As I started reading this psalm, I began, as I always do, in English. But as some of the translations began to look a bit familiar, I quickly realized that I know the Hebrew for this one, because it’s used in the Hallel service. Hallel is the additional set of prayers said on most holidays. When I was little and went to synagogue with my dad, I used to get so excited to hear that it was a Hallel day, because even though it elongates an already long service, I loved singing these special additional words. As you’ve seen, the 150 psalms are a long slog at times, so it’s great to get rejuvenated with one that I truly love. And, of course, only 32 more to go!
“The Lord is for me; I shall not fear. What can man do to me (Psalms 118:6)?” It must be amazing to have complete faith that God is on your side, and as a result, there’s nothing to be afraid of. While personally I feel connected to God, or whatever higher power is there, I don’t necessarily think that means that I can’t be hurt by my fellow human beings. It would honestly scare me too much to be fully dependent on this kind of relationship with God. I think that people need to be proactive and take charge of their own lives and actions, rather than assume that divine intervention will take care of things. But intentional action, coupled with the confidence that faith can bring, sounds like the ideal state of being.
“Who is like the Lord, our God, Who dwells on high (Psalms 113:5).” There’s an inherent paradox in our relationships with God. On the one hand, He is completely ‘other.’ There is nothing comparable in human beings, or other deities. God is eternal, magnificent, all-powerful, in a way that none of us can never imagine. But at the same time, we’re supposed to be made in His image, and to at least aspire to behavior that mirrors His. So does this verse indicate a fallacy, that no one is anything like God? Or is it truly asking us who among us is like God, and is living a just and moral life?
“He makes winds His messengers, burning fire His ministers (Psalms 104:4).” When I read this verse, what it immediately raised for me is symbolism. I, and I assume I’m not alone in this, sometimes find myself putting a lot of faith in symbols that I designate for myself:
If I see a formation of Canadian geese today, it means my Grandpa Irving agrees with my decision.
If it takes an even number of steps to get to that door, it’s going to work out.
That rainbow means he loves me.
And so on, and so forth. None of it has any basis in reality – I intellectually recognize that my successes and failures are in no way contingent on messages from birds, or circumstantial events. But if we’re told that God uses nature and our environments as messengers for His words and intentions, maybe I’m not so farfetched?
Wow. Today I’m reaching 100 psalms. I’m honestly overwhelmed by that number. When I began this book of Tanakh, I was beyond intimidated by the number of chapters in this particular book. 150 seemed like an overwhelming number, lasting multiple months more than any previous book, and with no overarching storyline to keep things moving along. And now, I’m more than halfway done, and reaching this major round number emphasizes that for me. After today we have 50 chapters left, which means there are still over two months to go in psalms, but it’s starting to feel like the end is in sight.
“For the Lord is good; His kindness is forever, and until generation after generation is His faith (Psalms 100:5).” I love that this verse emphasizes God’s faith, not just our faith in Him. There’s a comfort in knowing that God believes in us as much as we’re supposed to believe in Him. It’s a mutual relationship, which makes it all that much stronger. I personally tend to thrive the most when I know that someone believes in me and is invested in my success. So today my goal is to hold that feeling close by, that no matter what I’m doing, someone has faith in me and my actions.
A double post today, since yesterday I was busy celebrating a dear friend’s engagement. It turned into a lovely, busy weekend, and I’m still catching up in a number of different areas. So, two quotes, from two psalms.
“Fortunate is the man whom You, Yah, chastise, and from Your Torah You teach him (Psalms 94:12).” This highlights one of God’s many attributes. In this case, He takes on the role of a parent to us, His children. I was lucky enough to spend yesterday with my parents, so this definitely hits home. No matter how old I’ve gotten, how mature, how independent, parents are still parents, in all of the best and most complex ways. Sometimes we need our parents to say the things to us that no one else will, and to come from a place of love to make us better.
