11 Aug 2018

Psalm 92: Sabbath Psalm, Beginning and Ending in Divine Love

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Christian hope, eschatology, Exegesis, Faith, Grace, Heaven, Hebrew Bible, Hebrews, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Psalms, Revelation, Sabbath, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

Orientation to Sabbath in Psalm 92

We continue our series on the Psalms of Week.  In this blog we examine the psalm sung in the Temple, and meditated on by all pious Jews, on the Sabbath. Psalm 92.

Christians in general, Evangelicals/Restorationists in particular, have often suffered from prejudicial views regarding “Sabbath.” These prejudices are rooted in centuries of caricature following the biblical period but have virtually nothing to do with what either the Hebrew Bible, or “New Testament,” teaches about the meaning of the Sabbath day. Sabbath is equated with all manner of supposed Old Testament legalisms that, “thank God Jesus nailed to the cross!” But we need to be careful not to project things into the Bible but rather we need to read things out of the Bible that are actually there.

Psalm 92, what the Prophet Anna, Mary, Jesus, Paul, the Hebrews Preacher and Jews in general sang every Saturday, gives us in a nutshell what shabbat is all about. The themes are:

1) Thanksgiving
2) Celebration of God’s creation
3) Exaltation of Yahweh’s steadfast love/HESED
4) God defeats the enemies
5) God’s people flourish in his Presence

These themes are the heartbeat of Sabbath as experienced by Jews in Jesus’s day. Sabbath has two poles in the Bible: In Love (Hesed) God created the good and beautiful world and In Love (Hesed) Yahweh redeemed us from certain death in slavery. The North Pole of Creation is found in Genesis 2.1-3 and Exodus 20.8-11. The South Pole is found in Deuteronomy 5.12-15. Every text on the Sabbath in the Bible is on the spectrum between these two poles.

North Pole = In Love (Hesed) God Created

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy … For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20.7-11)

South Pole = In Love (Hesed) Yahweh Redeemed

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy … Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5.12-15)

Basking in Love (Hesed) that Creates 

Psalm 92 brings the pilgrim in the Temple, or the faithful Jew in the synagogue in Galilee or Diaspora, to the themes listed above. The Psalm is divided in three “stanzas” which consist of essentially verses 1-4; verses 5-9; and verses 10-15.

The psalm opens with confession that evokes creation in Genesis 1 (sabbath itself evokes creation). The confession is that it is “good” to praise or give thanksgiving. The word “good” could mean “rightness” or “appropriate.” But in this context the word seems to mean “it is pleasant” or “it feels good” as in Psalm 147.1. Of course this may be a false dichotomy. But on the Sabbath day, Israel (and all biblical readers) are reminded that, in light of what God has done, it is pure joy to praise the Lord. Joy is the characteristic “mood” of sabbath observance in all Jewish places of civilization. The joy factor of Sabbath should dispel any false notions of “legalism” that modern disciples project upon the day.

To praise Yahweh is to brag about and exalt his Hesed, God’s steadfast love. Israel believed, correctly, that Yahweh did not create the world merely because he was powerful enough to do it. God created because of steadfast love/Hesed. Psalm 136.1-9 thunders over and over (9x in 9 verses) that each act of creation was Hesed.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his hesed endures forever … (3x)
Who alone does great wonders,
for his hesed endures forever;
who by his wisdom made the heavens,
for his hesed endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his hesed endures forever;
who made the great light
for his hesed endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his hesed endures forever;
the moon and the stars to rule the night,
for his hesed endures forever.
(Psalm 136.1-9)

The Lyre of Megiddo unearthed in Israel dates to the age of King David. After years of studying the instrument, ancient music scholar, Peter Pringle reconstructed an exact replica. We can now listen to the music of the ten stringed lyre and enjoy its beauty as did David and the Lord.

So on Saturday’s, even today, it is “good” to talk up the love of God that surrounds us and gives us our very existence in Creation itself. When we see the flowers, we see God’s love. When we see the bees, we see God’s love. When we see the sun, the moon, the stars, we see God’s love. When we see people created in God’s image, we see God’s love.  Indeed, when we are out under the zenith of the night sky, it is then we have some inkling of the infinite vastness of the hesed of God proclaimed in creation (cf. Psalm 103.11-12). God is the Master Artisan and creation is the “works of your hands,” (92.4) which cause God’s people to sing for joy. Beauty elicits awe, joy and praise.

So much joy in fact that God’s people grabbed lute’s, the ten-stringed harps and lyre’s they burst into praise. In fact they literally “play to your name, Most High” (92.2). (In the Septuagint of 92.2 we have the word psallo that Paul uses in Ephesians 5.19). Sabbath reminds us on a weekly basis of God’s infinite Hesed that Yahweh chose to create the whole cosmos (and us along with it) because God is Hesed. No wonder the joy flows on the Sabbath day in Scripture.

Enemies of God, the Joyless Ones

In Psalm 92.8-9 there is a sudden shift. God’s people celebrate God, God’s love, and are in awe of God’s “works” in creation. On this day recalling the goodness of creation from the Master Artisan, the joyful refrain rises

how great are your works,
O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!
” (v.5).

But the enemies of God, called “brutish” or “only someone who is a beast” or even “stupid” (NRSV)  are not in awe and refuse to join in the praise of Yahweh. These people, contrary to God’s redeemed people, fail to have eyes to see and ears to hear (note the contrast in v.11). These blind people, in a manner reminiscent of Psalm 1, are fast growing and temporary like grass or weeds. They pass quickly. Often their only legacy in the world is the suffering they have left behind.

