Psalm 2

Dear Reader,

This is once again a revision of some work I had done previously. You can find all my posts on the Psalms as well as some explanations of how and why we study them here

Translation of Psalm 2

Below is my translation of Psalm 2. As always, I recommend that you print it out and spend some time with it before reading my comments. Notice which lines form parallel pairs. Are there sections within the Psalm? What words seem to recur?

  1. Why do nations rage
  2. And peoples devise vainly;
  3. The kings of earth take their stand
  4. And princes assemble together
  5. Against the LORD and against his anointed [1]?
  6. “Let us break his fetters
  7. And let us throw off from us his ropes.” [2]
  8. He who sits in heaven laughs;
  9. The lord [3] will mock them.
  10. Then he will speak against them in his anger
  11. And in his wrath he will terrify them:
  12. “But as for me I installed my king upon Zion, my holy mount.”
  13. I will recount the decree of the LORD.
  14. He said to me, “You [are] my son.
  15. I today begot you.
  16. Ask me and I will give nations [as] your inheritance
  17. And [as] your possession the ends of the earth.
  18. You will break them with a rod of iron;
  19. Like the vessel of a potter you will shatter them.”
  20. And now, kings, understand;
  21. And be chastened, judges of earth.
  22. Serve the LORD with fear
  23. And rejoice with trembling.
  24. Kiss his feet lest he rage
  25. And you perish [in the] way for his anger quickly will burn
  26. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Notes:

[1] Hebrew: messiah

[2] The Hebrew text has no punctuation, whether commas or periods or quotation marks. I have used translator’s license to include them here.

[3] “LORD” translates the tetragram, the divine covenant name of God of which the consonants are YHWH. “Lord” (not all caps) here in line 9 translates the Hebrew word for “lord,” not the divine name. See postscript #2 for a further discussion of this.

Analysis

The elephant in the room for this Psalm is “his feet” in line 24. Unless you read the Revised Standard Version, this is probably not what you expect. This is a big translational/text critical issue, but I don’t want it to sidetrack our whole study of the Psalm so I will put my explanation of it at the end of this post (see postscript #1).

Let’s Look at Some Parallelism

There are a lot of nice pairs of parallel lines in Psalm 2. I like to line them up and see what elements correspond. Lines 1 through 4, for instance, could be arranged thus:

  1. Why        do nations              rage
  2.               And peoples           devise vainly;
  3. The kings of earth              take their stand
  4.           And princes                   assemble           together

Actually, Hebrew can be more flexible with the word order so in reality what we would have is:

  1. Why        do  they rage            nations
  2.               And peoples           devise vainly;
  3. They take their stand         the kings of earth
  4.           And princes                   assemble           together

The difference is that in lines 1 and 3 the verb comes before the subject while in lines 2 and 4 the subject comes first. This forms a small chiasm. “Chi” is a Greek letter that looks like an “X.” If you were to draw lines between the corresponding elements in lines 1 and 2 and then lines 3 and 4, you would make x’s.

Line 5 stands on its own. Lines 6 & 7 and 8 & 9 are fairly straight-forward in their parallelism. In lines 10 and 11, we again get a small chiasm:

Then      he will speak           against them           in his anger

             and in his wrath                                  he will terrify them.

This variation is not terribly significant but it keeps the audience awake and keeps the parallelism from feeling too repetitious.

Line 12 again stands on its own. Lines 13 through 15 seem to overlap with 13 echoed by the beginning of 14 and the latter half of 14 and 15 forming a pair:

I will recount the decree of the LORD.

He said to me,                                           “You [are] my son.

                                                                       I today begot you.

Hebrew, like Spanish and many other languages, and unlike English, does not need to use the personal pronoun with the verb. The subject is inherent in the verbal form. This, in Spanish “hablo” means “I speak”; one does not need to say “yo hablo.” In lines 12 and 15 of Psalm 2, we do find the personal pronoun “I.” Because it is not necessary, its use tends to add emphasis. In line 12 I translated “as for me” to try to convey this. This would be a little more awkward in line 15 but we could also render this line: “As for me, today I begot you.”

