Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Reading Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is one of several psalms that look back across God's works with and for God's People. It presents a sharp contrast between God's faithfulness within the creation and, on the other hand, the faithlessness of the covenant community. Michael Goulder finds in this Psalm, originally composed for the three-times-a-year Israelite pilgrimage festivals, evidence that the Southern Kingdom rewrote it making it acceptable for Jerusalem Temple use yet retained evidence of its northern origin. Goulder believes “The Exodus-wilderness story is being accepted as our story, God's act of redemption for us, his people; but the sins committed on the way were not committed by us, but by the children of Ephraim, that is, the Joseph-Benjamin tribes, who were in fact the group of the Exodus, and no doubt did actually turn back in some day of battle in the 720s.” According to Goulder, Exodus elaborates and further develops the material of Psalm 78 adding “The people’s faithlessness, Moses and his rod, angelic manoeuvres with the cloud and fire” in chapter 14.

Stephen L. Cook states: “The modifications to the psalm are clear evidence of its adoption for Jerusalem. Michael Goulder’s judgment is on target. ‘An influence from the Asaph community ... was accepted in Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s time, but with v. 9, 67-69 as ... glosses.’”

In reading Psalm 78 since my initial comments last February 6, 2006, I noticed that after “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us” the Psalmist continues with this admonition:

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders which he has wrought. He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.”

Verse two and three influenced the theme of secrecy we find in the Gospel of Mark. Yet this theme is inconsistent with the teaching of the Psalmist that follows “I will open my mouth in a parable.”

Since the sheep/flock image is a favorite of the Asaph psalmist, it is not surprising that verse 52 reads: Then he led forth his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” The image of a people, harassed and helpless without a shepherd, present in Matthew 9:36; 25:32; 26:31; Mark 6:34 and 14:27 is absent from Luke. Instead, Luke tells us, “in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night."

The Brandywine Creek reached flood stage at Chadds Ford PA as I was preparing this piece so I have included verse 53: “He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.”

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2007


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