Bible: Overflowing pastures, joyful hills

January 15 — Psalm 65

Jan 2, 2017 by

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No doubt some Sunday school attenders will brave ice or snow in order to discuss Psalm 65, where “valleys deck themselves with grain”! This should remind us that other Christians reading this lesson may be living in South America, Australia, southern Africa or many other places where “the pastures of the wilderness overflow [and] the hills gird themselves with joy.”

Reta Halteman Finger

Finger

Although the content and structure of this psalm are similar to the previous two in this unit, we notice two differences. First, all of Psalm 65 is directed to God, who is addressed in the second person: you. “Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion.” In contrast, both Psalm 33 and 96 are written in the third person — about God. Israelites are called to “rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous” (Psalm 33:1).

I am more drawn to the song that speaks to God directly, although imagining myself in a crowd of worshipers ascending the hill of Zion does have its communal attractions.

But in neither example does God speak, in contrast to narrative literature like Genesis, or especially in legal or prophetic material: “Thus says the Lord!” Does that make the psalms any less divinely inspired? No, but we should ponder how our canonical texts blend the human and divine in seamless union.

The second difference in Psalm 65 is that a preceding line calls it “a Psalm of David.” This was added later and is not part of the original text. Though many psalms are attributed to King David, he likely did not write most of them. For example, verse 4 refers to “your [God’s] holy temple.” The first temple in Jerusalem was built after David’s death, by his son Solomon, so David could not have written that line — or many others in the psalms that refer to the temple.

David was originally a singer and musician who was hired as a youth to play the lyre to soothe King Saul (1 Sam. 16:14-23). Thus many musical poems in the psalter became associated with David, just as Proverbs and other wisdom writings were associated with King Solomon, reputed to be the wisest man in the kingdom.

Psalm 65 is classified as a Thanksgiving psalm, making it slightly different from the previous two psalms in our unit — 33 and 96 — which are songs of praise. This may explain why it addresses God as “you,” in the second person. The poetry is exquisite, the word pictures evocative. If possible, read or sing this psalm outside an urban area — on a walk in the woods or over meadows and through fields, or while watching the sun set.

As mentioned in the previous examples, Psalm 65 contains mostly synonymous parallelism, where the second line repeats, intensifies or further describes the meaning of the first. For example, verse 11:

You crown the year with your
bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with
richness.

Sometimes extra imagery is used, as in verse 8:

Those who live at earth’s farthest
bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the
morning and the evening shout
for joy.

No matter where you live, take time this January to take a walk in God’s world, no matter the weather. If it’s cold where you live, marvel at the changing seasons and what is still going on underground in tree roots or in hibernating burrows, which will spring to life before long. If it’s warm and fertile, reread verse 12, with its overflowing pastures and joyful hills. All of us can rejoice in verse 5: “O God of our salvation, you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”

Reta Halteman Finger is retired from Messiah College, teaches Bible part-time at Eastern Mennonite University and has written Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts.


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