivered from the hand of our enemies” (1:74). But who are these enemies? It’s common to say that Zechariah speaks for the Jews and that their enemies are the Romans. The Romans, we are then told, occupy the land of Israel. They are oppressive and cruel. But is that right? It doesn’t seem correct to me.

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