Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More Birthday Stuff, Lord Of The Rings, Psalms And Songs for Sleepy Sunny Sunday Picnics

It has come to be that, more than a month after this year's birthday, the celebrations show every sign of stretching their sparkly festive fingers to Christmas (this year). Birthdays in themselves seem nothing little more than annual milestones towards death, but they're always good excuses to party and parties are always good for fellowship, friendship and reunion allsorts.

Taiwanese Porridge
Anyway, breathers between the festivities are for light fare and, from a dip in the tub of unopened presents, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings in shiny gold clothes.

Council of Cardgamers
A few nights ago, I was torn between summons to a council of card gamers and rescuing the fair folk of the Company from frozen-framed eternity: poor Gandalf and Pippin mid-gallop towards Minas Tirith, and Frodo and Sam mid-trudge to Mordor, with Gollum not far behind.

Card gaming was a good choice: homemade ice-cream, a sheriff suicidally killing off her deputies, endless laughing at "can you turn on your rubber duckies so I can play with them?" asked seriously and politely, then, while shuffling for Saboteur, real life intervening with an unexpected call, an emergency pray-together demonstrating of the reality of dependence on God and tangible fellowship.

Games and real life. Myth and truth.

Tolkien was of the view that all myths of the world are a mixture of truth and error - truth because they are written by those made by and for God and error because they were written by those alienated from God. But there is one true myth, a true accounting of truth: the Bible.
Lord of the Rings and Nibbles
Even if LOTR isn't Christian allegory, the song bits appear faint echoes of the Book of Psalms: the beauty of the descriptive poetry, then the frustration of having to guess at the music that might have accompanied the verses, as trying to see through a brick wall. Oh, the psalmist tries to help of course: "to the tune of The Death of the Son" he says of Psalm 9, "to the tune of The Doe of the Morning" for Psalm 22, "to the tune of Lilies" for Psalm 45 etc. But the Top 40 hits of the ancient Hebrews have been lost in the intervening millennia.

Still, melodies misplaced don't taint the meat of the Psalms. And very tasty meat it is too.

Mike Reeves hosts an express gravy train through the stuff for a sampler: Understanding The Psalms.

The Psalms, misused, are unfortunately brilliant for insipid navel-gazing. It is often said how much they reflect a good range of human emotions, a well-stocked aural Hallmark shop (maybe someecards might work better?). But if we think that is all the Psalms are about, we're really missing out on the big show.

The Books of Psalms are not goody bags of Bible sweeties. We don't just open up the Psalms when we're feeling a bit nibbly and grab one to enjoy on its own. They are not just King David's songs on random shuffle, but more like Handel's Messiah: the story of Jesus put together intelligently and set to music, different pieces of text and music working together to tell a story.

Just as Moses gave Israel the 5 Books of the Law, so David gave Israel the 5 Books of the Psalms, as if they were a commentary on Moses' 5 Books of the Law.

The root word in Hebrew for "psalms" can either mean "to praise" or "to be foolish". So the Psalms, like the other wisdom books, are about wisdom and folly. These are the options set before us: to praise the LORD or to be a fool, the fool being the idiot who says in his heart,"There is no God". The judgement on them is that they are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good (Psalm 14:1).

If the 5 Books of the Law correspond to the 5 Books of the Psalms, Book 1 of the Psalms, comprising Psalms 1 - 41, corresponds to the Book of Genesis. Psalms 1 - 4 end with the evening and in Psalm 5, it is morning again, recalling the day-night-day cycle of Genesis 1. Psalm 8 too sounds like in Eden at the end of Genesis 1.

But the Psalms not only commentate on the Books of the Law but also prophesy the future: what God has willed to happen, what Jesus is going to do. Psalm 16 for example, as is explained in Acts 2, is not about King David, but a direct prophesy about Christ. And Jesus quotes Psalm 22 on the cross,"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?". The fulfilment of Psalm 22:18, the dividing of clothing and the casting of lots for them, is described in the Gospel narratives. What happens after his death? Psalm 23 speaks of the LORD, the shepherd, who comforts the one who goes through valley of death and finally returns to the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 24 speaks of one ascending the hill of the LORD. Who is the one ascending? The LORD himself. Trinitarian tidbits.

On the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 and Psalm 31:5. He was very probably using these 2 verses as bookends, to make his hearers think of everything between those 2 verses. He was declaring what would happen in the future even while he hung on the cross. Psalm 22:1, he is in pain but Psalm 22:23, 27 there is great praise of God. Even while he is on the cross, Jesus was saying that he would be triumphant. He wanted us to see that he knew what will happen: he knew that was not the end. His calling on the Lord was justified.

Book 2 consists of Psalm 42 - 72, dealing with liberation and escaping from slavery, very much like the Book of Exodus.

We see in this book many songs of the sons of Korah. Korah's claim to fame is a whole chapter of his misdeeds in Numbers 16 where he rebelled against God and was neatly, together with all his people and household and goods, swallowed up by the earth. But we know from Numbers 26 that the line of Korah did not die out. The sons of Korah, who should have been in the grave with their father, still lived. They are, to us, a picture of a redeemed people who do not deserve life but yet, by the grace and mercy of God, have life. From the Psalms, we see that the sons of Korah were always surrounded by trouble, but still they get really joyful. The climax, it seems, is in Psalm 49: why should I fear in times of trouble? For God will ransom my soul from the power of the grave (Psalm 49:15).

