Monday, January 01, 2007

Psalms 14 & 53

Reading all the books about the psalms is no substitute for reading the psalms themselves. But how will you read without dealing with the original text? For example, Bible gateway notes that "The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient." Is that so? And if so, what is the implication for us who read the psalm? Are we morally deficient? or not? Are we right in all our thoughts? Do we ever note the possibility of the nihilism implied in Psalm 14 or 53? Is moral insufficiency of the essence of the problem?

In fact the 'Hebrew words' as if such a piece of intelligence was informative are not purely about 'morality' - whatever that means to us. They are about the tension in us to want our own power and the need in us to know some degree of transformation into joy. The word for fool is not a noun but an adjective. There is no definite article in the poem: so I have translated it as 'foolish said in his heart'. I did this so I could escape momentarily from the automatic reaction in me that says - I'm not so foolish. But am I?

The difference between Psalms 14 and 53 is instructive - in one case the word following abomination is 'wantonness', in the other it is 'injustice'. This foolishness is deeper than our acknowledgement of God as 'existing'. There are two words only in this phrase - AIN ELOHIM - 'God is of no account' would be one possible translation.

The phrase - 'there is none that doeth good' is three words in the Hebrew AIN OSEH TOV - literally 'nothing doing good', in parallel with 'nothing God'. These make the poem less moralistic than relational. Without the presence of God, we are only our own presence - incomplete, and in tune with 'nothing'. The consequences are how the term for foolish is defined in the lexicon: senseless, not appreciating the benefits of the LORD. Note how psalm 53 and 14 use different terms in the same spot in the poem for God - Elohim in Psalm 53 and YHWH in Psalm 14.

Note also the repetition of 'nothing doing good' followed by yet another difference in the psalms - stubborn (14) and not worshipping (53). Such is our state without the joy of love that God, the LORD gives. Whatever our intellectual knowledge - it is not in our own knowing what is not good, it is in the excellence of knowing that Good that comes only from God - an inexpressible word contained in the final verse of the psalm: Salvation (Hebrew yeshua) giving expressed joy in his people.

So this psalm is far from being merely moralistic in content. It lies on the axis of nihilism and joy - deeply expressing for us the reality of being counted among of God's people.

No comments: