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

By Elmer A. Leslie | Go to book overview

Chapter IX
THE SONGS OF PERSONAL THANKSGIVING

AMONG THE MOST ATTRACTIVE OF THE PSALMS ARE THE SONGS OF PERSONAL THANKSgiving ( Ps. 23; 30; 32; 34; 40:1-11; 66; 92; 107; 116; 138; 146). These songs are a vital part of the payment of vows in Israel and are rightly understood only in relation to it. The importance of the vow in Judaism is evidenced by the fact that two whole tractates of the Talmud, Nedarim and Nazir, are devoted to it.

A vow represents something which, as McFadyen rightly says, "goes beyond the normal demands of religion."1 It is voluntary; it does not have to be made, but it starts in the will of the individual who makes it. When made, however, it is obligatory that it be carried out. The attitude of Jephthah's daughter as regards her father's vow is an accurate illustration of how the Israelites felt. She says, "My father, thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord: do unto me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth." ( Judg. 11:36.) A vow may be simple, the pure expression of pious zeal or religious devotion, or it may be conditional, as in the case of Hannah, who thus prays to God: "If Thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thy handmaid and . . . wilt give unto thy handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord." ( I Sam. 1:11.) Having been made, the vow is viewed as influential with God, as laying hold on divine power. The motive of the vow is indeed just this, to secure the help of God.

When the hoped-for release or blessing has come, the one who made the vow goes to the sanctuary with his sacrificial offering to pay it and to render his thanks to the Lord. This he does always in the presence of the worshiping congregation, who also participate in the enjoyment of the feast provided by the peace offering. It is for him a high moment. He tells the story of his distress, of his prayer, and of his release, and acknowledges in deep gratitude the saving help of God.

It is probable that there was a great service at the autumnal New Year festival when vows made under various kinds of stress were paid, the participants being arranged in groups with each group proceeding as a unit. Ps. 107 is a case in point, as will be seen. Yet the payment of the vows was not limited to this service and could be made at any time, but particularly at the great pilgrimage festivals of Passover, Harvest, and Tabernacles.

Two things are important to note in this group of psalms. It is here that we are at the very fountains of Christian testimony. We see that the story of what God wrought in these lives has created classic forms of Christian witness which are still influential today. A second thing of great importance is the social rootage

____________________
1
"Vows (Hebrew)," in Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, XII, 654.

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