Understanding Psalms 1-10

Psalms 1

The purpose of Psalms one is to encourage individuals to follow Yahweh. A contrast is drawn between someone who follows God and someone who follows the wicked. The psalm concludes with a blanket warning of coming Cosmic Justice:

Psa 1:5  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Psa 1:6  for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The wicked, although they currently exist, will soon perish. They will be judges on their actions.

Psalms 2

Psalms 2 begins in with a global scope. The “nations” rage (v1). The kings conspire against God (v2). But Yahweh laughs; He plots the destruction of these arrogant nations. The chapter ends with a warning of a coming Cosmic Justice:

Psa 2:12  Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Psalms 3

Psalms 3 is attributed to King David. David’s enemies doubt that Yahweh will save him. But David prays for salvation, and God answers. Although this Psalm is limited to the lift and times of King David, Cosmic Justice is found in David’s call for God to execute judgment on the “wicked”. The wicked live and threaten God’s people. David, almost challenging God’s reputation, notes that the wicked doubt God’s capacity to save. The Psalm uses standard language calling on God to act: “Arise”.

Psa 3:7  Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.

Psalms 4

Psa 4:3  But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.

Psalms 4, another psalm of David, is a call for other men of his time to place their trust in God. The psalm begins with recounting that God has acted before, has saved David in times of need. This serves as evidence of God’s power and righteousness. Other men are called to follow suit. David assures his listeners that Yahweh protects the righteous. David sleeps safe knowing God is protecting him (v8).

Psalms 5

Psalms 5 begins, as many psalms do, with a call for God to listen to the prayers of His people (in this case David). In this psalm, David alludes to being oppressed by the wicked. King David appeals to God’s character in consistently punishing the wicked. The implication is that God should now act in the same fashion and punish David’s oppressors. Because God hates evildoers (v5) and abhors the bloodthirsty (v6), God should not let the actions of David’s enemies go unpunished.

Psa 5:10  Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you.

The psalm ends with assurance that the righteous will be protected by God. As with the prior implication that if God does not punish the wicked, He is violating His character, David further implies that if God does not protect His people, He is violating His character.

Psalms 6

Psalms 6 is enigmatic. The author, David, is being punished by God for some unknown reason. David calls on God not to punish him in God’s wrath. The idea is that if God waits, His wrath will subside, and the punishment will not be as strong. When God is angry, the punishment will be harsher.

David describes his situation. He is close to death (v2). His enemies surround him (v8). He cries to the Lord day and night (v6). There is an element of bargaining with God. If God were to let David die, David would not be able to praise God.

Psa 6:5  For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

Praise is David’s bargaining chip. It is something God values, and might regret to remise.

The psalm ends with a reversal of fortune, either an anticipated reversal or a post-script. Yahweh responds to David’s prayer, and David predicts a coming judgment of the wicked.

Psalms 7

Psalms 7, much like Psalms 6, is a call for God to act. David is again in conflict with his enemy. But David believes he is in the right. There is no call for God to forgive sins before salvation. Instead David challenges God to let his enemies kill him if he has done wrong (v5).

David calls on Yahweh to “Arise… in anger” (v5). God is called upon to “awake” (v5) as if God was not in action and is spurred to act.

The psalm descends into a general description of Cosmic Justice. God judges all men everywhere. He tests them to see if they are good or evil, and then acts accordingly.

Psa 7:8  The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.

Psa 7:9  Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous— you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!

Yahweh is then praised for judging righteously, using a “sword” (v13), “arrows” (v13), and even using the enemies’ own traps against them (v15). The psalm ends in praising Yahweh’s righteousness.

Psalms 8

Psalms 8 is a general psalm of praise. Yahweh is praised for silencing His enemies (v2). His glory fills the earth and heavens (v1). Compared to Him, man is nothing (v4). But God still cares enough for man that He blessed man and gave dominion over the Earth. This act of condensation is amazing and praiseworthy. The psalm ends how it began, praising Yahweh’s name:

Psa 8:9  O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalms 9

Psalms 9 begins with a callback. Often in Israel’s speech about God, they reference His earlier acts to emphasize His power. This shows God is real, and acts in decisive ways. The act of recalling God’s actions are a way to sing His glory.