In lines 16 and 17, we see another common feature of parallelism: not every element need be repeated:

Ask me and I will give      nations                   [as] your inheritance

                                       and [as] your possession         the ends of the earth.

“Ask me and I will give” applies to both lines. Note that we again have one of those little chiasms here in 16 & 17 and again in 18 & 19.

In lines 20 through 23, the parallelism is pretty straight-forward again.

Lines 24 and 25 are a little more tricky; it is not inherently obvious how we should divide them. The lines feel a bit unbalanced even in Hebrew (and more so in English) with the first half of the verse shorter than the second. I am inclined to make the division between “angry” and “and” for two reasons: 1) rendered this way each line ends with anger/wrath; and  2) “and” often introduces a new clause.

Kiss his feet                                               lest he rage

And you perish [in the] way         for his anger quickly will burn

Finally, line 26 stands on its own, as did 5 and 12.

Dividing up the Psalm

These three lines without parallels occur roughly evenly through the Psalm They could be seen to divide the Psalm into sections, each ending with a stand-alone line. If we accept this division, we would have three sections: lines 1 through 5, an introductory question; lines 6 through 12, the kings exalt themselves and God responds; and lines 13 through 26, God acts and the kings are subdued.

Another way to divide the Psalm is to consider who speaks. The Hebrew, you will recall, does not use quotation marks so we are being somewhat interpretive in deciding what words are spoken, but I don’t think there is much disagreement on this Psalm. If we view the direct quotes as ending sections, we have the following: lines 1 through 7, the kings rebel; lines 8 through 12, God responds; lines 13 through 19, God issues His decree; and lines 20 through 26, the kings are addressed again and the Psalm concludes.

Delving into Content

What repeated words and ideas did you notice in this Psalm? A few that stood out to me are “kings,” “nations,” and “anger,” each of which also has various synonyms in the Psalm.  We have kings and princes in lines 3 and 4; God’s king in line 12; and the kings and judges again in lines 20 and 21.

Nations, peoples, and earth occur in lines 1, 2 and 3 respectively. In lines 16 and 17, the nations and earth occur again, this time as the inheritance of God’s anointed.  And finally the earth is mentioned again in line 21.

Note that for both these clusters of words, the reference is initially to the nations and their rulers. In the middle of the Psalm, God appoints His own ruler and gives him charge of the earth, and in the end the nations’ rulers are humbled. The message seems clear: You, rulers, think the earth is your own, but I will appoint my ruler and the earth shall be his, and you shall be humbled before him.

Words for anger and wrath occur in lines 10, 11, 24 and 25. The picture of God given here is not a gentle one; He is a wrathful God.

A Messianic Psalm

Psalm 2 is clearly a messianic Psalm. The Hebrew word messiah, which means anointed, occurs in line 5. This king, who will inherit the earth and subdue the nations, cannot be found completely in any merely human king. But we also need to be careful not to read into this Psalm more than is there. I will refer you again to the postscript to this post in which I will explain why I chose to translate “his feet” in line 24 where others translate “son.”

Psalm 2 begins with the nations and their rulers. They stand opposed to the LORD (God’s proper name) and his anointed (line 5). In line 8 God is refered to as “he who sits in heaven” and , based on the parallelism, we can assume it is also God who is refered to by “lord” (little “l”; see postscript 2 below) in line 9. But in line 12 God appoints a king, his king, in contrast to the kings of the nations. I think it is reasonable to assume this individual is the same as the anointed in line 5, anointing literally being how one marks or coronates a king. It seems to be this anointed king who speaks in lines 13 through 19. Here he reveals that God has called him son. In lines 20 and following, the rulers of the earth are again addressed. They are told in line 22 to serve the LORD (that proper name again). And, as I have translated it, they are to kiss God’s feet — a sign of submission to a greater king — lest His (God’s) anger destroy them. Note that even without “son” in line 24, this is a very messianic Psalm, and there is still a reference to the anointed king being called son in line 14.

