Friday, March 12, 2010

The Psalms used in Hebrews

The psalms are getting some mixed press in the bloggosphere stimulated by this post from David Ker on vengeance in the Old Testament - so I write what has been brewing these last four years on the use of the psalms in the NT - particularly Hebrews. (This search ht JK Gayle will find several of the recent essays on the vengeance texts of the Psalms. They are not absent from the context of Hebrews - but you will find my spin encouraging I hope.)
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews takes the substance of the dialogue between the Father and the Son almost exclusively from the Psalms. This fact alone should make us rethink our reading of the Old Testament. If we read the Psalter as the writer to that letter did, there is a conversation going on between God the Father and God the Son and we who read are somehow in it.

Here are the uses of the Psalms in Hebrews sorted in the order of their occurrence in the text. I realize, by the way, that several of the psalms are cited from the Greek version, but I don't do Greek and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews was not ignorant of some Hebrew, at least as far as glossing Melchizedek and Salem. (And the author took that word apart into its pieces to explain its meaning too -tsk tsk - a translation trap!) If I notice a significant difference between the Hebrew and the Greek which I reference from 'A Comparative Psalter' Ed John R. Kohlenberger III, it will emerge...
Above the Angels
יְהוָה אָמַר אֵלַי
בְּנִי אַתָּה
אֲנִי הַיֹּום יְלִדְתִּיךָ
יְהוָה said to me
My son you are,
I today have birthed you

Psalm 2:7
Hebrews 1:5
(also Acts 13:33)
It is the Son speaking and declaring the decree concerning himself (see also 2 Samuel 7:14). Today is the one day of creation and redemption. There is but one and that one ever. (Geo. Herbert) i.e. this is not 'adoptionism' unless you want to limit your perception in time.
(The grammar is hithpael imperative of שחה. reflexive / reciprocal? See Lambdin p 249 - incomprehensible!)
Worship him all gods
Psalm 97:7
[or Deut 32:43 LXX
HT Brian Small]
Hebrews 1:6
The context of these few words of verse 7 is idolatry. This psalm is one of the royal sequence in the middle of Book 3. It is about the worship of  יְהוָה as king. Hebrews implies that the Son is to be worshiped as יְהוָה himself. The king of Psalm 2 is identified implicitly then with יְהוָה.We are not distant, however, and should consider ourselves represented in the person of the Son - not by our presumption but by his choice. (Otherwise, how could we be a part of this conversation?)
עֹשֶׂה מַלְאָכָיו רוּחֹות 
מְשָׁרְתָיו אֵשׁ לֹהֵט
making his angels spirits, his ministers,  fire flaming
Psalm 104:4
Hebrews 1:7
This is the first of the last three psalms of Book 3 - It is downplaying angels.
 כִּסְאֲךָ אֱלֹהִים עֹולָם וָעֶד שֵׁבֶט מִישֹׁר שֵׁבֶט מַלְכוּתֶֽךָ
אָהַבְתָּ צֶּדֶק וַתִּשְׂנָא רֶשַׁע עַל־כֵּן מְשָׁחֲךָ אֱלֹהִים אֱלֹהֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן שָׂשֹׂון מֵחֲבֵרֶיךָ
Your throne O God is now and for ever
a sceptre of equity the sceptre of your kingdom
You have loved righteousness and hate wickedness
therefore God your God has anointed you with oil of rejoicing with your companions

Psalm 45:6-7
Hebrews 1:8-9
Like Psalm 2, Psalm 45, (My heart is inditing...) of the royal wedding, is addressed to the king of Israel. So the writer to the Hebrews is interpreting the address to the king as an address to the Son of whom he speaks.
לְפָנִים הָאָרֶץ יָסַדְתָּ וּֽמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ שָׁמָיִם
הֵמָּה יֹאבֵדוּ וְאַתָּה תַעֲמֹד וְכֻלָּם כַּבֶּגֶד יִבְלוּ כַּלְּבוּשׁ תַּחֲלִיפֵם וְיַחֲלֹֽפוּ
in the face of the earth you established
and the work of your hands, the heavens.
These will perish but you - you will stand
and they all like clothing will decay
as a garment you will change them and they will be changed
but you are the same - and your years will not end

Psalm 102:25-26
Hebrews 1:10-12
Psalm 102 is about faces- A prayer of the poor when disabled, before the face of יְהוָה he pours out his talk. The Greek misses the sounds of the Hebrew as any translation almost inevitably does. But the Lord of psalm 102 is not the complainant (the poor) - for the days of the complainant vanish like smoke (v3) in contrast to unending years. So in this case is the writer to the Hebrews allowing the end of the psalm to be a promise addressed to the poor who complains? This becomes a Messianic psalm under such a reading.
נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי
שֵׁב לִימִינִי עַד־אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶיךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶיךָ
a proclamation of יְהוָה to my Lord
Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool

Psalm 110:1
Hebrews 1:13
(also Matthew 22:44, Acts 2:34-35, 1 Peter 3:22)
Another royal psalm of a king is applied to the Son. At an earlier time I wrote: let the one who was wounded for us and whose head is lifted up judge those who rule and lead them to drink from the torrent of life-giving water that flowed from his side. May the king live these words into us so that we can understand.
כִּי מַלְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה־לָּךְ לִשְׁמָרְךָ בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָfor he will instruct his messengers about you to keep you in all your ways
Psalm 91:11-12
Hebrews 1:14
(also Matthew 4:6, Luke 4:10-11)
This is barely an allusion but puts the place of angels clearly in service to humanity.
Humanity and its role in creation from suffering to praise
 מָה־אֱנֹושׁ כִּי־תִזְכְּרֶנּוּ וּבֶן־אָדָם כִּי תִפְקְדֶנּוּ
וַתְּחַסְּרֵהוּ מְּעַט מֵאֱלֹהִים וְכָבֹוד וְהָדָר תְּעַטְּרֵהוּ
תַּמְשִׁילֵהוּ בְּמַעֲשֵׂי יָדֶיךָ כֹּל שַׁתָּה תַחַת־רַגְלָיו
What is humanity, that you remember it? and the child of the dust that you visit? Yet you filled it less just a little less than God
and with glory and adorning crown it. You give it reign over the works of your hands, all you put under its feet

Psalm 8:4-6 (5-7 MT)
Hebrews 2:6-9
(also 1 Corinthians 15:27, Ephesians 1:22)
The service note leads the writer directly to Psalm 8 (somewhere there is a passage!) And the identification of Jesus with the אֱנֹושׁ of Psalm 8 lets us consider his role in tasting death for all.
אֲסַפְּרָה שִׁמְךָ לְאֶחָי בְּתֹוךְ קָהָל אֲהַלְלֶֽךָּI will declare your name to my kin
In the midst of the congregation I will praise you

Psalm 22:22 (23 MT)
Hebrews 2:12
The tasting of death leads immediately to Psalm 22 where the motif of death and resurrection is clear. (see also Psalm 35:18, 40:9, 149:1)
Entering the Rest - re-framing Torah through a reading of the Psalms
הַיֹּום אִם־בְּקֹלֹו תִשְׁמָעוּ
אַל־תַּקְשׁוּ לְבַבְכֶם כִּמְרִיבָה כְּיֹום מַסָּה בַּמִּדְבָּר
אֲשֶׁר נִסּוּנִי אֲבֹותֵיכֶם בְּחָנוּנִי גַּם־רָאוּ פָעֳלִי
אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה אָקוּט בְּדֹור וָאֹמַר עַם תֹּעֵי לֵבָב הֵם וְהֵם לֹא־יָדְעוּ דְרָכָי
אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי בְאַפִּי אִם־יְבֹאוּן אֶל־מְנוּחָתִי
if you hear his voice
do not harden your heart in rebellion
as if it was the day of testing in the wilderness when your fathers tested me examined me and saw my work
forty years I put up with a generation
and I said these people wander in their hearts and they do not know my ways so I swore in my anger they will not come to my rest

