Groseclose Studies the Hallel Psalms

Win Groseclose. 2015. The Egyptian Hallel Psalms: An Exposition of Psalms 113-118—Observations: Practical, Exegetical, and Theological. New Sewickley Township, PA

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Passover, the Egyptian Hallel Psalms are sung before (Ps 113-114) and after (Ps 115-118) the Passover meal. This implies that hymns sung after the Last Supper, as recorded in Matthew 26:30, were likely Psalms 115-118 (1).In his commentary, The Egyptian Hallel Psalms,Win Groseclose cites these objectives:

“My hope, as you reflect upon these psalms is that they encourage you in your worship life, but that they cause you to think and reflect upon how you can live out your praise and worship of our God in a way that draws outsiders into worship alongside of you.”(2)

The purpose of an expository commentary is more generally to describe and explain the passages under review.

Background and Organization 

Win Groseclose is the Senior Pastor, St. John’s (Burry’s) United Evangelical Protestant Church, Rochester, PA, an Adjunct Professor of Theology, International Theological Seminary of Donetsk, Ukraine, and graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.[1]He writes in these chapters:

  1. Praise Yahweh, You Servants of Yahweh (Psalm 113)
  2. When the Mountains Leapt (Psalm 114)
  3. Glory in God Alone (Psalm 115)
  4. For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (Psalm 116)
  5. Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (Hymn)
  6. The Nations Should Praise (Psalm 117)
  7. For He is Good (Psalm 118) (vii)

The first chapter is preceded by an introduction. Because Grosdeclose organizes his book around the Psalms, let me sample two of them, Psalms 113 and 116, as examples.

Psalm 113

Grosdeclose’s exposition organizes his comments primarily verse by verse following his own translation of the Hebrew.  For example, in verse 1 we read:

“Praise Yahweh, praise him you servants of Yahweh! Praise the name of Yahweh.”(Ps 113:1, Grosdeclose’s translation)

“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD!”(Ps 113:1 ESV)

“αλληλουια αἰνεῖτε παῖδες κύριον αἰνεῖτε τὸ ὄνομα κυρίου”(Ps 112:1 BGT)

‎הַ֥לְלוּיָ֙הּ׀הַ֭לְלוּעַבְדֵ֣ייְהוָ֑ההַֽ֜לְלוּאֶת־שֵׁ֥םיְהוָֽה (Ps 113:1 WTT)

For purposes of exposition, I have cited Grosdeclose’s translation along with the English Standard Version, the Greek Septuagint (BGT), and the original Hebrew (WTT). Several observations can be made:

Grosdeclose uses God’s covenant name, Yahweh (יְהוָ֑ה), while normally Jewish tradition substitutes the word, Lord. Yahweh is too sacred in Jewish tradition to use outside of a worship context. Most translations, starting with the Greek, use the word, Lord (κυρίου). 

In his discussion of verse 2 (6), he notes the focus on the sacredness of the name and relates it back to the Second Commandments:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.“(Exod 20:7 ESV)

We see an echo of concern about the name in Philippians 2:9 (7).

In his discussion of verse 3, he relates the phrase—“From the rising of the sun to its setting”—to Joshua 1:8: 

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.”  (Jos 1:8 ESV)

Grosdeclose, like the Psalmist, is clearly interested in the Law of Moses and its careful study. We note that veneration of the name (of God) is a theme in all three of these verses. We also observe that the Greek Septuagint (the first translation of the Old Testament that took place in 200 BC) frequently organizes these verses differently than the Hebrew—in this case, verse one of Psalm 113 is found in a different chapter in the Greek. 

Psalm 116

Grosdeclose observes that the Hallel Psalms frequently appear in the hymns. In this case, he finds a parallel with the hymn, O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing, written by Charles Wesley. Wesley’soriginal edition had noneteen stanzas, just like Psalm 116 and with a similar theme—Thanksgiving. Grosdeclose is so impressed with this hymn that he devotes an entire chapter to reviewing it.

Grosdeclose’s attention to translation shows up again in verse where he depresses theologically from common translations:

“I have loved because Yahweh will hear; my prayer of supplication.”(Ps 116:1, Grosdeclose’s translation)

“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.”(Ps 116:1 ESV)

“αλληλουια ἠγάπησα ὅτι εἰσακούσεται κύριος τῆς φωνῆς τῆς δεήσεώς μου.”(Ps 114:1 BGT)

‎אָ֭הַבְתִּיכִּֽי־יִשְׁמַ֥ע׀יְהוָ֑האֶת־ק֜וֹלִ֗יתַּחֲנוּנָֽי  (Ps 116:1 WTT)

Again, we observe Grosdeclose sticking closely to the exact wording of the Hebrew. The key phrase is: I have loved because. I have loved is one word in the Hebrew (אָ֭הַבְתִּי) followed by the word because (כִּֽי). The Greek (and the Vulgate) agrees on this point, but also adds the word hallelujah (αλληλουια). 

The English Standard Version and most other translations insert a reference to God, presumably because the parallel cited in verse 2. The parallel mimics only the phrase starting with because. Thus, Grosdeclose’s New Testament cite—

“We love because he first loved us.”(1 John 4:19 ESV)

–seems like a direct quote of Psalm 116 verse 1.

Assessment

Win Groseclose’s book, The Egyptian Hallel Psalms, is an interesting exposition of

Psalms 113 through Psalm 118 with special attention to the translation from Hebrew. It is interesting both to those looking for a devotional reflection on these psalms and those interested in underlying translation issues.


[1]https://preacherwin.com.

Groseclose Studies the Hallel Psalms

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019b

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Presuppositional Ethics

 

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Much of our ethical training is unconsciously absorbed from our surroundings at home, in church, and in society. Even when we are given formal ethics training in our offices, it typically focuses on the minimum legal requirement for the office to escape legal liability under specific rules, regulations, or laws. The real business of ethical behavior is seldom discussed, taught, or even codified. Even the Christian faith itself is more caught than taught, as an old saw goes. In philosophy, this implicit knowledge is referred to as a presupposition.

Most of the time in philosophy and theology, we assume a cognitive approach to learning. The presumption is that human being are essentially rational and that faith itself is a rational undertaking. The Bible suggests, however, that this cognitive approach has two important limitations when we discuss ethics and faith.

Creation Influences Thought

The first limitation arises because we are created, male and female, in the image of a triune God. Being created to live and reproduce in families implies that we experience the world in community. Much as we want our independence, our thoughts, feelings, and language are not entirely our own.

Being created in the image of a triune God reinforces a focus on community. The Bible portrays God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—a complete community in the godhead, as Jesus references after the Last Super: “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26) In imaging a triune God, we image a community, something we can neither fully embody nor understand. By contrast, a unitary god is fixed, stable, and offers mostly an opportunity for self-projection, where a triune God is dynamic, engaging, and alive.

In particular, the language we speak shapes our perceptions of reality in fundamental ways, not the least of which is that it reflects the culture we live and worship in. Our attitudes about gender, work, faith, and many other things are embedded in the words that we use and do not use. We are not alone in this world even in our own thoughts and feelings—we carry our community with us wherever we go.

The Hebrew Heart

The second limitation of the cognitive approach arises out of who we are. The Hebrew mindset assumed in the New Testament saw mind and body as different parts of a unified whole, whose center is the heart (cardia) while the Greeks distinguished mind and body as separate. Confusion arises when we assume incorrectly that the New Testament sees the heart as a body part and we treat heart and mind as separated, like the Greeks and most secular people.

