World of NTToday is the day I pick a winner for a new copy of The World of the New Testament (Baker, 2013). The context opened a week ago, and 43 people signed up (there were more comments, but I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-43, and the winner is…..

Jake Bodet (@JakeBodet)

Congrats to Jake, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will whip the book to you ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I will launch the second of three “end of summer” book give-aways later today.

NB: This book was my own personal copy; it was not provided by the publisher.

bs-carnival1This is the last call for links for the August Biblioblog Carnival hosted by Bob MacDonald (@drmacdonald). I know Bob has been busy all month collecting the best contributions to biblical studies and theology on the web in August, but he can always use your help. Feel free to send him your suggestions soon, on September 1 he will post his Carnival.

William Brown and The Biblical Review (@willhartbrown) is hosting the September carnival. Would you like to host a Biblioblog Carnival? Please email me (plong42 at gmail.com) and pick your month. I have a few spots open this year, and I am starting to fill in months for 2016 already. I would love to see some previous hosts return, but new blogs are encouraged as well.

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of Bibliblogs.

Even though he questioned the value of his innocence, the writer’s perspective is changed when he entered into worship. The wicked are not as prosperous has he once thought (73:18-20).  The writer knew his feet were in danger of slipping when he became envious, but the wicked are in a slippery place as well, in ignorance!  Because they trust in their wealth and power, they are in the most insecure place imaginable. The prosperity of the wicked is compared to a dream.  It is not real and substantive, it is merely a vapor which will pass away when morning comes. The wicked are “unreal” or even naturally unstable, liable to fall at any moment.

Ashes-in-ManWe might think it strange that this new perspective might come out of a worship experience since we do not really sing worship songs about the damning of the wicked. This is true in the psalms, however.  Assuming the writer did engage in the liturgy of the temple, then there is a strong possibility that he would have sung some of the Psalms which reminded him that God is a righteous judge and would punish the wicked.

The writer’s change in perspective is also seen in his self-evaluation (73:21-24). Like most people who have “come to their senses,” he feels a bit foolish.  he calls himself senseless (only in  Pss 49:11, 73:22, 92:7, Prov 12:1, 30:2, parallel to foolish, etc.), he compares himself to an animal which has no reason or wisdom at all. In saying this, he is not deprecating himself out of a false humility.  Worship has taught him what he really is (a child of God) and his understanding of the way things really are in this world will be driven by that worship experience.

He recognizes that God is always with him, holding his hand as a parent with a small child.  The reason a small child can walk or play with confidence is the knowledge that the parent is nearby and watching over them. The psalmist is describing himself as a small child who simply needed to be reminded that his loving parent is keeping watch nearby.

This is a child-like faith, but it is not a simple, unquestioning faith.  In this psalm the writer has expressed very grave doubts about God’s justice in the world, perhaps even the ability of God to keep his promises.  He has critically evaluated both the world and his faith, and returned to an honest faith in the God who is very near.

The writer’s changed perspective is also seen in his renewed commitment to be near to God (25-28).  The last two verses of the Psalm returns to the theme of the first, “But for me, it is good to be near God.”

The writer’s commitment to God is based on God’s presence in his life.  He is always with me, he is near. This is an expression of God’s persistence.  The image of a young child is particularly good because a parent has to work pretty hard to watch over a child all of the time. A parent must be persistent, since the moment you let your guard down there is going to be crayon on a wall or a spoon in the light socket.

This also expresses God’s sufficiency.  God is all that the writer needs; as it turns out, he does not need to envy the prosperity of the wicked since God has given him all that he needs, he is able to be completely satisfied in the presence of God.  What more on earth could there be to satisfy me compared to true fellowship with God?

As it turns out, the proverb in 73:1 is correct. The one who is pure in heart is near to God, the external circumstances of the individual do not matter, whether they are wealthy or in poverty, whether they are in good health or suffering greatly.  True shalom, the peace which the covenant speaks of, is to be found in nearness to God and only in nearness to God.  Conversely, it is a fearful thing to be far from God, as are the wicked.  Their apparent prosperity in the present time is nothing, it is in fact not real prosperity at all.

