PSALM 80–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT ONE

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.  The Psalm for today is Psalm 80, verses 1-7 as well as 17-19.  The biblical text below is from the ESV Bible.

Psalm 80

[1] Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth. [2] Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up your might and come to save us!

Two things strike me about the opening of the psalm.  First, it asks the Lord to listen.  “Give ear,” is a poetic anthropomorphism that asks God to listen.  The humble request stands in stark contrast with our hubris.  We arrogantly assume that the Lord has to hear, or that he is just waiting, like an puppy dog outside the bedroom door, for us to come spend some time with him.  No, says Psalmist.  I know that you are God and have much to think on, but if you would please, hear us. The second thing that strikes me is that the writer asks God to come and save, but before he does that he acknowledges that the Lord is the leader, the shepherd, of the people.  Do not neglect the subtlety.  The Psalmists asks for deliverance in the same breath that he reminds the Almighty that he is responsible for the people. For my money, the usage of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh indicates that the psalm is either old or regional.  As such, it reflects a time before Judah and Israel were political entities.  It could simply be regional, because these three tribes were given adjacent land in the central part of Palestine just north of Jerusalem.  They were neighbors, and perhaps were under an identical threat at the time the prayer was composed.

[3] Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Do you catch that second anthropomorphism?  First God had an ear, now God has a face.  This particular reference should cause the reader to remember and reflect on the great Aaronic benediction from Numbers 6:25, “The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.”  God obviously doesn’t have a face, but the mental image is of one smiling at someone with love and affection.  Clearly the psalmist believes that part of the problem is that God has not been smiling on them.  He has been frowning. When I was a boy we often got these red stamps on our work.  They weren’t stickers, but were red stamps.  If the work was good then the teacher would stamp a smiley face.  If the work wasn’t good, the teacher would stamp a frowny face.  True story.  It seems to me that an important part of asking the help of the Lord is to admit that our work might be frowny face quality work.

[4] O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

I hope not long.  This question forces a theological realization–sometimes our actions block our spiritual communication with the Lord.  This is one of the reasons why confession is vital for spiritual growth and spiritual strength.

[5] You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure. [6] You make us an object of contention for our neighbors, and our enemies laugh among themselves.

These two verses are great poetics.  Notice that both are classic chiasm.  In verse five “fed” crosses over to “measure” while “tears” align with “tears.”  In verse 6 the language is tighter, as “object of contention” crosses over to “laugh” (although, in the English the crossing is really more of a straight line down) while “neighbors” matches with “enemies.”  These kinds of poetics reminds us that these prayers were constructed with the highest degree of skill and thought.  There is not a single “and um, Lord just be with us, and like, you know, Lord, bless our socks off.”  Not. A. One.

[7] Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!

Host does not mean that God is entertaining.  It is an old English word that derives from the Latin “hostis” which means “enemy.”  It eventually came to mean armies in English.  The Lord is the head of a great heavenly army, and it is as the leader of this divine army that the psalmist appeals for salvation.

[17] But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! [18] Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!

By now you should see it.  It is yet another anthropomorphism.  Now God has an ear, a face, and a hand.  The “son of man” no doubt is historically referring to a human leader like a king, priest, or prophet.  Since I believe the text is old, and/or regional, it might be a judge of the sort we find in that sad book of the Bible.  Without a doubt, though, we who follow Jesus can see him as the “son of man” sent to bring about our salvation, the one who gives us life, and the one whose name we call upon (Romans 10:13, Acts 2:21, Joel 2:32).

[19] Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!

I know (I think I know, anyway) what the writer of the psalm had in mind with the idea of ‘restoration,’ but I’m not sure exactly what it might mean for me when I pray it.  Part of me wants to think of it in spiritual terms only:  Restoration is the place where forgiveness flows with confession and repentance and suddenly things are right now between me and the Lord.  But restoration might also be the concept of restoration of relationships between people.  Perhaps the three tribes were not threatened from an outside group, perhaps they were in conflict with each other, and the request is for restoration of the union?  It might even be restoration of a people who had walked away (turn backed on, as in verse 18) and now are asking for restoration into the true faith. Either way, I find the request for Yahweh to bring restoration to be one of the most wonderful things we can ask.

