Tag Archives: Psalm

Psalms 137: An Exegetical Approach

Introduction

Psalms 137 has long been one of my favourite biblical passages and not simply because of the shock value held by the final verses. Surely “a blessing on him who repays you in kind” and “a blessing on him who seizes your babies and dashes them against the rocks!” are the rarest of occurrences in any sermon (137:8—9)! This type of retaliatory language only piqued my interest in Psalm 137 and to avoid running the risk of a shallow understanding and interpretation I was forced to study the passages in detail. Apart from the obvious questions one could ask, such as “what on earth is something like this doing in the bible?” and “is this really condoning the dashing of babies as a form of retribution?”—certain theological questions arise for the Christian disciple reading such a passage. Namely what does this suggest about God, if anything, and the issues of faith the author was faced with during the time period this passage was constructed? Moreover, what does Psalm 137 suggest about the society it was written in? Continue reading

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“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A common theme among the gospels is to cloak their narrative in Hebrew bible narrative. There is good reason for this as we shall see. But first let us look at one of the greatest examples this, and it comes from Mark and Matthew:

After Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified, Jesus is treated reprehensibly. He’s spat on, and he’s naked since people were casting lots for his clothing, his disciples flee and he’s dying in loneliness. Mark especially, is not shy about showing these details. And as the story progresses, climaxing at Jesus’ death, his isolation grows. By the time he reaches the cross, he has been abandoned by all his friends, condemned by all human agencies, and now he feels himself abandoned even by God himself and then he utters his only words from the cross in Mark and Matthew; the opening phrase from Psalms 22:1 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” and the author translates that for us as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As it turns out, this is not the only phrase borrowed from the Hebrew bible… Note how many times Jesus’ Passion narrative overlaps with what we find in the Psalms, Isaiah etc.:

34, wine mingled with gall: allusion to Ps 69:21
35, division of garments: borrowing from Ps 22:18
38, death between robbers: possible allusion to Isa 53:12
39, passers-by wag their heads: cf. Ps 22:7; Lam 2:15
39-40, mockery: borrowing from Ps 22:7 (cf. 109:25)
43, mockery: borrowing from Ps 22:9
44, mockery: possible borrowing from Ps 22:7 or 69:9
45, darkness at noon: allusion to Am 8:9
46, cry from the cross: borrowing from Ps 22:1
48, vinegar to drink: allusion to Ps 69:21
51—3, earthquake and resurrection: use of Ezek 37; Zech 14:4-5

Go ahead, read it for yourself (Mark 15; Matthew 27) and you will see just how cleverly they have woven Hebrew bible narrative into their telling of the Passion of Jesus. This almost certainly casts doubt on the historicity of the account; the authors are just retelling the stories in Psalms only about Jesus as the protagonist! But why would they do such a thing?

The solution is simple—and like the truncated result of derivative mathematics—simply beautiful. Mark also has to deal with the fact that Jews were never expecting, or going to accept, a suffering messiah (especially one who was mocked, spat on etc.). Paul tells us that a suffering messiah was a σκανδαλον (skandalon) or stumbling block for the Jews (1 Corinthians 1:23). And so, by weaving in Hebrew bible narrative, Mark seems to be trying to show that God intended these things to befall Jesus after all. A Christ crucified was the plan all along!

NJ

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