Ironically, in the end, misery is to be far from God, while true shalom is to be near to God.

Like Job and Jeremiah, the writer of Psalm 73 wonders if there is any value to being “pure in heart.” This should not be understood as arrogance, the writer has done what he believes to be all that he can to approach God in the proper way. He claims to be both pure and innocent.

100 PureIf the proverb in 73:1 is true, then the person with a pure heart ought to be the most blessed because the Lord is near. He says he has “washed his hands in innocence.” This probably alludes to proper ritual purity. He has followed the rituals as commanded and is able to wash his hands, declaring his innocence. Compare the Psalmist’s claim to be innocent to Psalm 26:6 and Isaiah 1:15-16. In both cases, the writer is simply expresses his belief that he has done what God wanted him to do, he believes that he is “near” to the Lord.

It is possible to see this as an extremely self-centered prayer – “Why was I pure? What did it profit me to behave this way throughout my life, if the end is to suffer in silence while the wicked prosper?” Derek Kidner described this psalm as “pathetically self-centered” (Psalms, 260). This is the attitude of the older brother in the prodigal son story, and it is possible it is a thought many of us have had, although we may not allow it to rise to the surface too often for fear of our response!

washing-handsThe writer has a legitimate question. Despite being pure, he is plagued and punished daily. Both of these words are associated with judgment. To be plagued is often a violent punishment, the second word is nearly always used for correction or reprimand. The writer is basically saying, “if I am pure in heart and ceremonially pure as well, why am I being punished every day?” Either the writer is not as near to God as he thinks (and the proverb is true), or God is not near to those who are pure in heart after all, and the proverb is false.

He knows if expresses his doubt, he will betray the “children of God.” This is perhaps a hint that the writer is in some sort of leadership role, others are looking to him for answers, how he expresses his doubts will have an effect on the children of God who come to him for spiritual guidance.

It is not wrong to wonder and question, it is wrong to cause others to sin. The writer is therefore struggling with his doubt that the covenant actually works, that being pure in heart has any value at all, and he is wondering seriously if it might not be a better idea to live a life of arrogant wickedness if there is not value to his purity.

The solution to the problem is found in worship: no understanding is found until “I entered the sanctuary of God….” This verse is the key turning point in the psalm. When the writer enters into worship, his perspective changes. Notice the contrast in verses 16-17. “When I tried to reason this thing out on my own, it was oppressive to me.”

This human attempt to understand God’s working in the world is radically changed when he entered into worship – he began to focus on God and God alone. In doing so, he saw his suffering and the prosperity of the wicked from a different angle altogether, but he also saw his own suffering from God’s viewpoint as well.

The fact that our writer enters into the temple to worship ought to be at least some confirmation that he does have a pure heart and innocent hands, since these are the requirement for approaching God’s holy hill (Ps. 24, again).

Genuine Worship is therefore critical to our understand of God and his relationship with the world.

The psalmist confesses he has envied the wicked because of their prosperity (73:2-3).  In doing so, the writer expresses what many people are afraid to admit, he is honest before God in a way which distresses the ordinary Christian. This embarrassing openness allows us to explore the issue of the prosperity of the wicked.

Envy RichThe writer uses a metaphor for his doubt – he nearly slips.  Sure footing is a common metaphor in the wisdom literature for a wise person, the person who is protected by the Lord (Ps 17:5, 37:31, 40:3, 44:19 73:2, Job 31:7, Prov 14:15). This is very similar to Job’s description of his own righteousness, his feet have never “turned from the path.”

The reason for this doubt is envy, or jealousy of the wicked. Envy and jealously really do not need to be described since they are so common in human interaction.  Frequently in the Bible envy ends up in violence. Envy of the wicked is also a common theme in the wisdom literature; the wise person does not envy the wicked, nothing good can come of envy (Ps 37:1, Pr 3:31, 23:17, 24:19).

The focus of his envy is the “prosperity of the wicked.” The word for prosperity in this verse is shalom, commonly used for peace, but the word covers a wide range of meaning.  It is a word which describes things as they are intended to be. It is not just that the wicked have made money and bought large houses for themselves while the psalmist is poor and lives in a hut – the wicked person is in a state of shalom, a state which he believes is not proper.  The writer ought to be in the state of shalom, not the arrogant, wicked person.

When the psalmist describes the wicked, his point is that these are not the sort of people who ought not be enjoying a state of shalom at all.  Each line might be expanded with parallels to the psalms and proverbs, but the following summarizes the description.

The wicked do not suffer.  The word in verse 4 translated “struggles” by the NIV is rare, used here and in Isaiah 58:6 where it has the connotation of injustice. The wicked do not experience the sort of hassles that the righteous seem to face daily. The next line refers to physical suffering. Verse 12 describes them as “at ease,” a word some commentators translate as “always in luck” (See wlec;, HALOT).

The wicked are arrogant.  “Pride as a necklace” is in contrast to Proverbs, where wisdom ought to be worn as an ornament.  The whole section gives the impression of bombast (the word for pride in verse six is “roaring” like the sea.) All of their thoughts are wicked because their hearts are wicked.

The wicked mock God’s knowledge. These people do not deny God’s existence (noon in biblical times was an atheist), but they deny the God of the covenant knows about what they are doing.  It is as if they know what they do breaks the covenant but they think that they are outside of God’s view.  This is something like a child who thinks they can get away with something because their parents are not watching them at the moment.

So is the proverb in 73:1 true? Experience seems to say the proverb is not true at all, verses 2-12 demonstrate that the wicked prosper despite being far from God.

If this is true, what about the one with a pure heart? Why even bother with the effort of maintaining a “pure heart” if it results in punishment rather than prosperity?

World of NTTo celebrate the happiest time of the year (the beginning of school), I am going to give away a few books on Reading Acts. First up is The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts (Grand Rapids. Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013) edited by Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald. This 640-page hardback collects 44 essays on various background issues. Larry Hurtado said this is “a valuable volume, especially for students and general readers but also for scholars who want to catch up on any of the topics included.”  As you can see from the Table of  Contents below, there are some excellent writers in the volume.

This book is brand new and is my own copy. To enter, simply leave a comment on this thread and tell me which essay you would most likely to read first if you win the book. I will generate a winner at random and announce that winner on August 31. Good luck!

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction – Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald
2. New Testament Chronology – Lee Martin McDonald

Part 1: Setting the Context: Exile and the Jewish Heritage
3. Exile – Nicholas Perrin
4. The Hasmoneans and the Hasmonean Era – Larry R. Helyer
5. The Herodian Dynasty – Everett Ferguson
6. Monotheism – Nathan MacDonald
7. The Scriptures and Scriptural Interpretation – Lidija Novakovic

Part 2: Setting the Context: Roman Hellenism
8. Greek Religion – Moyer V. Hubbard
9. The Imperial Cult – Nicholas Perrin
10. Greco-Roman Philosophical Schools – John T. Fitzgerald
11. Civic and Voluntary Associations in the Greco-Roman World – Michael S. Moore
12. Economics, Taxes, and Tithes – David J. Downs
13. Slaves and Slavery in the Roman World – S. Scott Bartchy
14. Women, Children, and Families in the Roman World – Lynn H. Cohick
15. Education in the Greco-Roman World – Ben Witherington III