It is sad testimony indeed that we find Christians even today who are not enchanted by the created world that surrounds us. They view the world through utilitarian rather than doxological eyes. Psalm 92, meditated on the Sabbath day, inoculated God’s people from such astigmatism. Every Sabbath Psalm 92 corrected the vision of God’s people. No wonder Jesus talked about birds and flowers for he too sang Psalm 92 every Sabbath.

The Righteous, Those who Love God’s Works and Deeds

In Psalm 92.12-15 we encounter those who see God’s glory in creation and who praise with gusto, Yahweh’s love (one can not overemphasize God’s love/Hesed).

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no
unrighteousness in him.”

Date Palms in Israel. They grow to be 80 ft and can live between 200-300 yrs

Here we find images of the Temple itself in which Psalm 92 was sung every week. These are the “righteous.” Righteous does not, either here nor anywhere else, in the Hebrew Bible mean sinless. It is not a claim to perfection (cf. Ps 119. 1, 176). It is simply a claim of love (I love you God) and a claim of faithfulness (I will serve you God). It is a relationship term. Husbands and wives, by the millions, can be (and are) faithful without being either perfect or flawless.

The righteous, those delighting in the joyful praise of God’s works and love/Hesed are quite different from the brutish naysayers in verses 6-9. Again reminiscent of Psalm 1, they are like trees. The trees here are the date palm and the cedars of Lebanon. Date palms grow 70 to 80 feet and live over 200 years. While the cedars of Lebanon grow over 115ft in height but whose trunks range from 39 to nearly 50 ft in diameter and still produce fruit at estimated ages of 3000 years. God’s people remain vital “forever” essentially.

The image of the tree planted in the Temple also evokes creation, even the Garden of Eden. Humans lived in God’s presence in the Garden. Note all the trees and flowers carved into the sanctuary of the temple (1 Kgs 6.29-36). Those lost in the wondrous praise of God for his Sabbath work, are brought back to the Garden, living in the very Presence of God like the original Humans.

Thus Psalm 92 reminds God’s people of God’s love/Hesed shown in creation but, on the Sabbath day, draws them, like Adam and Eve, back into the very Presence of God.  It is reminding us where we came from and pointing to where we are going. That is both the hope and the prayer of God’s people.

The Sabbath Psalm in the New Testament 

In the New Testament, the Hebrews Preacher does not disparage the Sabbath. It is a serious misreading of Hebrews when we imagine the Preacher saying anything negative about Sabbath. Rather “sabbath rest” remains for God’s people (Hebrews 4.1-13).

The Hebrews Preacher imparts a theology that is very much in line with the outlook of Psalm 92, the “eschatological” dimension. The goal of the Sabbath has not yet been reached. It will be reached when God’s people are planted like trees in the very Presence of God. So the Preacher says Sabbath rest is something even Jesus Followers even now anticipate and look forward to. This is both future for the congregation in Hebrews 4 and for ourselves. It is something we look forward to: Sabbath in the Presence of God. We long for the world that shabbat reminds us of: a world of joy, a world of faithfulness, a world of filled with love. Sabbath points to the world to come.

Cedars of Lebanon can be over 45 ft in diameter and over 3000 years. And still bear fruit.

Finally in the last book of the New Testament we find, interestingly, the saints in God’s Presence grab their harps as they are about to sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb, and the first line is a word for word quotation from Psalm 92.5,

Great and amazing are your works …” (Rev 15.3)

This statement follows the description John sees of the saints with “harps in their hands” which is the previous verse in Psalm 92, of making music to the name with the ten stringed harp and lyre (92.3). The righteous are indeed in the Presence of the Lord singing with bursts of joyful song. The Sabbath Psalm has been incorporated into John’s vision as if to say, what we have been singing for centuries has come to pass! John certainly seems to believe that Psalm 92 speaks of Christian hope.

Final Thoughts

Psalm 92 is a wonderful text. Jesus sang it regularly. It reminds us, with it being assigned to the Sabbath, not only where the world came from (the hesed/love of God) but also points to where the world is going. Psalm 92, meditated upon on the Sabbath day, tells us God is restoring his communion with creation and we will live with him in his Presence.

Now a word to potential critics. This post does not advocate or bind a literal observance of the Sabbath on anyone. All are free to do so if they choose, however (Romans 14). Paul and the Jerusalem Church continued to honor the Sabbath day as Acts makes abundantly clear.

This post is simply a look at Psalm 92 and reminds us of what the Bible teaches about the meaning of Shabbat. That meaning is important to the whole Bible and it behooves us to grasp its significance.  And we need to recognize that the NT teaches that the Sabbath rest is the hope for all God’s People even today.

Living in the Presence of God.

Meditating on Psalm 92 on the Sabbath reminds that everything begins in and will end in divine love/Hesed. I think we all need to be reminded of these things regularly.

Why not read Psalm 92 today … and every Saturday/Sabbath.


One Response to “Psalm 92: Sabbath Psalm, Beginning and Ending in Divine Love”

  1. Dwight Says:

    Yes, I don’t think we today understand how Holy the Sabbath was to the Jews and what made it Holy. It was a time of reflection and rest. They would have at that time a chance to slow down and concentrate on God and their family and their friends.
    According to the early writings even the saints did the Sabbath, followed by the Lord’s Supper into the second and third century. It wasn’t until Sunday was ordained the Christian Sabbath, that the saints stopped doing the Sabbath.

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