The Psalms, Tr. and Interpreted in the Light of Hebrew Life and Worship

By Elmer A. Leslie | Go to book overview

Chapter I
THE PSALMS IN LIVING WORSHIP

IN THE PSALMS WE CONFRONT THE RELIGION OF ISRAEL IN ALL ITS RANGES AND reaches, in its vast variety of tempers and moods. Here is to be found religion so pure, so deeply spiritual, that without the least sense of obtrusion we can place it alongside the profoundest ideas and the loftiest heights of aspiration in the words of Jesus or Paul. Yet in the psalms we are frequently face to face with tempers of harsh national exclusiveness, and of sharp and passionate vindictiveness which even a mediocre moral standard would vehemently condemn. Often these two ranges of religious expression appear in the same psalm, and both of them are genuine in the experience of the particular psalmist.

As we immerse ourselves in this literature, however, and as we set ourselves sympathetically at the point of view of the psalmists themselves--seeing with their eyes, feeling with their souls, and thinking from their outlook in time-- we gradually lay hold of a very helpful and emancipating thought. The piety that is uncovered so vividly in the Psalter is not static but dynamic. It is a growing piety. In that religious experience, the spiritual fountain that created the psalms, there is something alive. And just as life, particularly under discipline, rejects as it grows, so the piety of the Psalter corrects itself. To be sure, this is not often apparent within the limits of an individual psalm, which is the creature of a particular time and mood, but in the psalms taken as a whole it is perfectly evident. If it were possible to arrange the material chronologically with some degree of certainty, this growing religious life of the Psalter and its self- corrective power would become plain.

At the same time it is well to remember that chronological order does not necessarily mean the order of ethical and spiritual progress. Knowledge of our own times, with waves of idealism followed by waves of reaction, helps us to be sensitive to this. In Israel's history the broad universalism of Deutero-Isaiah with his concept of one God for all the world was followed by a flinthearted nationalism which would make a fetish of the chosen-people idea and lose out of Israelite religion that breadth and tolerance which gave it world vision and world mission.

Of central importance for an adequate appreciation of the Psalter is the germinal and self-corrective power of the piety that is here unveiled. For in the psalms we meet religious experience in its primitive heart-outpouring. It is per. meated with the consciousness of a vital, personal relationship to a living God. Here is something dynamic, instinct with life, and therefore growing. If we keep this in mind as we read the psalms, we will not close our eyes to the primitive tempers--far lower than Christian, and indeed far lower than normative Hebrew, spirit--which we shall frequently meet. We will not gloss them over, mini.

-17-

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