I LOVE IT WHEN YOU TALK BIBLE

I recently received a request to blog about Study Bibles.  Note that this not the same as Bible study, but instead I am addressing the different kinds of Study Bibles that are available to those who wish to study the Bible with a little depth.

General Statements

1.  Study Bibles are an important part of your Bible reading and devotion regardless of where you are in your maturity level as a Christ-follower.

2.  Every Study Bible has a bias of some sort, just as every translation does.

3.  People should have more than one Study Bible to reference.

4.  A good Study Bible will have notes, introductions to books, cross reference columns, a Bible dictionary, and most importantly a weighty concordance.

5.  Buy hardback Study Bibles for your personal devotions, but do not make your everyday Bible a Study Bible.

6.  Most of these now have apps for your digital devices as well as online updates and added content.

I recommend separating your Bible everyday reading Bible from your Study Bible because sometimes the notes get in the way.  Studying the Bible is important, but reading the Bible is the key to spiritual enlightenment.  Keep the Study Bible(s) for referencing later if you have a specific question or are moved to do further study on a passage.  I find that this is true for small groups as well.  It is annoying and tedious when, in a small group study of something, a person hijacks the group by saying, “Well, my Bible says . . .” and then he or she begins to read directly from the notes in his or her Study Bible.  Some people, I’ve discovered, treat the notes as if they are part of the God’s word, not differentiating properly between Holy Scripture and study notes.    So for this reason, I recommend getting hardback student style editions of two or three Study Bibles but spend the extra money on a nice leather bound volume in your favorite translation for everyday use.  Or, if you’re like the sprouts, just read the text off of your iPad or iPhone for your daily reading.

The Usual Suspects

Although there are almost an infinity of different Study Bibles, only a handful or so warrant description here.  I have grouped them for your reading pleasure.

The Old Timers:   There is a trinity of older Study Bibles that are still, amazingly, quite popular especially in conservative and fundamentalist circles.  These are the Thompson Chain Reference, the Ryrie Study Bible, and the Scofield Study Bible.  I still have my old Scofield Study Bible, bound with book tape, sitting on my desk with it’s odd notes and glorious King James vocabulary.  It is the Bible I cut my teeth on, so to speak.  These three Bibles are good, but they all have a very Dispensational bent to them that I find illogical.  The Thompson Chain Reference is probably the most helpful of the three for general Bible study.

The Study Bible 101’s:  Most Study Bibles are designed as an introductory to the Bible.  The greatest of these is probably the Zondervan NIV Study Bible.  It has been around for a long time, is widely accepted across denominations, and seeks to answer the “So What?” question.  The Life Application Bible is another one of these introductory texts.  It is a little lighter than the Zondervan but that makes it more approachable.  These are the Study Bibles that I would give to a high school junior or a new believer making good progress and asking good questions.

Give Away to Goodwill:  Avoid all Study Bibles that are 1) topic specific 2) single-author 3) based only on the King James Version.  Topic specific Study Bibles are like the Archaeology Study Bible.  I love archaeology and I love the Bible, but the Archaeology Study Bible is inconsistent on both accounts.  Study Biblical archaeology with single volumes dedicated to that field, not with a Study Bible.  Single-author volumes are incredibly biased.  As for the KJV, well, those Bibles are written in Pirate.

Greenbean’s Choice:  There are two Study Bibles I keep going back to over and over again.  The ESV Study Bible and the New Oxford Annotated Bible.  If I had to choose one of these, it would be the ESV Study Bible.  Both of these include superior translations (The ESV and the NRSV) and nice notes.  The ESV, however, is the most thorough and well put together Study Bible on the market.  It includes essays, charts, excellent notes, and a great concordance.  The Oxford Bible is not as thorough, but it excels at ease of read and perspective.  The ESV is a far more conservative (although, happily, not as Calvinist as I had feared) while the Oxford is not, so they balance each other out.