David says that he will “recount all your wonderful deeds” (v1). These deeds include enforcing Cosmic Justice. David’s enemies “perish” (v3). God has defended the righteous (v4). God has judged the nations (v5). God destroyed evil cities (v6). David’s view is that God is currently judging the world in righteousness, as evidenced by justice being performed:

Psa 9:7  But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,

Psa 9:8  and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.

Psa 9:12  For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

The psalm then subverts itself. David moves from describing a world ruled by God to asking for deliverances from the “gates of death”. David has faith in God’s sovereignty over the world, so God should now act inspired by David’s faith. David, like in Psalms 6, reminds God that if he lives he will sing praises to God. Although Psalms 6 is more explicit, the argument is that if David dies then God will forgo the praise.

With a second reversal, David changes his speech to declaring that God’s judgment has been executed. The wicked are killed (v17) and the poor are saved (v18). But perhaps this is hope. The next verse calls on God to act. God is commanded to “Arise” and judge the nations (v19). God is to put the wicked in their place (v20).

Psalms 10

Psalms 10 is an anonymous psalm. It begins by challenging God:

Psa 10:1  Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psa 10:2  In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

Psa 10:3  For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.

As is common in the Psalms, the poor are positioned as those who do not deserve punishment. God’s enemies oppress them. The psalmist wonders why God does not act.

The wicked are positioned as evil foes, and a long list of ills are described. In verse 5, the prosperity of the wicked adds insult to injury. Not only are these people evil, but they live charmed lives. They defy God in their actions (v4) and words (v6).

God is called to “Arise” (v12). The implication is that the wicked are defying God and God’s character is at stake. Open defiance cannot go unpunished. The wicked say “You will not call to account” (v13). If God does not act, He will prove them right.

The verse ends with general praise. God is the king of the earth (v16), not man. God responds and protects His people (v17), just as a king would. His job is to execute justice and ensure there is no more terror on Earth (v18).

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Understanding Supply and Demand Graphs

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On the Purpose of Hebrews


Anderson states later that Hebrews is dealing with different questions than those arising in the context of modern Christian theologizing and the thinking of the Apostle Paul. In contrast to these, he says, “Here we deal with questions such as the following: ‘Does the community envisaged in Hebrews keep the whole Torah or any part of it? What is the relationship in Hebrews between covenant, the people, and the Torah?’” (1989:269). To Anderson, it is clear that the recipients of the Letter do indeed keep Torah and that the bond between covenant, the people and Torah remains intact. This is a very Jewish world!

But, is there no law that is done away with the coming of Messiah? Most certainly there is! Anderson affirms that Hebrews 7:11-12 refers only to a change in legislation as it regards the cult (Temple ritual), sacrifice and priesthood, not to a wholesale jettisoning of the Law of Moses. Discussing the use of the passive verb nomotetheo in this context, Anderson states “7.11 refers to specific commandments concerning the Levitical priesthood and their sacrificial service to the people, nothing more. . . . Those commandments were of course part of the Torah, but not its totality. . . . The Torah as such never enters the picture” (1989:269-270).

In other words, the change in law spoken of in 7:12 refers only to priestly law due to a change in priesthood, from the order of Aaron to that of Melchizedek. Contrary to the widespread evangelical assumption of overwhelming discontinuity in Hebrews, Anderson indicates that “What is referred to in 7.12 is the one elemental discontinuity permeating the epistle, the cultic life of Israel. . . It is ‘liturgical law’ (8.2,6), and only liturgical law, that is changed in Hebrews. Inferences concerning other aspects of Torah or the Torah as such are unwarranted” (1989:270).

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pagels on the tension between paul and james

Noted scholar Elaine Pagels points out the tension between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of James and the Twelve:

Paul’s impassioned preaching soon attracted a considerable following of Gentiles in the Syrian city of Antioch, but it also embroiled him in bitter disputes with other followers of Jesus. People who belonged to the Jerusalem group led by Jesus’ brother James apparently charged that Paul’s “gospel” was so radical that it contradicted what they had heard from the most respected leaders, including James himself and the disciples Peter and John. Although what Luke later wrote in the Book of Acts glossed over these disputes, Paul’s own words suggest that initially he was concerned that Peter and James—or, at any rate, their followers—might oppose him for preaching to Gentiles a “gospel” that had dropped all Torah requirements, although he says that finally they agreed to let him teach it.

