Psalm 5

Dear Reader,

I had done a translation of Psalm 5 a while back but realized I had not posted anything more than that. You can find all the Psalm studies I have done plus some background on how and why we do this here.

Translation

Here again is my translation of Psalm 5:

1 My utterances hear, Lord; understand my murmuring.

2 Listen to the voice of my cry, my king and my God.

3 For unto you I pray.

4 Lord, in the morning you will hear my voice.

5 In the morning I will recount to you and I will watch.

6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

7 Evil does not sojourn with you.

8 The boastful do not stand before your eyes;

9 You hate all workers of iniquity.

10 You destroy those who speak a lie;

11 A man of blood and deceit the Lord abhors.

12 But as for me, in the  greatness of your faithfulness I will enter your house;

13 I will worship in your holy temple in your fear.

14 Lord, lead me in your righteousness because of my enemies;

15 Make straight before me your path.

16 Because there is not in their mouth uprightness; their insides [are] destruction;

17 An open grave [is] their throat, [with] their tongue they flatter.

18 Hold them guilty, God. May they fall from their [own] devices;

19 In the greatness of their transgressions cut them off for they rebelled against you.

20 But all who find refuge in you will rejoice; forever they will exult;

21 For you will enclose them and those who love your name will be glad in you.

22 For you will bless the righteous, Lord;

23 Like a shield you will surround them [with] favor.

As usual, I recommend you print out the Psalm and get some colored pencils and spend some time with it on your own before reading my comments. Look for which lines go together and what elements within those lines correspond. I try in my translations to lay things out in a way that will help you see the structure of the Psalm (this is why I don’t use the verse numbers but line numbers) but there are, as in any translation, some executive decisions that need to be made. Are there other ways you could or would divide up this Psalm? Do you see sections within the Psalm? Any words or themes that are carried through the Psalm?

Analysis

Poetic Structuring 

Psalm 5 is not long compared to some others but it is longer than many of the Psalms we’ve tackled thus far. This makes it a little harder to take in all at once. I’d like to begin by discussing how the Psalmist structures this (slightly) longer Psalm. This part is a little harder and less accessible in translation so bear with me.

Most of the lines, as I have them laid out, come in parallel pairs — 1 goes with 2; 4 with 5; 6 with 7; and so on through 22 and 23. One could divide the Psalm in various ways. On one hand, some of the pairs as I have them could be further subdivided. On the other, line 3, the lone standout among these parallel pairs, could be combined with another.

There are a few reasons why I decided to leave line 3 — “For unto you I pray” — on its own:

  • Line 3 gives the reason for what is said in 1 and 2, but it does not say the same thing.
  • Looking the other direction, line 4 begins with “LORD” (which also appears in line 1), seemingly introducing a new section within the Psalm.
  • Line 3 is a “for” clause, but lines 4 and 5 have their own “for” clause beginning in line 6.
  • Turning again to what comes before — a closer examination of the Hebrew shows that lines 1 and 2 have a tight structure. Line 3 stands outside of that structure.  Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that is almost impossible to carry over into an English translation. Note the word count in each of the lines:

1 My utterances hear,         Lord; (3 words)

understand my murmuring.           (2 words)

2 Listen to the voice of my cry,      (3 words)

my king and my God.                    (2 words)

The word counts here function something like a rhyme scheme in English poetry giving an ABAB pattern to these lines. This pattern ties lines 1 and 2 together but at the same times leaves out line 3.

If we leave it as it is, as the only line without a parallel, then line 3 becomes in some sense the focus of the Psalm. And what does this line say? “For unto you I pray.”  This gives us the content as much as the attitude of the Psalm — Psalm 5 is above all a prayer. It is the psalmist crying out.

The same kind of tight structure we saw in lines 1 and 2, can also be seen in other sections within Psalm 5. In lines 6 through 9 the organizing element is not the word count but the pronouns. Notice who is active (that is, who the subject is) in each line:

6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; (you)

7 Evil does not sojourn with you.                                 (them)

8 The boastful do not stand before your eyes;            (them)

9 You hate all workers of iniquity.                                  (you)

Lines 1 and 2, as we saw above, have an “ABAB” structure. Here lines 6 through 9 have an ABBA structure. The structure comes not from  word count this time but from the content.

Likewise lines 16 and 17 can be subdivided into four shorter lines:

16 For there is not in their mouth uprightness;

                      their insides [are] destruction;

17                  An open grave [is] their throat,

                      [with] their tongue they flatter.

Notice that in the two halves of line 16, a body part comes first and then what it is (or is not). The first half of line 17 reverses this order but then it is back in the second half of the line. This gives this segment an AABA pattern. I don’t think there is necessarily deep hidden meaning in patterns like this. It simply shows that the Psalmist is trying to mix things up a bit. He is keeping the reader or listener on his toes and keeping the parallelism from feeling too repetitive.

As in the first lines, the word count also forms a pattern here. This is a little less obvious because if that little word “for” which begins it all. But if you are willing to take “for” as an added word or one that applies to the whole verse, then the word count for the rest of this section is, once again, 3 2 3 2 as it was in lines 1 and 2.