This confusion implies that the cognitive approach cannot fully inform our faith because it is based on faulty Greek anthropology. As theologian James K.A. Smith (2016, 2) writes:

Jesus is a teacher who doesn’t inform our intellect but forms our very loves…His teaching doesn’t just touch the calm, cool, collected space of reflection and contemplation, he is a teacher who invades the heated, passionate regions of the heart. He is the Word who penetrates even dividing the soul and spirit; he judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12)

Inherent in this statement is the Hebrew view of anthropology cited above—note the two references to heart. What Greek would talk about “the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”? Drawing attention to this anthropology, Smith (2016, 5) asks: “Do you ever experience a gap between what you know and what you do?” If he had the rational mind in view, no such gap would exist but, of course, we all experience this gap.

This line of thought leads Smith (2016, 7) to observe: “what if you are defined not by what you know [the mind] but by what you desire? [the heart]” If our desires are reflected more in our actions than in our words, then this Hebrew anthropology leads us immediately into an inconvenient, but vital, discussion of ethics because our hearts are not lily-white clean as our words. It also forces us to discuss how we know what we know (the epistemology question) because our hearts are not so easily persuaded to follow even our own thoughts. Suddenly, much of the New Testament language sounds less churchy and more informed by an alternative world view, one decidedly not Greek.

Clearly, we cannot talk about thinking independent of feelings and we cannot think entirely independent of the communities that we reside and worship in. We need to proceed to treat them as interdependent, complicated as that might be. Still, as best we can, we need to understand better how we know what we know before we can even talk about our faith.

Ethical Teaching in the Psalms

An important example of ethics being taught through osmosis is found in the liturgical use of the psalms. Wenham (2012, 1-2) writes:

“It is the ethic taught by the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter, that is the focus of this book. The psalms were sung in the first and second temples, and in the subsequent two millennia they have been reused in the prayers of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church. As we will see, the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.”

Wenham (2012, 7) goes on to explain:

“This book, then, is an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking. I have called it Psalms as Torah out of my conviction that the psalms were and are vehicles not only of worship but also of instruction, which is the fundamental meaning of Torah, otherwise rendered ‘law’. From the very first psalm, the Psalter presents itself as a second Torah, divided into five books like the Pentateuch, and it invited its readers to meditate on them day and night, just as Joshua was told to meditate on the law of Moses (Ps 1.2; Josh 1:8).”

A key insight that Wenham offers is the effect of memorization and putting the Psalms to music on ethical teaching. In my own case, I can remember memorizing Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 many times through the years, even in different languages, and I prayed Psalm 8 daily as a centering prayer for about 10 years. I used to joke, be careful what songs you sing because once you get Alzheimer’s, they are the last thing that you forget—you don’t want to leave this world singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jiggle!

Wenham notes that many Psalms are written in the first person. Repeating such psalms in prayer or song accordingly is like repeating a vow before God, yourself, and others. He writes:

“If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action.” (Wenham 2012, 57)

Because many of us grew up singing hymns and liturgy inspired by Psalms, this tradition helped insulate us from less reflective and negative influences that seem so pervasive today—it’s not just the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials.

References

Smith, James K. A. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

Wenham, Gordon J. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Presuppositional Ethics

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

Continue Reading

Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms, Part 1

Gordon J. Wenham. 2012. Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you have ever thought of the Psalms as mysterious, you are not alone. The structure and the content of the Psalms can mystify. While no one would quibble over the majesty of passages like:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”(Ps 19:1-2 ESV)

But what do you make of:

“O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”(Ps 137:8-9)

Postmodern readers are unlikely to hear such passages advocating child smashing as anything less than praying for God to commit war crimes. So, the Psalms clearly mystify us.