Conclusions

Psalm 2 begins with a bad situation: the nations and their rulers are defying God. This is no doubt troubling to God’s people on earth but we are given a heavenly perspective on the issue: God is sitting in heaven laughing at them.  They think they can throw off His authority and have power on and over the earth. He provides another solution: He anoints a king, whom He calls son. To this son He gives what they claim — power on earth. Note that from the perspective of the psalmist these are future events. As Reformed Presbyterians we would see this prophecy as having been fulfilled in the messianic kingship of Christ. For the time being these rebellious rulers are called to humble themselves, to kiss the feet of God (figuratively speaking of course) and to thereby acknowledge His rule and authority lest they be destroyed in His wrath.

Nebby

Postscript #1: “His Feet” vs. “The Son”

The phrase in line 24 (verse 12 in your Bibles) which I have translated “kiss his feet” is rendered by most English translations “kiss the son” (the RSV and NRSV are exceptions; they translate “feet” as I have done). This is not how the Hebrew reads, however. The word in question is bar which does sound like the Aramaic word for son. It is not the Hebrew word for son ben which is used in line 14 (v. 7).  Even if we were to do so, we would need to play with the text as we have it a little.  “Son,” if we take it as such, has no article or possessive pronoun. Translations that go this way are supplying either “his” or “the” before son.

Instead, I have translated “kiss his feet.” This is assuming that the Hebrew line has been cut off and that the last few letters of the word “feet” are missing. This, to my mind, better fits the Hebrew text as we have it. It is as if had before us “kiss his fe” and we are supplying the end of the word, assuming it has been dropped off at the end of a line.

The main argument for reading “son” here is theological. We really like to see Christ in the psalter. And it is true that many, many psalms contain references to him, including an earlier verse of this Psalm. But we must always be careful to read what is in front of us and not to read our own ideas into the text, even good ideas or ideas we find elsewhere in the Bible.

To sum up:

Reasons to translate “son”–

  • There is a  reference to “son” earlier in the Psalm.
  • Reading “feet” we have to assume some letters have dropped out or that an abbreviation of sorts is being used.
  • It provides a clear reference to Jesus and to worship being given to Him.
  • Most English translations do so.

Reasons to translate “feet”–

  • The earlier reference to “son” uses the normal Hebrew word; this reference does not.
  • Even if we accept that this is the Aramaic word “son,” it is awkward with no possessive or article.
  • Enemies kissing one’s feet in obeisance would have been a normal practice and makes sense in context.
  • The pronouns which follow (“his anger” and “those who take refuge in him“) would then refer to God.
  • This reading has the support of the RSV and NRSV.

Note that whichever of these two readings we take, we are supplying something which is not in the Hebrew text as we have it.

Postscript #2: “lord” and “the LORD”

When God revealed Himself to Moses in Exodus 3, He gave him a name. The consonants of that name are YHWH. The Hebrew text was orginally written without vowels so the consonants are all we have of that name. The Jews were so reticent about using God’s name in vain that they would not say it aloud. Instead they said adonai which means “lord.”

Psalm 2 uses the divine name in lines 5 and 13 but also has the ordinary word adonai in line 9. The text-critical way to understand this woudl be to say that it is a scribal error. Because someone copying the text would have said adonai, he messed up in this one verse and wrote that instead of the divine name.

My default assumption in approaching the biblical text is that, however it got to be the way it is (and that process might involve multiple author and/or editors) that it is the text God wants us to have. So when I read adonai in line 9, I have to assume that God meant that word. If we read “lord” (little “l”) in line 9, how does that affect the meaning of this Psalm? The parallelism with “he who sits in heaven” in line 8 makes clear that this “lord” refers to God. Psalm 2 is more than anything about authority and who holds sway on earth. God is the LORD (that is his name) but He is also a lord; power and authority are His. Applying to Him here a title which might also be used of a human lord only serves to emphasize that He is the true ruler.