Book 2 ends with Psalm 72, a great psalm all about the remnant people and the coming of the king.

Book 3 consists of Psalms 73 - 89 and corresponds with the Book of Leviticus. These psalms were written by Levites and mostly concern priestly issues: the temple and sacrifices. Asaph's name pops up quite a bit in this book (see, eg. Psalm 74). The chap was Levite from the Korah-ite clan and a director of the singers who served in the house of the LORD. He is also described as a prophet in 2 Chronicles 29:30, because the Psalms are not just praise but also prophesy. The last Psalm in this book, Psalm 89, ends with the death of God's own chosen one (Psalm 89:45). All the levitical stuff and sacrificial stuff leads up to this: the death of messiah.

Book 4 (Psalms 90 - 106) corresponds with the Book of Numbers. Loads of desert scenery here. Psalm 90 is a prayer request of Moses. Psalm 91 is what Satan quotes to Jesus where? In the wilderness, the desert. But while Israel was faithless in the wilderness, Jesus the true king was faithful in desert; he doesn't trust Satan in the least. Psalm 106 is basically the story of the Exodus. It ends in great prayer: save us. O LORD our God and gather us from the nations that we may give thanks to your holy name.

Lastly, Book 5 (Psalms 107 - 150) corresponds with the Book of Deuteronomy. It is all about living by God's word. Deuteronomy opens with the Israelites about to enter God's land, so in parallel, Psalm 107 gives thanks that the people of God have been gathered (107:3). The prayer of Psalm 106 has been answered.

Psalm 120:5 is a tale of woe: a man in distress, living in exile not in Israel. This is rubbish, he says, I want to be in Israel. no more pagan land for me. Let's go to Jerusalem. And he starts travelling knowing that the Lord will protect him on his journey (Psalm 121). In Psalm 122:2, we see that he's gotten to Jerusalem from exile and proceeds to praise the wonder of Jerusalem rapturously. He now lifts his eyes to the holy place and starts thinking about building temple of the Lord (Psalm 132). And what more, the Messiah himself is going to go and join them in Jerusalem. Extremely cool. And Jerusalem will be their resting place forever.

It's really nice to get to the end of LOTR when the Ring is destroyed and there is peace for all peoples (and also in-jokes about Sharkey's End). It is similarly nice to wait with bated breath for the last instalment of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series coming to good bookstores near us from 12.01am on 21st July 2007, which most are sure will end with the defeat of Voldemort, the epitome of evil, and peace for all the wizarding world. For us non-literary-critic plebs who do not begrudge their popularity, these books, while they last, let us walk in other worlds and enjoy the ultimate triumph of good over evil. But when the final page has been turned and the final word has been read, and there is a sigh of satisfaction and a goodly stretch, the book is closed, goes back onto the shelf, and we go back to real life.

Keeping it real is so much more totally awesome. But in reality, we are not, neither by default nor nonchalant effort as we like to assume, on the side of the good and ultimately victorious. And if reality is about the ultimate triumph of the good God and God's people and about the destruction of evil, of those who do not acknowledge the lordship of God and do not repent of their rebellion against him, then happy endings will come only to those who choose to be wise, who choose to rely on Jesus for their salvation, who choose to be blessed:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)
If we acknowledge God as our master and trust only in Christ's blood to save us, there will be no more despairing winter, only the joy of a spring and summer to come far more marvellous than the marvellous summer of the Shire with its wonderful sunshine and delicious rain and air of richness and growth, far more yearned for than white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise. There, we shall see our Master face-to-face and dwell in his house forever.

(For now, only a pale shadow of that great summer holiday: merely the Sunday sun. Blue sky. Butterflies. Green lawn. Shady trees. Picnic basket. Red checked mat. Cold lemonade. Sandwiches. Crisps. Lemon meringue pie. Sweet cherries. Noshing, reading, sleeping. Dreaming together. Rockin' bop-abouts for the drive home.

Harry Nilsson, She Sang Hymns Out of Tune
Marbles, I Love The Summer Days
Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, The Gold Finch and The Red Oak Tree
Yoko Kanno, Dreams In A Pie
4 bonjour's parties, Satellite
Cibelle, Green Grass
Angel Tech, Slow Toy Piano
The Veils, Under The Folding Branches
The Red River, The Birds And The Boats (Hitchcock's birds?)
Julian Carax - Under The Sun (Frenchie under ze sun.)
Toy, Rabbit Pushing Mower (Too much sun means monsieur sees bunnies doing the gardening.)
Belle & Sebestian, I Know Where The Summer Goes (Cos all that sugar will give you diabetes.)
Feeder, Seven Days In The Sun (Rockit home!)
The Positions, Summer Nights (Summer in Singapore? Whatever. Clap and duetit!)

Jack Johnson? He's not here. He's out surfing, getting angsty and drinking coconut juice.

Nice but only a pale shadow.)

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1 Comments:

At July 11, 2007 10:39 pm , Anonymous empty cupboard said...

Howard Peskett is doing a series on Psalms at St Andrews the whole of this week. see www.anglican.org.sg (per colleague).

 

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