“After all, in the Scriptures we are in our Father’s house where the children are permitted to play” --Raymond Brown.
I’m always on the lookout for a useful method of taking a preliminary ‘inventory’ of a verse or a set of scriptural verses, getting a read on the subject, the intent and so on; orienting myself for a closer look.
Something much like the rule that newspaper reporters are taught: to have “the 5 w’s” in their opening paragraph - Who what where when why - to get the story started; then the details can follow.
Here is one way to approach puzzling scriptures (and non-puzzling as well) that is useful to me and many others, so I’m posting it in hope someone else may find it useful as well. I’m not speaking for the administrators of this Forum!! These are ‘unauthorized’, personal reflections only, and are not “infallible”
Please leave comments and suggestions! There’s no ‘ego’ here in the content or halting writing style - I’m ALWAYS looking to improve both.
A. I would like to apply the method to a couple of the puzzles that seem to regularly arise on this and other forums. You have probably run across this before; in this post I just want to illustrate it in a simple manner.
from Miles Coverdale:
It will greatly help you to understand the Scriptures if :
-you are careful to be aware of not only what is spoken or written, but :
-and to whom,
-with what words,
-at what time,
-to what intent,
-with what circumstances,
-considering what goes before and what follows after.
I’m going to use these ‘awarenesses’ and have a go at Psalm 137. It’s a simple but very moving Psalm, with a ‘kick’ at the end.
(Hint: this is a good Psalm to read out loud and try to sense a bit of what this exile is feeling )
By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat down, and also wept
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows in its midst
we hung up our harps,
because there our captors
asked us for words of songs,
and those who led us away
taunted us for a hymn,
“Sing us some of the songs of Zion!”
How could we sing the songs of the Lord
in a foreign land?
If I forget you, 0 Jerusalem,
may my right hand be forgotten!
May my tongue stick in my throat,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem at the beginning of my gladness.
Remember, 0 Lord, against the sons of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem,
how they said, “Clear out! Clear out!
As long as its foundation is in it!”
0 daughter Babylon, you wretch!
happy shall he be who will requite you
with the requital with which you requited us!
Happy shall he be who will grab your
and dash them against the rock!
This Psalm is not hard to understand. Using the principles that Coverdale laid down, we gather that the speaker is:
-among a group of Jews in exile in Babylon after the captivity (circa 586-538 B.C.);
-speaking to himself, to other Jews, and to God;
-bemoaning the situation of captivity and loss,
-renewing the oath to their lost city,
-and asking for revenge by terrible means: do to the Babylonian captors what they did to us…
Simple but very very effective, and moving. And our ‘method’ has brought the overall meaning of the Psalm right up front. Also, considering what goes before and what goes after: on both sides of this Psalm there are two magnificent Psalms of praise and adoration and victory. This little jewel, between those two, is made even more vivid when Pss. 136 and 138 are also read.
I find this Psalm to be a very human, very poignant expression of loss and desire for revenge; reminds me also that there are millions of exiles today that no doubt feel the same way. It sounds “real”, and the feelings expressed are true and understandable. Reading it aloud is a part of the interpretation, I would suggest.
B. A few things we can draw out of this simple interpretation:
-God is not the speaker; there is nothing telling us that the thirst for revenge is something God warrants; even if we hold to some doctrine of ‘inspiration’, (there are a number of such doctrines), we cannot say that God ‘inspired’ the feelings that were being expressed - at most we might say that the Psalm was ‘meant’ to be a part of the whole, inspired scriptures.
-A very human expression - this Psalm - was by God’s providence included in Scripture.(Hmmm…incarnation and inspiration?)
-We would not be warranted to say “Baby-bashing is in the Bible” AS IF that meant the Bible condones it. That’s partly the point Johnny wanted to make in his post on this Psalm, I believe. He was making a serious point about unthoughtful inerrantism.
The above is, of course a simple but instructive use of Coverdale’s method. It is surprisingly useful in many parts of the Bible.
Edit: upon good advice, I am cutting the second half of this post and posting that half as a follow-up.