Thoughts on Psalm 32

Last week’s prayer meeting was an exercise in praying through Psalm 32. Psalm 32 begins with a statement of fact: true blessing is found in a relationship with the Lord unhindered by sin. Psalm 32 ends with the worshiper’s personal enjoyment of that fact.

Some things that stuck out to me:

To enjoy fellowship with the Lord you must have your sins covered (1). But to have your sins covered, you must uncover them before the Lord (5). God does not put away what you do not give to Him.

When you uncover your sins before the Lord only to have Him cover them again (through the forgiveness in His Son), you enjoy the freedom to hide in Him (7).

What a tender thought: the Lord plays hide and seek.

Every day you have a choice: “Where will I find my security?” Every day you can wrap yourself up in the clutches of sin: seeking to shield yourself from God, others, and even yourself. Living life hidden behind a fig leaf.

Or you can tell God what he already knows anyway (5). You can uncover yourself before Him and be clothed in the righteousness of His Lamb. You can seek; and find; and hide (6-7).

Stop hiding from God.

Hide in Him.

Psalm 21: A song of Praise to the Father for raising His Son

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the LORD,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
and their offspring from among the children of man.
Though they plan evil against you,
though they devise mischief,
they will not succeed.
For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.
Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.

In keeping with the previous post, and in an attempt to see everything written about Jesus in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms, I read Psalm 21 as fitting words of praise offered to God on the occasion of the resurrection of Christ.

On the Passion of the Lord

Whoever you are who approach,
And are entering the threshold of the inner temple,
Stop a little and
Look upon me,
Who, though innocent,
Suffered for your crime;
Lay me up in your mind,
Keep me in your breast.

I am He who, pitying the bitter misfortunes of men,
Came hither as a mediator of offered peace,
And as a full atonement for the fault of men.

Here the brightest light from above is restored to the earth;
Here is the merciful image of salvation;
Here I am a rest to you,
The right way,
The true redemption,
The banner of God,
And the memorable sign of fate.

For your sake and your life
I entered the Virgin’s womb,
I was made man,
I suffered a dreadful death;
I found no rest anywhere in the regions of the earth,
But everywhere threats,
Everywhere labors.

First of all a wretched dwelling in the land of Judea
Was a shelter for me at my birth,
And for my mother with me:
Here
Dry grass spread
In a narrow manger
Among slumbering cattle,
Gave me my first bed.

I passed my earliest years in the land of Pharaohs,
Being an exile from the realm of Herod;
And the remaining years
After my return to Judea
I spent always engaged
In fastings,
The extremity of poverty itself,
The lowest circumstances;
Always by healthful admonitions
Applying the minds of men to the pursuit of loving goodness,
Uniting with wholesome teaching many evident miracles:

On which account impious Jerusalem,
Stirred up
By the raging cares of envy
And cruel hatred,
And blinded by madness,
Dared to seek for me,
Though innocent,
A bloody death
By deadly torments
On the terrible cross.

If you yourself wish to discriminate these things more fully,
If it delights you
To go through all my groanings,
To experience griefs with me,
Put together the designs and plots,
And the impious price of my innocent blood;
The pretended kisses of a disciple,
And the insults and strivings of the cruel multitude;
Moreover, the blows,
And tongues prepared for accusations.

Picture to your mind the witnesses,
And the accursed judgment of the blinded Pilate,
And the immense cross
Pressing my shoulders and wearied back,
And my heavy steps to a dreadful death.

Now behold me,
Deserted as I am,
Gone through the extremes of punishment
Lifted up afar from my beloved mother.
Survey me from head to foot.

Behold and see my locks
Clotted with blood,
My blood-stained neck
Under my very hair,
My head drained
By cruel thorns,

And pouring down like rain
From all sides
A stream of blood
Over my divine face.

Survey my compressed and sightless eyes,
My afflicted cheeks;

See my parched tongue
Poisoned with gall,
My countenance
Pale with death.

Behold my hands
Pierced with nails,
My arms
Drawn out,

The great wound in my side;
See the blood streaming from it,
My punctured feet,
My blood-stained limbs.

Bend your knee,
And with lamentation
Adore the venerable wood of the cross,
And with lowly countenance
Stooping to the earth, which is wet
With innocent blood,
Pour out upon it tears,
And bear me
And my admonitions always
In your devoted heart.

Follow the footsteps of my life,
And while you look upon my torments and cruel death,
Remembering my innumerable pangs
Of body
And soul,
Learn to endure hardships,
and to be vigilant for your own salvation.