Finally, lines 18 and 19 contain the same you-them alternation in an ABBA pattern as we saw in lines 6-9:

18  Hold them guilty, God.  (you)

May they fall from their [own] devices; (them)

19 In the greatness of their transgressions cut them off  (them)

for they rebelled against you. (you)

Content

One question I often like to ask of a Psalm is who does what? There are four actors in Psalm 5: the psalmist; God; “them,” that is, evil/godless people; and God’s people.

The things God does in this Psalm are: hear, understand, and listen (lines 1, 2 and 4); not delight, hate, destroy and abhor (lines 6, 9, 10 and 11); lead and make straight (lines 14 and 15); hold guilty and cut off (lines 18 and 19); and enclose, bless, and surround (lines 21, 22 ans 23).

The psalmist prays (line 3); recounts and watches (line 5); and enters and worships (lines 12 and 13). Notice that his action is confined to the first half of the Psalm and that it is all rather passive and concerns activities we would consider part of worship.

The evil people do not sojourn or stand (lines 7 and 8); they flatter (line 17); and they fall and rebel (lines 18 and 19). We get some additional description of them in lines 16 and 17 though these are not finite verbs in Hebrew.

While the psalmist disappears from the Psalm after line 13, the people of God, those who trust in Him, appear. They rejoice, exalt and are glad (lines 20 ad 21).

There are a couple of things we can deduce from all this. The psalmist is relatively passive. His part is to pray; it is God who acts. The godless people are not particularly active here either. They flatter but mostly their crime seems to be inherent to their nature. Lines 16 and 17 tell us that their very body parts are sources of evil. They cannot stand before God (line 8).

And in the end the congregation rejoices. Which brings us to the second point: there is movement in this Psalm from the individual to the body. We begin with the psalmist praying, a fact which is emphasized by line 3 standing on its own, as discussed above.  The individual prays; the Lord acts; and in the end the congregation rejoices. Psalm 5 begins in a solitary way, with one man praying, but it ends with the people of God who are all able to rejoice in His salvation.

Conclusions

I haven’t found Psalm 5 to be the easiest. A lot of what is there is hard to convey in English. Though Hebrew poetry does not use the same devices as English poetry, I hope you have seen that there is depth here. There is structuring that serves both an aesthetic purpose, varying the patterns to keep the audience at attention, and a more content-driven purpose, highlighting a key line.  Though there is not a lot of action in this Psalm, there is movement and the prayer of the individual ultimately leads to the rejoicing of the congregation.

Nebby

What We Study and Why We Study It: History

What We Study and Why We Study It: History

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

In this part of our series, we are looking at individual subjects and asking why we study them and, to a lesser extent, how. Thus far we looked at two “STEM” subjects, math and science. This time I’d like to look at what I have always considered the core of our homeschool: history.

Why We Study History

We have all heard the saying “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” but why, from a biblical perspective, should we study history?

In mathematics, we look at the structure God built into Creation. In science, we learn about the Creator from what He has made. When we study history, we are studying how God has worked in the lives of individual humans and of larger human societies. Another corny truism: history is His story. It tells us about God and it tells us about ourselves, our propensities for evil and the good that we, through the Spirit, can do.

The Scriptures instruct us to tell our children the things God has done:

“Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Ps. 78:3-4; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

The forces of history, nations and rulers, are formed and controlled by Him:

“And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” (Acts 7:26)

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Prov. 21:1; cf. Rom. 13:1)

“He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings . . .” (Dan. 2:21; cf. Dan 2:37-38; 4:17)

We see specific examples of this in the Scriptures themselves. God uses the situation in Egypt to save His people in the days of Joseph. He raises up the Persian King Cyrus, again to save His people and return them from exile (Isa. 45:1). He uses the nations as rods to punish His people (2 Kgs. 18:9-12; cf. Isa. 9:11; 10:5-6).

But it is no less true that Christ is king of nations today and that He is still as intimately involved with their rise and fall as well as the more day-to-day lives of people (Ps. 135:6; Prov. 16:4).

Cornelius Van Til argues that because history is about man, it should be the center of our educational endeavor:

“Arithmetic and all other subjects that emphasize the space aspect of the space-time world lie in the nature of the case in the periphery of the whole area of the creation of God. This is due to the arrangement God has made in his creation, namely, that man should stand at the center of it. And since man is a selfconscious and active being his most characteristic human traits will manifest themselves more fully in the movement of time, that is in history, than in the immovable atmosphere of space. Accordingly it is easier to bring out the more specifically human and the more specifically Christian interpretation of reality when teaching history than when teaching nature.” [Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974) p. 204]

How We Teach History

Christians tend to get themselves bent out of shape over science resources — Does it present a biblical view of Creation? Is it godless? Does it assume evolution? Does it agree with my view of Creation? But the Van Til quote above argues that the mindset of our history curriculum is even more vital. As he says elsewhere, there are no uninterpreted facts (p. 88; see also this post for a number of quotes from other authors on this point). We see history through a lens. If we assume a godless universe, there will be no meaning to the events we study. Cultures will rise and fall, wars will be won and lost because of economic and political and military factors but there can be no higher meaning nor is there any end towards which events are moving. Even those who accept the idea of a Creator can misunderstand events if they do not accept that He is a Sovereign God who is in control of all things. As reformed people, we believe that there is a purpose towards which all things work and that there is no event or detail, no matter how small, that is outside God’s sovereign plan [Ps. 135:6; Lk. 12:22-26; Acts 17:25-28; Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:11; Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 3:1; 5:1; Van Til does an excellent and thorough job of critiquing other Christian worldviews and showing how they fall short (pp. 72ff)].

