On the Psalms up to November 30

“A woman playing a psalterion,” an instrument used to accompany psalms



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 some 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.”  For example, The Lectionary  psalm for Sunday, November 30, is Psalm 80, discussed further below.  The Daily Office psalms are from the readings for Wednesday November 18 up to Tuesday November 25.

Here are some highlights from last week’s “Daily Office” psalms.

From Saturday, November 22, Psalm 33:12, “Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord! Happy the people he has chosen to be His own!”  (Which pretty much speaks for itself.)

Also from Saturday, Psalm 108:13, “With God we will do valiant deeds, and He shall tread our enemies under foot.”  Note the emphasis there, “with God,” or in some translations, “through God…”  Or as one commentary put it, “God’s help shall inspire us to help ourselves.”  (See Psalm 108:13 Commentaries: Through God we will do valiantly.)

From Sunday, November 23, Psalm 118:22, “The same stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” That psalm-passage was quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:42 (NIV), “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes?'”  And by Peter in Acts 4:11 (when he and John were on trial before the Sanhedrin), “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.'”

Also, Psalm 145:9 and 19: “The Lord is loving to everyone and His compassion is over all His works;” together with, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him faithfully.”  These passages contradict the idea that the Christian faith is “exclusive:”

Jesus accepts anyone who comes to Him [and] the Faith is not an exclusive club designed for members only(Another prevailing perception promoted by some….)

See On St. Mary, Mother, and also About this Blog: “those who choose to  read the Bible in a strict, narrow or ‘fundamental’ way are only cheating themselves.”

From Tuesday, November 25, Psalm 127:4-6, “Children are a heritage from the Lord… Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.”  That passage gave rise to today’s “Quiverfull Movement,” discussed in notes for On snake-handling, Fundamentalism and suicide – Part I.

Getting back to Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, the one for Sunday, November 15, the International Bible Commentary (IBC) indicated that it addressed the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of Israel:

They were named Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, and Zebulun – all sons or grandsons of Jacob.  In 930 BC the 10 tribes formed the independent Kingdom of Israel in the north and the 2 other tribes, Judah and Benjamin, set up the Kingdom of Judah in the south.  Following the conquest of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 BC, the 10 tribes were gradually assimilated by other peoples and thus disappeared from history.

See Ten Lost Tribes of Israel — Encyclopedia Britannica.  That is, after the Assyrian Conquest starting around 740 B.C., 10 of the original 12 tribes of Israel were lost to history, and only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin were left.  See also Assyrian captivity of Israel – Wikipedia.

It is to and about these lost brethren– the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” – that the writer of Psalm 80 pleads to God, beginning, “Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock … stir up your strength and come to help us.”  At verse 3 and again at verses 7 and 18 he prays, “Restore us, O God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.”

The psalm-writer’s theory is that since all things are under God’s control, the humiliation of His Chosen People had to be a response to their shortcomings and sins.   Accordingly – after asking “how long will you be angered despite the prayers of your people?” – the psalmist both pleads and promises, “give us life, that we may call upon your Name.”

Jesus would return to the theme in His Parable of the Lost Sheep – Wikipedia, as shown below:

The parable shares themes of loss, searching, and rejoicing with the Parable of the Lost Coin.  The lost sheep or coin represents a lost human being…   As in the analogy of the Good Shepherd, Jesus is the shepherd, thus identifying himself with the image of God as a shepherd searching for stray sheep in Ezekiel34:11–16…   The rejoicing of the shepherd with his friends represents God rejoicing with the angels.  The image of God rejoicing at the recovery of lost sinners contrasts with the criticism of the religious leaders which prompted the parable.

And finally, note Matthew 19:28 (in the NIV), where Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”  But what of the 10 Lost Tribes, and the fact that by that time there were – literally – only two tribes left?

For the answer, see the notes below…



The upper image is courtesy of Psaltery – Wikipedia, with the full caption:   “A woman playing a psalterion.  Ancient Greek red-figured pelike from Anzi, Apulia, circa 320–310 BCE.”

For more on the “Ten Lost Tribes” see sites including Ten Lost Tribes – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, and/or NOVA Online | Lost Tribes of Israel | Where are the Ten Lost Tribes?

The lower image is courtesy of Parable of the Lost Sheep – Wikipedia, with the caption, “Etching by Jan Luyken showing the triumphant return of the shepherd, from the Bowyer Bible.”

As to the discrepancy between Jesus saying His disciples would judge the 12 tribes of Israel and there being literally only two of those tribes left by then, the best answer seems to come from the site Commentary on Matthew 19:28-29 – LHIM.org.  Responding to the question as to what “Israel” Jesus was referring to, the writer answered, “I believe that when Christ says ‘Israel’ here he is referring the New Covenant church which includes both Jews and Gentiles.”  He cited examples from the New Testament Epistles (“Letters”), including Galatians 6:16 – “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” – and James 1:1, “James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.” (E.A.)

All of which would require an expansive or “liberal” interpretation of the Bible, rather than a strict, restricted or “fundamental” interpretation, but that’s pretty much the theme of this blog.   See also On arguing with God, which indicated the name “Israel” should be interpreted liberally to include anyone who either “struggles with God” or struggles with the idea of God.

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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 arguably critical to spiritual growth. 

See for example Thomas Merton’s Praying the Psalms (Liturgical Press 1956), where he first noted the Catholic Church has “always considered the psalms her perfect book of prayer,” then added:

There is no aspect of the interior life, no kind of religious experience, no spiritual need of man that cannot be depicted and lived out in the Psalms.

See also Psalms – Wikipedia, which noted the following:  1)  the Psalms 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 Sunday Bible reading includes a psalm (or portion), along with readings from the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel.  In the Daily Office, each day’s readings usually 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 said Psalms is one of two Old Testament books most frequently quoted in the New Testament (along with Isaiah).   “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.”


For more on Thomas Merton see On Thomas Merton.


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