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An examination of the meaning of Psalm 103 (a meditation on the mercy of God) with reference to three versions of the Bible: King James, Good News, New International.
Psalm has been widely discussed as a meditation on the providentialmercy of God e g Vaughn Allen By extension and implication inparticular at and the Psalm contains an injunction toindividuals to act in a way consistent with the behavior of God towardhumankind Even so the controlling theme of the text is the relationshipof a person with God and the trust that the individual ought to have inGod Dummelow presents the big picture of the structure of the text Hesees the first five
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The poet "comes back to his soul [and] his Psalm alsoturns back into itself and assumes the form of a converging circle" (124). Mercy is the dominating idea of God in the passage. As a 17th-century document, the KJV has language with an antiquequality about it. Certainly it avoids the word mercy in Ps. Delitzsch's Commentary on the Psalms. The word lovejuxtaposed against the word mercy between KJV and the other two texts, andcompeting within the NIV and GN texts with compassion, is entirely absentfrom the KJV's Psalm 1 3. The NIV has it that the Lord"satisfies your desires with good things." The notion of desire, like thenotion of the soul, is abstract. In thebackground of that contrast is that whatever other transgressions (1 3:12KJV) humanity gets up to, God will be merciful and forgive because he hasthe power to commit. Hesees the first five verses as personal gratitude and praise of God thatthen becomes a celebration of God's special providence for the people ofIsrael (1 3:6-12). . As for the GN's declarationthat the Lord "fills my life with good things, so that I stay young andstrong like an eagle," it is so vague in the first clause (what does lifemean in context?) as to fail to reach meaning. In KJV, the Lord is one who "forgiveth all thine iniquities;who healeth all thy diseases" (1 3:3). Leaving aside the pedestrian (and aggressively unpoetic) language ofGN and NIV compared to KJV, the difference in language from version toversion has the effect of shifting meanings, or at least emphasis. Verhulst (61) links that tothe idea of a spiritual community. Anthony. Even so, the controlling theme of the text is the relationshipof a person with God and the trust that the individual ought to have inGod. The passage closeswith "ascription of praise to God as the universal King" by the whole ofheavenly and earthly creation (368). the mercy of God, which spans itself above and all those whofear Him like an eternal heaven" (123). Most famously, the Lord "crowneththee with lovingkindness and tender mercies" (1 3:4). .Vaughn, Ellen. In the KJV at 1 3:5, which follows acknowledgment of God's tendermercies, the Lord satisfies "thy mouth with good things; so that thy youthis renewed like the eagle's." If it is accepted that the KJV text is indeedaddressing the soul, then it is the soul's mouth that is being fed and thesoul's youth being renewed. 31. 1 3altogether. He keeps me from the grave and blesses mewith love and mercy" (1 3:3-4). For if God can forgive transgressions inthe face of a loyal commitment, it follows that human beings who havepsychological or physical power over others should be able to extendthemselves in similar ways. Meanwhile, it is so specificin the second that it could be misleading. . & T. It cautions thatGod is slow to get angry, though the fact of the potential for divine angeris acknowledged. Undoubtedly, love and mercy arelinked ideas that can overlap and converge, but they are also distinct andseparate ideas, or anyway ideas with distinct connotations. Clark's Foreign Theological Library. Yet the denotation of mercy is more specific thanthat of love, for mercy implies largesse imparted from power to weakness,whereas love, powerful an idea as it is, can take so many forms that italmost loses its force. Allen, as noted previously, interprets1 3:3 in soteriological terms; the GN version seems to be talking aboutGod's role in preserving human life on earth. This part of the psalm has been interpreted to mean thathumanity should be able to extend itself to the act of forgiveness, howeverdifficult, and even in the face of betrayal. Gdansk, Poland: StudyLight.org, 2 7. "What Is the Church's Healing Ministry? Meanwhile, even though the NIV does name the concept of thejealous God and thereby embrace the idea of divine power, it seems notnecessarily to ascribe to that God a capacity for mercy, which is acounterpoint to jealousy. One is tempted to call for a new look at the source material,but an altogether new translation would undoubtedly have its own hazards.Thus one is left with a need to be attentive to--and cautious of--absolutedeclarations about Biblical meaning and the sense that in reading Biblicallines as a modern person one may be obliged to read between and behind thelines as well. Differences in meaning that emerge because language changes fromversion to version can be attributed at least in part to the modernsimplification of opaque antique texts and the shift in definitions overthe centuries. In the GN version, however, thereis no reference to a jealous God; rather, at Exodus 2 :5 the Lord explains,"I tolerate no rivals." That euphemistic expression is consistent with itsuse of love and honor instead of mercy and fear to describe God's charactervis-à-vis humanity, but it ignores the loaded character of the word jealousjust as it tries to find proxies for the specific nature of mercy in loveand compassion. That is followed by "special emphasis" on "God'sfatherly pity for His people in their frailty, and on the eternity of Hismercy as shown to generation after generation (13-18). Ineed companions who will . The text develops the idea that God is the source of all goodness andrighteousness and has shared them with humankind. Biblical and Global Perspectives." International Review of Mission 9 (January 2 1): 46-54).Delitzsch, Franz, and Francis Bolton. Dummelow presents the big picture of the structure of the text. New York: Macmillan, 19 9.Parallel Bible. The KJV verse is consistent with repeated articulations in the OldTestament that the Lord is a jealous God (Exodus 2 :5; Deuteronomy 5:9,6:15), and the NIV echoes that language. That everyone's soul can be reclaimedis a much more grandly resonant and spiritual idea