Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (KJV)

The Geneva Bible was the first Bible to insert verse numbers into the biblical text. One of the great victims of this imposition on in the biblical text was reading in context. The King James Version further complicated matters by printing each verse individually as a paragraph. The New American Standard and New King James Version continues this travesty. These seemingly innocent violations of the biblical narrative have a profound impact upon the psychology of reading. This “presentation” on the page has led to thinking that each verse stands on its own. Thus the biblical text suffers at our hands. Suddenly we think of a verse rather than a sentence within a paragraph. There are quite a few verses that are not even complete sentences. It is easy, really easy, to suddenly isolate a verse from the paragraph it is found in.

There are some common verses that come up in various discussions on a routine basis that are simply “out of context.” That is they do not support the use to which they have been put. An example.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Ps 33.12, KJV).

This “tidbit” from Scripture is a common proof text for nationalism and especially the America first ideology. But surely we know the text has nothing at all to do with the United States, Germany, Japan or any nation state. But those who place this on a meme do not even cite the entire verse. The “verse” is found in Psalm 33.

Psalm 33 celebrates Yahweh as the Creator of the whole world and Lord of history. Yahweh’s righteousness is visible in the created world so much so that God’s hesed fills the earth (vv.1-5).

Verses 6-9 continue to exalt Yahweh and the glue that holds it all together, the breath (ruah) of Yahweh.

Verses 10-12 echoes Psalm 2. Yahweh frustrates the plans of the nations who are enemies of God’s people. The nations would assail God’s anointed as Psalm 2 notes. Yahweh is sovereign and sets their schemes to naught. In fact Yahweh’s plan/counsel stands forever, they cannot touch it.

Thus we arrive at v.12. It is good news for ISRAEL that Yahweh is King over all. This is explicit in the text even without the context. The whole verse says,

Happy is the nation whose God is Yahweh,
the people he has chosen as his heritage/possession

Line A and Line B are synonymous parallelism. Yahweh only chose one nation. Not two. Not many. God has one people. “Though the whole earth is mine but out of all the peoples you shall be my treasured possession” (Ex 19.5 and a dozen other texts).

This same thought is found elsewhere in the Psalter,

that I may see the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory in your heritage/possession
” (106.5)

For the Yahweh has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession
” (135.4)

The nation in Ps 33.12 is the people of God, Israel, the church. God never chose anyone for his inheritance but the sons and daughters of Abraham. The New Testament is full of this Hebraic theology. Gentiles are baptized to become children of Abraham. Paul notes that God’s “glorious inheritance/possession is among the saints” and Gentiles are now included among those saints (Eph 1.18, etc).

The further irony of using Psalm 33.12 for an America first ideology is the Psalm disavows the militarism of such idolatry. Such idolatries campaign on huge budgets for the Pentagon while gutting school lunches for poor children and even healthcare for the veterans themselves. But the Psalm disavows the military. What use is the military if Yahweh is the King? God’s people need no army at all.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his HESED,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your HESED be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you
(Psalm 33.16-22).

God’s people, for whom Yahweh is King, our faith/trust and hope are in nothing but Yahweh and God’s enduring Hesed. Armies are an affront to the God of Israel!

So yes “happy is the people whose God is Yahweh.” That people is not America or any nation anywhere on the planet except the sons and daughters who belong to the Messiah and are thus children of Abraham.

Peering into the Court of Women of Herod’s Temple

Some Ephesians thoughts: A Conceptual Framework. Over the last six months these thoughts have slowly come together. I am not sure these are worth a hoot but I think I can satisfactorily argue the points below in detail. The Temple is key. I knew Paul calls the community God’s temple in 2.21 but it slowly dawned on me that Paul appeals to temple imagery or “culture” both before and after. It just did not “dawn on me” these were temple images but that is their context. Paul is a Jew. And the Temple of God is of fundamental importance to him.


First, the “Backstory.” When God created the cosmos heaven and earth were together. The Creator “dwelled” with humanity in the garden. The Garden, indeed, the whole cosmos was God’s temple that the Creator filled with divine presence. The human responsible for guarding and maintaining the sacred space of the temple defiled it. The human was exiled from the Garden, the sacred space, the Temple where humanity and deity dwelled together.

Throughout biblical history the Creator God is carving out “space” within his vandalized creation to dwell among humanity. The temple is the central symbol of this dwelling, where God declares over and over and over Yahweh dwells in the center of creation in the temple on Mt. Zion. Passages like Leviticus 26.12 which explicitly echoes Genesis 2 “I will walk among you and be your God and you shall be my people,” are found throughout Paul’s Bible. The same theme is also stated in the language “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” (cf. Ex 6.7; 40.34-38; Dt 4.20; 7.6; 14.2; 26.16-19; 1 Kgs 8; Ezk 11.20; 14.11; 34.30; 36.28; 37.23-27; Hos 1.9-10; 2 Chron 6-7; etc. I place 2 Chronicles last because it is the last book of Paul’s Bible and sums up the whole Hebrew Bible in sort of an inspired commentary. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of the Temple in Chronicles).

King (of Israel)

Second. The King. The King is the representative of all the people and the people in a single person. When all of us in the first human vandalized creation leading to the shattering of the unity of heaven and earth, the King, as the representative of all of us, brings healing to God’s creation. So Paul uses temple imagery, we usually call it “sacrificial” but sacrifices are made in the temple. Through the blood of the King (Paul explicitly calls him a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” in 5.1 … temple stuff. The sacrifice of the one obedient and loyal human in the King of Israel was to do one thing according to Paul. The *PURPOSE* of the King was to “gather up all things in heaven and on earth in him” (1.10). Heaven and Earth are “fixed.” They are brought back together through the sacrifice. As humans polluted creation so the King’s sacrifice cleanses the “sanctuary” … aka God’s temple. The temple of creation is healed through the representative King, Jesus. The sacred space of the temple where humanity and deity dwelled together are brought together in the faithful Messiah/King of Israel, humanity and deity are yet again together in King Jesus.

Paul’s entire theology is in chapters 1-3 of Ephesians. He virtually identifies it as such. God has healed the cosmos through Israel’s King. He has been appointed to proclaim that victory.

New Humanity (Jews & Gentiles in Restored Israel)

Third. New Humanity. Notice how Paul begins to use “inheritance” language at this point. Because of the King who has brought heaven and earth back together we have an inheritance “in him.” That is the Messiah (again Messiah means King). This leads Paul into saying things like the King has been made ruler of all things and they have been placed under his feet (1.22f). This again is what Adam was created for in the first place. This is what Psalm 8 (a temple text in the Psalter) celebrates as the original intention for humanity. In the King we have been restored.

In chapter two of Ephesians, this healing of creation is applied directly to hostile human to human relations. That war humans have fought with each other, as Genesis 3 to 11 sadly narrates, is obliterated by the King. Gentiles were aliens from Israel. Israel, is sort of like the “universal” nation. Rather than exclusion from one another, through the sacrificial (temple work) of the Messiah/King, inclusion and shalom with one another reigns.

As the King is every person, so Israel is in a sense every nation. Or perhaps better the “first fruit” of the nations. But the division between Israel and the nations reflects that humanity is simply divided … like heaven and earth were divided. But now the aliens have been brought near and are now “joint citizens” of Israel itself. Because it was God’s purpose to create in the King (who holds heaven and earth together) one “new humanity out of the two” (2.15). If we say that Ephesians 1 records the healing of the ruptures in Genesis 3, then Ephesians 2 records the healing of the ruptures in the human race in Genesis 3-11.

Christ, the King of Israel, is our shalom offering (2.13-14). The Messiah of Israel is the faithful human or Adam. Paul immediately draws on another temple image, the dividing wall. This image is not so much from the Hebrew Scriptures as from the Herodian temple of which Paul frequents according to Acts. The physical three foot wall kept, symbolically, some of the human race away from the dwelling place of God. This barrier, with its dogmas carved into it, has been broken down. Now, through the work of Christ/King Jesus, the races are one just as heaven and earth are one. There is no division in the temple now.

Referred to by Paul in Ephesians 2.14-15, Josephus and the Mishnah the the temple “barrier” with its “regulations” written in both Greek and Latin warning Gentiles of dire consequences if they past this barrier with its “dogmas.” Paul is almost certainly referring to THIS and not God’s own law. This inscription was first recovered in 1871 and another found in 1936. Jesus broke it down.


Fourth, at this very moment, now that Paul has declared that Gentiles are now part of Israel, because the King has proclaimed shalom (pronouncing shalom is a priestly blessing throughout the Hebrew Bible from Numbers 6 to Isaiah 52 which Paul quotes directly to Ezekiel 37 where God establishes a “covenant of shalom” after raising Israel from the dead). Heaven-earth-one. Israel-Nations-one. Shalom is established.

in him [King Jesus] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple … in whom all of yall are being put together through the Spirit as the dwelling place of God” (2.21-22).

Restored humanity dwells in the restored temple of God sharing direct “access” (access is another good tabernacle/temple image) to God because of the work of the King who healed heaven and earth and all that is in it. In the Garden there was no division between God and Human. In the Garden there was no division between male and female, white and black … and Paul clearly states that in God’s redeemed people there is no racial and gender division.

God’s sacred Presence, the very same Presence that filled the Garden of Eden and walked with humanity is restored in this age through the restored human race. As humanity was intended to “expand” the Garden so we are called to expand God’s temple in this fallen age. But the Future is in fact on display in God’s people. The dwelling Holy Spirit makes us every bit the sacred space that the Israelites beheld in Exodus 40. This is why in chapters 4-6, it seems to me, that Paul continues to apply temple imagery to the conduct of former Gentiles, who are now citizens of Israel. There are certain behaviors in the “house of God.”

We are now all priests (Israel was a nation of priests), we offer sacrifices through our lives, we offer praise through the Psalms (5.19, all stuff priests did in the temple), and above all shalom reigns in God’s Presence. The Spirit fills the temple with life and we bask in the presence of God the Creator who now lives with us through the Spirit … in anticipation when the whole world will yet again be literally God’s temple.

I was invited to address the Song of Songs for Ambassadors for Christ at the University of Arizona. It was a great opportunity to share this rich book with such a great group of students. Great questions and genuinely seeking to dig into God’s word. Sex and Sexuality … the next word is rarely “Bible” in our culture. That is to our shame. This presentation is 51 minutes long. There are several articles on my blog that deal with the theology, exegesis and history of interpretation of the Song of Songs.

Holy Sex at Ambassadors for Christ

Related Interest on this Blog

Holy of Holies: Returning to Eden – the Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality

Shir ha-shirim: Monday Thoughts on the Song of Songs

The Boss? Song of Songs and Ephesians 5

The Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and Wine

Why the Gospel? Living the Good News of King Jesus with Purpose
By Matthew W. Bates (Eerdmans, 2023) 186 pp.

(Amazon link in title) Matthew Bates has blessed us with two previous outstanding books Salvation by Allegiance Alone and Gospel Allegiance.  His newest book joins them as being well written and well-conceived to help disciples not only understand the Gospel we confess but to provide motivation for living for King Jesus and for sharing the reign with the world.  I received my copy of Why the Gospel? few days ago and read about half the book in one sitting. I could not put it down. My copy is heavily annotated.

Description of Book

Why the Gospel? Is divided up into seven chapters that briefly remind us of the content of the Gospel of God (Jesus is the Christ). Then briefly survey some popular formulations of the gospel that are not so much wrong as not quite the full story. In chapters 4-5, the core of the argument, Matthew shows how the Messiah is God’s way of rescuing, redeeming, restoring and glorifying humanity and creation itself. These chapters bear reading and rereading.  They are not only exciting but encouraging and enriching.  The Gospel of the Messiah Jesus really is “Good News.” In Chapters 6 and 7, Bates articulates how this full orbed Gospel of King Jesus actually enables disciples to offer a hopeful word to our increasingly non-religious (of any sort) world. And chapter seven is aimed squarely at us disciples, how can we cultivate a lifestyle to live (practice discipleship) this profoundly revolutionary Good News of God’s Son Incarnate as the King of Israel. Finally, there is a short list of helpful and recommended sources for further study. For myself, I would have added Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God’s People to the list of good reading (this volume rather than Mission of God since Bates audience is the pew).


Bates wrestles with the question of WHY? Why did/do we need the Gospel? We do not wrestle with this question enough and failure to do so may cause us to miss the radicalness of the Gospel of God in Christ Jesus.

The answer is: We need a King! The true biblical Gospel is directly connected to God’s purpose in creation, particularly for human beings. In the Stone-Campbell tradition we have called this gospel of the king, The Golden Oracle. A phrase coined by Walter Scott. Jesus IS the Christ.

Bates shows the Gospel both restores God’s creational purposes but also glorifies them through the King. King/Messiah is a TITLE not a name. Jesus IS the King/Messiah. Bates beautifully shows that the Incarnation is essential to Gospel as the Cross. This is a desperately needed correction in American Evangelical (and even Restorationist) Christianity. The meaning of cross and resurrection is tied to Incarnation (and it flows the other way too). But when the Incarnation of the Christ is sidelined, even unintentionally, we can have a skewed understanding of not only what the Gospel is but what the Gospel is doing to us (and all creation).

Bates shows how the the Gospel and the WHY of the Gospel can and does address the “Nones” (those affiliated with no religious affiliation).

Chapters 4 and 5 are the heart of Why the Gospel? They should be read and reread. They are a clear and thrilling articulation of what the Gospel of King Jesus does.

Small Nuance I Would Add

There are places I would go further than Bates. I agree Incarnation is 100% essential to the Gospel. I think Bates is fundamentally right in how Jesus, as King, restores and brings “glory.” I believe it is 100% essential for Jesus to be King. But in the biblical Gospel, King is not some generic idea. It is precisely as ISRAEL’S King that Jesus is King and Lord of the Nations. Just as the word “Christ” is often muted by turning it into a “name” rather than title, the muting of the category of Messiahship of Israel has led (and does lead) to massive theological distortions through Christian history not to mention centuries of pogroms culminating in the Aryan Jesus of the Nazis (see Susannah Heschel’s epic, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany). It matters theologically (and ethically) that Jesus is (not was) a Jew. The particularity of the Jewish King honors the particularity of the nations and the goodness of creation itself. The Jewishness of Jesus, even as the “second Adam,” (the King of Israel is like a “second Adam”) matters if the Incarnation is in fact reality. Jesus will forever be the Son of David, the Son of Mary, the Son of Abraham. I am not criticizing Bates here, for he almost certainly concurs on this but it is not as explicit as I would make it. It is way to easy for Evangelical disciples to disconnect the gospel from the Story of Israel, and it cannot be done biblically. (Jennifer Rosner’s recent Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel is worth reading along these lines).

There of course a place here, or there, I might put a footnote and other places, I had to sit back and say “that was rich.” Material worthy of just meditation for hours on end. 

Buy It

I am personally encouraged by this book. I can and do recommend Why the Gospel? without reservation. Read it. Do more than that, share it. It is a message desperately needed in American Christianity. The Golden Oracle is Jesus is the Christ, that is Jesus is the King (of Israel) and as such inherits the nations and all creation that is glorified because God’s purpose in creation has reached its goal in Jesus the King.

The book is a breeze to read. There are questions at the end of each chapter facilitating discussion and reflection. And while there are occasional footnotes this book is aimed at all God’s People. If you can read the NIV with ease then this book will be readily accessible to you. I am grateful for it. Walter Scott would almost certainly say, “Amen!”

[Statement: I do not receive any compensation for this review or any other. I receive nothing from Amazon or anyone else if you buy a work I recommend. I recommend them because they are good.]

