Monday, May 1, 2017


76°F 92%, wind's blowing a gale up here at 7H, may be rain later this promising busy Monday, but different tasks. Returning from my January/February sabbatical, I did not resume the early in the week task of drafting our worship booklet for ten-thirty Sunday morning. Honestly, the years I did that (to help us get started using an easy booklet instead of confusingly and awkwardly juggling bulletin, prayer book and hymnal), I never knew whether I was helpful or an obstacle to the week’s administrative routine, and who I asked was too kind to say; but when I was doing it I paid close attention to all four lectionary lessons for each upcoming Sunday. March and April out of the bulletin preparation routine, I no longer necessarily read the Sunday lessons until Saturday preparation for Sunday School. So, all last week it escaped me that yesterday we would be reading Psalm 116, which has the verse (13 below*), “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants.” 

It was discomfiting to read this doubtful verse in church yesterday.

These startling, puzzling, potentially distressing words, translated the same in both the Mechon-Mamre** 
יָקָר, בְּעֵינֵי יְהוָה -- הַמָּוְתָה, לַחֲסִידָיו
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.

and in the Septuagint
τίμιος ἐναντίον Κυρίου ὁ θάνατος τῶν ὁσίων αὐτοῦ. 
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.

seem shockingly foreign to everything we want to believe about the God of Israel. In fact, a footnote in my NRSV study bible says “the idea expressed in this rendition is alien to the Israelite faith.” Whatever could this verse mean, what was the psalmist thinking, surely not the way it comes across to us? Psalm 116 is even offered in the BCP as one of the psalms to read in our liturgy for The Burial of the Dead (BCP 478, 495) but omitting the here subject verse.

Why so startling and tentatively even hurtful a verse, and in this Hebrew poem giving thanks to God for deliverance from a potentially terminal illness? I do not have an answer, and I don’t know about my seminary book that’s a commentary on the psalms, resting on a bookshelf in my office (I meant to bring it home, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow). What I do know is that, twenty five or thirty years ago, puzzled by this verse, I looked through various English bible translations, and found a consoling one. In the Good News Translation, “How painful it is to the Lord when one of his people dies!” A sentiment that well and better suits our hope for the God of our salvation. But I may like best this understanding, use and comment on the verse by a seminary Old Testament professor and scholar

Psalm 116    Dilexi, quoniam

1 I love the LORD, because he has heard the voice of
    my supplication, *
 because he has inclined his ear to me whenever
    I called upon him. 
2 The cords of death entangled me;
the grip of the grave took hold of me; *
    I came to grief and sorrow.
3 Then I called upon the Name of the LORD: *
    "O LORD, I pray you, save my life."
4 Gracious is the LORD and righteous; *
    our God is full of compassion. 
5 The LORD watches over the innocent; *
    I was brought very low, and he helped me.
6 Turn again to your rest, O my soul. *
    for the LORD has treated you well.
7 For you have rescued my life from death, *
    my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling.
8 I will walk in the presence of the LORD *
    in the land of the living. 
9 I believed, even when I said,
"I have been brought very low." *
    In my distress I said, "No one can be trusted."
10 How shall I repay the LORD *
    for all the good things he has done for me? 
11 I will lift up the cup of salvation *
    and call upon the Name of the LORD
12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
    in the presence of all his people.
13 Precious in the sight of the LORD *
    is the death of his servants.
14 O LORD, I am your servant; *
    I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;
    you have freed me from my bonds.
15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving *
    and call upon the Name of the LORD.
16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD *
    in the presence of all his people,
17 In the courts of the LORD'S house, *
    in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

We may have rain this morning.

  • Psalm versification and even psalm numbers vary from translation to translation, for example, in the BCP this verse is number 13, in the NRSV it’s verse number 15; in the LXX this is Psalm 115, verse 6. 

** A Hebrew - English Bible According to the Masoretic Text and the JPS 1917 Edition, online 

Various art, pinched online.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.