This post originally appeared at the BIGBible Project
The Psalms can be beautiful, positive and encouraging. They can be raw, poignant and tearful. They can also be heavily contextual, with ugly moments of anger and very un-politically correct!
They are so human.
Poetry and lyrics lend themselves well to expressing emotion. They can be ways of healing, of reminding ourselves of what is really important to us. Digging down and discovering the beautiful and the ugly; looking up and putting things in perspective.
It’s good to reflect on the meaning behind the words, to understand the context.
Well known words
Psalm 121 is a famous one.
‘I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?’
I’ve come across a few interpretations of verse 1. There’s the familiar idea that by looking to the hills, the writer is reminded of the Maker of heaven and earth. Or perhaps the writer looks longingly towards the mountains of Zion.
Alternatively, the writer may be gazing fearfully at the hills, where robbers are lie in wait, and is seeking help and protection.
The hills were also where the gods of the surrounding polytheistic cultures were worshipped. Those ‘high places’, so often mentioned in the history of Israel and Judah’s Kings. Other cultures sought help at these high places, but for the psalmist, it is entirely different. He looks to the hills and is reminded that his help is from Someone Different. He does not find his God in the hills, for his God – YHWH – is the maker of heaven and earth. We can see this in Jeremiah 3:23 – ‘Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills and the mountains is a deception; surely the LORD our God is the salvation of Israel.’
In verses 3 and 4 we are told that YHWH neither slumbers nor sleeps. The gods of the other cultures were very ‘human’ in their portrayal – argumentative, vindictive, and dropping off to sleep when they felt like it! Argument among these gods affected humans – e.g. weather and seasons. But we are told here that YHWH does not go to sleep. In his famous contest with the prophets of Baal, Elijah taunted them by saying: “Shout louder! … Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or travelling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)
The sun and moon also have a history of being worshipped – but here we see they do not have power over us (Ps 121:6) .
Between the lines
Sometimes there is more than meets the eye and a surface reading doesn’t always see it.
I wonder – what do we read between the lines in our present day exchanges? Do we interpret others’ words wrongly in our haste to respond? Perhaps we miss the deeper meaning or implication.
Imagine someone reading your blog posts or your Twitter feed in a couple of hundred years. What would they get from it? What would you want them to get from it?
Do we assume that people understand, because it’s so obvious to us?