Related Links

The Gospel According to Paul: God Has Kept His Promises in the Messiah

Jesus of Nazareth: Does it Matter that the Messiah is a Jew?

The Aryan Jesus: Reflections Part 2, Give Me Jesus the Jew

The Gospel is about the STUFF of the World

These Psalms invite us to ponder, to dwell on, to “meditate” on the history of Yahweh with Israel and through Israel, the whole creation. This relationship can be summed up in a single word:


This is one of the most important words in the Bible itself. It is extremely rich. It is also very hard to translate because of that profundity. Entire books have been written on this this single word. It is a word that captures the heart of Bible. It means “steadfast love,” “everlasting love,” “grace,” “I will die before I give you up.” These are examples of its deep meaning which, again, cannot be expressed in any single word in English. It is a word you should know by heart. To our texts.

Outside of Psalm 119, this cluster of Psalms are the longest psalms in the Psalter. They are deeply meditative, historical and theological. Together they tell the Story of God. They are a sort of “mini” Bible.

If we take the time to read Psalms 103 to 107 over and over and over we will have the message of the Bible itself. They do not, of course, cover every detail but they do express the entire message. These Psalms boil it all down to what it is all “about.” They tell the story of who God is, what God has done, who we are (Israel), and what God has done despite of who we are. The word that all of those are wrapped in is: Hesed. Appropriately there are Five Psalms and Five Fingers.


Psalm 103, Hesed. Psalm 103 is the Preface and the Presupposition for every line that follows: God. Who is God? God is HESED. God is Yahweh who revealed his “ways” to Moses. This is a reference to Moses’s prayer on Mt. Sinai in the aftermath of the Golden Calf and asked God to reveal his “ways.” God did in Exodus 34.6 where “hesed” is found on Yahweh’s lips twice. Psalm 103 is a majestic meditation on the character of Yawheh. Yahweh is the God of Hesed. What a profound thing to say, God is the God OF Hesed. Yahweh removes our “transgressions as far as the east is from the west” (v.12). This is the PRESUPPOSITION and PREFACE to the “Story of God.” Psalm 103 tells us the basis of Israel’s existence.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us
(Psalm 103.6-12).


Psalm 104, Creation: What did the God of Hesed do? God created a world in which Yahweh lovingly cares for ALL creatures. God “dotes” upon this creation which is the expression of God’s HESED from Ps 103. Humans, all humans, along with all the world are bathed in the Creator’s Hesed. This is essentially Genesis 1-2. This is the longest mediation on Creation outside Genesis.


Psalm 105, Rescue: What did the God of Hesed Do? Yahweh created a people within the world. They were insignificant. The “least of these.” Abraham, essentially a refugee. Joseph “sold as a slave” (v.17). Jacob (does double duty as the Patriarch and the people of Israel) lived as an alien in Egypt only to be horrifically enslaved. Yahweh, the God of Psalm 103 and 104, did not abandon the nobodies in Egypt. God “remembered his holy promise” and redeemed Israel by the power of God’s Hesed. This is essentially Genesis to Exodus 15.


Psalm 106, Rebellion: What did the created by hesed, delivered by hesed, bathed in Hesed people do? This is the ugly side of the story that cannot be forgotten. They, like ‘adam in Genesis 3, they/WE rebelled. Psalm 106 tells the long sordid tale of human unfaithfulness. No sooner than we were delivered by Hesed, did we “forget the glory of God who saved” us (v.21). We did this by making another god, an idol, a golden calf. In fact “wickedness, rebellion and sin” (a line from Ex 34.6) became the NORM for us as the psalm makes clear. We LIVED IN SIN. But it was precisely here, at the Golden Calf, that Yahweh revealed God’s “way” to Moses that we began with in Psalm 103. Psalm 106 drives a stake deep into the ground of Exodus 34.6 which Psalm 103 is nothing but a long commentary on that phrase of “wickedness rebellion and sin.” That is the summary of Israel’s entire national story. But so great is Yahweh’s Hesed, that God even disposed the captors (the instrument of our punishment!) to be “merciful!!!” to us (v.46). This is basically the story of Israel from Exodus to the Exile. God created in Hesed, walked with Israel in her sin by Hesed. God went into “death” with Israel in Hesed.


Psalm 107: Resurrection by Hesed. Psalm 107 is the back end of Psalm 103. The God of Hesed refused to give up Israel despite the guilt. Israel, the people created by Hesed, had rebelled, rebelled, rebelled (Ps 106). But Yahweh is the God of Psalm 103! So Psalm 107 begins where Psalm 106 ends. Psalm 106 has the people calling, pleading, for grace despite the guilt they have. Guilt is not denied and cannot be denied. Israel has only one option: beg for mercy based upon Hesed Alone! Psalm 107 proves the truth of Psalm 103. It shows that Yahweh hears that prayer for Hesed and redeemed those in sin and death and brings them back to life by Hesed. Some wandered in deserts, some in darkness, some in prisons of their own making, all because of rebellion. The Psalm is driven by the refrain

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
HE sent out his word and HEALED them;
he RESCUED them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his HESED
and his wonderful deeds for mankind

The Psalm ends with a call to do what Psalm 103 does. Ponder, ruminate, MARINATE in the Hesed of God.

Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the HESED of the Lord.
” (v.43)

Final Thoughts

This story of Psalms 103 to Psalms 107 is not only the “end” of the Hebrew Bible (Yahweh does gather the people in Hesed). It is also the literal end of the “Story” of the whole Bible. The God who created in Hesed in Psalm 103-104 does not abandon that world and its rebellious inhabitants but redeems them with the same Hesed they were created in. God fills the Creation with Hesed Incarnate as the Resurrected Son of Man, Jesus the King of Israel, resides with those redeemed from death in the New Heavens and New Earth. Revelation declares this explicitly.

Here is the Story of Bible. Rabbi Paul knew these Psalms quite well. When he said “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5.21) this was no new revelation. It is the literal history of Israel. This theology was sung and inculcated through the Psalms, every festival of worship, every Sabbath. These five psalms bring it all together.

Who is God?

What did God do?

Who are we and what have we done?

What God does to us in our “wickedness, rebellion and sin?”

The answer:

Hesed in the Beginning.

Hesed in the Middle.

Hesed in the End.

Those who believe the Story will “camp” right here. As the Spirit said,

Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the HESED of the Lord.
” (v.43).

I am convinced that we Christians (I am one) sometimes read our story but do not hear it. By hearing I do not mean merely the recognition of sound waves entering our ears. Rather, I mean what the Bible means … we hear, hear, and hear and do not understand.

Our Story

Our story tells us who we are and how we are to live. Our story is, in both Testaments, the Exodus story. The anti-hero in that story is Pharaoh and the hero is Yahweh. Yahweh heard the cry of pain from the mouths of those being oppressed. Yahweh claimed them as God’s own. Yahweh told Pharaoh, “let my people go.” Yahweh claimed to own the slaves even before they were set free, before the conflict with the gods of Egypt, before the cross of the Red Sea. Even in their ignorance they belonged to Yahweh. “Let my people go” … that simply is a command by Yahweh to Pharaoh to set them free.

All of them!

Slaves Lives Mattered to God!

God saved, liberated, set free, redeemed slaves. Yahweh saved all of them. God then invited them into a covenant of love and called them to holiness. Our story is about all of us, not just me, myself and I. We have a tendency to think of salvation in highly individualistic terms. And because we do so, we also tend to think of morality in individualistic terms.

Living Under the Reign of Yahweh

The Bible, which tells our Story, does not settle for a morality that deals simply with individuals. It always places morality in the context of public structures around those individuals: the Society. We have a very long history of thinking we can privatize morality and settle for a personal virtue of honesty and “purity.” This is, however, a fairly modern and European way of understanding biblical morality.

But the issues of biblical ethics (morality) are profoundly public and social, just as the Exodus was public and social. You see, Pharaoh’s problem was not that he was not personally virtuous or pure (the text never even addresses those questions). The problem with Pharaoh was a state sponsored, state sanctioned, publicly upheld tyranny placed upon the powerless minorities – aliens – in their midst. The prophets condemned Israel because the court system was rigged (Micah 3.9-11; Amos 5.14-15; etc) and crooked real estate practices (Micah 2.1-4; Isaiah 5.8; 1 Kings 21; etc). Let’s read them.

“Hear this, you leaders of Jacob,
    you rulers of Israel,
who despise justice
    and distort all that is right;
who build Zion with bloodshed,
    and Jerusalem with wickedness.
Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
(Micah 3.9-11)

“Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”
(Amos 5.14-15)

“Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
    because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes,
    they rob them of their inheritance.

Therefore, the Lord says:

“I am planning disaster against this people,
    from which you cannot save yourselves.
You will no longer walk proudly,
    for it will be a time of calamity.
In that day people will ridicule you;
    they will taunt you with this mournful song:
‘We are utterly ruined;
    my people’s possession is divided up.
He takes it from me!
    He assigns our fields to traitors.’”
(Micah 2.1-4)

“Woe to you who add house to house
    and join field to field
till no space is left
    and you live alone in the land.”
(Isaiah 5.8)

See the entire chapter of 1 Kings 21 and so many other texts the Holy Spirit inspired on this matter.

The Bible does not minimize our personal virtues. But it does suggest that our personal virtues are nonexistent when our morality is not found addressing Pharaoh in our time. We do not live private lives as redeemed from slavery. We live our lives as a witness to Pharaoh with those who need an Exodus. We remember, because we HEAR OUR STORY, that Pharaoh is not bad merely because he is “impure,” rather Pharaoh is anti-God because he is the chief of a monstrous machine of tyranny and oppression over people who had no means of challenging him.

Solidarity with the oppressed is biblical morality because our Story tells us God rescues the oppressed and claims them as his own. Our Story tells us of a God who is in “solidarity” with the oppressed. That is why our ethics, our morality, are always corporate, communal, aimed at living under the reign of Yahweh.

Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt,
but the LORD your God rescued you

He [Yahweh] chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth which he has founded forever

(Psalm 78.68-69, NRSV)

The Temple was of immense importance in the life and theology, by the influence of the Holy Spirit, of Israel. And it is of spectacular importance in the last book of the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles. I will summarize what I think the temple is all about in Chronicles, in a single line.

The Temple recapitulates God’s purposes for creation. Immanuel.

That is creation was intended to be the place where God lived with that which was created out of love. God dwelled with Adam/Eve in the Garden. God does so again in the Temple. The Temple is Immanuel. If we do not grasp how profound this is, we will end up missing and misunderstanding quite a bit in the Hebrew Bible.

