Saturday, December 1, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Psalms 1-5 and 1 Thessalonians 1

The Psalms are songs or hymns – poems – that have been ascribed to David. About 73 of the 150/151 Psalms are attributed to him, and whether they truly are his or not, they do seem to reflect the thoughts of one who is charged with leadership of a nation or peoples. The reading schedule is very difficult to follow through the psalms because the schedule sometimes requires that one read four or five psalms and they seem easier to absorb one at a time like all poems. Most of the time I will simply quote the most memorable of the lines of each psalm. I will try to take lines that best capture the spirit of the piece. Occasionally I will have reflections to add, but mostly my experience with these beautiful works is that they capture the spirit of prayer we all experience.

In terms of the translation I will use, I may alternate a good deal. There is a very interesting site called “YouVersion” that permits one to see virtually every translation at the click of a button. They do not have the translation I mostly use, the Jerusalem Bible, but almost every other version is available. The King James is great to use for the psalms, or maybe the New King James. I am starting with a version called the New Living Translation:

Psalm 1 – “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind” (1:1-4).

Psalm 2 – “Why are the nations so angry? Why do they waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers lot together against the Lord and against his anointed one. ‘Let us break their chains,’ they cry, ‘and free ourselves from slavery to God.’ But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them” (2:1-4).

The Lord says to them “’I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.’ The king proclaims the Lord’s decree: ‘The Lord said to me, “You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession”’ (2:6-8).

“Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling” (2:10-11). You can serve the Lord’s son or be destroyed by him. There is joy for those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 3 – “O Lord, how many are my foes . . .I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill (3:4). He begs the Lord to rescue him.

It may or may not have been the case that these psalms of David were written by him, a new king or a people who were just developing a “nation” like all the nations around it. It certainly seems to reflect the worries of a leader surrounded by people who would like to see him fail yet encouraged by a sense of purpose that he was somehow to lead in the name of a God seen as the only God.

Psalm 4 – “Answer me when I call to you, O God who declares me innocent. Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer” (4:1).

“Don’t sin by letting anger control you. Think about it overnight and remain silent” (4:4).

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe” (4:8).

Psalm 5 – “O Lord, hear me as I pray; pay attention to my groaning. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for I pray to no one but you” (5:1-2).

“O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness; you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked” (5:4).

“Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house; I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe. . . Make your way plain for me to follow” (5:7-8).

He prays that the wicked will be caught in their own traps and driven away because of their sins, but “let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. . . . For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love” (5:11-12).

I can always relate to the psalmist because his words are pretty much the same that I use myself. I cry to the Lord to hear my voice as I also try to hear His voice. I look to God to help me understand what I should do with the time I have been given, how to overcome the challenges I have been given and to thank Him for the many blessings I have received in this life.

And, as a history teacher, I appreciate the fact that David too, as powerful as he was, saw himself as simply another man trying to be faithful to God, held to account to this God as well. I think the western concept of “kingship” differed from the eastern version specifically because it was in large part defined by the Judeo-Christian understanding of what a king should be set forth in the Scriptures.

Introduction to 1 Thessalonians: According to Raymond E. Brown’s Introduction to the New Testament, 1 Thessalonians is the first of Paul’s letters to be preserved. It was written from Corinth around 50-51. He spent 18 months in Corinth [see Acts 18], a church that would have more problems than almost any other.

The city of Thessalonika was founded in 316 BC by Cassiander, a general of Alexander the Great’s. It was an important commercial city and was under Roman control from 168 BC on. They deported the locals and in 146 BC, it became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia.

That the people Paul writes to had mostly abandoned idol worship indicates that they were mainly Gentiles. He feels very close to them and very thankful for them.
1 Thessalonians 1 – Paul praises the Thessalonians because when they received the gospel, and they received it “not only as words, [but] as power and as the Holy Spirit and as utter conviction” (1:5). They imitated the kind of life Paul lived and they lived with joy.

They are a great example to all. “[I]t was with the joy of the Holy Spirit that you took to the gospel, in spite of the great opposition all round you” (1:6). They “broke with idolatry when [they] were converted to God and became servants of the real, living God” (1:9).

A part of this early gospel conviction was the conviction that Jesus would come again from heaven and save them “from the retribution which is coming” (1:10).

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