Those beginning with young children often wonder where they should begin with history. Is it best to start at the beginning of human history or to begin with one’s own country? I don’t think there is one biblical answer to this question but my own inclination is to begin with what is closest. The child should first learn how God has worked in his own life and that of his people. “His people” here can include a few different circles. Most narrowly, it may include the family — Where do we come from? How did his parents come to faith? Are there family stories of deliverance from illness or other troubles?

Beyond that there is the state and nation in which he lives. I do not believe the United States is a Christian nation but its history does contain wonderful tales of God’s deliverance that affect the lives of small children. The story of the First Thanksgiving comes to mind. Nor should the bad stories be neglected, the ones about our failures.

I would add that though history should always be taught with the assumption that God is in control of people and events, we do not need to beat children over the head with the fact. The Bible (largely) does not do so when it tells us of God’s actions. It tells the stories and leaves us to see God working and to judge the humans involved and to make our own conclusions. It does not moralize. Lessons are best learned when one is allowed to draw one’s own conclusions. The tendency on the part of adults to want to add morals to every story often arises, I believe, from our own lack of faith in God’s story. His deeds speak for themselves more powerfully than we can when we turn a history lesson into a sermon.

We are also all part of a community of faith. The Scriptures give us part of the story of God’s work among His people. The story continues as well through the history of the church, both on a broad basis and, depending on one’s denomination, on a more local level. (As I outline my proposals for a Reformed approach to education, I am assuming that “religious” education is going on as well but I am largely confining myself to education on “secular” subjects so I will not spend much time on how we teach the Bible.)

Though we may begin with history close to home, it is also good and necessary to expand beyond one’s own people. We learn first what God has done for us, but then we also need to learn that God works in other societies as well. How we expand may depend upon our particular circumstances. It seems reasonable to me for those of us in the United States, having learned something of our own nation, to next consider those close to us. What it means to be “close” can be defined in various ways. We are a big country and personally I don’t live especially close to a national border. So “close” may be defined by geography but it need not be. Historically and culturally, England is our closest neighbor. In my own homeschool, I tend to emphasize the history of England when we cover the middle ages in the hopes that it will give my children a feel for where our own government comes from. Looking back even further, we are part of the stream that is western civilization so again it seems reasonable to spend a little more time on western civilization and its foundations (read: Greece and Rome) than on other cultures. There may be other societies to which you feel a particular tie that you want to spend more time on as well. It could be a family tie. It could be another kind of connection. Perhaps your church has missionaries there. Perhaps you have friends from another country.

And then there are peoples to whom we have no immediate tie (though you never know where God will take you in the future). Here too we can study them to learn how God has acted among people very different from us. We can also learn about the people themselves. We may see that they are very like us and that the same forces work in their societies as in ours. We may learn that they have different values and that the things we have always assumed need not be true for everyone (perhaps this is good, perhaps not).

A word especially to homeschooling parents: Human history if a huge subject. You will not get to everything. We all have gaps in our educations. Personally I learned very little about the middle ages when in school and no American history after WWII. The point is not to do everything but to do what you can and to do it with the right mindset.

The other big question I hear about history is whether it is safe or wise to teach the myths of pagan cultures to children, especially young children. Of course if you begin, as I am suggesting, with more local history this may not be an issue for a few years. I will say my own children heard Greek myths from an early age. One child was particularly attracted to these and now has declared a college minor in classics. I have never known a child to be confused by these myths and to wonder if Zeus is real or Jesus isn’t. If anything, even younger children seem to see quite clearly how messed up the lives of the Greek gods are and how hard it is to live in a world with many gods to please. On the positive side, I do believe these myths teach us about human nature (which is really what is reflected in them, though the characters are divine). And, as mentioned above, they in some sense form the basis of our own culture and a familiarity with them can help one understand later allusions and ideas.

While I am trying to give broad outlines and not specifics in these posts, let me make one more plug for “living books” (see this post for a longer explanation of what makes a living book and why we should use them). If the history we are teaching is God’s story and if we want children to see Him in it, we need to provide them with interesting books. Dry compendiums that are little more than names and dates are not going to engage their interest or help them see the majesty that is there. And similarly, I am not opposed to all memorization, but recalling facts (lists of presidents, for example) is not knowing.

Those are my thoughts in history, why we study it and its importance and place within the curriculum and a little bit on the how. Do you have other questions about history?

Until next time,

Nebby

Psalm 15

Dear Reader,

Since Psalm 14 was so tough, we’ll relax a bit this week with the next one down the pike. Psalm 15 is pretty straight-forward and it has some nice parallelism for those of you who are just getting used to Psalm study. You can find all my Psalm posts here, including some background on how and why we do this.

