Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
30 March 2022 (Psalms 50)

‘The mighty one, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting’ (Psalm 50: 1) … sunrise over High Offley in Staffordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

I am in the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, having been moved here yesterday from Milton Keynes early yesterday for further tests today, including an angiogram, following the stroke I suffered almost 12 days ago. Before this day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (30 March 2022) for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 50:

Psalm 50, a Psalm of Asaph, is a prophetic imagining of God’s judgment on the people. In the slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate this psalm is Psalm 49.

This Psalm was composed by Asaph, a contemporary of David and a prominent Levite (see I Chronicles 16). Aside from David himself, Asaph was the most eminent composer of Psalms. We see that King Hezekiah, a descendant of David, used Psalms of both David and Asaf (II Chronicles 29).

However, some commentators date Psalm 50 variously to either the 8th century BCE, the time of the prophets Hosea and Micah, or to a time after the Babylonian captivity. The latter date is supported by the reference to ‘gathering’ in verse 5, but is problematic because verse 2 describes Zion or Jerusalem as ‘the perfection of beauty,’ even though Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BCE.

The psalm can be divided into four sections:

1, an introduction (verses 1-6),
2, a first oration in which God testifies against the people (verses 7-15),
3, a second oration in which God testifies against the people (verses 16-21),
4, a conclusion (verses 22-23).

The imagery in the introduction evokes the revelation of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, where God’s appearance was accompanied by thunder and lightning. God summons the heavens and the earth to act as witnesses.

The rest of the psalm takes the form of a legal proceeding, with God acting as both plaintiff and judge. The same metaphor of a divine tribunal occurs in Isaiah 1 and Micah 6.

In God’s first oration (verses 7-15), he tells the people that he is not satisfied with material sacrifices alone, since he does not require food or drink. Rather, he desires his people to worship him with thanksgiving and sincere prayer. The question posed in verse 13, ‘Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?’ may be an allusion to the goddess Anat, since in one fragmentary text Anat eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her brother Baal, who sometimes appears as a bull.

God’s second oration (verses 16-21) is warning against hypocrisy. Although the hypocrites often recite God’s commandments, they inwardly hate them and make no effort to live by them, and God will surely bring them to judgment.

The psalm closes with a final warning against iniquity and a promise that God will bless the righteous and make them ‘drink deeply of the salvation of God.’ This last is an appearance of the common biblical theme of the ‘Messianic banquet’ which also occurs in Psalm 23 and Psalm 16, among other places.

In this Psalm, we see how God’s desire is not only for people to adhere to his commandments externally, and to perform good deeds, but for people to ultimately perform them internally with love, from the very depths of the heart. Prayer should be from the heart, not mere lip service that might look good but lacks sincerity.

‘For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills’ (Psalm 50: 10) … ‘The Peaceable Kingdom’ (1826) by Edward Hicks (The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)

Psalm 50 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 The mighty one, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.

3 Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 ‘Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!’
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge.
Selah

7 ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt-offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
10 For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

12 ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
15 Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’

16 But to the wicked God says:
‘What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18 You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.

19 ‘You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother’s child.
21 These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.

22 ‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.
23 Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God.’

Today’s Prayer:

The USPG Prayer Diary this week, under the heading ‘Let my people go,’ focuses on the approximately 230 million Dalits living in India. Considered outcasts, these communities suffer systematic exclusion and discrimination under the caste system, a system of social stratification. The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (30 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the many schools, universities and hospitals administered by the Church of North India (CNI). May we look to the CNI’s community work as an example to be followed.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire’ (Psalm 50: 3) … candles lit in a church in Panormos, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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