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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")?

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