The home stretch of the book of Psalms is full of songs of praise, and Psalm 147 is no exception. Brueggemann’s classification scheme designates it as a psalm of new orientation, in which the formerly oppressed and wounded of Israel praise God for coming to their aid. Having been lifted out of the pit of suffering, Israel now worships God in song for his protection and provision.
Psalm 135 isn’t exactly a brief history of the universe, but that’s the closest I can think of to a one-sentence summary of it. Going by Brueggemann’s classifications, it’s generally considered a psalm of new orientation, but I personally am inclined to read it as simple orientation. It’s a call to praise founded on conviction that God is good, and the only hint of having passed through disorientation (vv.8-11, recollection of Israel’s struggles against Pharaoh and various pagan kings) is a historical footnote, a distant memory at most. Moreover, it’s equal parts assertion of God’s supremacy, litany of Israelite history, and indictment of idolatry. If it evades encapsulation into a single summary with a single theme, then we can roll with that.
If the central question of modern theology is “What is the nature of God?” then the central question of theology in the ancient Near East was “Which gods should we worship?” In ancient cultures, towns would commonly adopt a patron deity, and there were no shortage of choices. Just take a look at Wikipedia’s list of Mesopotamian deities. And people would commonly fashion sculptures of their deities as part of their worship: they’d make idols.
Once upon a time, a psalmist made a bet to see how many different ways he could say “Praise the name of the Lord.” He lost the bet, though, because he gave up halfway through, and that’s how we got Psalm 113. No, not really, but I have to write an introduction somehow.
Sometimes the psalm summarizes itself for you. Consider the opening lines of today’s psalm: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments!” (112:1). The rest of the psalm is basically a litany of blessings for the man who fears the Lord. He receives a well-established family tree, material wealth, a good legacy, victory over his adversaries, and more. But let’s zero in on a verse in the middle of the psalm, characterizing this man of many blessings. The man is merciful–and a creditor.
I guess we’re making a tradition of this: drafting my blogposts on paper towels in airports. It’s currently 1:10 PM, I missed my earlier flight out of Columbus, and my re-scheduled flight doesn’t leave until 4:40. It would be easy to get frustrated with the long wait and this bump in my travel plans, and honestly, I am a little bit frusty. But I’ve got orange dark chocolate, I’ve got an English translation of an ancient Hebrew song about how God is amazing and you should make music for him even if you are geography (vv.7-8), and in a few hours I will be, as Louis CK puts it, sitting on a chair in the sky. So, God is good and life is not so bad.
You know the grapes of wrath, right? No, not the novel by John Steinbeck; he based the title of his novel on the phrase “grapes of wrath” from the first verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” You know the line, right? “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Well, that refers back to Revelation 14:17–21, in which an angel executes God’s judgment on the earth by harvesting “grapes” for the winepress of the wrath of God. Before the basket press and horizontal screw press became widely used in the late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, workers would juice grapes by stomping on them–and in the winepress from John’s vision in Revelation, the workers in the winepress squeeze out blood that runs for two hundred miles. And I used to think the chain of references ended there, but no.