Introduction

Gordon J. Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically sets forth these objectives:

“It is the ethic taught by the liturgy of the Old Testament, the Psalter, that is the focus of this book. The psalms were sung in the first and second temples, and in the subsequent two millennia they have been reused in the prayers of the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church. As we will see, the psalms have much to say about behavior, about what actions please God and what he hates, so that anyone praying them is simultaneously being taught an ethic.”(1-2)

Wenham goes on to explain:

“This book, then, is an attempt to begin to deal with a blind spot in current biblical and theological thinking. I have called it Psalms as Torah out of my conviction that the psalms were and are vehicles not only of worship but also of instruction, which is the fundamental meaning of Torah, otherwise rendered ‘law’. From the very first psalm, the Psalter presents itself as a second Torah, divided into five books like the Pentateuch, and it invited its readers to meditate on them day and night, just as Joshua was told to meditate on the law of Moses (Ps 1.2; Josh 1:8).” (7)

This relationship between the Psalms and the Pentateuch proved interesting to me and motivated my purchase of this book.[1] 

Background and Organization

Gordon J. Wenham studied Old Testament (OT) at Cambridge University and has worked also at King’s College London, Harvard University, and in Jerusalem at the Ecole Biblique and the Hebrew University. He is the author of OT commentaries on Genesis, Leviticus, and numbers, and several other theology books.[2]

Wenham writes in ten chapters:

  1. Jewish and Christian Approaches to the Psalms
  2. Critical Approaches to the Psalms
  3. The Psalter as an Anthology to be Memorized
  4. The Unique Claims of Prayed Ethics
  5. The Concept of the Law in the Psalms
  6. Laws in the Psalter
  7. Narrative Law in the Psalter
  8. Virtues and vices in the Psalter
  9. Appeals for Divine Intervention
  10. The Ethic of the Psalms and the New Testament (vii)

These chapters are preceded by several prefaces and an introduction. They are followed by conclusions, a bibliography, and several indices.

Memorizing the Psalms

A key insight that Wenham offers is the effect of memorization and putting the Psalms to music on ethical teaching. In my own case, I can remember memorizing Psalm 23 and Psalm 100 many times through the years, even in different languages, and I prayed Psalm 8 daily as a centering prayer for about 10 years. I used to joke, be careful what songs you sing because once you get Alzheimer’s, they are the last thing that you forget—you don’t want to leave this world singing the Oscar Mayer Wiener jiggle!

Wenham notes that many Psalms are written in the first person. Repeating such psalms in prayer or song accordingly is like repeating a vow before God, yourself, and others. He writes:

“If we praise a certain type of behavior in our prayers, we are telling God that this is how we intend to behave. On the other hand, if in prayer we denounce certain acts and pray for God to punish them, we are in effect inviting God to judge us if we do the same. This makes the ethics of liturgy uniquely powerful. It makes a stronger claim on the believer than either law, wisdom, or story, which are simply subject to passive reception: one can listen to a proverb or a story and then take it or leave it, but if you pray ethically, you commit yourself to a path of action.”(57)

Because many of us grew up singing hymns and liturgy inspired by Psalms, this tradition helped insulate us from less reflective and negative influences that seem so pervasive today—it’s not just the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials.

Assessment

In part 1 of this review, I have given an overview of Wenham’s argument. In part 2, I will look more closely at some of his arguments, especially the innovative form that law takes when presented in the Psalter. I will also go over his view on the precatory psalms, such as Psalm 137 cited above.

Gordon Wenham’s Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically is an unusually clear guide to reading and understanding the Psalms, which should be interesting to any serious believer wanting to deepen their faith. I suspect that scholars will be citing this work for a long time.


[1]In seminary I did word studies in seminary to track this very relationship and found relatively few direct citations of the Ten Commandments or of Moses because some liberal scholars have alleged that the Pentateuch was a later development contrived by Israelite kings, such as David, to invent an ancient history that did not exist. Why? If Moses did not exist, he could not have authored the Pentateuch and various provocative prohibitions. Likewise, the miracles surrounding the creation of Israel, which liberal dispute, could not have been real. 

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Wenham.

Wenham Outlines Law in Psalms

Also see:

Thompson: Paul’s Ethics Forms Community

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2019

Continue Reading