You should have at least one good Study Bible, and probably two or more.  I also recommend that you get them from the opposite ends of the spectrum.  This provides balance.  So, if you are a committed Dispensationalist (I will pray for you) I recommend balancing your beloved Ryrie with the Zondervan.  In the same way, if you are a died-in-the-wool liberal balance your Oxford Annotated with the Thompson Chain Reference.  If you think of yourself as really super smart, then perhaps when you study don’t just use that massive ESV Study Bible, pick up the Life Application as well and let it work at you for a bit.  Balance is the key.

MY ESV STUDY BIBLE
MY ESV STUDY BIBLE

THE GREENBEAN SUMMARY OF BIBLE TRANSLATIONS

Yesterday I preached about the Bible–how it differs from other religious sacred books, why we can trust it, how it was assembled, and how we should use it.  Part of the sermon was a discussion about translations.

One of the most common questions I have asked of me is, “What translation of Scripture should I use?”  The answer is yes.  Unless you know Greek, Hebrew and Amamaic you need a translation.  Which one you use depends on you.

ESV—the English Standard Version—this is the one I preach from and the one we use in worship services.  I like it because it has good solid theological words in it and translates things closer to the way I would and it reads easily.

KJV—the King James Version is a very poor translation of the New Testament and a very good translation of the Old Testament.  The problem is, that KJV English is almost another language itself, thus rendering it practically useless.  The KJV is written in pirate.

NASB—New American Standard is becoming more dated than it used to be, its kind of old now, but it is still good.  It is a literal (The most literal, actually), word for word rendering but it is terribly boring to read.  It unfortunately shares a name with the maker of toilets (American Standard).

NIV—This is the most common and popular translation.  It is easy to read, I think written at a 6th grade reading level.  The problem I have with the NIV is that sometimes they make really stupid and unfortunate decision when translating.  In seminary we used to call this the “Nearly Infallible Version.”

NRSV—The New Revised Standard Version—I like this one and it is the one I am currently reading in my morning devotional work.  This version is written at a higher reading level and is preferred by academics because it is technically thorough.  It also has the benefit of being inclusive in its language, whereas most other translations bend toward sexism (i.e. translation “sons” where the right rendering is “children” or “men” where the right translation is “people”).

NLT—the New Living Translation.  It is written  in common vernacular and avoids almost all theological language.  I like it for newer Christ-followers or younger Christ-followers.  It conveys the idea and the story without losing the reader in bogged down wordiness.

Which one is right?  Depends on you and what your needs are.  I do argue that when you are doing serious Bible study it is best to have three or four of these in front of you and compare them.  With tablets like Kindle, iPad and Nook and such this is much easier and affordable.  Most all of these have Bible apps that are free in all of these versions.

It has never been easier to do serious Bible study.

A LOVE POEM ABOUT JESUS

Yesterday I preached the second in my three-part series on the work of the Trinity from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21.  I think it was the most effective sermon in the set.  What I was attempting to convey is that love is the central work of Christ and that the love of God is embodied in Jesus and therefore a maturing life will follow the basic outline of Ephesians 3:17-19.

17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (ESV–because ESV is the official translation of Pastor Greenbean.)

The line of argument in these verses can be viewed in a four-stage process.  Stage one–by faith Christ dwells in our hearts.  This is when we receive the love of God in Christ.  Stage two–we grow in our understanding of life by being rooted (planted) and grounded (like a foundation for a building–like poured concrete) in love.  This involves spiritual and ethical behaviors.  Stage three–we attain, through Christ, a knowing of his love which is beyond knowledge.  It is not taught or learned, it is only experienced.  I believe this is the motivation of grace.  Stage four–we become filled with the fullness of God, which is a loving fullness that completely transforms us from the inside out.

In the sermon I also linked these verses to something else.  Verse 17 is all about faith, and then the overall theme of the section is love and then in verse 20 something startling happens.

20 to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,

21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

It would be completely appropriate to think of vv 20-21 as being ‘hope filled’ verses about what God will do and what will be done.  If so, the Paul is thinking of the three cardinal Christian virtues:  Faith, hope and love.  Just like in 1 Corinthians 13, here Paul indicates that while faith and hope are important, the greatest, the hinge, is love.

I included this poem I wrote for the sermon, titled “Faithful Lover”

Faith and love—

go hand in glove,

both a decision—

to accept God’s mission

planted and poured—

hopefully adored.