What We Study and Why: Language

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 and how we study them. So far we have discussed mathematics, science and history. Today’s subject is language. I am thinking here both of one’s native language and of foreign languages. Literature we will save till another time. My interest today is in all those things which one must learn to learn a langauge — the fun stuff like spelling (phonetics, phonology) and grammar which itself is a very broad topic including both how we form words (morphology) and how we put them together (syntax and semantics).

I think most people will agree that langauge is a necessary subject. But most also are just as happy to pass quickly over through the essential bits and to get on to something else. More than any other subject, we tend to have a very pragmatic approach to language; we see it as a tool, a very essential but very boring and often troublesome tool.

Why We Study Language

If langauge is a tool it is one so powerful it was used by God to create the universe. As I argued is this earlier post, words — those building blocks of langauge — are absolutely essential to our relationship with our Creator. God used them to create us and our world (Gen. 1). God the Son is identified as the Word of God (John 1:1-3) and it is through words (and distinctly not images) that God chooses to reveal Himself to us (Deut. 4:15). Words and names are powerful things (Gen. 17:5; 32:28; Mk. 3:16; Heb. 4:12). And it is through words that God continues to save His people (Rom. 10:14).

Education is sanctification. It is us confronting the things of God, drawing us closer to Him, and making us more like Him. Language is not just essential to almost all other learning – though it certainly is that — but it is also one of those things of God. If anything it is more closely associated with God than any other subject. Math, they tell us, is the code behind the universe, but the Word is God.

I don’t know how it works in the Godhead, but for us humans we don’t seem to be able to have ideas without the words to put them in. How could we understand God Himself without the word Trinity? Words and phrases like “nature” and “begotten” and “saved by grace through faith” are carefully chosen because they communicate very specific ideas. The words embody the ideas.

As we move beyond our own language, we also begin to see the possibilites in other languages. Biblical Hebrew is a language well suited to narrative but does not lend itself so well to philosophy and theology. Greek, on the other hand, is able to express complex ideas much more readily because it contains a case system and allows for much more complexly structured sentences. English, I have heard it said,  works very well for science and technology because, being a mash of so many other languages, it easily takes on new ideas.

Since there is such a tie between langauge and thought, when we learn another’s langauge we also learn something about how they think. This allows us not only to convey our own ideas to them but to understand their thought. If we know our God through langauge, we also know our fellow men through language. Being able to connect with others, both to communicate our own ideas and to learn from them, is a major goal of language learning.

If we too often view langauge as a tool and not as something that is beautiful in its own right, then the fault lies in our own educations. One of the major principles I have set forth in this series is that we need to let the beauty of knowledge (for all true knowledge is from God) shine through in its own right. We don’t need to dress it up to make it pretty but we must also not weigh it down and make it cumbersome and boring. Most of us have had langauge made boring for us.

We need to rediscover the beauty of language so that we can pass it along to our students. The primary way I know to do this is to read people who are themselves in love with language (I will add a brief bibliography at the end to get you started). In addition to reading about langauge, we need to read well-written books, whether prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. I am thinking of those whose words just seem to roll off the tongue. I found when my kids were little that there were some picture books that I just enjoyed reading aloud. The words were a pleasure to say. The same is true of some big books as well. Authors that come to mind are: Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Russell Hoban (of the Frances books), and Charles Dickens (though I am often winded by the end of his sentences). These authors clearly love language themselves.

How We Teach Language

I think one of the biggest problems we have in teaching language is that we do too much. Perhaps in this subject more than any other we provoke our children to frustration. I am convinced that we need to take the formal elements of langauge slowly. The most important thing is to read children those well-written books that roll off the tongue. If you don’t love reading a book, don’t. Say no. Throw it away or return it to the library and get books that you, as an adult, can enjoy reading. Set an example of reading and give them access to good books (and limit access to poorly written books).