Part 3: The Jewish People in the Context of Roman Hellenism
16. Temple and Priesthood – David Instone-Brewer
17. Jews and Samaritans – Lidija Novakovic
18. Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes – Michelle Lee-Barnewall
19. The Dead Sea Scrolls – C. D. Elledge
20. Prophetic Movements and Zealots – James D. G. Dunn
21. Apocalypticism – Larry R. Helyer
22. Synagogue and Sanhedrin – Kenneth D. Litwak
23. Jews in the Diaspora – David A. deSilva
24. Noncanonical Jewish Writings – Daniel M. Gurtner
25. Jewish Identity, Beliefs, and Practices – Archie T. Wright
26. Jewish Education – Kent L. Yinger
27. Healing and Health Care – Joel B. Green

Part 4: The Literary Context of Early Christianity
28. Reading, Writing, and Manuscripts – E. Randolph Richards
29. Pseudonymous Writings and the New Testament – Lee Martin McDonald
30. Literary Forms in the New Testament – Thomas E. Phillips
31. Homer and the New Testament – Thomas E. Phillips
32. Josephus and the New Testament – Michael F. Bird
33. Philo and the New Testament – Torrey Seland
34. Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament – Bruce Chilton
35. Other Early Christian Writings – Nicholas Perrin

Part 5: The Geographical Context of the New Testament
36. Jesus Research and Archeology – James H. Charlesworth
37. Egypt – John D. Wineland
38. Palestine – Thomas R. Hatina
39. Syria, Cilicia, and Cyprus – Mark Wilson
40. The Province and Cities of Asia – Paul Trebilco
41. Galatia – Mark Wilson
42. Macedonia – Gene L. Green
43. Achaia – Gene L. Green
44. Rome and Its Provinces – Thomas Hatina

Additional Resources
Money in the New Testament Era
Measurements in the New Testament Era

The first line of Psalm 73 may have been a popular proverb at the time the Psalm was written. At the very least, it is a common theme in the Psalms. Those who are the true worshipers of God are pure in heart. In Psalm 24, for example, only those who have clean hands and a pure heart may ascend the holy hill of God (Ps 24:3-4). In Psalm 51:10 David famously asks God to create a clean heart and a right spirit within him.

But Psalm 24:5-6 goes on to say that the one who has clean hands and a pure heart will be blessed by God; they can expect that the blessings of the covenant will come their way. The converse of this would be that the one who is not pure in hear will not receive the blessings, but rather the curses of the covenant.  A “pure heart” is therefore a way of describing a total commitment to God (Kidner, Psalms, 259).

This proverb reflects the covenant relationship which Israel has with God. In Deuteronomy God promised he would bless the nation when they kept the covenant and that he would punish them when they broke the covenant (curses and blessings). If a person did make a good-faith effort to keep the Law and followed the Law when they encountered impurity, then they ought to experience physical prosperity. God ought to give the good health and peace because they are “pure in heart.”

stupidity_xlargeIs it really true that the Lord is good to those who are pure in heart?  Is it really true that the Lord sends curses on the wicked?  The Psalmist has some doubts about the truth of this proverb in the rest of the Psalm. This doubt is common: how many truly wicked (or exceedingly shallow) people are wealthy and powerful? How many people who have dedicated themselves to God’s work are poor and oppressed?

For me, I am less upset when an evil person succeeds than when a shallow, useless person succeeds. Like the Psalmist, I feel like shouting, “hey God, are you paying attention to these people? Read their twitter feeds and judge them with hellfire!”

If verse one is true on some sort of universal “proverbial” level, is it fair that a long time servant of God dies painfully with inoperable cancer when a mass murderer lives out his years in relative comfort?  This is the issue the psalmist explores in Psalm 73.

Boda, Mark J. ‘Return To Me’: A Biblical Theology of Repentance. NSBT 35; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2015. 232 pp. Pb; $22.   Link to IVP

Mark J. Boda (PhD, University of Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity and a coeditor for IVP’s Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets. Boda is well-suited for a monograph on repentance: more than two pages of the bibliography of Return to Me were written or edited by Mark Boda, primarily works dealing with repentance and penitential prayers. He has been extremely active in SBL/AAR groups studying repentance and related themes.

