Skip to main content

Psalms 135-138



There is much of interest in each of our psalms for today. In Psalms 135 and 136, notice how easily the psalmist moves from praising God for his work in creation to praising God for his work in and through Israel. As C. S. Lewis says, “both are equally great deeds, great victories.” Sometimes I think it can be very spiritually healthy and fruitful to rehearse, as the psalmist does in both of these psalms, God’s great deeds in the past. For Catholics, this is part of the genius behind the devotion of the Rosary. However, not only is it helpful to remember God’s great deeds in creation and in biblical times, but also in our own lives. What would a psalm about God’s great deeds in your life, or in mine, look like and sound like? It might be a very creative and instructive exercise to write such a psalm, or at least to make a list of the many great things God has done for you, and then thank him for each one.

I know a number of people who do not like contemporary praise and worship music. One complaint I have often heard as a pastor is this: “There is too much repetition in the songs. Why do we have to sing one line over and over again?”

While we may not like the seeming monotony of some contemporary praise and worship music, this feature did not seem to bother the psalmists. In Psalm 136, the psalmist repeats this one line twenty-six times: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” As I suggested a few days ago, that would not be a bad line to repeat to ourselves throughout the day: “for his steadfast love endures forever,” or even “God’s steadfast love for me endures forever.” Truly, we need to steep ourselves in the love of God, a love which we will never discover the height, the depth, the breadth, or the end of (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Psalm 137 contains both tragic beauty and tragic anger….

By the rivers of Babylon—
There we sat down and there we wept
When we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
Asked us for songs,
And our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land?

What poetic inspiration! This psalm captures in a few words the essence of the exile experience for the Jews in Babylon.

However, the psalm quickly moves from a sad note to a mad one. We can understand, from a human perspective, both the sorrow and the anger of an oppressed people. However, this understanding does not justify or condone or make righteous such lines as these: “Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!” Such a desire, even for one’s enemies, is pure evil. There is no getting around it.

So what are we to make of such psalms? How are we to appropriate or use them today? Or do we simply push such lines to one side, as we do with bones when eating a delicious piece of fish? Here is C. S. Lewis’ answer….

Of the cursing Psalms I suppose most of us make our own moral allegories—well aware that these are personal and on a quite different level from the high matters I have been trying to handle. We know the proper object of utter hostility—wickedness, especially our own. Thus in 36, “My heart showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly,” each can reflect that his own heart is the specimen of that wickedness best known to him. After that, the upward plunge at verse 5 into the mercy high as heaven and the reighteousness solid as the mountains takes on even more force and beauty. From this point of view I can use even the horrible passage in 137 about dashing the Babylonian babies against the stones. I know things in the inner world which are like babies; the infantile beginnings of small indulgences, small resentments, which may one day become dipsomania or settled hatred, but which woo us and wheedle us with special pleadings and seem so tiny, so helpless that in resisting them we feel we are being cruel to animals. They begin whimpering to us “I don’t ask much, but,” or “I had at least hoped,” or “you owe yourself some consideration.” Against all such pretty infants (the dears have such winning ways) the advice of the Pslm is the best. Knock the little bastards’ brains out. And “blessed he who can, for it’s easier said than done.

If then the vengeful anger of the Jews against the Babylonians was not righteous, what are we to make of God’s destruction of foreign kings in Psalms 135 and 136. Does this not also display a wrong attitude towards one’s enemies? Perhaps Israel’s attitude was wrong, but God’s attitudes and actions are another matter. Notice how all the acts described in Psalm 136 are attributed to God’s love—even the destruction of Israel’s enemies. How can this be? How was God being loving towards Israel’s enemies by destroying them?

I think the answer is that God has his own dealings with each nation and each individual. And as C. S. Lewis suggests in one of his children’s stories, God tells no one any story but their own. However, I imagine that in the case of all those foreign nations that the Old Testament says God destroyed, if God indeed destroyed them, then we can only assume that God knows best. God, in his love, knows when enough is enough. He knows, far better than we do, when evil can no longer be allowed to continue. God knows when the day of judgment is due. As C. S. Lewis says somewhere, God is like a good teacher. God knows when giving his pupils one more chance to re-take a test will be helpful, and God also knows when it is no longer any use.

In Psalm 138, we return to a subject that we can understand better than we can understand God’s dealings with foreign nations in the Old Testament, namely, God’s dealings with us. Given that God’s judgment is approaching, how should we pray for ourselves? I believe the conclusion of Psalm 138 provides a good pattern….