Psalm 95:7-11
Hebrews 3:7-11, 15, 4:7, 4:3-5
Having laid out for us the exaltation of this man, Jesus, the Son as noted in Hebrews 1:2, we are then invited to consider our situation as 'his house'. Using Psalm 95, the Venite of traditional Mattins, the writer redefines the meaning of 'today' again. There must be a rest to be reached. (Note the anticipation of rest in the story of Ruth.
בִּתִּי הֲלֹא אֲבַקֶּשׁ-לָךְ מָנוֹחַ
my daughter do I not seek for you rest)
There is work for us, and it is easy to get discouraged. But there also is fruitfulness, rest, and the oil of gladness. Is Psalm 95 one of the 'nice' psalms? Note how it redefines a false literal 7 day creation (as if it was necessary for the centuries to come). This redefinition is confirmed by the NT writers - particularly the writer of this letter and the writer of the Gospel of John.
אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ שִׁבְתִּי וְקוּמִי בַּנְתָּה לְרֵעִי מֵרָחֹֽוק
אָרְחִי וְרִבְעִי זֵרִיתָ וְֽכָל־דְּרָכַי הִסְכַּֽנְתָּה
You - you know my sitting and my rising; you understand my thought from afar; my path and my lying down you sift; and all my ways you know intimately
Psalm 139:2-3
Hebrews 4:13
The allusion is indirect to Psalm 139 and perhaps more fearful than the psalm, but it illustrates that we are known if indeed we allow such openness as is demonstrated continuously in the human psalmist. Let it never be said "I did not know you" for such knowledge is too precious. Not of the flesh, it is nonetheless truly and fully known in this earthen vessel.
The High Priest as taught in the Psalms
אֲסַפְּרָה אֶל חֹק יְהוָה אָמַר אֵלַי בְּנִי אַתָּה אֲנִי הַיֹּום יְלִדְתִּיךָI will declare the decree: יְהוָה said to me: My son you are, I today have birthed you
Psalm 2:7
Hebrews 5:5
The sonship and priesthood are both declared by God
נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה וְלֹא יִנָּחֵם אַתָּֽה־כֹהֵן לְעֹולָם עַל־דִּבְרָתִי מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶקיְהוָה has sworn and will not repent
you are a priest for ever of the order of Melchizedek

Psalm 110:4
Hebrews 5:6, 7:17, 21
This little psalm is very important to the NT writers.
זֶבַח וּמִנְחָה לֹֽא־חָפַצְתָּ אָזְנַיִם כָּרִיתָ לִּי עֹולָה וַחֲטָאָה לֹא שָׁאָֽלְתָּ
אָז אָמַרְתִּי הִנֵּה־בָאתִי 
בִּמְגִלַּת־סֵפֶר כָּתוּב עָלָי לַֽעֲשֹֽׂות־רְצֹונְךָ אֱלֹהַי חָפָצְתִּי וְתֹורָתְךָ בְּתֹוךְ מֵעָי
sacrifice and offering you did not delight in, ears you have dug for me,
burnt offering and sin offering you did not require, then I said Here I come,
in the roll of the writing is inscribed of me, to do your will my God I delighted

Psalm 40:6-8
Hebrews 10:5-7
Ears you have dug - or a body you have prepared. Ears reminds me of the servant song in Isaiah 50. Body is good too - the whole body is taught through the ear opened. Psalm 40 is delightful. This human is like the one who created Psalm 119. It is not piety but joy that moves a person so.
נְאֻם יְהוָה לַאדֹנִי שֵׁב לִימִינִי עַד־אָשִׁית אֹיְבֶיךָ הֲדֹם לְרַגְלֶיךָa proclamation of יְהוָה to my Lord
Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool

Psalm 110:1
Hebrews 10:12-13
This psalm carries the thought of the author through 5 chapters.
כִּי־יָדִין יְהוָה עַמֹּו וְעַל־עֲבָדָיו יִתְנֶחָםfor יְהוָה will judge his people
and all his servants he will console

Psalm 135:14
Hebrews 10:30
In the end, it should be noted that the judgment of יְהוָה is wholly positive.
Confidence and Praise also learned from the Psalms
בֵּֽאלֹהִים בָּטַחְתִּי לֹא אִירָא מַה־יַּעֲשֶׂה אָדָם לִיIn God I will trust
I will not fear
What will humus do to me?

Psalm 56:11
Hebrews 13:6
on the disabled, mute, bound dove in the distance, of David, a miktam - the Psalms are the biggest and best book of the Bible. Read them all.
יְהוָה לִי לֹא אִירָא מַה־יַּעֲשֶׂה לִי אָדָםיְהוָה for me - I will not fear What can a human do to me?
Psalm 118:6
Hebrews 13:6
Read a little further in Psalm 118 and you find destruction by circumcision. How does the Created order overcome its self-centered self-destructive actions? It chooses the sign of circumcision and in such prefigures the death of Jesus (Colossians 2:11).The gospel then invites self-destruction in Christ Jesus establishing our death and passage through judgment. The new life that follows confirms the rightness of the choice. Our choice - our being chosen. This is the narrow door of election and the means of digging our ears.
זְבַח לֵאלֹהִים תֹּודָה וְשַׁלֵּם לְעֶלְיֹון נְדָרֶיךָSacrifice thanksgiving to God
and pay your vows to the Most High

Psalm 50:14
Hebrews 13:15
A Sacrifice of thanksgiving is all that is left to do. Today was not an easy day - again I made lots of mistakes and had to undo them. My logic needs the cutting edge of others' criticism. I know it is no easier for anyone else. I will find thanksgiving in the blooms of the garden and in a restful weekend.

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