Solomon’s Manifesto

With just 46 days to the 2015 UK parliamentary election, politics and political manifestos and priorities are foremost in many people’s minds.

So I was interested to read Psalm 72, which is described as being “of Solomon”

On the prophetic level this is recognised as a Messianic Psalm, prophesying the reign of Jesus, which forms the basis for the great Advent hymn: Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.

But as this forms the end of Book 2 of the Book of Psalms of David, is it too fanciful to see this as one of the last prayers of David which Solomon adopted as the political manifesto for his reign. The ESV Study Bible seems to think it might.

The title, “of Solomon,” can mean that Solomon was the author (just as “of David” normally means that David wrote the psalm). On the other hand, it could mean that someone (perhaps David) spoke these words of (i.e., about) Solomon, setting out the goal for his reign (and for the reigns of his heirs).

In course of 19 verses we cover the justice system:

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!

a brief outline of benefits system and social policy

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.

Optimistic economic forecasts:

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!

May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!

Expansionist foreign policy:

May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
bring gifts!
May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!

Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!

May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!

Would that ALL political parties would adopt the commitment to justice and fairness outlined here.

There is one section, though, that’s pretty likely to be absent from any of the party manifestos. The section on the spiritual ambitions of the nation:

May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

That’s the only sound basis for any of the other commitments promises and claims, and one that we will look for in vain in the next seven or eight weeks.

may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!

The Bitter made Sweet

Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of a Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” And he cried to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a log, and he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. Exodus 15:22-25

In my Bach Sabbatical studies have been reading a bit recently about Luther’s Hermeneutics of Bible Study.

According to Eric Chafe, Luther believed in the unity of the Old and New Testaments, Christ being the subject of the entire scriptures. He extended this through use of the “analogy of faith” to see in allegory and metaphor for example “comparing the destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem the roles of Law and Gospel in the individual” [1]

Luther’s approach differed little from the Puritans in this regard, and I was reminded of this in the passage from Exodus I read today.

Daniel Whedon, in his commentary on the Bible quotes Luther as follows:

Moses causes man to murmur by the terrors of the law, and thus pains him with bitterness, so that he longs for help; and then, when the Holy Spirit comes, at once it [the law] is made sweet. Now this tree of life is the Gospel, the word of the grace, the mercy, and goodness of God. When the Gospel is plunged into the law, and into the knowledge of sin which the law produces, and when it touches a heart in which the law has caused sadness, anxiety, terror, and confusion, it is at once delightful to the taste. [2]

As a side note, I don’t know whether this precise comment was contained in Bach’s copy of the Calov Bible, which consisted largely of Luther’s comments on scripture, but it seems likely it was and Bach certainly read the biblical passage as he annotated in the margin both before and after. [3]

English authors, among them Matthew Henry, Spurgeon have drawn attention to the allegory of the cross in this passage. Matthew Henry, as always, is worth quoting:

Some make this tree typical of the cross of Christ, which sweetens the bitter waters of affliction to all the faithful, and enables them to rejoice in tribulation. The Jews’ tradition is that the wood of this tree was itself bitter, yet it sweetened the waters of Marah; the bitterness of Christ’s sufferings and death alters the property of ours. [4]

For myself I thought more when I read this of applying God’s Word and promises, and later of the Gospel as Luther does.

Whether the cross, or the gospel or the Word of God, it’s good to see how the Old Testament experiences of the people of Israel can still speak to our situation today.


[1] Chafe, Eric T. (1991). Tonal allegory in the vocal music of J.S. Bach. Berkeley: University of California Press. p.13

[2] Whedon, Daniel. “Commentary on Exodus 15:1″. “Whedon’s Commentary on the Bible”. http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/view.cgi?bk=1&ch=15. 1874-1909

[3] Leaver, R. A. (1985). J.S. Bach and scripture: Glosses from the Calov Bible commentary. St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House. p. 71-73

[4] http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/exodus/15.html, accessed 18/3/2015

Norrington mixes it up

I have to recommend a wonderful concert we went to last night in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  It’s on the iPlayer and well worth a listen.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was conducted by the inspiring if slightly eccentric Sir Roger Norrington and his whole approach left me grinning from ear to ear.  We started with Haydn’s Passione symphony, which he believes was written possibly for use in church. It was a small band with four double basses arranged two on either side, which I have not seen before and Sir Roger in the middle conducting without a baton. I honestly believe the RSNO could have played the whole symphony without a rehearsal, so expressive were Sir Roger’s gestures and so clearly communicating what he wanted, with encouragements and coaxings galore. They responded magnificently.

Next came Mozart’s d minor piano concerto in another unique arrangement, piano in the middle, lid removed, with Lars Vogt facing the orchestra and Sir Roger at the back of the piano facing him and the audience. The woodwind were arranged flute and oboes on the left and bassoons on the right, and the strings turned slightly so they could see the conductor. Not quite sure how the cellos, with their back to Sir Roger, managed.  It was wonderful to see Sir Roger’s expression now, which along with his hands were again drawing out wonderful playing. The piano was a little distant without the added projection from the lid, but all in all it was a fantastic experiment which almost paid off, apart from some issues with wind ensemble, which was hardly surprising given they were separated on opposite sides of the platform and also give the speed of the performance which must be among the fastest on record.

After the interval a more traditional arrangement, with basses along the back Vienna Philharmonic style, delivered another engaging performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

The whole concert left me enthused about the possibilities of new ways of thinking around arranging musicians in different layouts, and the expressive and musical possibilities of gesture, expression and sheer enthusiasm from a man who will be 81 years old in two weeks time.

Love divine, all loves excelling

As a diversion from Bach I was listening yesterday in the car to a lovely album of Purcell from Voces8 – including a beautiful rendition of his song Fairest Isle (words by Dryden) from the semi-opera King Arthur (1691).

I started singing Wesley’s hymn, Love Divine all loves excelling, to the same tune and realised how well it fitted. Consulting Wikipedia I discovered that indeed the hymn was originally written to the tune of that song, using the words of the first stanza as a model for Wesley’s own first verse.

While Dryden had written the following:

Fairest Isle, all isles excelling,
Seat of pleasures, and of loves;
Venus here, will choose her dwelling,
And forsake her Cyprian groves.

Wesley’s is as follows:

Love Divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down,
Fix in us thy humble dwelling,
All thy faithful mercies crown.

What is more the latest Methodist Hymnbook, Hymns and Psalms, contains the hymn set to Purcell’s tune in a version from John Wesley’s Sacred Harmony of 1780.

It’s a haunting melody and wonderful words that ought to be re-united more often, as here.

The Essence of Bach

Part of my Bach musings and reading are seeking to answer the question “How is it that Bach’s music speaks to us so directly in such Spiritual terms today?”  This was a question which was raised at the end of an excellent lecture by Robin Leaver which I watched yesterday entitled “Bach, a preacher?”

http://www.veritas.org/talks/bach-preacher/

The lecture started with a wonderful anecdote from when Robin Leaver was a pastor (his words) in England. He talks about a Polish Biochemist who walked into the service on Sunday as he was preaching. The biochemist was fortunate to have a scholarship to study in the west at a time when this was rare and had sought Leaver out specifically. He had Christian academic friends at Moscow University who were developing an interesting line in evangelism. It was not unusual for students to become disillusioned with communism, and when they did these Christians gave them a cassette tape with extracts of Bach’s music which had spoken to them particularly and simply asked them to listen to it. When they went back to talk to these people the conversation revolved around the basic question “What motivated this man to write this music. What is it about this man that he was moved to created such wonderful music”.

Leaver says this:

The answer was and is that Bach wrote the music self-consciously as a Christian composer and his understanding of the Christian faith is woven into the texture and fabric of his music.

He then goes onto explain how a deep appreciation of both scripture and of the role of law and gospel in the Christian faith is indeed woven deeply into piece after piece.

The understanding of law and gospel in Bach’s cantatas is something I want to come back to, as is Leaver’s description of Bach as a “preacher in sound.”  How Bach does this is indeed amazing and wonderful and worthy of exploration. It also seems to relate to a Reformed approach to preaching which is outlined in Paul Scott Wilson’s interesting book “The four pages of the sermon” [1] which my former minister Dr. Michael Quicke drew my attention to the other day. Wilson outlines an approach to all sermon construction which should cover the four “pages” of Trouble in the Biblical Text, Trouble in our World, Grace in the Bible: What God did, Grace in our World: What God does. Frequently we see a similar story outlined in the twenty minute “sermons in sound” which are Bach’s cantatas.

Plenty to explore there, but for now I want to come back to the question which interests me most.

At the end of the talk a women in the audience asked the following [1:26:53 in the video linked above]

I was fascinated by you talking about using Bach as an [evangelistic] tool now, and obviously we are far removed from the baroque Lutheran understanding of these chorale tunes and we don’t have this chorale tune vocabulary that Bach’s audience would have had. How do you think that this music speak to us now without that context?

Leaver responds by explaining talks about how Bach often develops his music from one simple idea, something which Jeremy Begbie [2] and Lawrence Dreyfus [3] have both written further about, yet same time uses all the deep, layered complexity of scriptural, chorale, tonal, numerical and even visual references while still creating such beautiful music that still speaks to us, without knowing anything of the deeper layers of meaning.

All true – but I don’t think this answers the question. For me, it’s still out there.  Expect me to come back to that, because whatever it is, we should take it and make it part of our worship!

[1] Wilson, Paul Scott (1999). The four pages of the sermon: A guide to biblical preaching. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

[2] Begbie, Jeremy. Created Beauty: The Witness of J S Bach in Begbie, J. (2011). Resonant witness: Conversations between music and theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.