So when other leaders in the movement accused Paul of having no credentials to speak for Jesus, whom he had never met, Paul burst out in anger. He sarcastically called his accusers “super apostles” who were forcing him to talk about matters that made him feel foolish and uncomfortable, since what he had to say would sound like boasting. Paul insisted that he taught only what came to him directly “through revelation”—not from Peter, James, or anyone else on earth. Paul insisted that his authority came straight from God—from “visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (p. 44). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


When John accuses “evildoers” of leading gullible people into sin, what troubles him is what troubled the Essenes: whether—or how much—to accommodate pagan culture. And when we see Jesus’ earliest followers, including Peter, James, and Paul, not as we usually see them, as early Christians, but as they saw themselves—as Jews who had found God’s messiah—we can see that they struggled with the same question. For when John charges that certain prophets and teachers are encouraging God’s people to eat “unclean” food and engage in “unclean” sex, he is taking up arguments that had broken out between Paul and followers of James and Peter about forty years earlier—an argument that John of Patmos continues with a second generation of Paul’s followers.57 For when we ask, who are the “evildoers” against whom John warns? we may be surprised at the answer. Those whom John says Jesus “hates” look very much like Gentile followers of Jesus converted through Paul’s teaching. Many commentators have pointed out that when we step back from John’s angry rhetoric, we can see that the very practices John denounces are those that Paul had recommended.

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (pp. 53-54). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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Fracking Primer

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N.T. Wright Interprets “Flesh” for Everyone

New Leaven

In two recent posts, we explored the meaning of sarx (“flesh” in ESV, NRSV, and “sinful nature” in T/NIV and NLT) as used by Paul.  We even had Wayne Leman, a professional linguist and translator of Better Bibles, going back and forth with Kyle Phillilps here.

Well, I decided to consult a Paulinist on the matter at Romans 8:5-11:

But what do “fleshly”…mean?  ….[“Flesh”] is so problematic that it would be nice (as I have tried to do with some other technical language) to avoid it altogether, but I have found that doing so produces even worse tangles.  Better to learn, once and for all, that when Paul uses the word “flesh” and other similar words he does not intend us simply to think of the “physical” world, in our normal sense, as opposed to the “non-physical.”  He has other language for that.  The word we translate, here and elsewhere…

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A Warlord Messiah

Found in The The Son Of God scroll from the Dead Sea Scrolls:

Column 1
(1) [the king. And when the Spirit] came to rest upo[n] him, he fell before the throne. (2) [Then Daniel arose and said,] ‘0 Wing, why are you angry; why do you [grind] your teeth? (3)[The G]rear [God] has revealed to you [that which is to come.] It shall indeed all come to pass, unto eternity. (4) [There will be violence and gr]eat [Evils.] Oppression will be upon the earth. (5) [Peoples will make war,] and battles shall multiply among the nations, (6)[until the King of the people of God arises. He will become] the King of Syria and [E]gypt. (7) [All the peoples will serve him,] and he shall become [gre]at upon the earth. (8)[… All w]ill make [peace,] and all will serve (9) [him.] He will be called [son of the Gr]eat [God;] by His Name he shall be designated.

Column 2
(1) He will be called the son of God; they will call him son of the Most High. Like the shooting stars (2) that you saw, thus will be their Kingdom. They will rule for a given period of year[s] upon (3) the earth, and crush everyone. People will crush people, and nation (will crush) nation, (4) until the people of God arises and causes everyone to rest from the sword. (5) His Kingdom will be an Eternal Kingdom, and he will be Righteous in all his Ways. He [will jud]ge (6) the earth in Righteousness, and everyone will make peace. The sword shall cease from the earth, (7) and every nation will bow down to him. As for the Great God, with His help (8) he will make war, and He will give all the peoples into his power; all of them (9) He will throw down before him. His rule will be an Eternal rule, and all the boundaries..

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