These memorials,
If at any time you find pleasure in thinking over them,
(If in your mind there is any confidence to bear anything like my sufferings),
If the piety due, and gratitude worthy of my labors shall arise,
Will be incitements to true virtue,
And they will be shields
Against the snares of an enemy,
Aroused by which you will be safe,
And as a conqueror bear off the palm in every contest.

If these memorials shall turn away your senses
Devoted to a perishable world,
From the fleeting shadow
Of earthly beauty,
The result will be, that you will not venture,
Enticed by empty hope,
To trust the frail enjoyments of fickle fortune,
Or to place your hope in the fleeting years of life.

But, truly, if you thus regard
This perishable world,
And through your love of a better country deprive yourself
Of earthly riches and
The enjoyment of present things,
The prayers of the pious will bring you up
In sacred habits, and
In the hope of a happy life, amidst severe punishments,
Will cherish you with heavenly dew,
And feed you with the sweetness of
The promised good.
Until the great favor of God
Shall recall your happy soul to the heavenly regions,
Your body being left after the fates of death.

Then freed from all labor,
Then joyfully beholding
The angelic choirs,
The blessed companies of saints in perpetual bliss,
You shall reign with me
In the happy abode of perpetual peace.

NOTES:
At one time, this poem was attributed to the Ante-Nicene father, Lactantius (A.D. 260-330). Most scholars, however, have come to see it as a much later composition. The text of this translation is essentially that of William Fletcher found in the Roberts & Donaldson Ante-Nicene Fathers Series. I have altered the text somewhat of my own accord while also using Mary Francis McDonald’s translation from CUA Press’ “The Fathers of the Church” series. I am entirely to blame for the versification.

Verse for the Season

A society cannot exist without its poets and musicians. At the very least, it could not exist well or for very long. It is in music and poem that man comes closest to expressing the unexpressible, to understanding the unknowable. The book of the Bible that tells us the most about who God is and what He is like is the book of Psalms– the poems and songs of the people of faith. So it should come as no great surprise that when he approaches the great mystery of the incarnation, the blessed saint Luke builds his account around the songs of those involved. Whether it is Mary’s Magnificat, the Benedictus of Zechariah, the Gloria of the angels, or the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, when men and angels were confronted with the unfathomable, their response was poetry in song. Now, as we think of the unthinkable…as we ponder the infinite Lord of Creation entombing Himself in the womb of one of His creatures…our souls yearn to sing the poems that mark the season. Below you will find yet one more poem.

“The Journey of the Magi”, however, is not to be sung, but to be read. More precisely, it is not to be read but to be entered into. Plunge yourself into this poem and I believe you may very well get a sense of what one of those kings from the east might have felt as he remembered his journey to and from the newborn King. This King did not enter the world with carnal pomp and splendor. His coming was glorious in the heavens, but ominous on the earth. To the angels it was great joy. To the shepherds it was fear and wonder. To Herod it was threatening treason. To mothers throughout the land it was dreadful wailing. And to the Magi? I think Eliot has it right.

“The Journey of The Magi” by T.S. Eliot

‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Tips for reading and understanding: Read it through once just to get a basic sense of the poem’s contents. Read it through a second time out loud and as prose instead of poetry: ignore the poetic structure and try to read it as if it were in paragraph form. What are the emotions the poem conveys? What are the words and phrases that evoke these emotions? What did the birth of Jesus mean for the Magi? What did it mean for Him? What should it mean to you?

Tips for enjoying: Notice all the Scriptural allusions in the second stanza– there is one in almost every line. Notice how the structure and cadence of each stanza supports the over-all emotional tone of the stanza. Once you realize the main result of the birth of this King, look back through the poem and see all the little details that carry that theme forward.

About the author: Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was born in St. Louis and educated at Harvard, but made his name in England as a poet and literary critic. Until his late 30’s he was a cynic who studied eastern religions and philosophy. Yearning for spiritual guidance and fulfilment he surrendered to the authority of Christ and joined the conservative Anglican church in 1927. Eliot would eventually broaden his output beyond literature, to include culture as a whole. If you are content believing that Thomas Kinkade is an artist; that Max Lucado is an author; that Third Day are musicians; or that our children’s moral upbringing should be left to singing vegetables or kindly pirates, you should probably avoid Eliot’s writings. If you have come to the place in your life where you believe the gospel might demand something a little more, I would highly encourage you to read and understand Eliot’s thoughts in his works The Idea of a Christian Society, Notes Toward the Definition of Culture and his essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent.