Bill Long 6/11/06
Psalm 93 is the Psalm for today in the Common Lectionary. We studied it in our adult Sunday School class at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church in Wilsonville, OR this morning, and I felt there were a few points about the structure and meaning of the Psalm that invite our consideration. I will speak first about the "levels" of the Psalm, then about the contrast between God's enthronement and the waters which threaten and finally about how the last verse relates to the preceding verses.
Psalm 93: The Text
1"The Lord is king, he is robed in majesty;
the Lord is robed, he is girded with strength.
He has established the world; it shall never be moved;
your throne is established from of old;
you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
4 More majestic than the thunders of mighty waters,
more majestic than the waves of the sea,
majestic on high is the Lord!
5 Your decrees are very sure;
holiness befits your house,
O Lord, for evermore.
The "Levels" of the Text
Biblical study becomes fun, and theologically rich, when you realize that the text speaks on a variety of levels. For example, some scholars examine Ps. 93 from the perspective of a theory of Israelite kingship and the role of the annual enthronement of God as King in providing the root metaphor for that belief. If you pursue a Ph.D. in biblical studies you no doubt will debate that issue. On another level, however, the Psalm addresses the reader directly. God who is the King of the universe is also, for the person of faith, enthroned in one's own life.
Then, you can looks at other levels of the Psalm. On the one hand God and the waters are seemingly tied up in a cosmic struggle, a struggle in which God emerges victorious because God is mightier than those waters. On another level, the waters can be understood to be the "floods" that threaten to overwhelm us. We are "inundated" with problems, "overwhelmed" by troubles, "buried" with concerns. Will the waters of our lives be "handled" by God the same way that he handled the waters of creation?
Moving back and forth between these layers of the text enriches our reading and enlarges our understanding. It takes us out of the mind curved in on itself, which tends to see all problems that come our way as indications that the structure of the universe is collapsing. By reading Psalm 93 we are encouraged to see that our troubles are like the flood waters which couldn't threaten the firm throne of God. They are not mightier than the roaring flood waters that God easily quieted.
Focusing on the Ideas
The first two verses of the Psalm emphasize God's power and secure throne. Verse 3, however, is the "challenge" verse. Despite the fact that God is enthroned, the waters exist. They are charactreized as the "floods," something that don't simply "make glad the City of God" (cf. Ps. 46:4) but which threaten through their roaring to undo or call into question the power of God expressed in vv. 1-2. The Hebrew text of v. 3 is especially interesting. Three times the waters try to submerge the throne of God (the motif of "three times" is also prevalent in classical epic, where for example the people of Troy make three attempts to bring the Trojan horse within the city walls). In the first two attempts (v. 3a and 3b), the verb is in the past tense. Thus, the waters tried to overcome the divine rule in the past. However, the last verb in v. 3 is in the imperfect (i.e., future) tense, which means that the floods are still coming. They will continue to threaten the seemingly secure throne of God. They don't give up. They continue to assault. Isn't that the nature of troubles? We may seem to be able to keep them under control, to put them down for a time, but they always have a tendency to return.
The Ethical Dimension of the Psalm
Once we know that God is superior to the waters, that God is majestic on high, that God will not be ultimately threatened by the waters, we have a choice. How do we then live? Verse 5 helps us answer this question. First, it teaches us that life isn't simply about the drama of God subduing the floods; something else is going on. What is that? God has given us Torah. The word for "decrees" in v. 5 is one of the several terms for the commandments of God found in Ps 119. That is, the arena of creation isn't the only one in which God is active. God has given us decress, decrees which are sure and secure. They are the means by which we understand the nature of the cosmic struggle in which God was engaged against the waters. And, what do we do about it? Well, the last few words of the text tell us: "Holiness befits your house, O Ord, forevermore." That is, there is an ethical duty incumbent on people of faith to live lives devoted to God. Ethics flows from story, from the story of God's subduing the waters of chaos, from the stories we tell of God subduing the waters of our own chaotic existence.
Psalm 93, then, is a wonderful "meal" for us today. It assures us that the waters which seemingly threaten to undo us really will not do so; it teaches us that heart commitment to God is the way to live when this knowledge has dawned up on us; it teaches us that God's law is given us as an assurance, or visual manifestation of the divine victory. Learn the laws. Mark them. Inwardly digest them. How can you do wrong?
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long