Translation

Here is my translation of Psalm 15 to get you started:

A Psalm of David

1 LORD, who can sojourn in your tent?

2           Who can dwell on the mountain of your holiness?

3 [He who] walks uprightly

4             And does righteousness

5             And speaks truth in his heart.

6 [Who] did not gad about with his tongue,

7            Did not make for his neighbor evil

8     And  shame did not bear against his near-one.

9  The despicable in his eyes is rejected

10 But those who fear the LORD he honors.

11 He swears to [his own] hurt and does not recant.

12 His silver he did not give in usury

13 And a bribe against the innocent he did not take.

14 [He who] does these [things]

15 Will be not be moved forever.

I recommend printing out the Psalm and getting out some colored pencils. Look for lines that seem to be saying the same or similar things. Draw lines between the parallel elements.

Analysis

You will notice a few things. First of all, parallel lines don’t always come in twos. We have a number of triads here. These are the line divisions I came up with: Lines 1 and 2 go together. Lines 3, 4 and 5 make a triad as do 6, 7 and 8. Lines 9 and 10 are a pair. Then we have another triad in 11, 12 and 13. Finally, 14 and 15 go together. Let’s look at each grouping on it’s own.

Lines 1 and 2 form the introduction to the Psalm. They pose a question which the rest of the Psalm answers. We see one common feature of parallelism here: balancing. Line 1 contains an element, the word “LORD,” which is not repeated but can be assumed in line 2. To make up for its absence, line 2 gets an extra prepositional phrase, “of your holiness” (which is one word in Hebrew). Thus the two lines are kept about the same length.

Lines 3, 4 and 5 each contain a participle; most literally we could translate walking, doing and speaking. This is a little more awkward in English, however, so I added the “he who” (words in brackets are not in the Hebrew) and used the present tense for the verbs (biblical Hebrew had no real present tense). Perhaps to give it all a little more rhythm, the third line in this triad adds an extra word with the prepositional phrase “in his heart” (again, this is just one word in Hebrew).

The next triad switches to the past tense which perhaps more accurately should be thought of as completed action. I don’t believe the psalmist is trying to make a temporal distinction (he did not gad about but now he does speak). I suspect the change in verb forms is primarily to  distinguish the two triads. Once again the third member of the triad mixes things up. This time the change is a little bigger: rather than just adding a word, the order has been changed so that the direct object (“shame”) is placed first and the verb after. A couple of translation notes: the Hebrew uses two words for neighbor in lines 7 and 8. I couldn’t think of a one word synonym for neighbor in English so I went with “near-one.” (If you can think of one, let me know!) In line 6, the verb, Hebrew rgl, is related to the word for foot. The idea is that he is going around slandering people. The image of walking also serves to connect this triad to the previous one — each starts with a verb that has to do with physical movement. Notice also that the first triad lists three positive things the man does do and the second lists three bad things he does not do.

Lines 9 and 10 form a pair. In line 9, I would understand the “despicable in his eyes” to mean those who in God’s eyes are despised (because they are evil). There is some ambiguity here as the text does not make clear who the “his” refers to. But because fo the parallel to the next line, “those who fear the LORD,” this is how I would understand it. Together these two lines tell us that the man in question treats people as God does, despising those whom God despises and honoring those who fear God.

Next we get aother triad. This time very practical, even monetary, matters are in view.

The last two lines (as I have divided it up) are very short and they could be combined into one. Given how much other parallelism is in the Psalm, I liked them better as a [air but they do together express one thought: the man who does these things will not be moved. Like a five paragraph essay, we have come back to the question we asked at the beginning and answered it. Lines 14 and 15 provide closure to the Psalm.

Conclusions

I don’t have any particularly earth-shattering conclusions to draw. Psalm 15 is lovely when we take the time to look at its structure and I hope you have seen how it all works together. If there is any apex to this Psalm, OI think it is in lines 9 and 10. Consider the overall structure again:

pair of parallel lines : question

triad: positives

triad: negatives

pair

triad

pair: answering the question

Though there are two triads in the first half of the Psalm and only one in the second, there is a kind of balance here. The beginning and end pairs go together in some sense and the triads hand together which leaves the pair on lines that ois 9 and 10 and the height of the action, so to speak.

That’s what I got from this Psalm. What did you see?

Nebby

 

 

Books Read: January 2019

Dear Reader,

I am trying to be more diligent in recording what I have read and my impressions of it (as I have such a bad memory for such things). My goal is to post monthly on the books I have finished in that month. This is the first installment.

Books Read: January 2019

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy — This is my third time through Anna Karenina though it’s been a while since I read it (I have yet to tackle War and Peace). And, no, I did not read it all in  January; I just finished it in that month. I actually read it over 6 months or so and though it is a famously long book, it lends itself well to this, The individual chapters are quite short and the plot sticks with you so you don’t forget where you are if you put it down for weeks at a time. I have also been reading some non-fiction books on marriage (see below) and this classic discusses the pros and cons of adultery (not that I’m considering it) better than any of those. The book on some level affirms Christianity though it is a weird version of it, to my mind. I think this is in large part do to the history of the church in Russia, however, so perhaps we shouldn’t fault Tolstoy too much for it. Spoiler alert: faith and faithfulness come out on top here.