When we sit down and read Chronicles attentively, knowing the author (i.e. Chronicler) has the whole history of Israel already laid in older writings, we recognize instantly the Chronicler uses those sources to fashion a Spirit guided message for his own day. And what a message it is. The Temple, what the temple represents, is of central importance and is seen as one of the keys to the whole history of Israel.

So when the Chronicler tells the story of the Temple’s dedication he invokes the earlier tabernacle narrative from Israel’s foundation in the Exodus. But it is not Exodus alone that is invoked but the creation account itself in Genesis. It is common knowledge that the Bible conceives the temple as a microcosm of the entire creation. This we have seen already in the quoted Psalm above. In Chronicles we find the echoes of those events, creation and creation of the tabernacle. These echoes are intentional and rest on the conviction that the hearers of Chronicles will deeply resonate with the connections.

The Temple is dedicated in the seventh year of Solomon’s reign, during the seventh month (Tishrei), during the festival of Tabernacles, a feast that lasts seven days (2 Chronicles 5.3; 7.8-10; Leviticus 23.33-43; Deuteronomy 16.13-15), Solomon’s prayer is divided into seven petitions before the “church/ἐκκλησίαν Ισραηλ” (6.2 [2x], 12; Hebrew, qahal, LXX = ekklesia. . The Septuagint uses the term ekklesia repeatedly in Chronicles). At the conclusion of the prayer, Solomon says,

Arise now, O LORD God and go to your resting place …

Two things. First, “LORD God” is used 3x in 2 Chronicles 6.41-42 just as it is throughout Genesis 2, “and the LORD God made …” Second, after the Lord God finished his work, he “rested.” Solomon now invites the Lord God to enter into his “rest.”

Another Eden/creation connection. David donated “all sorts of precious stones … onyx” that were in abundance according to Genesis 2.12.

One of the disciplines of properly reading the Bible is to read the whole narrative. In this way the Bible is like any other book. The book of Chronicles, and only Chronicles, tells us that Solomon placed two large pillars before the temple, one on the right and one on the left. Solomon named them, “Jachin” and “Boaz.” They mean Strength and Stability. Throughout the Hebrew Bible we learn of pillars or foundations of creation or that God established creation upon pillars (Psalms 18.15; 75.3; 82.5; 102.25; 104.5; Isa. 48.13; etc). Boaz seems to be named for David’s ancestor and if this is the case, then the two pillars point to the stability God gave the cosmos at creation and is maintained by the descendants of David in the house built for God’s rest. When Israelites speak of the foundations/pillars of creation all they have to do is look to the right or to the left and see that God is holding the universe together.

Why all these connections to the creation narrative and the tabernacle narrative (which is itself rooted in the creation story of Genesis)? Because the temple is the microcosm of all creation. What Yahweh does to, with and through the Temple, God intends to do to creation. Creation is not some irrelevant datum in the biblical narrative but the object of both God’s creative love and creative redemption. Creation matters, the Temple shows us.

I will save the notion of “rest” for another day. But brief comment is necessary. Previously Solomon had asked “But will God indeed reside with mortals? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built?” (6.18). For God to enter his rest is to condescend in incredible grace and dwell with/live with humanity. The Temple is “Heaven on earth.” Or the place where heaven and earth interlock. A microcosm of all creation.

The Chronicler is suggesting that God is doing in the Temple what he intended to do in Eden. God is dwelling with and in the midst of his creation. Israel, and specifically the Davidic King, functions like a new Adam in the presence of God supposedly reflecting the Glory of the Lord back out into the world to bless it and heal it. God’s people are a “church” that was created for the praise of Yahweh … they are Kingdom of Priests on behalf of the world. And the “Good News” is, according to the Chronicler, God did! God came to dwell. In response to the prayer and its echoes of the creation and tabernacle narratives, God entered the created world.

When Solomon had ended his prayer, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. The priests could not enter the house of the LORD, because the glory of the LORD on the temple, they bowed down on the pavement with their faces on the ground and worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying,

‘For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever’


God has come to dwell in the midst of his church/people. Humanity (assembled Israel) is again in the Presence of God. God is indeed good!

This ‘rest’ is something the Hebrew Preacher has not given up on … this Sabbath Rest. Of when the world is everything God ever dreamed for it. The Temple is the proclamation of what that rest is and looks like.

And as I finish this post I have to say this. I have been reading deeply this ignored book of the Hebrew Bible and even this ignored book shows me just how wrong Andy Stanley (and all those who give him the “Amen”). The theology of Chronicles, especially worship and the Temple, pulses with that of Jesus, the writer of the Gospel of John and especially the book of Revelation. I want to call it “Incarnational theology!”

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (Revelation 21.3).


We just celebrated Easter, known as “Pascha” to most non-English speaking Christians around the world. We joined these disciples of the King around the world, and throughout history, in remembering the culmination of God’s “Passover plot” to liberate enslaved creation from sin and death seen supremely in the Jubilee ministry, the crucifixion and resurrection in the flesh of a Jew named Joshua/Jesus. It is the single defining moment since the dawn of creation. Creation’s redemption began that day through the dawn of God’s renewed creation. In fact we remember gratefully this every Lord’s Day. The resurrection from the dead is the pivot of time.

