Monday, December 31, 2012

Psalm 2

I suggested in the last psalm that 1 & 2 function as an introductory pair. In such a pairing, psalm 2 introduces us to a second major theme of the whole book of Psalms: the Davidic King. While it is unlikely that David wrote all the psalms, there is a sense in which they are all psalms ‘of David’, because the Davidic king is never far from view. Nowhere is this more evident in Psalm 2.

The psalm falls neatly into 4 sections. In vv1-3 we hear the plot against the Davidic King, which is equally a conspiracy against God. The close relationship between God and his Anointed is seen in v2. To some extent, this was always Israel’s situation – surrounded by hostile enemies.

The second section (4-6) gives us a heavenly perspective: God himself mocks their pitiful attempts at rebellion, but his mockery is matched with wrath.

The third section (7-9) shifts speakers briefly to the King himself, who then declares God’s decree. The relationship between the King and God is expressed with a unique sonship. The words, “You are my Son” are to be read declaratively – they enact what they proclaim, so that the King becomes the adopted son of God. Furthermore, as God’s unique son, the King is promised a universal rule and power to destroy the rebellious rulers.

The final section includes a summons to wisdom, this time not generic like psalm 1, but addressed to rebellious rulers who are warned to make their peace with and submit to the King, the Son, or else.
The psalm itself is not overly difficult. Yet it throws up all sorts of questions. It is very difficult to fit the psalm historically to any particular king. Rather it seems to function both idealistically, and then prophetically. First, it represents an idealisation of Israel’s situation – the king as God’s appointed ruler, subject to hostile forces, but God himself has established him and will guarantee his ultimate triumph. To the extent that the history of Israel and Judah ultimately fails in this regard, the Psalm talks on a prophetic force. If not this anointed king, then who?

The New Testament doesn’t invent messianic expectations, but it does reflect a world in which messianic expectations are both developed and widely-understood. At what point Psalm 2 became a part of those hopes is difficult to say. The NT has no qualms about reading this psalm as straightforwardly applicable to Jesus.

The NT applies it in 3 ways.
1. In Acts 4:25-26 the apostolic prayer cites this psalm, and applies it to the conspiracy of Herod, Pontius, and both Jews and Gentiles against Jesus as God’s predestined plan. The apostles understand this psalm to prophetically depict the opposition to God’s Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, and to apply to the aftermath of the crucifixion, the state of the church.
2. Psalm 2:7 is both explicitly (Act 13:33, Heb 1:5, 5:5) and implicitly (2 Pet 1:17, Mt 3:17, 17:5) applied to Jesus as the unique Son. This goes beyond the language of ‘Son of God’, which seems both in the OT and NT to refer to the King of Israel, to an ontological relationship of Father-Son[1].
3. Rev 12:5, 19:15 picks up the language of ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Ps 2:8-9) and apply it to Jesus. To the extent that this is unfulfilled now, it holds out a prophetic promise referring to the second coming.

A psalm for the church. 
As we sing and pray this psalm, we are reminded that the time of the church in this world is rarely, if ever, one of triumph or dominance. Our situation is much like that of idealised Israel – surrounded by foes in rebellion against God and against his Anointed. The promises to that King find their fulfilment in Jesus, and so in the face of ongoing suffering and persecution we look to the faithfulness of God to fulfil his words, and the return of Christ in all his glory. The final words of the psalm contrast and complement those of Psalm 1:1, 6. Blessing is found in the wisdom of the Lord’s instruction, and refuge in the Son. Destruction awaits the wicked and the rebellious.

[1] ‘Son of God’ is rarely, even in the NT, stating that Jesus is God’s Son, in theological and trinitarian terms. Rather, its primary significance seems to be in denoting Jesus as the Anointed King of Israel. The language of ‘Father’, and of ‘Son’ without further qualification, is more than enough to establish the trinitarian formulation of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Resolutions, 2013

People are generally negative to resolutions these days. In the past I have skirted this by not calling NY resolutions 'resolutions', but this is probably just skirting the issue with semantics. I have many goals for this year, but here are 5 daily disciplines I have decided on. And started, because one of the best tips for keeping resolutions is to start them before you hit Jan 1.

