Saturday, November 28, 2009

Eid-Al-Adha

كما توجد مبادئ (نواميس) طبيعيّة تسيطر على العالم المادّي، كذلك توجد مبادئ روحيّة تسيطر على علاقتك بالله.

المبدأ الأوّل

إنّ الله يحبّك ولديه خطّة مدهشة لحياتك.

محبّة الله

"الله محبّة ومن يثبت في المحبّة يثبت في الله والله فيه". (1 يوحنا 4: 16)

خطّه الله

قال يسوع: "أتيت لتكون لهم حياة وليكون لهم أفضل" (حياة ممتلئة وذات هدف) (يوحنا 10:10)

لماذا لا يختبر معظم الناس هذه الحياة الفضلى؟

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Look Higher

"Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men" (Gen. 33:1)

Do not lift up your eyes and look for Esau’s. Those who look for troubles will not be long without finding trouble to look at. Lift them higher—to Him from whom our help cometh. Then you will be able to meet your troubles with an unperturbed spirit. Those who have seen the face of God need not fear the face of man that shall die. To have power with God is to have power over all the evils that threaten us.

(F. B. Meyer)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Republic Proclamation Day (Brazil)

O AMOR DE DEUS

" Pois Deus tanto amou o mundo que deu o seu Filho unigênito para que todo o que nele crer não pereça, mas tenha a vida eterna." (João 3:16)

O PLANO DE DEUS

Cristo afirma: "Eu vim para que tenham vida, e a tenham plenamente" (uma vida abundante e com propósito). (João 10:10)

Por que a maioria das pessoas não está experimentando essa "vida abundante"?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reading and Understanding Wisdom Psalms (part 1)

“In church, question marks straighten out into exclamation points, the baffling day-by-day complexity of things becomes simple . . . ” (Robert & Helen Lynd, researchers of religion in America)

Wisdom Psalms provide a look into the thoughts of someone who has deeply contemplated the perplexities of life. In a previous post we noted how Wisdom Psalms could be defined as a guide for living, advice on how to live in the way God has intended for us to live, in righteousness. ORIENTATION to a God-pleasing life. Through wisdom psalms we can learn about life as seen in their strong "lifestyle" elements (some are practical, while others are technical), emphasizing the behavior of one in right relationship with God.

Wisdom Psalms could be subdivided into two categories:

1. Proverbial Wisdom, which consist of short, “pithy” sayings that state rules for personal happiness and welfare. Consider Psalm 34:13-14: "Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it."

2. Speculative Wisdom. These are mostly monologues or dialogues that discuss problems such as the meaning of existence and the relationship between God and man, such as Psalm 8.

Again, the strong lifestyle elements emphasize the characteristics of one in right relationship with God. These Psalms are comparable with other wisdom literature, such as Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, even Job. “Biblical wisdom is always associated with righteousness and humility and is never found apart from godliness and true holiness of life.” (A.W. Tozer)

There are certain characteristics of Wisdom psalms, such as their peculiar sound, or tone. They "sound" like someone is giving advice, or teaching. Many are acrostic and chaistic in structure (see previous post), but their instruction are addressed to the "now," living in the present. Often there is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked and a definite "Blessed" formula, reminding us of the blessedness of the obedient life. The wisdom is very clear.

"Blessed" (and it's variations) is a common word found in Wisdom Psalms, but there are two Hebrew words that the English translates as "blessed." The first is "baruch" and this word occurs about 323 times in OT, 74 of which are in Psalms. The basic meaning of "baruch" is “to kneel” and “to bless" as we see in Psalm 95:6 “Come let us kneel before the Lord our Maker."

How do “kneel” and “bless” relate to each other? Some say “it does not matter, they say same thing.” or “just translate it to one or the other, which other fits best gets used.” Folks, this is not good bibical scholaship. Others might suggest the act of blessing involves kneeling, which would be obvious if God was the recipient of the blessing, but to whom does God bow to recieve anything? To "baruch" or "bless God” means “to adore with bended knee" but also connotes to “bestow ability for success and prosperity." (Note the word "ability for" as in "potential")

If we were to set up a flow chart, we could show how "blessing" first flows from God to man, where man is the object of blessing for him to share, as in Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, and subdue it.'” Secondly, "baruch" can also flow from man to man as a declaration for success, much like a common greeting. Lastly, "baruch" can also flow from man to God, as in Psalm 103, 104: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” The point of "baruch" is this: God is the ultimate source and dispenser of blessing (2 Peter 1:2-3). The basic application is to understand that “to bless” here means to declare God as the bestower of success and prosperity to be shared. Ever say a “blessing” before a meal?