[3] Dreyfus, L., & American Council of Learned Societies. (1996). Bach and the patterns of invention. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

A good walk

…none who wait for you shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.

Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. (Psalm 25:3-8, 12 ESV)

The picture at the top of my blog is from the top of Causey Pike, overlooking Keswick in the Northern Lake District. It is Elizabeth’s and my favourite walk and we have walked up there almost every year since our first trip together 30 years ago.

It’s a nice mix of steep and gentle walking, with a rest at the col as the vista over Newlands opens up, which also lets everyone catch up, before a slog and a scramble to the summit.

There is a lovely balance of walking and resting in this Psalm too, or walking while waiting; and of looking back and looking forward.

I observed four things as I read it this morning.

1. Waiting on and waiting for God is normal Christian experience
2. No one who waits for God will be put to shame. Resting on God and his salvation is certain
3. While waiting we should remember all God has done, and all that he has saved us from
4. v8 seems to say that as we wait God will show us the way to go, but also that as we walk he will instruct us.

Jesus promises to teach us as we walk with him. Follow in his steps. We take his yoke upon us and LEARN from him

So perhaps it’s like a good walk in the Lakes with a good friend. Having an attitude of waiting and listening and teachability while walking, chatting sometimes, just pushing forward together when its steep, stopping to check the path against the map, catching breath not forgetting to  look back to from where you have come and admire the view, and looking up to where we are headed and our ultimate goal of the summit.

About Time

time-piece-puzzler-ftrAppropriately enough for a Sabbatical I have been reading a couple of books about time.

The first by Jeremy Begbie, Music, Theology and Time, [1] seeks to look at how time relates to music and what that might teach us about God. In other words “What would it mean to theologise not simply about music but through music?” (Begbie, p.4)

The second is The Sabbath [2] by one of the leading Jewish theologians of the twentieth century, Abraham Joshua Heschel.

There are a couple of immediate insights I want to share here.

The first is that time is good. This is not obvious to the modern or indeed postmodern mind. In a chapter looking at the music of John Tavener, Begbie talks about a pathology of time where we experience awareness of the loss of what is good, are haunted by the sadness of the past we would love to forget but can’t, and either hold a fear of the future or pour into that future all kinds of hopes and expectations which may ultimately disappoint us.

But, there are number of Biblical reasons for stating that time is a gift, neither not “neutral nor inherently threatening.” (Begbie, p.97)

To start with, time is not a result of the Fall as we might suppose, but precedes it. With all the emphasis on interpretations of Genesis 1, as to whether God created the world in seven actual days and so forth and without wanting to resurrect that debate here, I wonder if we have at least partly missed the point. Which is that God created the world in time. The Hebrew word is יוֹם, yom meaning day or time.  And He did not create it in one day, but over six days, the creation of each day building on the next with the climax the creation of man on day Six. We will have more to say about that later.

Then, we see that God acts within time. Heschel has much to say about that “the Bible is more concerned with time than with space…it is more concerned with history than with geography.”

…the God of Israel was the God of events: the Redeemer from slavery, the Revealer of the Torah, manifesting himself in events of history rather than in things or places…The main themes of faith lie in the realms of time. We remember the day of the exodus from Egypt, the day when Israel stood at Sinai; and our Messianic hope is the expectation of a day, of the end of days. (Heschel, p.8)

Of course for the Christian, the day has both already come and lies still in the future. But we see that “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:1) and that the whole of history, of creation, turns on 33 years of Jesus’ life, 3 years of Jesus’ ministry and 3 days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. That the God of eternity fulfilled his eternal purposes ordained before the creation of the world at a point in time, when Jesus said “It is finished.”

Karl Barth has written:

The many philosophical theories of time which deny its reality and regard it as a mere form or abstraction or figment of the imagination can only be finally abandoned when we consider that God himself once took time and treated it as something real [3]

Begbie argues from that we can use music to build on the fact that time is inherently good, and a gift. He says, “To share in music is to find a temporality in which – at least to some extent – past, present and future have been made to interweave fruitfully.” (Begbie, p.150)

Second, the Bible points us to a further insight, that time is holy. Heschel’s little book on The Sabbath has many insights, but none more rewarding I think than this:

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word קָדוֹשׁ qadosh, holy… Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Gen 2:3)…It seems as if to the Bible it is holiness in time, the Sabbath, which comes first.  (Heschel, p.9)

There is much more to be said, but for now let’s conclude with this. If time is good and time is holy then I must stop longing for the past or regretting the past; or longing for the future and loading it with expectation or dreading the future. I should recognise now as a gift and seek to enjoy it and savour it as good and holy; as a gift.

[1] Begbie, J. (2000). Theology, music, and time. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] Heschel, A. J. (1951). The Sabbath, its meaning for modern man. New York: Farrar, Straus and Young.

[3] Barth, K. (1957). Church Dogmatics; Volume 2, the Doctrine of God, Part 1, Edited by G.W / Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. S.l.: T. & t. Clark. p.620