Daily Bible Reading & Prayer. I went up and down on this in 2012. The first half of the year was good, the second half not so good. Now is a good time to recommit.

Daily Patristic Reading: the aforementioned Read the Fathers. It's a 7 year programme, so no slacking off here.

Daily Gaelic study. There are zero external factors that will make Gaelic learning easier, or necessary, so I need to be on my own case about this.

Daily Hamstring stretches.I have had tight hamstrings since forever, despite a reasonable degree of flexibility everywhere else. Enough is enough. This year is a year for stretching hamstrings and dramatically altering my ability to bend at the waist. I think it will also help my L-Sit which is currently woeful.

Write 2 chapters of my thesis. The danger with a possibly 8 year doctoral program is that real progress can slow to nothing. This year I'm committed to writing 2 chapters of it. That likely means daily reading and writing.

There we go. 5 disciplines for the new year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Psalm 1

The first psalm, paired with psalm 2, stands at the start of the book and offers a kind of frontispiece to the book as a whole. In this psalm, much like the start of the book of proverbs, a contrasting picture is constructed of the wise man and the foolish man, though wisdom and folly themselves are not mentioned.

The blessed man is the one who avoids the wickeds’ counsel, and instead finds his source and root and delight in the Torah of God. The natural consequence, we are told, is abundance and stability, as depicted in v3. In contrast, the wicked are like chaff (v4), both unfruitful and unstable. The natural sequence for the wicked is given dramatic climax in vv5-6, being both unfruitful and unstable, they ‘will not stand in the judgment’, and ultimately their way perishes. This is because the “the Lord knows the way of the righteous”.

It is God’s personal, intimate acquaintance, an active knowing, that establishes the righteous.
In many ways this psalm invites us, the reader, to follow the path of the blessed man, and the key focal point of action is v2, the delight and meditation upon the Torah. Although Psalms is a book of ‘wisdom literature’, it never holds wisdom in tension with Law, but refers us again and again to the Law as the revelation of God and basis of relation with him. Furthermore, the canonical structure of Psalms into 5 ‘books’ invites us to contemplate Psalms itself as a book of ‘Law’, it is instruction in the life of the worshipper.

This psalm leads us to Jesus in three ways. Firstly, in the New Testament the Law finds an ultimate fulfilment in Christ. As Christians we do not ‘follow’ the Law, per se, but find in Christ the final revelation of God and the basis of relation with him. So our invitation is to delight and meditate on Christ, and when we do study the Torah, we do so in the light of Christ its fulfilment.

Secondly, the source of our fruitfulness and stability is Christ himself. When we consider the agricultural metaphors of John 15 and Romans 11:16-24, our flourishing, vitality, and rootedness all depend upon a living connection to Jesus himself, the true branch.

Thirdly, who is the truly blessed man? It is Jesus himself. As this psalm presents us with a paradigm for living, Jesus has lived it. He delighted and meditated upon God’s Law, he avoided the way of the wicked, he was like a tree, abundant and stable, and ultimately he is the one who stands in the judgment, so that the righteous are vindicated and the wicked perish.

So let’s take this invitation, let’s delve into the psalms, and delight in God’s Word to us, and dwell upon it richly, in imitation and union of our Lord Jesus, and follow him to find the source of life and blessing.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reading the Fathers, a 7 year journey

I'm a bit late with posting this, it popped up on my feeds while I was travelling, and I didn't have a good chance to post about it. Here's a chance to schedule your own reading of the church fathers, in the ANF/NPNF series.

It's 7 pages a day, for 7 years, which seems like a very long time, but I suspect that committing and embarking on such a reading odyssey will cultivate a reading habit that will last a long time.

