Do you remember Sega’s “Welcome to the Next Level” advertising campaign from the early 90s? No? That’s fine. You don’t need to be familiar with it at all to know that the seventh chapter of Hebrews has got some next-level theology about Jesus Christ as a priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Welcome to the next level.
Are you familiar with the expression “lower than a duck’s instep?” Given how many of you are my relatives, you probably are. But in case you need an explanation, it means “super-low”–because a duck, with its flat feet, has the lowest instep you can imagine. It’s basically the opposite of being “fine as frog’s hair.” And today’s psalm is for people in a situation that is lower than a duck’s instep.
Like yesterday’s psalm, the first verse of this psalm has inspired a contemporary English worship song. I will not, however, be linking to a recording of it, because here are the lyrics: “I was glad when they said unto me, I was glad when they said unto me, I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ So glad (so glad), so glad (so glad), so glad (so glad), so glad (so glad).” (repeat until dead)
What’s the shortest song you can think of? Two of my favorite bands, Five Iron Frenzy and They Might Be Giants, have no shortage of short songs. Here’s one. Here’s another. And these short songs tend to be goofy ditties with nonsensical lyrics poking fun at their own brevity, but what happens when a short song takes itself and its subject matter entirely seriously? Psalm 117 happens, that’s what.
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.
I tend to forget how good The Prince of Egypt is. One of the things I like best about it is how it conveys a sense of scale. The monuments of Egypt are big. The crowds of Hebrew slaves are big. The Red Sea is big, and it’s a big event when God parts it. But without modern animation technology, how would you have conveyed the magnitude of the Exodus? If you were anything like the author of Psalm 114, you would have written a song.
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.