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

C. S. Lewis on Homosexuality

Arthur Greeves
In light of recent developments in the United States on the issue of gay marriage, I thought it would be interesting to revisit what C. S. Lewis thought about homosexuality. Lewis, who died in 1963, never wrote about same-sex marriage, but he did write, occasionally, about the topic of homosexuality in general. In the following I am quoting from my book, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C. S. Lewis. For detailed references and footnotes, you may obtain a copy from Amazon, your local library, or by clicking on the book cover at the right....
In Surprised by Joy, Lewis claimed that homosexuality was a vice to which he was never tempted and that he found opaque to the imagination. For this reason he refused to say anything too strongly against the pederasty that he encountered at Malvern College, where he attended school from the age of fifteen to sixteen. Lewis did not rate pederasty as the greatest evil of the school because he felt the cruelty displayed at Malver…

A Prayer at Ground Zero

Christmas Day Thought from Henri Nouwen

"I keep thinking about the Christmas scene that Anthony arranged under the altar. This probably is the most meaningful "crib" I have ever seen. Three small woodcarved figures made in India: a poor woman, a poor man, and a small child between them. The carving is simple, nearly primitive. No eyes, no ears, no mouths, just the contours of the faces. The figures are smaller than a human hand - nearly too small to attract attention at all.
"But then - a beam of light shines on the three figures and projects large shadows on the wall of the sanctuary. That says it all. The light thrown on the smallness of Mary, Joseph, and the Child projects them as large, hopeful shadows against the walls of our life and our world.
"While looking at the intimate scene we already see the first outlines of the majesty and glory they represent. While witnessing the most human of human events, I see the majesty of God appearing on the horizon of my existence. While being moved by the ge…

Sheldon Vanauken Remembered

A good crowd gathered at the White Hart Cafe in Lynchburg, Virginia on Saturday, February 7 for a powerpoint presentation I gave on the life and work of Sheldon Vanauken. Van, as he was known to family and friends, was best known as the author of A Severe Mercy, the autobiography of his love relationship with his wife Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis.

While living in Oxford, England in the early 1950's, Van and Davy came to faith in Christ through the influence of C. S. Lewis. Van was a professor of history and English literature at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement around 1980. A Severe Mercy tells the story of Davy's death from a mysterious liver ailment in 1955 and Van's subsequent dealing with grief. Van himself died from cancer in 1996.

It was my privilege to know Van for a brief period of time during the last year of his life. However, present at the White Hart on February 7 were some who knew Van far better than I did--Floyd Newman, one of Van's…

Mentoring

The first of four posts by yours truly is now up on the Next Leadership Blog. Check it out by clicking here: Mentoring.

C. S. Lewis Tour--London

The final two days of our C. S. Lewis Tour of Ireland & England were spent in London. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a panoramic tour of the city that included Westminster Abbey. A number of our tour participants chose to tour the inside of the Abbey where they were able to view the new C. S. Lewis plaque in Poets' Corner.


Though London was not one of Lewis' favorite places to visit, there are a number of locations associated with him. One which I have noted in my new book, In the Footsteps of C. S. Lewis, is Endsleigh Palace Hospital (25 Gordon Street, London) where Lewis recovered from his wounds received during the First World War....


Not too far away from this location is King's College, part of the University of London, located on the Strand, just off the River Thames. This is the location where Lewis gave the annual commemoration oration entitled The Inner Ring on 14 December 1944....


C. S. Lewis occasionally attended theatrical events in London. One of his favorites w…

Fact, Faith, Feeling

"Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where to get off', you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith." Mere Christianity


Many years ago, when I was a young Christian, I remember seeing the graphic illustration above of what C. S. Lewis has, here, so eloquen…

C. S. Lewis's Parish Church

The first time I visited Oxford, in 1982, the porter at Magdalen College didn't even recognize the name--C. S. Lewis. I had asked him if he could give me directions to Lewis's former home in Headington Quarry. Obviously, he could not and did not. (Directions to Lewis's former home are now much easier to obtain. Just click here for directions and to arrange a tour: The Kilns.)
Things have changed a lot since 1982. Now Lewis is remembered all around Oxford. At the pub where the Inklings met, at Magdalen College, and not least--at his parish church--Holy Trinity Headington Quarry. The first time I visited the church I only saw the outside and Lewis's grave, shared with his brother Warnie.
Since that first visit I have returned to Holy Trinity a number of times and worshiped there. Father Tom Honey is a real gem. Under his leadership the congregation has grown and now includes a number of young families. I was overwhelmed by the number of children who came into the sanctuary…

A Christmas Psalm

Psalm 110
The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet."

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion;
you will rule in the midst of your enemies.
Your troops will be willing on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy majesty,
from the womb of the dawn
you will receive the dew of your youth.

The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
"You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

The Lord is at your right hand;
he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook beside the way;
therefore he will lift up his head.

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms,
Chapter XII, paragraphs 4 & 5:

"We find in our Prayer Books that Psalm 110 is one of those appointed for Christmas Day. We may at first be surprised by this. There is nothing in it about peace and good-will, nothing remotely sugg…

C. S. Lewis on Church Attendance

A friend's blog written yesterday (http://wesroberts.typepad.com/) got me thinking about C. S. Lewis's experience of the church. I wrote this in a comment on Wes Robert's blog:
It is interesting to note that C. S. Lewis attended the same small church for over thirty years. The experience was nothing spectacular on a weekly basis. For most of those years Lewis didn't care much for the sermons; he even sat behind a pillar so that the priest would not see the expression on his face. He attended the service without music because he so disliked hymns. And he left right after holy communion was served probably because he didn't like to engage in small talk with other parishioners after the service. But that life-long obedience in the same direction shaped Lewis in a way that nothing else could.
Lewis was once asked, "Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?"
His answer was as follows: &q…