Against Love: A Polemic by Laura Kipnis (New York: Vintage Books, 2003) – This is one of many books my college-age son gave me to read. They all come from a seminar class he took on love and marriage. You have to take this book as it is meant, and the subtitle tells you — it is a polemic. It is largely an extended description of what is wrong with marriage today. The author seems to be a journalist who has heard it all, and mostly the worst possible stories out there. Parts are almost laugh out loud funny but mostly this book just doesn’t go anywhere or contribute much to the discussion because it doesn’t have answers. I think it could even be dangerous because, though its descriptions of adultery are not flattering necessarily, they could normalize the experience and make one feel that all the temptations and struggles are not so uncommon. The most intriguing bits of this book are near the end when Kipnis brings in political issues. If 1990s America deserved Bill Clinton — what are we of the Trump era supposed to think and feel about ourselves?

The Awakening by Kate Chopin — An older book/short story which again deals with adultery (honestly it is just coincidental that I read so many books on this subject in such a short time). Again this fiction has more truth to communicate than the non-fiction books on the subject. There’s less resolution for the reader than in Anna Karenina but it’s a good and engaging story nonetheless.

The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton — Because my 13-year-old wants to read a lot of classics this year, I am pre-reading some that I either hadn’t read or had forgotten. I remembered liking The Outsiders when I read it in high school but couldn’t remember specifics. This is not an awful book but with groum-up eyes I am less impressed. It definitely comes off as a young adult novel, both on not being overly well-written and in having its message a bit too obvious. And there are odd details that don’t contribute to the story — like why do and how do these hoods (in the 1960’s sense of that term) from poor neighborhoods have access to horses?? As with most young adult fiction, adults are gotten out of the way by various plot devices because it anyone sensible stopped in most of the plot would never happen.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles — This is also one I was pre-reading for my daughter and which I remembered liking in high school. As with The Outsiders the writing and plot are worse than I remembered (or my tastes have matured) but it is not a bad book. Of the two, I preferred A Separate Peace. Again, adults are conveniently out of the picture or they would ruin the plot. The backdrop of WWII adds some complexity though one feels the book is trying just a wee bit too hard.

The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson — Ferguson explains and discusses the Marrow Controversy, an 18th century debate in the Scottish church, and tells why and how it is relevant today. Ferguson does a good job of distilling and explaining the issues and relates them to modern pastoral issues (particularly relating to one’s assurance of faith, or not). Well worth reading.  My favorite quote: “What God united . . ., namely, his glory and our joy, have been divorced.”

What have you been reading?

Nebby

What We Study and Why: Science

Dear Reader,

This is part of an ongoing series in search of a reformed philosophy theology of education. You can find all the posts here.

In this part of our series, we are looking at individual subjects and asking why we study them and, to a lesser extent, how. Last time we looked at mathematics; this time I thought we could tackle science.

Why We Study Science

Most people take for granted that children should study these “STEM” subjects. But for our purposes, the real question is not whether they will help us get ahead of the Chinese or get high paying tech jobs, but how can they help us grow in our knowledge of God and His creation.

The Scriptures make it pretty clear that we can learn about the Creator from His creation:

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:20; all biblical quotes are from the ESV unless otherwise noted)

We learn from the biological world:

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.” (Prov. 6:6)

““But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?” (Job 12:7-9)

And from astronomy:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps. 19:1)

And some quotes from other writers, on astronomy and geology:

“We are living in a universe that is constantly trying to talk . . .’The air,’ says Emerson, ‘is full of sounds, the sky of tokens; the ground is all memoranda and signatures; and every object is covered over with hints which speak to the intelligent.’ The stars above my head are signaling; the astronomer masters the code and reads the secrets of the universe. The stones that I tread beneath my feet are signalling; the geologist unravels the code and interprets the romance of the ages.” [Frank Boreham, The Uttermost Star (Pioneer Library, 2015; originally published 1919) Kindle loc. 89]

On chemistry:

“The chemistry of life is like an unknown alphabet and language rapidly spoken to us.” [Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) p. 113]

How We Study Science

Because science is so central to modern world, it is also perhaps most prone to being done with the wrong attitude. The world recognizes the value of the sciences for the things the world values: making money and beating out the Chinese. It is very easy for us also to fall into the trap of making our studies entirely practical and serviceable. As I have argued in this post about attitude, what we need most is to keep the right focus. If our science does not ultimately point to God and revel in the truth and beauty He has created, it is fruitless.

On a practical level, especially for younger children, my own inclination is keep the focus on joy. Most small children are inherently fascinated by the world around them. Often animals, but sometimes pmats and rocks and less directly tangible things like dinosaurs and volcanoes. We want to encourage and not dampen these natural tendencies. Our world tends to discourage close, patient observation so this also must be encouraged and even taught (though some come by it more naturally). Getting facts into children is not as important, especially in the younger years, as cultivating attitudes and habits that will keep them looking at and appreciating God’s Creation throughout their lives.

Sadly, we live in a time when many consider science and God to be opposites. This is not the case and should not be the case. Science, rightly done, should point us to God. And we do not need to live in fear that if we look too deeply or think too hard that we will lose our faith. (Which is not to say that we shouldn’t ideas against the Scriptures.)

