Psalm 15 NIV

November 30, 2017

Lord__, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose way of life is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbour, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honours those who fear the Lord; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things will never be shaken.

When I was a schoolboy, even at university, the words of the Psalms; indeed much of The Bible as a whole, just did not speak to me on the very few occasions it crossed my path.

I was like most youths of my day; and maybe of today also? I felt I was understanding what I read, but it just did not live for me; seemed platitudinous and dull and obvious; but most of all unimportant.

Anything which here in Wales the Welsh term ‘deep’ and to do with religion, was tarred in my prejudicial eyes as being unspeakably tedious.

Nowadays I see the Psalms and The Bible as the ultimate source of refreshment for my constant weariness with the ways of the world. Needless to say, nowadays I find its words vital and abundantly powerful with relevance and meaning. To the point that my purposes in life I feel are bound in tightly with its urgent power.

Psalm 15 in the NIV version of The Bible I have single out here for comment. I might have chosen from thousands, maybe tens of thousands of instances, nuggets of pure joy, in The Bible; but Psalm 15 in its own right seems to me to be a pearl of the purest water.

This high opinion of it I hold because its words and thoughts speak to me so expressively and powerfully; I connect almost it seems absolutely.

It addresses in me a yearning; maybe in my own modest way that yearning St Paul tells of the spirit, like Creation, ‘groaning’ for regeneration into a state glimpsed through fogs in the mind, and maybe, maybe not, at some previous time actual; but certainly it constitutes the best hope for us all for the future.

The language of Psalm 15 is not particularly complex or difficult; an unlearned person would have little difficulty with being asked to explain what the sentences of its verses mean.

I was taught at school and I do believe it is true that in English the remnant of Anglo-Saxon words we continue to use today in our speech and writing, carry on the whole and item for item much greater expressive connective power than do the Latin, Greek and French words which were later adopted into our vocabulary.

I want to use this truth analogously and relate it to the language of this Psalm.  First it is a translation, from the ancient Hebrew and maybe owes something also to ancient Greek versions of the Psalms.  The NIV (New International Version) is a late twentieth century rendering of The Bible, and so its language is representative of English as it is used in our times. So why and how does this power and vitality survive not only translation but also a shift of thousands of years in life circumstance, culture, science, arts, and general human self-expression?

What is it that is successfully being carried over into a very alien and ‘other’ form of words than its original used?

But maybe you are not with me? Maybe you are like myself when I was a teenager and a student, and the language of Psalm 15 just does not grab you?

Addressing this difficulty, your not responding to the ‘attack’, as musicians call it, of the Psalm, I can only say that as a youth I felt that the recommendations of the character traits of the person whom God will never allow to be shaken seemed in those naïve and idealistic days well possible, easily attainable for myself and for men and women in general.  These character traits then were no great shakes and presented themselves to me at the time as not just obvious but trite because so clearly available and possible for humanity

In short, I lacked the life experience that was necessary for me to have before I could fathom the depth, the subterranean billions of mycelium connections upon which the truth of this Psalm draws for its powerful nourishment.

I did not know, could not know, yet, that the simplest truths are best expressed simply; and are stated in such a way successfully, only by way of the light of much and seriously intricate life experience.

Samuel Johnson, The Great Cham of Literature, once magisterially stated that to write one book a person would have had to have read many books.  Likewise, to write such Psalms, my understanding is that a Psalmist would have had to have experienced such a lot of life’s trials and embroilments; and have been able to draw the apposite lessons from these and then next to have been able to collate them and so eventually to have come to a connected vision in his mind of the profound metaphysical and existential significance of that experience.

So in this way the Psalm becomes a statement of an ideal; the portrait of the ideal person when one is imagining looking out of God’s eyes upon such.  So what is here presented in Psalm 15 is not a callow facile idealistic picture which the freshness of youth only is able to maintain in the mind; instead here is a projection after long consideration of the Psalmist’s sense of God’s understanding of who might be an ideal person.

This is what believers in God like myself hope for – that our lives, although they may have been led vainly, been tough, facile, idle, feckless, and so on, they have nonetheless been so to good purpose; and have been made so deliberately, so that out of a life led like a lion in a wilderness of brutish grossness, might have come forth a sweetness of God’s directing and endowment.

‘The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray’__‘The LORD is good and does what is right; he shows the proper path to those who go astray’

Of course my understanding of these things might be merely fantastical; a rationalisation after the fact; but is not history itself such a rationalisation, an attempt at making sense of things?  And if so, should I be ridiculed for making an effort to do so with my otherwise unexamined, and absurdly perplexing, life and times?

This, I believe, is what is being carried over, through into the English of the NIV version of the present age; transferring from the ancient Hebrew (and Greek?) in this Psalm and in The Bible in toto par excellence.