“Come, let us prostrate ourselves and bow; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker (Psalms 95:6).” This manifestation of God speaks to a less than relatable, parental attribute. In this verse, He is completely dominant and powerful, like an absolute monarch from another era. How are we supposed to reconcile both of these realities in the same being? When do we relate to God as one of these things, and when is He the other? Do we choose, or does He?
“More than the voices of great waters and more than the mightiest breakers of the sea, is the Lord mighty on high (Psalms 93:4).” I can’t think of a more powerful natural creation than the ocean. The breadth and depth of the water are unknown, and the boundlessness of the ocean is an awesome, inspiring display of the beauty of creation. With secrets beneath the surface, and waves both gently lolling to shore and powerfully crashing down, it’s an amazing metaphor for God’s caring and passionate nature. It can be good or bad depending on how one sees it, just like God’s presence. God, of course, is beyond the sea, but the measurelessness of it definitely alludes to something divine.
“For a sun and a shield is the Lord God; the Lord will give grace and glory; He will not withhold good from those who go with sincerity (Psalms 84:12).” As we’ve seen over the last few months of Psalms, God clearly has many attributes and can be described in any number of ways. I like these particular descriptors, particularly as they’re used in conjunction with one another. Sun and shield – at once, God is brilliant and light, an almost ethereal presence, and solid, dependable, and protecting. He is nurturing and ever-present, like the sun’s constant dependability, and takes on specific roles in our lives when necessary, like a shield. Concrete and discrete at once, God can manifest in our lives in any number of ways, and it’s great to be inspired to find them through these different writings.
“A song of Asaph. God stands in the congregation of God; in the midst of the judges He will judge (Psalms 82:1).” This sentence is a bit circular. God is in God’s own congregation. This can be part of any number of interpretations. One is that a democratic value is being expressed – God is a the judge of judges, but at the end of the day, He’s part of the greater whole – or we’re part of Him. A deity not fully separate from His creations is beautiful in some ways, because it allows us to consider the divine in each of us, and gives any interaction the chance to be a sacred one. But in other ways, it lowers the level of awe that a heavenly being inspires. We’re not supposed to be able to fully relate to God, and that’s ok. So for God to be in His congregation? Does that mean He’s present amongst us in all that we do in some way? Is it the sparks of divine in each of us that answer to the larger presence?
“In God I trusted, I will not fear. What can man do to me (Psalms 56:12)?” To me, this verse alludes to the classic childhood mantra of sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Both of these phrases are comforting in a simplistic sense, but when it comes to reality don’t necessarily hold up. With or without confidence in God, people can hurt others, as history has repeatedly shown, and particularly in the age of the internet and social media, we know words can be equally or more hurtful than any physical ailment. Does faith get us through these adversities more whole and happy than we would have been otherwise? Is that what the psalmist is telling us? While a person of faith hopefully won’t be shaken by the acts of hatred of others, human beings have a tragic capacity to harm their peers, and today, as in every age, there are innumerable reasons to fear our fellow humans. It’s a sad reality that some people are out to do us harm, to hurt us, and to damage us, physically and with words. I’m not sure how faith plays into that, and how it necessarily helps, but I hope that for those who are suffering, they’re able to find at least some level of comfort.
“God looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see whether there is a man of understanding, who seeks God (Psalms 53:3).” What’s interesting to me in this verse is the idea of God looking down on humanity, judging our character and capacity to seek and understand Him. While obviously God is in a class by Himself (that goes without saying), in general, this doesn’t seem like a great method. If someone, whoever or whatever they are, looks down from on high and and passes judgment on the perceived morals and values of individuals, their perspectives are inherently skewed. As an educator, if I place myself as an authority above my students, I set us up as ‘other.’ Our relationship is transactional, instead of symbiotic. I can judge them from what I see from the head of the room, without meaningfully interacting with them or seeking to understand their motivations. But in doing so, I won’t get an authentic view of them, or as thoughtful of a portrait, and I would definitely be the one who misses out.