While it may take a little searching around, there are many wonderful science books that inspire awe at God’s Creation. I quoted from Benjamin Wiker’s A Meaningful World above. This is an excellent book which touches on subjects from Shakespeare to chemistry to astrophysics and I highly recommend it.

We need not only read Christian authors. Sometimes even those hostile to faith can be inspiring. This is the case for E.O. Wilson. I disagree heartily with his views on the origins of life but when he talks about his main subject, which is entomology, he is inspiring.

For more on the value of Christian and non-Christian scholarship, see this post in which I argue that all truth is God’s truth and, conversely, this one in which I argue that we should expect more truth to come to us through Christian sources.

As I said last time, I’d love some input on this part of the series. Do you have other good quotes on science? Do you have questions? Recommendations?

Until next time,

Nebby

My Booklists for Science

 

High School Biology

High School Chemistry

High School Physics

Environmental Science

Fossils

Geology

Weather

Anatomy and Medicine

Meteorology

How Biblical Poetry Works

Dear Reader,

This is a repost with some revision of an earlier post. As I am getting back into the Psalms I wanted return to it. You can find all my posts on the Psalms here

The organizing principle of biblical Hebrew poetry is not rhyme or rhythm but parallelism. This is very different from English poetry so it is understandable that it may cause some problems in translation. How do we take poetry from one language and translate into another which uses a very different style and techniques? (And for those of us who sing psalms, we have to make it singable). It is a tough task and I don’t want to diminish the work of those who work so hard at it. But I also think that if you want to understand biblical poetry, you need to understand how it is organized. The primary principle behind biblical poetry is parallelism.

As  we read through a psalm, we may think it very repetitive. But if our thinking stops there, we may miss a lot of meaning. The inclination for English speakers may be to gloss over these “repetitions,” but if  we do so we lose the structure and also the meaning of the original.

It is time, I think, for some examples.  My goal is to give a taste of how the Hebrew poetry works and how meaning can be found in its structures (and why therefore we should seek to understand and preserve those structures in our renderings).

From the first verses of the first psalm, we find the typical Hebrew parallelism. Psalm 1:1 reads (all translations are my own translations of the Hebrew BHS text unless otherwise noted):

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

and in the way of sinners does not stand

and in the dwelling of scorners does not sit.”

The parallelism here is, I hope, obvious. There are three clauses to this verse. The initial phrase “blessed is the man who” is not repeated but then what follows “does not X in the Y of Z” is paralleled in the latter two parts by similar phrases only with the order reversed (“in the Y of Z does not X”). There is more than mere repetition going on here though. What changes between the versets is significant. Notice that in the first part the man walks. He is moving (or not) along with the wicked. In second he is standing, and in the final third he sits. His interaction with the sinners becomes more and more intimate as the verse progresses. There is an escalation.

Another example may be found in psalm 28:5. My rendering of the Hebrew is:

“For they did not understand (yabinu)

the works of the Lord

nor the creation of His hands

He will tear them down and will not rebuild them (yibnem).”

The parallelism here is not as clear-cut as the first example. In Hebrew this can all be said with fewer words so that it is something like:

 Verb

noun-of-noun

noun-of-noun

verb verb.

Furthermore, the first and last verbs in the verse sound very similar. Consonants matter more than vowels in Hebrew and the first and last words of this verse both have the consonants ybn. When one hears the second in Hebrew, one hearkens back to the first. This lends emphasis to these two verbs. The meaning of the verse as I read it in Hebrew is summed up by these two words: “If they do not understand, God will not build them.” Now admittedly, all of this is much harder to render into English, but I think we can make an attempt. If we first take the time to understand the Hebrew, we can base our word choices on it and try to convey some of the sound and meaning of the Hebrew. How about this:

 “Because they did not understand

the works of the Lord

nor the creation of His hands

He will tear them down and will not let them stand.”

Another aspect of the comparison and contrast between these verbs is that in the first case humans are the subject and in the second God. God’s action (in not letting them stand) is a consequence of, indeed a fitting reaction to, the action of the people in not understanding.

I hope I have begun to show that the structure and word choice of the Hebrew is not insignificant and that it carries meaning with it. Even if we cannot capture all of this in English, I hope we can at least begin to appreciate it and thereby to better understand God’s word to us.

Nebby

Psalms 14 and 53

Dear Reader,

Last year my resolution was to blog on reformed Christian education, and, except for some slacking in December, I followed through on that (you can find that series here). While I’m not dropping that project, this year my resolution is to be more regular in working through the Psalms. You can find a recent example including some background on how I approach the Psalms and why here.

I’d like to cover two Psalms today. Looking back I found I have already blogged on Psalms 1 through 13 so I decided to be orderly and pick up with 14. I am including 53 because the two are almost identical.

Textual Issues . . . and Why We’re Ignoring Them

I’ve studied biblical Hebrew at a couple of secular grad schools and I can tell you that these two psalms could provide some good fodder for textual criticism. There are verses which are difficult in the Hebrew. Add to that that we have two almost identical versions and your alarm bells should be ringing — Which is original? Was one corrupted? Or was the other hard so the former was smoothed out to make it make more sense? Why keep two versions? Did they have a common — most likely oral — source?

