Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Questioning God pt. V - Psalms 13 & 62

Psalm 13 is striking because of the sheer repetition of the “How long?” question. The question is employed four times in the first two verses asking about God’s memory of the psalmist, God’s presence/absence, the Psalmist’s resulting sorrow from God’s absence and forgetfulness, and the proximity of the Psalmist’s enemies. In this psalm, we can clearly see Westermann’s three participants. Though the three are distinct, they are inseparable.[1]

A polite reading suggests that the psalmist is asking for a time when life will return to the good. But if we peer closer and consider the lack of reference to sin or guilt again, we perceive an innocence on the part of the psalmist. Thus the blame is directed squarely at Yahweh for his state. The psalmist proceeds to hurl three petitionary imperatives Yahweh’s way in verse 3 to “consider,” “answer,” and “enlighten.” The psalmist also gives Yahweh a motivation, (or I will sleep the sleep of death) and the subsequent results of God’s continued inaction would result in the enemies triumphing over the Psalmist and ultimately of Yahweh’s self through his covenantal solidarity with the Psalmist.

While the psalmist bemoans his current state of physical and emotional turmoil, he can still find the strength in Yahweh’s previous actions with him to offer a hope that Yahweh will once again deal “bountifully with him.”[2] There is no abandonment of God, but recalling God’s past actions, for the psalmist’s own faith strengthening benefit but for God’s apparent memory slip. This recollection before God, gives him a renewed vigor to wait until the reprieve comes in God’s saving actions. Mays notes that the Psalm is a direct address to God utilizing the “name that God has given the people for God as self-revelation...thus bestowing the possibility and promise of prayer.”[3] Even in the address to God, the psalmist is being faithful to God’s previous actions, calls God to the same focus of faithfulness to their partnership.

Psalm 62 contains an interesting usage within the collection of questions. The psalm is an avowal of trust in Yahweh as the psalmist’s fortress despite the brutal warlike imagery of the enemies who besiege the walls of the city.[4] “How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?”

Here we see all three of Westermann’s participants present, but who is responsible for what? If we lift up the secondary implications, we begin to see that the same question may be indirectly addressed to Yahweh.[5] In this suggestion, God would be implicated by his absence for what befell the individual. And yet, I wonder can the question be directed at God? God is the subject of the immediately preceding verses and not until after verse 3 are the enemies mentioned. If the question is directed primarily at God, God would seem to be culpable for what appeared to be a lapse of protection and forgetfulness of the covenant.

[1] James L. Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 55.
[2] Craigie, 141.
[3] James L. Mays, Psalms, Interpretation, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1989), 78.
[4] Marvin E. Tate, Psalms: 51-100, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 20. (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 121.
[5] Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, 319.