than a mundanearticulation that smacks of a health-and-fitness endorsement for vitamins. . D and B say that in passages like this "it is the Ego thatspeaks, gathering itself up with the spirit, the stronger, more manly partof man" (12 ). . They add that the soul "needs to be expressly aroused inorder that it may not leave the with which God blesses it unacknowledged"(12 ). Yet immediately the text explains that God hasspecifically not punished human weakness, or sin, rather dealing withmankind with mercy, like a benevolent father, tolerant of humanimperfection and the limited span and scope of human life, which iscompared to the life cycle of plants. The KJV, which of course is also bound to the eagle simile,is busy telling the soul that the good things are received from the Lord"so that thy youth is renewed like an eagle." Furthermore, as Dummelowcomments, in ancient tradition "the eagle's strength seemed to indicateperpetual youth" (368). Edinburgh, Scotland: T. Yet the whole idea of mercy as articulated in the KJV is basedon the concept that God, as a jealous god, exacts loyalty and fear. . That need not raise a problem, except thatin modern experience, desire is a somewhat loaded word, not infrequentlyassociated with physical (especially sexual) appetites. In the depths of anger, "I most need toentrust my struggle to forgive to those who love and pray for me. Still, its sense is not difficult to decode if it isunderstood to be poetically evocative, and in that way it resonates withmodern experience. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. By extension and implication (inparticular at 1 3:15-18 and 21), the Psalm contains an injunction toindividuals to act in a way consistent with the behavior of God towardhumankind. Fourth Series, vol. Specifically, the mercy extends to those who live in righteousness, bywhich the text means keeping the Lord's various laws and honoring hiscovenant, and it takes form as a throne in heaven, which can be seen as ametaphor for salvation. Clark, 1871.Dummelow, John Roberts. Having explained that human unity with the Lord inrighteous living leads to salvation, the text closes with three verses ofpraise (blessing) of the Lord--first adjuring angels to bless the lord,next adjuring two classes of agents, heavenly and earthly, to do the same,and finally, praising the whole of the Creation and closing with arecapitulation of the opening injunction to the poet's soul to bless(praise) the Lord. Citing 1 3:2-3, Allenrefers to "God's double work of forgiveness and healing" and concludes thatthis links the idea of healing to the idea of salvation. Psalm 1 3 has been widely discussed as a meditation on the providentialmercy of God (e.g., Vaughn 58; Allen 48). It is as if the youth andstrength of an eagle have physical relevance, in specific contradiction toPs. mediat[e] for me God's promise that the giftof forgiveness will come, however slowly." A role for God in human experience is conveyed in all three versionsof the psalm. The modern texts, perhaps sensibly, attempt to find ametaphorical expression of the idea in 1 3.5 and in easy-to-read language.Despite that, however, they may create more ambiguity than they resolve,especially when modern meanings of specific words that are employed arejuxtaposed against the words of older texts that still have modern senses.The whole matter is further complicated in respect of Old Testament textsby variant readings that reflect (for example) a Christian or a Jewishstandpoint. . Whereasthe KJV at Ps. Works CitedAllen, E. However, later the text shows that God's mercy extendseverlastingly, which would seem to take in the whole of humanity (1 3:17). Yet as D and B put it, "In the midstof this plant-like, frail destiny, there is, however, one strong ground ofcomfort . . In other words, the verse is plainlymetaphorical, with the image standing for the abstract experience of divineprovidence at a spiritual level. The introductory verses ending with 1 3.5 call on the soul to blessthe Lord. "Remembering to Forget." Today's Christian (January/February 2 6): 54-58).Verhulst, Kari Jo. There are conjugal, paternal, filial,disinterested, compassionate, and other kinds of love, which pass betweenand among equals and nonequals in the cosmos. The mouth is to be taken as a metonymy for thewhole, which is the soul. 1 3:14-16. StudyLightForums.org. That interpretation is captured in the mercyusage, which suggests that the merciful one must extend himself positively.It is more specific than the generalized idea of compassion, which is notlinked to the idea of forgiveness in the same way as mercy is. 1 3.11 says that the Lord's mercy is as great as the heavensare high for those who fear him, the NIV says that his love is as great forthose who fear, and the GN departs further from the KJV, saying that hislove is as great for those who honor him. That declaration is an abstraction, but itis explicated with concrete referents in the verses of the Psalm to God'smajesty (e.g., at 1 3:19, where all three texts cite the heavenly throne)and God's mercy (or compassion or love). To be sure, the Psalmspecifically names the Jews, or more exactly the Israelites under Moses'leadership (1 3:7). Thus the concept of the Lord's beneficent hand isextended to "all that are oppressed" and in particular "the children ofIsrael" (1 3:6-7). The effect is tonarrow the scope of divine concern to satisfy humanity even as the languageattempts to cut directly to the abstraction. Dummelow cites Isaiah 4 :31: "The Lord shall renewtheir strength; they shall mount up with eagles; they shall run, and not beweary." With regard to version differentials, however, the KJV figure ofspeech connotes a reclamation of the soul's innocence as a gift from God asa potentially universal experience. That is consistent with the fact that in the subhead for Psalm 1 3added by KJV editors, the declared subject of the text is "the reign of theLord in the redeemed soul." How the idea of God's sovereignty over the soul is developed gets tothe power of the rhetorical devices of language, which vary from version toversion. "The Agitating Word." Sojourners (September-October 2 2): 6 -63. In GN, the language does not exclusively address the soul but isabsorbed by a contemplation of the nature of the Lord: "He forgives all mysins and heals all my diseases. That has implications for others, such as humanbeings, who have similar power.
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