I am not going to answer all these questions or deal with all the particulars of the difficult words. That is not my goal in this series. I do have to make some judgment calls in order to translate them, but my goal here is not to discuss  or to do textual criticism.

I come to the text with some presuppositions. First and foremost is that it is the inspired Word of God. A corollary is that God has given us what He wants us to have. However these two Psalms came to be, they are what He wants us to have now. And He wants us to have two versions of this particular Psalm. So we may revisit the “why we have two” question at the end but we are not going to dwell on how the text came to be the way it is.

Translations

Because we have two psalms to look at and want to be able to compare them — and largely because I don’t know how to make a table in WordPress — I am going to refer you to this Google document for my translation of the Psalms:

My translations of Psalms 14 and 53

Our usual approach is for you to print out the Psalm and spend some time looking over it, colored pencils in hand (again see this post for some background how-to information). This time I’d like you to think about some specific questions as you do:

  • Read one of the Psalms by itself first. This Psalm doesn’t have as clear a structure as usual. There is not a lot of nice parallelism. You can still look for repeated words and ideas and any kind of structure. Are there any sections here? Any movement through the course of the Psalm?
  • What do you think the setting is? What situation is the psalmist (or those he speaks for) in? Does the Psalm itself tell us anything about the historical context? Has anything changed by the end of the Psalm?
  • Now look at the two side by side. What differences are there between them? What is the effect of these differences? Are there different ideas? Tones or emphases?

Analysis

I ask you to spend some time with the Psalm before you read my comments so that you can have your own relationship with it. God’s Word is living and part of what that means is that we can come to it multiple times in multiple ways and get different things from it each time. I am going to give you my observations but if yours are different, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong. As always, if you did have other conclusions, I’d love to hear them.

I asked what the setting of this Psalm is. The Psalmist and his people are clearly in distress, in need of salvation (line 10). The end of the Psalm seems to give us the specific context — they are in captivity (line 11). This may be the Babylonian captivity which began around 586 BC when the southern kingdom of Judah was destroyed and its elite taken away (cf. Ps. 137). There is also some indication that the enemy have encamped or are encamping around Israel (Ps. 53, line 8). The enemy, whoever they are, do not recognize God; they do no good; they “eat” the people “like bread.” There is little change within the Psalm; it ends with a cry for a deliverance which has not yet come.

Because the resolution of the problem is not seen within this Psalm, there is not a lot of movement, that is, the Psalmist’s situation does not change. But there is some stylistic change within the Psalm. There are two markers of this: the verb tenses and repeated words.

The verb tenses (see footnote #2 in my translation) clue us in to one division within the Psalm. Most of this Psalm is written in the past tense; these are things which have been done. But at the end of the Psalm, there is a future tense: “Who will give salvation” so that Israel and Jacob may rejoice and may be glad (line 10; Psalm 14 also have the future in line 9, but we will examine that further when we compare the two Psalms).

What repeated words and ideas did you notice? I tried to translate it in such a way as to highlight the “there-is-not,” which, as I said in my notes, is one short word in Hebrew. It stands out in the Hebrew in a way that is hard to convey in English. This little word, Hebrew eyn, occurs four times in the Psalm, in lines 1 and 2 and twice in quick succession in line 6. In the middle, we find one occurrence of its opposite, yesh, “there is,” in line 4. This repetition provides a kind of tight coherence to the first half of the Psalm. Not only does a short word predominate, but this section of the Psalm is rather choppy, full of short phrases with short words. In line 7, by way of contrast, we get a mouthful (no pun intended), a long statement that seems to shift the style of the Psalm. This continues through line 9 when there is a shift again, marked by the verb tenses as we have seen, but also by a return to somewhat shorter and definitely easier to translate phrases.

I’d like to look a little more closely now at each of these three parts, noting also the differences between the two versions of the Psalm.

What binds the first 6 lines together is that little word “there is/are not.” In line 1, it is the fool who says “there is no God.” In line 2, the Psalmist intervenes with commentary, telling us there are none who do good. In lines 3 and 4, the tables are turned, God looks down and asks “Are there any?” The Psalmist then comments again, telling us that all are corrupted (line 5). And in line 6, the verdict comes from God “there is none” who does good and repeating the key word: there is none, not even one. We could lay these lines out like this:

The fool says in his heart: “There-is-no God.”

They destroy. They abominate wantonly. There-is-no doer of good.

The LORD from heaven looks-down upon the sons of man:

To see is-there-any who understands, seeking God?

All turn-aside; together they are corrupted;

There-is-no doer of good;

There-is-not even one.

The first part, lines 1 through 6, is almost identical in the two Psalms. The main difference (besides one word difference in line 2, wantonly versus unrighteously; these are very similar words in the Hebrew) is the use of God in Psalm 53 where Psalm 14 has LORD. This difference continues in the latter portions of the Pslam (cf. lines 7, 9 and 11).

