Reading the Psalms

Reading the Psalms is an interesting experience on a variety of levels.  There are any number of translations out there to start with.  But then there are complexities and levels of meaning that are both stated and unstated.  There are motives, thoughts, and psychology that often goes completely unnoticed.  Take an example from Psalm 37 (Office of Readings Wednesday Week 2 of the Psalter).

from Psalm 37

Do not fret because of the wicked;
do not envy those who do evil:
for they wither quickly like the grass
and fade like the green of the fields.

If you trust in the Lord and do good,
then you will live in the land and be secure.
If you find your delight inthe Lord,
he will grant your heart's desire.
So, first we're given the difficult instruction--don't even those who prosper because of the evil that they do.  When one is living in less that prosperity, when one can see 70 Billion dollar bonus pools for executives who have plunged us into some of the bleakest days since the 1940s, it is difficult not to envy those who prosper while doing that which harms the rest of us.  But notice, we're told that "they will wither quickly like the grass."  What remains unsaid, is that so will those of us who did nothing wicked.  Right now, the psalmist is in the mode of consolation, serenity in times of trouble--right now we don't want to deal with the troublesome reality that death comes for all in the end.  However, there is another way in which the words can be read that amplifies the intent of the psalmist--every action for evil that we indulge in, every step we take away from what we should be doing diminishes us.  This is a message that while derived from a spiritual source transcends the spiritual realm into the realm of wisdom.  Even one who does not believe in God who acts against one's convictions, wherever they may stem from, in some sense is diminished by that choice--they become less than they potentially could be.  They fade rapidly.  They are no longer those who are worthy of admiration except by the envious who then wish to emulate them.  Hence, the beginning--do not envy them.  The implicit warning--you will become like them.  And if one's desires are not in accord with natural law, which, among other things, recognizes the dignity and importance of others, then every step will result in a diminishment.

The second stanza also admits of much parsing and understanding even in ways that would be amiable to the atheist if we take a broad construction of "the Lord."  (Just to make it clear where I stand, I do not read it so broadly.)  Again if we take "the Lord" to include those natural goods used proportionately and appropriately--say hiking along a mountain trail, a trip to the beach, good food shared with friends or those in need, etc.  We can see that when we delight in doing what is good not only for us (delight in the Lord), then we will prosper and flourish by any measurement that matters.  Wisdom books, into which the psalms falls, do not depend entirely on the spiritual authority of the faith from which they derive to serve as good guidelines for living.  Envy serves no one and nothing but itself.  Living openly and without envy--serving others, "delighting the Lord" in treating His creation with the attitude of stewards and not dominators, these things can help us all live well and really live--one's life is not diminished but enhanced by these things that draw one out of oneself and into concerns that transcend--or in the case of my belief, into the arms of the Lord Himself.


  1. have you read Psalms Code?

    download it in full and for free at:


  2. Dear Anonymous,

    Thank you for the tip.




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