The schedule kicked off on Dec 2, so if you join now, you're a little behind. I recommend two approaches to that. (1) Sit down and just have a big old reading session, or two, and catch right up straight away. (2) Ignore what you've missed.

So, here's the link I first found out from, from Credo.

And here's the link to the main site, with further links for twitter, rss feeds, google calender, and the text for each day: Read the Fathers.

Time to get reading.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Psalms, a (long) devotional series

After 2 refreshing weeks in Australia, and 1 week back in Mongolia without Internet, it looks like I am back into the swing of (some) things. I have in mind to finish of my very drawn out Galatians notes, and to begin some stuff on psalms, as below.

An Introduction

My motivation for beginning the writing of this series is simple. I have preached on a handful of psalms over the years, as any preacher ends up doing, and I am often challenged by the history of the church and the testimony of believers as to how encouraging and comforting the book of Psalms was. I have also been lively engaged by the tradition of the Free Church and its practice and theology of singing the Psalms, and only the Psalms, during worship. Although I ultimately disagree with a Psalms-only approach to church worship practice, I have benefited greatly by such dialogue. And yet, I have never found the Psalms ‘easy’, or that they spoke very quickly or directly to me.

That so, I set myself to not only read the Psalms regularly and devotionally, but to spend a full 3 years, taking a psalm a week, to really spend time with. To do some exegetical work, some hermeneutical reflection, and to make some notes.

To begin, I want to help you understand the framework I’m coming from. Psalms are a peculiar book, and a number of factors shape my reading.

Psalms are both God’s inspired Word to us, and they are our words to God. Indeed, they are God’s Word given to us to speak back to God. They are the expression of faith and worship in the Old Covenant, but they remain so for New Covenant believers. They are fundamentally the Psalms of the King, and the King is the leader of God’s People. In the structure of the Canon, Psalms point us to Christ, both prophetically, themetically, and typologically. Only as we understand Psalms as the Psalms of Jesus can we begin to understand what the Psalms might mean for us as New Covenant believers.

That is a highly condensed summary of my theological basis for reading Psalms. To expand:
Psalms are the inspired Word of God. Like the rest of the Scriptures, they communicate God’s revelation of himself to us. They are written through human authors and agency, but God is their ultimate author. As such, when we read a Psalm, we are hearing God reveal to us himself, ourselves, and his divine plan of salvation.
Psalms are God’s Word given to us to speak back to Him. Unlike other books of the Bible, the Psalms are primarily addressed to God. And so they are human words directed to God. This dual direction of God’s revelation to us but also our relation to him give the Psalms a rather unique aspect of revelation. As we understand the Psalms, we understand how God wants us to speak and relate to him. This is not exhaustive, nor is it unconditioned by the historical context of the Psalms, but it is real and relevant and we ought to take heed.

Psalms function within the Old Testament canon as both prayer and song book for believers. This means that if we are to understand the life and worship of those under the Mosaic covenant, we ought to apply ourselves to understanding Psalms. It also means some of what Psalms expresses is not directly convertible to our situation. We will need to think first about how the Mosaic Law finds its fulfilment in Christ, in order to see how parts of the Psalms apply to us as those under the new covenant in Christ.

I have been convinced, primarily by Michael Lefebvre, that the whole of the book of Psalms belongs in a sense to the King of Israel. That he exists as the author, direct or delegated, of the psalms, and that as such the psalms are the book of the King, and that King is the Worship Leader of Israel.

The Psalms are the Psalms of Jesus. As the ultimate King of Israel, and the center of the Bible’s story of redemption, all Scripture is about Jesus, and the Psalms are no exception. The Psalms speak of Christ prophetically, thematically, and typologically. If we have not understood how a Psalm leads us to Jesus, I don’t think we’ve understood the Psalm as Christian readers.

Finally, we are believers in Christ, and so it is that Christocentric reading that allows us, makes possible for us, an application that is genuinely applicable, not a wrenching out of context, not a moral lesson, not a platitude of poetry, and not an Old Testament application, but a genuine meaning for the Christian believer in the here and now.