On the Psalms up to November 2




General George Patton, who found comfort in Psalm 63 at a low point in his life…

This regular feature focuses on next Sunday’s psalm, and on highlights from the psalms in the Daily Office Readings (DORs) during the week leading up to that upcoming Sunday.

At this point there may be readers who ask, “What, the psalms again?  Why do you pay so much attention to the Psalms?”    The simple answer is:  See the notes below.

For those who already appreciate the psalms (and rightfully so), my usual practice is to review the next Sunday’s readings on the Wednesday before, including the individual Sunday-psalm noted above, and also to review the psalms from the DORs for the week ending on the Tuesday just before that “prior Wednesday.”

The Lectionary  psalm for Sunday, November 2, is Psalm 34, discussed below.  The Daily Office psalms are from the readings for Wednesday October 22 up to Tuesday October 28.

Here are some highlights from last week.

The DORs for Thursday, October 23, included Psalm 37:14, “The Lord laughs at the wicked, because he sees that their day will come,” one of those psalms that shows God has a sense of humor.  (See also Psalm 104:27, “There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which you [God] made for the sport of it.”)  The 10/23 readings also included “The little that the righteous has is better than the great riches of the wicked.”

The DORs for Friday, October 24, included Psalm 35:27, “Great is the Lord, who desires the prosperity of his servant.”  That’s a reminder that God does want “His servants” to succeed in life, for reasons including that they are very much a reflection of Him.  (And no, God is not self-righteous and narrow-minded, thank you very much…)

The DORs for Sunday October 26 included Psalm 63, sometimes called “Patton’s Psalm.”  See On “Patton,” Sunday School teacher, which noted that the general was at a low point in his career during World War II, after the so-called “slapping incident” in Sicily.  He was almost sent home in disgrace, and was ordered – among other things – to make a personal apology to the troops involved.  As he went out to apologize he recited Psalm 63, both “humble and defiant.”

The DORs for Monday October 27 included Psalm 41:1, “Happy are they who consider the poor and needy!  The Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble.”  (Something to remember…)

As to Psalm 34:1-10,22, the consensus on this psalm is that it came about when King David had to make another king – Achish, with whom he sought refuge – think he was crazy as a loon:

Were it not for the superscription to this psalm [below], Psalm 34 could be read as a beautiful response of praise and instruction based upon some unknown incident in which David was delivered from danger.  Our difficulty in understanding the psalm arises from its historical setting:   “A Psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away and he departed.”

See Psalm 34: The Fear of the Lord | Bible.org. (“Abimelech” is generic Hebrew for “king.”  The king’s proper name in this incident was Achish, which can also be a generic term for king.)

Be that as it may,  the International Bible Commentary (IBC) referred to Psalm 34 as “the voice of experience,” adding that despite the title, “there is nothing in the psalm specific to the events of I Sam. 21:10-15.”  But about that consensus, see Psalms 34 – Matthew Henry Commentary:

The title of this psalm tells us both who penned it and upon what occasion it was penned. David, being forced to flee from his country … sought shelter as near it as he could, in the land of the Philistines…   [H]e was brought before the king … called Achish (his proper name), here Abimelech (his title); and lest he should be treated as a spy, [David] feigned himself to be a madman … that Achish might dismiss him as a contemptible man, rather than take cognizance of him as a dangerous man.

At any rate, if you Google “psalm 34 commentary” you’ll see some competing theories, either that the psalm is not about David “feigning madness,” or that David should have been ashamed of himself for his lack of faith, in acting crazy and/or otherwise showing his “feet of clay.”  But those criticisms may well have been leveled by ivory-tower types who’ve never had a brush with death – or worse – like David did, numerous times.  (General Patton – above – had a memorable quote about writers for the Saturday Evening Post being similarly “out of touch with reality…”)

In closing we can assume that David wrote Psalm 34 long after his miraculous escape – by “feigning madness” – and throughout the psalm he is properly grateful to God for “delivering him from evil:”  Psalm 34:1, “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall ever be in my mouth.”  Psalm 34:7, “The angel of the LORD encompasses those who fear him, and he [the angel] will deliver them.”  And finally Psalm 34:22, “The LORD ransoms the life of his servants, and none will be punished who trust in him.”

