I’ve been listening to the Psalms again. Back in the 70’s, scripture set to music was very popular. That’s pretty much all we sang in our meetings. Plus, then contemporary groups like “New Creation Singers” had whole albums of scripture songs.
Recently, a friend of mine loaned me a CD of a current group called “sons of korah,” who have, afresh, set the Psalms to music. They’re really good. I hope he loans me more of their CDs. (hint hint. [Ok, more an outright request than a hint.]).
The Psalms are beautiful: Songs of praise, songs of worship, songs of victory, as well as songs of fear, and songs of doubt. This is very human stuff. Although I truly enjoy, and am encouraged by these new musical interpretations, something else unexpectedly struck me: The obvious and blatant fact that these songs were written under a different covenant.
We may certainly turn to the Psalms, as we may all true scripture, for guidance and encouragement. But our view of God, ourselves, and our lives will be greatly distorted if we do not realize we are in a different kingdom than the one in which the Psalms were written.
It seems to me many Christians (at least, most evangelicals I know) still try to live under both the old and new covenants. Yes, I know “The God of the old testament is the same one as the God of the New testament!” but His method of operation is Very different. As the scripture teaches, if the old would have worked, there would be no need for the new (Mk. 2:22, Heb. 8:7,13).
Jesus repeatedly said “You have heard,” and then quoted the old covenant, followed by “But I tell you,” explaining a new way of doing things, often directly contradicting the old way (e.g. Mat. 5:43).
There are parts of the Psalms that really expose some of the differences between covenant theology (or philosophy). One such example is Psalm 56:7 “Because they are bent on violence, do not let them escape! In your anger bring down the nations, O God!”
I can just see a large number of people using this to justify hatred, violence, war, etc. I often have heard Christians praying “against” other people. This brings to mind the passage in Luke where James and John said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” After all, that was the way “the God of the old covenant” would have done things. Jesus, of course, corrected their wayward thinking, reminding them that we are not of that spirit.
Jesus addressed the old versus the new when He said about retaliation:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the evildoer. But whoever strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well. And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.”
and about love for your enemies:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?”
As I said, the Psalms are beautiful. But, as someone else pointed out, “we must turn to God to understand the scriptures, not turn to the scriptures to understand God.” We have a dreadfully ugly history of what happens when those get out of order! We can walk away with a very ungodly worldview if we do not recognize our “new creature” status; all the while justifying that worldview as “biblical.”
We can still sing songs about the destruction of our enemies. We just need to know that our enemies are not people. They are not nations. They are not flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12). Our enemies are spiritual. One of my biggest personal enemies is selfishness. We must fight enemies like hate, poverty, homophobia, jealousy, and greed. We must fight an unwillingness to reach out in love, for fear of thinking that that is equal to condoning actions we may disagree with.
When I recognize, under the new covenant of Jesus, who and what my true enemies are, I will whole-heartedly join with David in singing “In your anger, God, bring them down!”
— David Foreman
(PS Thanks again, bro, for the CD)
Scripture quoted from the New Engligh Translation