Conversation or Debate? — Thoughts on Psalm 127

In its immediate context, the latter half of the last verse of Psalm 127 is referring to the blessings of a father with many children; and, in the slightly broader context of the whole psalm, the blessedness of the person who, because of his faith and behavior, is rightly related to YHWH. 

He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:5b ESV)

I am not a Hebrew scholar by a long shot, but I am told that the verse could also read: “They shall not be ashamed when they speak…” 

Moreover, when translations are compared, we discover that the Hebrew word translated “speak” above is sometimes rendered “contend.” 

All of which brings up a question. Did the psalmist mean, “contend,” as in “win the argument and humiliate the foe,” or “speak,” as in, “have a conversation”? Is the psalmist saying that the person rightly related to God will be victorious in an argument with enemies, or is the author saying that the person living close to God’s heart can dialogue unashamedly with her enemies? 

Depending on the translation, two different pictures emerge. On the one hand, we see a person winning an argument, contending victoriously, humiliating the opposition. On the other hand, we see a person respectfully, nonjudgmentally, and without coercion, having an honest conversation with another human being who holds contrary views. 

I wonder if it is our occidental tendency to adore power, control, and coercion that leads to assuming the psalmist meant that the former. My heart has enough violence in it to like to like the idea of verbally humiliating an “enemy.” Gates to ancient cities were places where business was conducted and weighty matters discussed. One picture that can be drawn from Psalm 127 is of verbal victory in the public square, like one of our political debates where one person totally humiliates the other and everyone cheers. Talking heads on cable television all shouting at once comes to mind. 

But, if the purpose of the Hebrew Bible is, as Jesus insisted, to testify of Him, to point us to Christ, to be a schoolmaster or a mentor leading us to faith in Jesus, then to properly interpret the Old Testament, I must read through the lens of the teachings and sayings of Christ. This is a cruciform hermeneutic. I read the Old Testament in light of the New; I read the New Testament in light of the “red letters;” I read the “red letters” through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount, and I read everything through the lens of the Cross. God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. Jesus is God incarnate. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. The Old Testament scriptures testify of Christ. And what is Christ/God like? Self-sacrificial, all-forgiving, nonviolent, willing to die, love. 

So, if I look at Psalm 127 through the lens of the Cross, i.e., through the self-denying, enemy-forgiving, noncoercive love of Calvary, then I doubt God would be telling me to bone up my arguments so I can verbally humiliate my foes.

If, however, the translation, He (or they) shall not be put to shame when he (or they) speaks with his (or their) enemies in the gateis accurate, then what I hear is God saying that living in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit will lead me to lovingly engage everyone I meet. Noncoercively and without a preconceived agenda, I will learn to actively listen, try to understand, affirm, and respect the other person whose opinions and views differ from my own. In conversations or debates with those whose views are different than ours, perhaps even views we find repugnant, what is most important, winning, or loving? Can I give up my “right” to be right?

After all, that’s what Jesus did. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on October 4, 2019, in apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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