David Feigning Madness before Achish, King of Gath Giclee Print
The upper image is courtesy of File: Pattonphoto.jpg – Wikimedia Commons, “George S. Patton signed photo by U.S. Army…   Scanned from a file in Patton’s personnel record avaliable at the Military Personnel Records Center.”   As to Patton’s reciting Psalm 63, see George S. Patton slapping incidents – Wikipedia.
The lower image is courtesy of David Feigning Madness before Achish, King of Gath Giclee, with the full caption, “David feigning madness before Achish, king of Gath…   ‘And he changed his behavior before them, and feigned himself mad in their hands, and scrabbled on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle fall down upon his beard.'”
As to the competing terms Abimilech and Achish, see Abimelech – Wikipedia, and also Achish – Wikipedia, which referred to the man “described as ‘Achish the king of Gath,’ with whom David sought refuge when he fled from Saul. (1 Samuel 21:11-15)   He is called Abimelech (meaning ‘father of the king’) in the superscription of Psalms 34.”
Psalm 34: The Fear of the Lord added this about the incident:  “The more one studies 1 Samuel 21:10-15 in context, the more distressing becomes David’s conduct when he was pursued by Saul.  While I had previously viewed this time in David’s life as one of spiritual vitality and personal piety, a more careful study reveals that he was a man with feet of clay.”

Which seems to be another way of saying that “the Bible is the story of a long-ago people, and we aren’t remotely like those people.  They were heroes and we are not.”  See Another view of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  On the other hand, the point of this blog is that the Bible remains relevant today precisely because it was written by people who were just like us:  “What if those Bible-writers had all the faults and failings that we have, yet somehow managed to personally experience the presence of God, the Force that Created the Universe…”

For a good article discussing the origin of the terms “crazy as a loon,” along with “lunatic” and “looney” (as in “Looney Tunes”), see Origin of Loon, Loony And Lunatic – Hartford Courant.
Note too that Psalm 34 is viewed by scholars as being written in conjunction with Psalm 56, which begins “Have mercy on me, O God, for my enemies are hounding me; all day long they assault and oppress me.”  (David is said to have written both psalms based on his experience “feigning madness” before this particular king.)
As to the reason “we” spend so much time on the Psalms:  “The Church” itself spends a lot of time on the psalms, and aside from that, they are critical to spiritual growth.  See Psalms – Wikipedia, which made the following points:  1)  Psalms are and have been used throughout traditional Jewish worship, for millenia. (See also On “originalism”.)   2)  Many Jews complete the Book of Psalms on a weekly or monthly basis.  3)  The reading of psalms is viewed in Jewish tradition as a vehicle for gaining God’s favor.  4)  The Psalms have remained an important part of worship in most Christian Churches.  5)  In the early centuries of the Church, it was expected that any candidate for bishop would be able to recite the entire Psalter from memory (all 150 psalms).  6)  Several conservative Protestant denominations sing only the Psalms, and do not accept the use of any non-Biblical hymns.  7)  The Psalms have always been an important part of Catholic liturgy as well.
In the Anglican tradition, every set of Sunday Bible readings includes a psalm (or portion thereof), along with readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel.  And in the Daily Office, each day’s set of readings includes three or more psalms.  For more on the Prayer Book’s take, see The Psalter.

See also The Significance of the Psalms | Bible.org, which noted Psalms is one of two Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament, along with Isaiah.  Further, “In their preaching and writing, the apostles often quoted from the Psalms as biblical proof of the fact that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament.  Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 as proof that Jesus must be raised from the dead (Acts 2:24-36)…   Any book so prominent in the minds of the New Testament writers should also be important to us.”


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