Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Psalm 110 continuing

Psalm 110 is among my favorites ever since I first sang Dixit Dominus by G. F. Handel. Handel's setting is fierce and challenging youthful work, almost unsingable, as difficult as any Bach line, and full of word painting and extreme of emotion.

How do you translate ferocity into love? How do you prevent war mongering based on Scriptural justification? How do you prevent superiority and privilege based on the Divine right of kings? How do you combine the priestly and royal anointing without succumbing to the tyranny of too much power in the hands of one?

I don't know that I can find a short answer to these questions. I do want, however, to move away from violent overthrow to adoration - and an adoration that is not constrained but an abundance of joy from the knowledge of the 'torrent in the way'. I want also to find structural clues in the double use of the word מָחַץ meaning wound used about 14 times in TNK. (5 times in the psalms - 18, 68, 110 - See also Isaiah 30:26 - a hapax of the noun).

Whatever lessons I have learned, they will not be passed on to others in a few words. If the words are useful, their reception into the body of another will be an insemination that undermines the commonplace and in the mysterious working of the life of a human, gives uneasy birth to a new thing in the world.

To what extent did the ancients up to the end of the first century also reframe the violence of their tradition? We there any 'pacifists' among them? I am not a pacifist - a category of thought that John also rejects by implication in his post on this psalm. True peace does not come by a thought process or a name that does not put body where trouble lies. Am I then against peace? I do not understand my ways - in my imagination I have destroyed enough. Bashing the teeth of the wicked is not a foreign thought to me, though as far as I remember I only did it actually once - at about age 10 or so - some 52 or 53 years ago. More recently, as I pray for sudden shame on my enemies, it is only עַל כֵּן by the reality of shame, we can see the righteousness of God. So for God to bash the heads of the wicked is not necessarily to mean that there is no follow-up - as one of his spokesmen said, he wounds, he makes alive. (Much as I hate to agree with Eliphaz - Job 5:18, he is only alluding to God's word in the Torah - Deuteronomy 32:39).

(I threw in an extra causative in that paragraph to see if the reading of עַל כֵּן in the last line of the MT is unreasonable as John suggests. It looks like I could have left it out or substituted another word like 'that' and no one would have noticed in current English. How difficult it is to get to the what might have been a common hearing of an ancient phrase.)

Before reading Neale on this psalm, I think that death and resurrection are the subject of this psalm. God himself drinks of the torrent in the way - a torrent of death by which he wounds, and a torrent of life by which he raises up the head he has smitten and us in that head. In this way violence into adoration is transformed by the one who tasted death for us, the king of righteousness and the high priest. This psalm gives the writer of the Apocalypse permission to construct a theology of violence that is purely a meditation on the wounding of the Anointed - High Priest, King, and Lambkin.

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