The other Hebrew word that we translate as "blessed" is "ashre" and has very special usage, as the word is conditional. Some scholars might emphasize that "blessed" is not a good translation as the English limits the scope of what it communicates. "Ashre" is uni-directional, from God to man and the condition is that a relationship is already established. Man must be submitted, or God-oriented to recieve "ashre." This term describes that which God gives personally and unlike "baruch" is not shared from one to another, horizontally (as it were). Think of it this way: Can you share a blessing ("baruch") that blesses everyone else ("baruch") without first being blessed ("ashre")?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Real estate (11/6/2009)

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Reading and Understanding the Psalms (part 4)

A Note Concerning Poetic Language in the Psalms

One feature that Hebrew poetry shares with Western poetry is the use of archaic words, or forms of words. This is a literary device used for effect. While emphasis is placed on words or phrases by means of structure, an additional emphasis can be made through the choice of words through the inspired writer. Understanding when these words occur takes a little bit of detective work, but the effort will be rewarding.

One other feature about archaic words to consider: during the time of King James (1611) "prevent" did not have the same meaning it does today, so the wrong understanding of meaning even in English can be disasterous. Compare Psalm 21:3, 59:10 and 79:8 in various versions, starting with King James.

Once we are able to identify the kind of parallelism (if any, see previous post), we will appreciate the need for synonymns and/or archaic language in the text. One simply cannot use just "ordinary" language in poetry.

Emotions of the Psalms

Poetry touches emotion. Through this means, we are able to personally identify with the experiences of the psalmists: the triumph of his victories, the marvel at the activities of God, the cry of distress and lamenting in hard times, the rejoicing in the blessings of God. Note some examples of range of emotion:

  • Ps. 2:2-4 Contempt in the mocking of God’s enemies
  • Ps. 8:3-5 Awe at how wonderful God made man
  • Ps. 13:1-2 Despair and lamenting in a situation
  • Ps. 73:3-5 Doubt
  • Ps. 116:1 Love

Longman quotes Calvin: “What various and resplendent riches are contained in this treasury, it were difficult to find words to describe . . .. I have been wont to call this book not inappropriately, an anatomy of all parts of the soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror.” (p. 13)

(go to Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Reading and Understanding the Psalms (part 3)

Elements of Hebrew Poetry

We understand the book of Psalms to be "wisdom literature" and think of the collection as poetry, but have you noticed that no lines rhyme? This is where we get to think Hebrew, and not like a Westerner. The Hebrew language DOES have repetition and alliteration, but if there is rhyme in English, it is accidental--unless you are reading an old English Psalter, where all the psalms were re-written to be sung in rhyme.

The poetic language of Hebrew is loaded with "learning helps" as it is meant for the hearer (remember that most early audiences were illiterate). We will not see this in English, but in Psalm 23, the Hebrew word for "shepherd" and "evil" sound very similar ("ro-e", "ra-a") and to the untrained eye, look nearly identical. The English misses the implication of the poetry, which is this: while the LORD is my shepherd, fear is not.

A word about Old Testament poetry: it is not confined to poetic books. Most prophetic oracles are poetic. Consider Isaiah 5 for a moment. What clue do you see that tells you how to read the text? Better yet, what understanding do you gain if you don't merely read the text, but actually do what the text says? Sure, we don't know the tune, but the tune is not the point.
Now look at Exodus 15. What might you do different next time you read this text?

Hebrew poetry balances thought, not sound. This is called “Parallelism.” When we look at types of parallelism, we will consider the ways thoughts are balanced. The attitude of the Hebrew poets is simply, “why have one line when you can have two?”

1. Complete (or, synonymous) parallelism. This is where the writer is communicating one thought through two lines of text. Here, one line of text is completely balanced by another line. The second line repeats the same thought of the first line, but with different words. For example (I will off-set for emphasis):

19:1 “The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”

114:2 “Judah became His sanctuary,
Israel His dominion.”

2. Incomplete (or, antithetic) parallelism: same as above, only different because one line is missing. The second line may repeat a contrary thought or even take up a different or opposing issue, theme or point of reference to make a point:

1:5 “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”

1:6 “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly will perish.”

3. Responsory parallelism shows a response to a statement. The best example here is Psalm 136, where the alternate verses are parallel. Without this parallelism, this might as well be a simple narrative! How much more exciting for a poet to tell his story, and for the listener to respond!

4. Alternate parallelism. This is where the fun really begins! Take a look at Psalm 103:11,12. The lines with reflective thought are labled as "A" and "B." Notice how the concepts begin to weave a pattern:
A For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
B So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
A As far as the east is from the west,
B So far has He removed our transgressions from us.

See how the "A" lines go together and the "B" lines go together?

5. "Climactic" ("synthetic") or "stair-step parallelism" is where statements are made three or four times, but one line builds on another, based on the content of the line before it. It takes the thought of one line and extends it through the second and third. Look at Psalm 29;1,2, 4,5.

"1Ascribe to the LORD, O sons of the mighty,
Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to His name;
Worship the LORD in holy array.
3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The LORD is over many waters.
4The voice of the LORD is powerful,
The voice of the LORD is majestic.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
Yes, the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon"

Sure, the psalmist could have said, "Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, the glory due His name, O sons of the mighty" or "The voice of the Lord is powerfully majestic to break the cedars" but this parallelism is climactic! It builds up!

6. There are other structures in Hebrew poetry, such as the Acrostic, or the Hebrew ABC’s. Psalm 119 is the most well-known, for every eight verses the reader finds a Hebrew letter: aleph, (or "a"), beth (or "b"), gimel (or "g"), etc. What the English reader does NOT see is that each set line in each of set of eight verses begins with the letter of that section; in other words, every line in Psalm 119:1-8 begins with a Hebrew word that starts with the letter "aleph" or "a." Verses 9-16 begin each line with a word that starts with the letter "beth" or "b," and so on.

A text like this would have actually been used to teach the aleph-beth (alphabet). We use "Apple" for "A" and "ball" for "B" while Hebrew children were memorizing Psalm 119 to learn their aleph-bet. Other Psalms that use the Acrostic are Psalm 9-10, 25, and 34. Still more passages of scripture use this devise too, such as Lamentations 3:19 ff. The passage that says, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" is nestled within a passage of "A,B,C's"--so easy a Hebrew child can remember the message!

Remember that I said Psalm 34 is my favorite and here is one reason among many: in the Hebrew every verse begins the next consecutive letter of the aleph-beth, starting at the beginning with "a." Why is this important? Go back to the superscript. When David appeared before Abimelech, it was not so much that he was pretending to be mad or crazy--it was that he was singing an "A,B,C" song of his trust in the LORD! He ran from one enemy into the arms of another--no wonder he sounded crazy--he was praising God for his protection through A,B,C's! Can you see Abimelech on his throne with David running around sounding like he overdosed on Sesame Street? Get that loon out of here! He must have been laughing like Elmo because of his trust in God!

7. Chaistic structures are the last we will cover here, and are a bit tougher. "Chaism" (not "chasm") is named after the Greek letter "X", or "chai." This means there is a crossing of ideas in the text which can be marked with the letter "A", "B", and "C"; for example take a look at Ps. 147:4 (clearer in Hebrew):

A He counts
B the number
C for the stars
C* for all of them
B* names
A* He calls out

Do you see it?

  • He counts/calls out
  • The number/names
  • For all of them/the stars
Look at Psalm 8:
A O Lord, our Lord, How Majestic is Thy name in all the earth (v. 1a)
B above heavens (v. 1b)
C in man (v. 2a)
D over enemies (v. 2b)
E work of fingers (v. 3a)
X man crowned with Glory/majesty (vv. 4-5)
E* work of hands (v. 6a)
D* “all things” (v. 6b)
C* in animals (v. 7)
B* in the sea (v. 8)
A* O Lord, our Lord, How Majestic is Thy name in all the earth (v. 9)

Do you see it?

  • O Lord, our Lord, How Majestic is Thy name in all the earth (it begins and ends the same way);
  • above the heavens/in the sea
  • in man/in animals
  • over enemies/"all things;"
  • works of hands/fingers'
  • man crowned with glory and majesty
Based on what you see here, what is the central idea of this psalm, and where is it seen?
What does this say about you?

There are many, many passages of scripture that contain "chaistic structures" and in one case, it may be argued that the entire book of Jude is chaistic:

A (Jude 1-2) Assurance for the Christian

B (Jude 3) The Beliver and the Faith

C (Jude 4) Apostates described

D (Jude 5-8) Apostasy in Old Testament History

E (Jude 9-10) Apostasy in the Supernatural Realm

X (Jude 11) Ancient Trio of Apostates

E* (Jude 12-13) Apostasy in the Natural Realm

D* (Jude 14-16) Apostasy in Old Testament Prophecy

C* (Jude 17-19) Apostasy Described

B* (Jude 20-23) The Beliver and the Faith

A* (Jude 24-25) Assurance for the Christian

(go to Part 2 or Part 4)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Reading and Understanding the Psalms (part 2)

Special Concerns of Psalms

Most Psalms are identified by what is called the "superscript," a fancy word for the “above writings” that help identify the psalm. For example, take a look at Psalm 3, just above verse 1 where it should read, "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absolom his son." This is not the editor’s title, but is actually part of the psalm itself, giving information about the psalm. The superscript gives us certain information, such as who wrote the psalms, who the psalm belongs to or why the psalm was written (see Psalm 18, for example). We may also find what kind of psalm this is, such as Psalm 142. There may also be some sort of musical instruction found in the superscript, such as Psalm 54.

Some argue the superscript is not part of the inspired text. There is proof that some superscripts were placed during or after the exile (Ezra); nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the Hebrew Bible actually counts what we call the "superscript" as the first verse, no matter when the superscript was placed. This means that when a superscript is present, what we count as verse 1 in our Bible is really verse 2 in the Hebrew Bible! Psalm 23 does not begin, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" but "mizmor la David," or "A Psalm of David!"

Let my underscore here that without the superscript, we may interpret a passage wrongly. Consider Psalm 34: what information does the superscript give that helps you read, understand and apply the content of the psalm? We will visit this psalm later because there is much more here than one may realize (this is one of my favorites, by the way).

One thing that is true about the Psalms is they are to be sung and if they are to be sung, if they are to be sung, there must have been instruments! Scholars can only guess as to what many of the instruments were, but we know there were at least string, wind and percussion instruments as Psalm 150 calls to mind.

Generally we think of the Psalms as “Psalms of David,” but just because his name appears often up to Psalm 72 does not mean he was the principle writer or compiler. By the time of David, there were already a small collection of psalms and the collection certainly grew with help from David. Only about 2/3 of all psalms have a proper name in the superscript. Here is a list of authors or collectors and the number of psalms associated with their name:

  • David (73x)
  • Asaph, appointed by David to build the temple (12)
  • Sons of Korah (10)
  • Solomon (2)—wisdom psalms
  • Heman, appointed worship leader by David (1)
  • Ethan (1)
  • Moses (1)
    And there are 50 “orphan” psalms, with unknown authors.

Some would argue that the Psalms may be divided up depending on how one may want to study them. This may do more harm than good because there are different genre of Psalms (kinds, or types). Without a consideration of genre, there may be more harm done to intepretation than good. Understanding genre may also help with understanding the purpose of the psalms. C.S. Lewis said that “psalms are poems, intended to be sung: not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons . . . [to be] read as lyrics, with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyerboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry.” This is not wholly true, for while they may not have the “form” of doctrinal treatise or sermon, their content is highly theological, and the genre helps us understand how to "do" theology. A general survey of superscripts (including musical instruction), reveals the following:

  • 57 psalms are called mizmor, or “psalms”;
  • 27 psalms are called shir, or “songs”;
  • 5 psalms are labeled tepillah, “a prayer”;
  • 2 are called tehillah, “songs of praise”;
  • 6 are miktham, or “atonement” psalms;
  • 13 are maskil, which basically means they are contemplative in nature;
  • 1 is a shiggaion, or "irregular"
  • and 39 are unmarked.