Boda, Return to MeThis new contribution to New Studies in Biblical Theology is an excellent example the theory and practice of biblical theology. He examines a narrowly defined topic in all of the genre of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament. After collecting and analyzing this data, he summarizes his findings in order to create a biblical theology of repentance. Boda is sensitive to both text of Scripture and its message to the original readers of the canon of Scripture. Occasionally I find his exegesis lacking depth, but this is the result of restrictions on the size of the book in the NSBT series. Boda has pointed the way for future exegetes to explore repentance in these texts in far more detail.

In his introduction, Boda states that careful observation of both the Old and New Testament will show “the striking similarity in their expression of the theology of repentance” (20). He begins by reviewing the various vocabulary of repentance used in both testaments, but he is well aware the idea of repentance may be present even when specific vocabulary is not (29). Boda defines repentance as “a turn or return to faithful relationship with God from a former strain of estrangement” (31). Here he cites Zech 1:1-6 and Acts 26:16-20 as illustrations of this definition.

Boda develops this definition by surveying the texts on repentance in eight sections of Hebrew Bible. Beginning with the Torah, he briefly examines every example of repentance. These texts are selected because of the presence of repentance language or because the idea of repentance is clearly in the background. Several patterns emerge as this survey progresses. First, repentance is necessary because of human obstinacy. Second, an invitation to repent is initiated by God through his leaders or prophets. Third, repentance is accompanied by physical rituals (washing with water, weeping, tearing clothes, etc.). When humans respond to the prompting of God and repent, there is a need for covenant renewal. This renewal is often a sacrifice or other act of worship.

From the Latter Prophets, for example, Boda develops what he calls the “Penitential Process.” Using 2 Kings 17:12-15 as his model, he outlines the basic structure of the penitential process as: Israel sins, Yahweh warns through the prophets and their message of repentance, Israel “stiffens the neck” and refuses to repent, so Yahweh responds with judgment (62). This is a pattern found throughout the prophetic books explaining Israel and Judah’s need for repentance and return to covenant faithfulness. For some readers, this may sound a great deal like Deuteronomic theology.

Chapter 11 is a summary of Boda’s reading of all of the texts on repentance in the Old Testament. First, in the Old Testament, repentance is relational. Often this shift in relationship is rejection of a foreign god and a return to Yahweh. That return is accompanied by inner convection (sincerity, contriteness, etc.) and demonstrated by a ritual (fasting, tearing of clothes, ashes on the head, etc.) Repentance most often is a response to God’s wrath, although this is not always the case. Like Josiah, One might hear the words of the Torah and return to the Lord. While in some cases God prevents repentance (Pharaoh, for example), he also enables his people to repent and return to him. Using Deut 30:6 as an example, Boda points out that Moses looked forward to a time when God would “circumcise the heart” of his people and enable them to return from exile (158).

After ten chapters on repentant in the Old Testament, Boda dispatches the issue of repentance in the New Testament two chapters. One surveys the texts, the second summarizes this data into a coherent New Testament “biblical theology of repentance.” For the most part, Boda finds the same themes in the New Testament as the Old. Beginning with the command to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” Boda shows the Synoptic Gospels and Acts are filled with the language of repentance (166). This is perhaps a good opportunity to create continuity between Jesus and the Hebrew Bible since Jesus’ call to repent is more similar to an Old Testament prophet than personal repentance of sin. To a certain extent Boda achieves his in summary chapter on the New Testament: “repentance in redemptive-historical perspective is the posture of those who will participate in the kingdom in the present age and the age to come” (181). Here he highlights the continuity between this age and the age to come, but I think more can be done do connect the repentance called for by the prophets and the preaching of Jesus.

Boda says Paul uses penitential vocabulary to describe the “normative Christian life” (172), although the data he provides does not always illustrate the point. For example, “setting one’s mind on things above” in Colossians 3 is suggested as an example of repentance since this involves putting off the old self and putting on the new. It is possible repentance is required if one is to put to death the old self, but Paul does not make that point in Colossians 3. His brief comments on sowing and reaping in Galatians 6:8-9 also seem to straining to find repentance in a text which is not obviously about returning to a former relationship.

