A song of ascent of Solomon
I find this a difficult Psalm.
Within the boundaries of a traditional religious culture it appears to offer assurance and promise. It says, “ God will grant you security and peace. Through the gift of children you will be blessed in your old age.”
First, some reflections on the different parts of the psalm.
- Perhaps it is the way the psalm begins with the idea of building a house that makes the connection with Solomon in the Psalm’s title. Solomon who is remembered as the wise king who built the great temple and extended the power of the nation. There is a strong element in the tradition, however, of not relying on your own strength, but trusting instead on the steadfast loving-kindness of God. The history of the Israelites was nearly always precarious, sitting between two great powerful empires. The Egyptians to the southeast and the Babylonian/Assyrian empire to the northwest. Prophets often warned against playing power politics and thinking this would keep the nation safe. They spoke instead of being faithful to God, caring for neighbours and pursuing justice for the poor. This was the only guarantee of God’s favour.
- The second part of the psalm expresses the tradition of the value of family and children. There is an inbuilt assumption of the father being the head of the household, and the value of ‘sons’. The reverse, of course, is the prejudice against those women who could not have children, and the lesser regard for daughters. It always seems to be the woman’s fault! The patriarchy of past cultures still lingers in many places. Often the contribution of women is hidden, and the place of women demeaned. And so the scriptures need to be read with eyes that see beyond this particular cultural feature.
- It helps to know when there is a reference to the ‘gate’, that this was the traditional place for seeking and finding justice. It was the place to take a dispute and have it judged. Of course the powerful could corrupt even this place of justice, nor was the King above temptation to use force to gain his own ends. But there were often those who would stand up for the poor and confront even the most powerful, like Nathan speaking to King David.
In thinking about this psalm, it helps me to remember that we can learn from the Bible without having to assume that it is always right. So the warning that working hard will not lead to contentment or happiness can be accepted without going to the extreme of thinking that there is nothing we can do except rely on divine favour.
Perhaps the other lesson I take from this psalm, is that it is for pilgrimage, or journeying. It is not the last and final word. As we travel on we find new insights, see deeper into the truth and have to be ready to change our understanding and behaviour. Sometimes we have to wrestle with the scriptures and hope that what we gain is truth.
Terry Oakley 29.3.2020