Have you noticed that in the Gospels, all four, this singular event rests upon the testimony of a group of rather oppressed and ostracized people, women. The Gospel of Luke goes out of its way, literally, to stress this rather stark fact. And it was, in its time, an embarrassing fact at that.

Several years ago biblical scholar Russ Dudrey published an article in a scholarly journal called “What the Writers Could Have Done Better.” It was about the reception of the four Gospels in the Greco-Roman world. He documents how controversial it was among non-believers (and even some believers!) that Christian claims rested upon the testimony of women. Women were often regarded as sub-human and extremely inferior.

What the writers could have done better, in the ancient world, was obscure, hide, or just omit references to women much less that they are the ones who knew which tomb was Jesus’s in the first place, that they are the ones who went to the tomb on that fateful day, that they are the ones who received angelic visitation, that they are the ones who preached to the apostles themselves. Pagan critics, like Celsus, mercilessly chastised Christianity as absurd religion of ignorant women. So when Luke speaks of the women he does so purposefully. And it was not even necessary as a look at Paul’s summary in 1 Cor 15 makes crystal clear.

But Luke (again all the Gospels bear witness) rather than hiding it stresses the women, to the point that he appears to be smacking us with a bat to get our attention. He does this in fact throughout his Gospel, but I begin with the cross in chapter 23 and go to the resurrection in chapter 24. Note these texts. By this time the Twelve male disciples of Jesus had already fled and abandoned the Lord.

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were THE WOMEN ...” (23.27)

those who knew him, including THE WOMEN who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance and watched these things” (23.49)

THE WOMEN who had come with him from Galilee followed, THEY [the women] saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then THEY [the women] returned, and prepared spices and ointments.” (23.55-56)

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, THE WOMEN, … they found the stone rolled away … but when they went in, they did not find the body.” (24.1-3)

THE WOMEN were terrified [angel speaks to the women]” (24.5).

When they [women] returned from the tomb, they [the women] told these things to the Eleven, and to the others.” (24.8)

Luke then goes out of his way to name the women.

It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the OTHER WOMEN who told these things to the apostles. But these words seemed to them like an idle tale and they [the apostles] did not believe them” (24.9-11)

Moreover some WOMEN of our group astounded us” (24.22)

Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as THE WOMEN had said” (24.24).

In the space of chapter, Luke stresses “the women” nearly a dozen times. Why? Because through the Jubilee ministry and resurrection of Jesus the curse has been removed. Men, not God, declared women to be inferior, unfit, unreliable, less than rational … and Luke comes along and says the Gospel message itself rests upon the faithfulness of women!

The same women that embraced the scandal of following Jesus camping around Galilee (8.1-3 contains the same names as 24.19) are the ones who were faithful to the bitter end.

Peter ran away, but Mary Magdalene did not.

John did not go to the tomb but Joanna did.

Matthew did not talk to the angels and find the empty tomb but a whole troop of faithful women did.

Paul was nowhere to be found.

It was the WOMEN who preached, who announced, the resurrection, to the apostles themselves. All four Gospels testify to this but Luke is the one who rubs our noses in it. And while the pagans scoffed, because women supposedly could not be entrusted with such earth shattering authority and news, the writers tell us that Christian faith itself rests upon the Easter morning experience of WOMEN from Galilee.

The end of the Gospel of Luke bears witness to Luke’s inspired understanding of the Hebrew Bible … women, old ones and young ones, will become prophets in the new world along with men. Men and women are equal in the grace saturated new world.

One page away, in Luke’s book, we read this amazing quotation whose emphasis is actually on every page of the Gospel.

I will pour out my Spirit upon ALL flesh,
and your sons and your DAUGHTERS
shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit
and THEY shall prophesy

(Acts 2.17-18 quoting Joel 2.28-32)

This is why Luke goes out of his way to stress “the women” because even two thousand years later some men still hold the same cursed view of women that dominates so much of human relationships. Luke even begins his Gospel this way. The beginning of the Gospel is dominated by a young woman, Mary; an old man Zechariah and Simeon; and old women Elizabeth and Anna. Anna is explicitly called a “prophet.” Luke has been warming us up to Joel 2 from his first word. When the Messiah comes, the Spirit comes. When the Spirit comes, the curse will be reversed.

Jesus in his resurrection brought a redeemed world into existence. The church is supposed to be the first fruits of that redeemed world on display before the fallen world.

Welcome to God’s Brave New World.

See Also

A Biblical Register of Roles God Has Called Women

Women, Caricatures and Lady Wisdom (Thoughts inspired by Daughters)

Women and Didactic Teaching: A Note on 1 Timothy 2.12

20 Apr 2023

Psalm 33: Lutes, Temple, Trust & Worship

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Faith, Music, Patternism, Psalms, Worship
Lute on Jerusalem Street

REJOICE in the LORD, O you righteous
Praise befits the upright.
Praise the LORD with the lyre:
make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully on the strings with loud shouts.”
(Psalm 33.1-3).

Normally I’m pretty much finished with my sermon by Wednesday. This week however I am still struggling with our text for Sunday, Psalm 33. It is a magnificent Psalm dominated by the Hesed of Yahweh, the faithfulness of Yahweh (the basis of our “new song”), and our response of trust in God’s name and hope in God’s Hesed (vv. 5,18, 21). It is no wonder that Rabbi Saul of Tarsus can tell the Gentile readers of the Letter to the Romans that salvation has always been by grace through faith, it is all over the Psalms. As it is brilliantly on display in Psalm 33.