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of how we teach langauge, I can only offer you some observations I have made; take them for what you will:

  • Don’t rush into spelling before the child has a good ability to read and don’t rush into grammar for a while after that. These are subjects which can be learned more quickly a few years later.
  • Many, but not all, students will naturally pick these things up if they are reading good books.
  • Spelling seems to be a visual skill more than anything else. Some kids take to it naturally; others need to be encouraged to “see” words.
  • My observation is that worksheets on both spelling and grammar translate very poorly into children’s writing. As much as possible, there should be a context to what we teach, a literary and a social context.
  • English is a tough langauge because it is such a hodge-podge but there are some rules, however arbitrarily applied. Especially for the child to whom these things do not come naturally, it can be helpful to learn these rules.
  • When it comes to spelling, etymology and history are often helpful. If we know, that “crochet” comes from the French, we may remember that the “sh” sound in the middle is spelled with a “ch.” This can help us as well with chef and chauffeur (at least the first part of it). If we know some English history, we may also understand that chef and chauffeur, those fancy words for people with servants, come from the French. In Greek words, on the other hand, like chaos and anarchy, the “ch” sounds like a “k” (and what does that say about the Greeks?).
  • Choose your approach to grammar wisely. Many of us had the experience of not learning English grammar until we took a foreign langauge. The truth is most grammars were originally developed for other languages (like Greek and Latin) and were applied to English. We need an approach to grammar that it suited to the language.

Kee scrolling for my list of resources to get you started. I am sure there are many other good books that inspire a love for and a real understanding of language. If you have others to add, please let me know.

Nebby

Bibliography

Eide, DeniseUncovering the Logic of English (Logic of English, 2012). I consider myself a pretty good speller but this book taught me rules I never knew. There is a curriculum which goes with it which I have never used. I foudn it was useful for me to read the book. I also got the flashcards of phonemes and went through them with my kids when they were littler. Then when problematic words came up later in life I would refer to the phonemes and rules (“remember that  ….  can also make the …. sound” etc.). Teens could also read the book for themselves.

Leonard, Mary Hall. Grammar and Its Reasons (1909; republished by Forgotten Books, 2016). It is the first part of this book, beginning in chapter two, that I really like. Hall discusses the history of the study of English grammar and though she goes on to discuss grammar I thought she actually made a better case that we should not do so.

Norris, MaryBetween You & Me (W.W. Norton and Company, 2016). Norris is an editor for The New Yorker. She discusses grammar and her own career. I learned (finally!) when to use which and when to use that.

Schmidt, Stan. Life of Fred Langauge Arts (Polka Dot Publishing). Life of Fred is known for its math books but there is also a four-volume langauge arts series for high schoolers. The idea is that the child reads all four volumes every year. I am not sure it is necessary to go through them all four times. My high schoolers enjoyed these books though they did come away doing annoying things like telling me I use the word nauseous wrong (which just makes me sick to my stomach).

Vavra, Ed. Professor Vavra has written a number of useful articles on grammar, but the most useful by far is the free grammar curriculum he has developed. KISS Grammar takes a functional approach to the English language, asking what words do in a sentence rather than focusing on parts of speech.  You can find this wonderful resources here and a document I have written in how to use it here (opens a Google doc). Other articles by Dr. Vavra include: “A Psycholinguistic Model of How the Human Brain Processes Language” (here; Click where it says “click here to get article” and you will be able to download a word document). This article explains some of the basis for his approach. He explains how we understand sentences and how words “chunk” together in units of meaning. I found it fascinating and had my high schoolers read it as well. Practically speaking, this article helped me think about how to do dictation with my children.

Warner, George Townsend. On the Writing of English (1918; republished by Forgotten Books, 2013). This is an older volume which speaks to teens on how to write essays. I like Warner’s approach because (a) it is very practical and (b) it favors language which communicates well rather than heaping up long, descriptive words.

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well (Harper Perennial, 2012). Though 30 years old, this is a more modern book on how to write well.

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

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