In his final chapter, Boda discusses a few theological implications of repentance based on his findings, especially as related to the “hyper-grace gospel.” This is a more recent version of the Lordship Salvation debate of the 1980s. Having surveyed the whole Bible, Boda concludes repentance is a core element of the Gospel that is in fact a human act, but a human act which is prompted by God. To overplay either one of these elements is dangerous and risks obscuring the Gospel.

Conclusion. Since the book follows canonical order or the Bible, I wonder if a trajectory could have been established by treating post-exilic sections of the prophets in the same unit as Ezra-Nehemiah, Daniel and Lamentations. Perhaps Isaiah 40-55, 56-66 alongside these early Second Temple works would have yielded interesting results. It is possible dividing Isaiah is the problem, but that is not an issue addressed in the book. While this book is excellent as is stands, a chapter on Second Temple literature may have been helpful to set the stage for the New Testament. He indicates very early in the book that repentance in the Second Temple Period is an important area of research (citing N. T. Wright, for example), but he has defined his study as limited to the canonical texts.

NB: Thanks to Intervarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Psalm 49 describes the fate of the wealthy. Wisdom literature in general has a great deal to say about the folly of relying on one’s personal wealth. Despite this, it seems like contemporary American culture (especially conservative evangelicalism) ignores the biblical associate of wealth and folly. I am tempted to inset a Donald Trump joke here, since there are far too many Christians who are fooled into thinking his wealth means he knows something about running a country (or worse, his wealth means he is blessed by God). If anything, American politics should demonstrate the truth of Psalm 49, reliance on personal wealth and power is folly.


The wealthy are described as cheating the worshiper.
To “cheat” or “deceive” is the noun עָקֵב, the root behind the name Jacob.  The basic meaning is “heel,” Jacob was the second of the twins born to Rebekah and was given the name “heel grasper” since he was born grabbing the heel of his brother.  To “raise one’s heel against” another person is a threatening sign, Ps 40:10 uses this phrase to describe a betrayer, Jesus quotes that Psalm in John 13:18 to describe Judas.

Trump MoneyThese wealthy people trust in their riches (49:6). Rather than trusting in God, the rich are confident that they can weather any economic problems which come along. Remember Y2K? Some people stocked up on food and water “just in case.” If the worst possible things happened on that date, they could have “boasted” in their own preparedness, they survived because they earned it and deserved to survive.

The fate of the wealthy is the same for the poor, they will both die (49:7-12). Wealth cannot ransom a person from the grave. This line (v.7) begins with a rare interjection which is not in the NIV and is usually translated “alas!” The word (אָח) is a cry of pain, almost like a guttural scoffing noise. The syntax here is significant (infinitive absolute with an imperfect cognate, the same sort of construction in the famous “you will surely die,” Gen 2:17).  The ESV uses “truly” to get at the meaning here, the point is the certainty of this not happening: “he most certainly cannot buy his way out of Sheol!”

Olsteen NoPeople who boast in their wealth have foolish confidence (49:12-13). It is not wrong to have wealth, nor does this psalmist praise poverty.  The problem is that people who have wealth place their confidence in the wealth, often to their shame.  Wealth can disappear in an instant. Their confidence is described as “foolish” (כֶּסֶל). They are relying on something which is unreliable.  Imagine if you had an uncle tell you that he was going to help you pay off all your debts because his new business was just about to make a huge profit.  He is only waiting for his Nigerian contact to wire him millions….most of us would understand that this is relying on something which is foolish.  Perhaps one of the reasons they have such high confidence in their wealth is that they have an entourage of people telling them what they want to hear! There are people following behind approving of their boats, giving more confidence to the wealthy person.