But it is the opening that has been intriguing me all week. Psalm 33 begins with five imperatives to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel. The five imperatives are:

1) Rejoice (v.1)

2) Praise him with the “lyre” (v.2)

3) Make melody with the ten stringed “nebel” (v.2b)

4) Sing (v.3a)

5) Play (v.3b)

David Mitchell, a Hebrew scholar and archeomusicologist, devotes a whole chapter to the instruments in the Psalter in his book The Songs of Ascent: Psalms 120 to 134 in the Worship of Jerusalem’s Temples. This “nebel” is sometimes translated as “harp” (NRSV). But it is sometimes translated as “lute.” It is interesting that “nebel” also is used for a bag that holds wine, a wineskin. So a good number of experts believe (with iconographic evidence) that this instrument is in fact closer to what we call a lute than a harp. It has that bulbous resonating end that the ten strings are over. It is sort of like a guitar.

Egyptian Musician playing a Lute

When we look at the Greek in the Septuagint for Psalm 33 (32 in the LXX) we find the 2nd Person Aorist Imperative (it is active and plural) ψάλατε in v.3 This is the very term used by Rabbi Paul in Ephesians 5.19, ψάλλω. We are to “sing” (ᾄσατε) and to ψάλατε with that ten stringed lute. The term is used in v.2, ψάλατε αὐτῷ. We play/strum/make melody to him.

The Psalmist, and I assume the Holy Spirit if we believe in inspiration (and Jesus if we believe the Hebrews Writer), believes it is possible to actually praise/worship God with the lyre (v.2a, NRSV). Indeed it is an “imperative.”

It would seem also that the Psalmist/Holy Spirit/Jesus sees no conflict between the imperative to rejoice, the imperative to praise with lyre, the imperative to strum the ten string lute (skillfully!), and the imperative to sing, and the imperative to play. These all reflect the same reality. They all are expressions of giving worship to the God of Israel. They are all worship. All of these imperatives flow into the creation of the “new song” that is delving deep into Yahweh’s Hesed as our hope and exhorting us to “trust/have faith in” Yahweh’s “holy name” (v.21). In context, it would seem that Psalm 33 is itself the “new song” that is enthusiastically offered to glory of God on the strings of the harp and lute.

Sacrifices were almost always eaten by the worshipers. Only a small portion was literally burned on the altar. Most of the sacrifice was eaten in a shared meal between the worshipers and God. The sacrifices represent a table where Yahweh and the Gathered People eat and drink in God’s Presence (as we see in Exodus 24.9-11). It is a profound moment of communion/fellowship with the God of Israel. This sacrificial meal is surrounded by singing and music in the Bible.

The music of the Psalms, it seems to me, share in the cosmic dimension of the Temple. The space of the Temple mysteriously merges into God’s heavenly abode and they are joined in the Temple, at the Table, in the singing and the playing. Our communing, our singing, even our playing merges into and joins that of the heavenly host and of all the creatures and creation of God. That is our worship joins hands in fellowship with the heavenly host that is already in worship. What we do here in worship reflects what is done in heaven (i.e. the realm of God). In fact, the Temple is heaven on earth and when we enter the Temple we are mysteriously entering into the abode of God.

Is this not what we see in Hebrews (12.22-24) and the Revelation of John? Note this language in light of Psalm 33.1-3.

But you have come [perfect tense] to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angles in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new/renewed covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrew 12.22-24).

And the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders …” (14.2-3)

standing besides the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the Song of Moses, the servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb …” (15.2-3)

Sounds an awful lot like what the Psalmist in Psalm 33 is saying to the People of God.

The “harps of God,” as John calls pull us into deep worship of the God who is all faithful and full of Hesed as Psalm 33 declares. We return our gratitude by trusting in Yahweh’s holy name, hoping in God’s never exhausted Hesed, and by singing a new song with all of heaven and earth … with everything we have. Maybe even Lutes.

Further Reading

For an exegesis of Hebrew 12 see John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, Johnny Melton, A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Divine Encounter (pp. 139-143).

Jesus of Nazareth, the Psalms, and Instruments

Israel, David, Music: Caricatures, Misrepresentations and Unity

What are the Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs of Ephesians 5.19?

Psalms and the Temple: What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced

To fulfill some requests, I am placing this video here to make the content available to those who desire. During Coronacation, I took care of speaking engagements via Zoom rather than travel. What follows is the material for one such occasion. I have been reading, writing and presenting on the Apocrypha (aka “Middle Testament”) for a long time. These books have always been held to be more than just “mere” books even by those who did not consider them canonical. I hope you will be informed and blessed. There is a correction to be made. My brain froze on the “Meaningful Text – 3” slide. I lost my train of thought. But I said the photo was Tyndale. It is not. It is Wisdom in the Gutenberg Bible. Tyndale did not finish the OT before he died. He included several translations from Sirach and other “Apocryphal” writings at the end of his NT in a section called “Epistles from the Old Testament” to be used for various days. I apologize for the confusion. But with that I invite you to spend about 50 minutes covering a lot of ground on a fascinating and even important subject.