Considering the content and/or purpose of the Psalms, we can divide the Psalms into the following seven categories. These are our genre (and few share more than one):

  1. Messianic/Royal Psalms emphasize kingship, especially the relationship between God and the Human king. These reflect the relationship necessary for a godly life orientation;
  2. Wisdom Psalms provide advice on how to live in the way that pleases God; or, guidelines for a godly life orientation;
  3. Lamentations, or Lament Psalms, are impassioned appeals to God for help out of great distress; or, disorientation.
  4. Trust, or Confidence Psalms, are assertions of trust in God though enemies or other threats are present. These reflect the orientation of submission, obedience with a love-motive;
  5. Thanksgiving Psalms, provide an instructive reminder that when God has done something, such as answering prayer, we should respond in praise and thanksgiving. These become testimony that encourage others to praise God as well! Reorientation.
  6. Hymns, are psalms whose primary purpose is Praise to God, reflecting a life of godly orientation.

Now, reflect for a moment back on what you know about the kinds of psalm that opens books 1-5. What lesson can be learned from they way these psalms are presented in this pattern?

I look forward to your thoughts and/or discussion.

(go to Part 1 or Part 3)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Reading and Understanding the Psalms (part 1)

Noticing patterns is one important aspect to understand the psalms. As poetry, words and phrases intertwine to communicate in ways that prose cannot. While a general overview of the psalter may seem a dry excercise, if we keep "patterns" in mind, we may discover how this favored book of the Bible draws the reader study and is very much alive! Interestingly, some of the same patterns we find in the Psalter also surface in other places in scripture, such as the Prophets and in other poetic passages, so studying the Psalms can inform our study of other passages as well.

The name "Psalms" comes from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew scripture), as "psalmoi" and suggests the idea of "songs." The Hebrew name for the book, tehillim, connotes the idea of "praises" or "songs of praises."

The Psalter as a whole is a collection of 5 books and the editor of your Bible may have already noted these collections:

  • Book 1: Psalm 1-41
  • Book 2: Psalm 42-72
  • Book 3: Psalm 73-89
  • Book 4: Psalm 90-106
  • Book 5: Psalm 107-150

In future studies (Lord willing), we will define and understand more about the genre (types, or kinds) of psalms; however, let us already observe there is a pattern developing in the kinds of Psalms that begin each book:

  • Book 1 begins with a Wisdom Psalm (Psalm 1);
  • Book 2 begins with a Lament (Psalm 42);
  • Book 3 begins with a Wisdom Psalm (Psalm 73);
  • Book 4 begins with a Lament (Psalm 90); and,
  • Book 5 begins with a Psalm of Thanksgiving (107).

Do you see it? Wisdom; lament; wisdom; lament; followed by a rapture of thanksgiving!

Each book, regardless of how it begins, ends with a doxology,or outburst of praise:

  • Book 1, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen." (41:13);
  • Book 2, "Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever; and may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen." (72:18-19);
  • Book 3, "Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen." (89:52);
  • Book 4, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, 'Amen.' Praise the LORD!" (106:48);
  • Book 5, well, just read Psalm 150.

    One more thing: have you noticed that despite the popularity of the book throughout time, with the exception of Psalm 23 and a handful of others, most people spend more time in last half of the book? Think about it: when you are feeling down spiritually and you find yourself thumbing through the Psalter, where do you find the most encouragement? In the last portion of the book? Right away the reader should note there is another kind of pattern developing: increasing praise governs the content of the entire book.

Laments occupy the first of the Psalter, then decrease as one moves toward the midpoint. Contrary-wise, there are few praises at the beginning and increase past the mid-point to the end of the book. The book moves the reader toward higher and higher praise!

(go to Part 2)

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