Friday, June 12, 2009

A Psalmic Reflection

Since discovering the Genevan Psalter, I went ahead and burnt all 150 psalms to four CDs and have been making my way through them while I drive. It's been great. There are lots of things about the experience that could be commented on, but the one thing that I keep noticing is this: The Psalms are thoroughly militaristic.

Now, I never noticed this about the biblical psalmody before, and this is mostly for two reasons: 1) I've never straight read through the book of Psalms, and 2) I've never just listened to the Psalms. But doing this, I find there's a lot I've been missing out on, not least about the nature of Hebrew worship. Given that the Psalms more or less represent the Jewish hymnal, and comparing the trends of their hymnody to much of what passes for Christian worship songs presently, I see a significant difference between the two. Where as many "spiritual songs" bask in the existential experience of salvation, meditating deeply on the soul-penetrating effects of being forgiven, the songs written in Scripture are shot through instead with themes of warfare. (I finally understand what is implied by the slogan "Worship is Warfare" - much more, I see how biblical it is, too. Also, it makes far more sense to describe the temporal/visible Church as "the church militant.")

Now, seeing this, I have to wonder about the silliness involved in questioning whether or not it is right to sing "imprecatory" psalms - that is, Psalms which call for God to justly inflict harm on our enemies. Christians certainly have a responsibility to explain how this relates to the call to "love our enemies," but if one takes this to mean that we no longer should sing imprecatory psalms, then it's really not a stretch to say that Christians shouldn't sing any of the Psalms. 'Cause honestly, I don't think I've found a Psalm yet that doesn't have at least some level of imprecation involved. They may not each talk about dashing the heads of infants on the rocks (Psalm cxxxvii), but almost every Psalm I've been listening to has brought to worship the matter of "enemies" and "evildoers" and "the wicked" who are constantly posing a threat to the righteous. Even psalms that don't explicitly use such words can be easily read in light of the context of all the others.

So, the Book of Psalms is a collection of Hebrew War Poetry. Enlightening stuff, this.

P.S. This is why the "Lord's Day" is the "Day of the Lord."