Wealth does not follow a person to the grave (49:16-17).  The idea that one leaves their wealth behind when the die common in most cultures, “you can’t take it with you when you go.”  This is a common theme in the Hebrew Bible as well (Ps 39:6; Job 27:16, 17; Eccl 2:18, 21, 26; Jer 17:11; cf. Luke 12:20). The wealthy used to name territory after themselves, but after they have died they will live in a bit forever without any hope of returning to the land they once claimed.   All of the honor the wealthy expect will not continue after death.  The ESV translates יְקָר as “pomp,” probably because the word is used to describe precious stones on a number of occasions (Jer 20:5; Ezek 22:25, Job 28:10).  The word appears four times in Esther to describe the honor given to Mordecai when the king honors him. The wealthy expect to be treated with a higher level of honor simply because they are wealthy.

In summary, the writer of the psalm paints a realistic picture of the “rich and famous” foolishly relying on their wealth instead of the God who gave it to them in the first place.  The riddle might be, “how can rich people be that stupid?” But before we quickly condemn the celebrities for being foolish, we need to recall that “wealth” is a matter of perspective.  Everyone in our church is wealthy compared to the rest of the world – that we have shelter—multi-room homes with indoor plumbing and usually multiple toilets, heat and air conditioning, reliable electricity, cable TV, phone service, internet, etc.

While it is easy to condemn “those rich people,” it is quite easy for us to rely on our own wealth rather than look to the God who is the real source of our blessings.

How did a wisdom Psalm function as a worship song?  Psalm 49 is an example of setting a wisdom theme to music, although these themes are not typically part of modern worship. When was the last time you heard a praise and worship song on the futility of wealth or the shortness of this life? This is true for traditional hymns or contemporary worship. There may be good theology in a song, but rarely is there anything akin to wisdom literature in a worship service.

Yet it is not clear how a worshiper would use this song as a part of Temple worship. Older commentaries assume wisdom psalms are late additions to the psalter, Mowinckel (1955) “posited a close relationship between a school of the wise and the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the post-exilic period which led to the production of wisdom psalms.” The main assumption is that wisdom as a genre is post exilic and completely separate from the religious life of Israel. Wisdom is a secular education, not a religious experience.

Our culture has many songs that can be described as educational (from the ABC song to song which set scripture to music, many folk songs have proverbial wisdom in a story format).  Most songs we sing in church teach us things, even if we do not think of them as educational.  There are quite a few hymns which are decidedly Calvinistic, or hymns which have the theme of the gospel clearly presented. This song is therefore worship, although it is worship that intends to develop wisdom in the heart and mind of the worshiper.

MoneyIt is possible that the song was used for teaching people about the dangers of wealth. One of the most common themes in the Bible is the dangers of relying on one’s own wealth. The prophets of the Hebrew Bible have a great deal to say about the rich, they gnaw at the bones of the poor (Micah 3:1-3) or steal from the poor by seizing their property (Micah 2:1-2), or impose fines and taxes (Amos 5:11) or cheat them in the marketplace (Micah 6:9-12).  This psalm stands in that same tradition, although the psalmist approaches the “problem of wealth” from the perspective of a wisdom teacher. He invites us to ponder a “riddle” about the wealthy in order to teach us something about our own relationship with our wealth

This is a worship theme which would never work in contemporary “praise and worship” music. Most of this music is about the worshiper’s relationship with God, and while some songs are about the Cross, most are about the warm feelings Jesus gives us or how he helps us through our troubles. I cannot imagine a song warning people to avoid accumulating wealth would be very popular on the P&W circuit. Not do I hear very many sermons about doing good things with wealth (usually sermons on money are thinly veiled plagiarisms of Dave Ramsey rather than preaching what the Bible says about wealth!)

 

Bibliography: Katharine J. Dell, “‘I Will Solve My Riddle to the Music Of The Lyre’ (Psalm XLIX 4[5]):  A Cultic Setting For Wisdom Psalms?” VT 54 (2004), 466.

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About Me

Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time. Author of Jesus the Bridegroom(Wipf & Stock 2014).

My book Jesus the Bridegroom is now available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle

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