Turning to the second section of the Psalm, lines 7 through 9, we find longer clauses and the biggest differences between the two versions. Line 7 is identical in the two (other than the God/LORD difference), but in line 8 for the first time we have a different idea. Both have the clause: “There they [the enemy] dread greatly.” Psalm 14 tells us why “they dread” — because God is among the righteous (i.e. Israel). Psalm 53 tells us instead that their dread is not real: they dread though there is nothing to dread. Psalm 53 also contains a statement with no parallel in Psalm 14: “God scatters the bones of your [Israel’s] encamper” (that is, the one who encamps against him). 

The transition to the second person (which occurs at the end of 8 in Ps. 53 and in line 9 in Ps. 14) is awkward in English. Hebrew is more comfortable with such transitions. Still, this is a rocky part of the Psalm, particularly for Ps. 53.  In Psalm 14, the “you” in line 9 seems to be the enemy who is now addressed — it is he who shames the needy (i.e. God’s people). He does so because they put their trust in God. There is a little bit of tension here: on one hand, the enemy dreads because God is with His people (line 8); on the other, he mocks them for their faith (line 9). I don’t think this is a tension we need to resolve. I don’t know about you but this sounds like human nature to me — the wicked both mocks and fears the faith of the righteous which he does not understand nor share.

The main connection between line 9 in the two Psalms in the word “shame.” Beyond that they have little in common. Psalm 53 reads: “You put (them) to shame for God rejects them.”  This is a bit opaque but my interpretation of it is this: the “you” is the enemy (in contrast to line 8). As in Psalm 14, he puts Israel to shame. But whereas Psalm 14 tells us the enemy mocks Israel for his faith, Psalm 53 provides another kind of reason: the emeny mocks Israel —  that is, he is allowed to mock Israel — because God has rejected him (Israel). [This idea — that the exile happened because God rejected Israel – is common in the prophets (cf. Isa. 5:1ff).]

This interpretation leaves some awkwardness, even by Hebrew standards. “You” in line 8 refers to Israel while the “you” of line 9 refers to the enemy. Because the latter half of line 8 in Psalm 53 breaks the flow of the Psalm and because it has no parallel in Psalm 14, the text critic in me would say that it is an added gloss by a later scribe that has become incorporated into the text. I don’t think that is entirely a wrong inclination. On one hand, it does feel added, but, on the other, it is part of the Scriptures as we have them, as God wants us to have them. The question we should be asking, then, is what this line contributes to the Psalm.  This is, frankly, a pretty discouraging Psalm with a cry for help to come at the end but little concrete consolation in sight. In fact, apart from the clause in question, there is nothing God does here to alleviate the psalmist’s suffering. So the Psalmist breaks in here with a word of encouragement: though things look hopeless, God does scatter the bones of our enemies who are at this very moment (perhaps) encamping around us. 

Moving to the final section, lines 10 and 11, again the main difference is in the divine name, God in Psalm 53 versus LORD in Psalm 14.

There is one more difference I would like to highlight and it is in the superscriptions. If you read footnotes, you may alreays know what I am goign to say. Psalm 53 has a longer superscription than 14 does. It contains a refernce to what may be a tune, saying the Psalm is “according to mahalat,” and it also has that it is not just “of David” but a “maskhil of David.”  This is not at all uncommon in the Psalms but I think it is significant here because the same word, maskhil, occurs in line 4. In the title, a maskhil is usually taken to be a kind of song or poem. The base root has to do with prudence or understanding so scholars often translate it as something like “a contemplative poem.”  In line 4, the exact same word (not just the same root) appears as “understand” in “is there any who understands?” In the Psalm, the answer to that question is no, there is no one who understands which is here equated with seeking God (knowledge and God-fearing being closely related in the Scriptures; cf. Prov. 1:7). But the title hints at something different: David had maskhil; he was a God-seeker. And in truth, though the Psalm starts with a blanket statement: there is no who seeks God, in the course of it, the psalmist seems to be saying not that no one at all seeks God but that among the nations, particularly those oppressing Israel, there is none who seeks God.

What then are we to make of all these differences? What is the net effect of them and why do we have two such similar Psalms? Though there is a lot of overlap between the two, they do seem to have slightly different thrusts. Psalm 14 uses the proper, covenant name of God (LORD) which always calls to mind God’s covenant faithfulness to His people. It also says God is among the righteous (line 8) and is a refuge to the needy (line 9). When God’s people are mocked, it is for their faith. In some ways this is the less depressing version of the Psalm.

In contrast, Psalm 53 never uses the divine name and it places the blame for the current troubles not directly on the enemy but on Israel itself. Their trouble is a punishment for rejecting their God. The line with no parallel, the latter part of line 8, tempers this a bit as, oddly enough, does the added superscription which reminds us that men, like David, have been wise and sought God. Other than just not bringing to mind God’s covenant, the use of the more generic “God” seems to give this Psalm a bit of a universal flair. The nations may not know about the LORD but they should have some awareness of a God yet even this they do not acknowledge.

Conclusions

These are hard Psalms. They are not easy to translate or to understand. Nor are they easy to internalize. Their message is a harsh one and while there is a call for salvation, there is no realization of that hope within the course of the Psalm. Though Psalm 53 tries to temper the message, it is the harsher of the two, blaming Israel for its troubles. Though most people reading this do not live with oppression, I hope they still speak to us in a time when most of the world around us says “there is no God.”

Nebby

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