Brueggemann & the Psalms – 3

So… there are the Psalms. Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation to match the seasons of life that come and go freely and unannounced. I’ll start with the psalms of orientation – to name that “groundedness” and “rootedness” – those seasons in which we have experienced God’s good creation and its divine order and known it as good. Chaos is absent. Goodness and joy are pervasive.

In the introduction to his chapter dealing with Psalms of Orientation, Brueggemann notes,

“The psalms of orientation were created, transmitted, valued, and relied upon by a community of faithful people. To these people, their faith was both important and satisfying. A beginning theological point for the Psalms are those psalms that express a confident, serene settlement of faith issues. Some things are settled and beyond doubt, so that one does not live and believe in the midst of overwhelming anxiety. Such a happy settlement of life’s issues occurs because God is known to be reliable and trustworthy. This community has decided to trust in this particular God.”

He reiterates his point:

“These psalms in various ways are expressions of creation faith. They affirm that the world is a well-ordered, reliable, and life-giving system, because God has ordained it that way and continues to preside effectively over the process… Creation here is not a theory about how the world came to be. That is not how the bible thinks about creation. It is rather an affirmation that God’s faithfulness and goodness are experienced as generosity, continuity, and regularity. Life is experienced as protected space. Chaos is not present to us and is not permitted a hearing in this well-ordered world.”

But the psalms do not only consist of and relate to our private world, but have a deep social dimension:

“The function of this kind of psalm is theological, i.e., to praise and thank God. But such a psalm also has a social function of importance. It is to articulate and maintain a ‘sacred canopy’ under which the community of faith can live out its life with freedom from anxiety.”

This statement from Brueggemann reminds me of Psalm 125:

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people.”

So, I start with a “Creation Psalm” within the genre of Psalms of Orientation, Psalm 33:

“Psalm 33 is a new song that sings about a new world. It is a world about which Israel always sings, the world that Yahweh is now creating. It is a world ordered by God’s justice over which God presides with faithfulness. To such a world the only appropriate response is confident and sure praise to the one who makes that world available to us.”

[1] Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright.
[2] Praise the LORD with the lyre,
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
[3] Sing to him a new song,
play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
[4] For the word of the LORD is upright;
and all his work is done in faithfulness.
[5] He loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.

These verses announce 5 imperatives: praise, rejoice, make melody, sing, and play. “For the word of the Lord is upright; and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his steadfast love.” Therefore Israel’s praise in new song (vv. 1-3) matches Yahweh’s new world (vv. 4-5). Further, Brueggemann comments, “…[and] the ones summoned to praise are ‘righteous and upright,’… they keep the torah and belong properly to Yahweh’s well-oriented world.”

Verses 6-9 are a reflection on the power of Yahweh’s word, already mentioned in verse 4.

[6] By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
[7] He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle;
he put the deeps in storehouses.
[8] Let all the earth fear the LORD,
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
[9] For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood forth.

“The details of verse 7 sound Job-like in their splendor. They articulate Yahweh’s utter governance over the world. The image of waters in a bottle bespeaks the awesomeness of Yahweh over against the smallness of the world. Compare the same disproportion in Isa. 40:12-17. How great thou art, indeed!”

Verses 10-17 reflect on Yahweh’s awesome and unquestioned power…. this is a common doxology to God’s might. Similar hymns can be found in Job chapters 5 7 9, and in Isa. 44.

[10] The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nought;
he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
[11] The counsel of the LORD stands for ever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
[12] Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!
[13] The LORD looks down from heaven,
he sees all the sons of men;
[14] from where he sits enthroned he looks forth
on all the inhabitants of the earth,
[15] he who fashions the hearts of them all,
and observes all their deeds.
[16] A king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
[17] The war horse is a vain hope for victory,
and by its great might it cannot save.

“The metaphor of God looking down from heaven (v. 13) is an important usage (cf. Psalm 2:4, Deut. 26:15). It asserts both that God is utterly free of the world and yet is utterly attentive to it. The entire unit of Psalm 33 expresses complete confidence. Israel need not be anxious, because God’s rule is not in doubt and will not be challenged. It is this kind of confidence about God’s governance of the creation that permits freedom from anxiety in Matt. 6:25-33.”

[18] Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
[19] that he may deliver their soul from death,
and keep them alive in famine.
[20] Our soul waits for the LORD;
he is our help and shield.
[21] Yea, our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
[22] Let thy steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
even as we hope in thee.

“Notice with what delicacy this new song is wrought. The fear motif calls us back to verse 8, but that general term has now been made specific (v. 18). The ante is now upped, because the ones who fear are the ones who hope 9 (v. 18). All people may fear; Israel hopes. Israel’s hope is not general or vague. It is focused on the steadfast love of Yahweh. The whole earth is full of that loyalty, but Israel is the one who grounds its specific expectations in that reliability found in the whole creation.”

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