Posts Tagged ‘orientalisms of the Bible’

Another look unto the hills

June 22, 2016

Psalm 121--7

Revised and re-posted from a year ago is the following blog entry:

Taken from Psalm 121:7-8 in the Amplified Bible, the Verse of the Day for June 22, 2016 provides great comfort and assurance to the believer:

The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

These verses make up a familiar passage from one of the most recognized Psalms of David which opens in this way:

Psalm 121: 1-2:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

Bishop KC Pillai, a converted Hindu, dedicated his life to enlightening students of the Bible regarding Orientalisms or customs and practices from the Eastern sectors of the world that so clearly influence our understanding of Scripture. Pillai and other scholars point out that the first verse of Psalm 121 is often rendered as a statement when in actuality it should be a question. In contrast to the rendering of verse 1 in the King James Version which opens with “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help,” Pillai suggests that the verse should be read: “Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills? From whence comes my help?”  The answer follows in verse two: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

This particular psalm is said to be among the Psalms of Degrees or Songs (Psalms) of Ascent. Psalms 120-134 comprise a “hymn book” from which pilgrims sang as they were ascending Mount Zion, the highest point in Jerusalem, the place of celebration of the annual feasts mandated by God for the Children of Israel. Paul Stroble, in his blog devoted to this psalm points out that “Clift McCann writes in The New Interpreter’s Bible that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem.”

Stroble, also mentions that various writers refer to Psalm 121 as “the psalm for the journey of life,” and “the psalm for sojourners.”  He continues his discussion of the merits of this psalm that he finds especially meaningful “because of the comfort of its promises as one travels literally and figuratively.”

The passage from Psalm 121 and its reference to the Lord who “shall preserve thy soul from all evil” also brings to mind a series of blog entries entitled “A Five-fold Prayer.” The commentaries were based on a statement regarding the ways of God when we find ourselves in perplexing situations that challenge our faith. In such instances, God is endeavoring to do one or a combination of five things: “Direct us; Inspect us; Correct us; Protect us, and Perfect us.”

After hearing those words, I took those five verbs and formed them into a request, a petition, a personal prayer to God.  I asked God to become the initiator of the action, and I would become the object of his action. I also examined each of the verbs with scriptural illustrations from the Old Testament and New Testament and composed a prayer/psalm inspired by each verb at the end of each section related to each of the five verbs. In writing out my personal application of the scriptures, I also incorporated music related to the verbs as well. In Part 4 I asked God to “Protect Me.” Since there was no word “protect” used in the King James Version, I used the term “deliver” and shared this personalized psalm or poetic petition at the end of discussion of this particular verb:

Protect me

As a child runs to safety in his father’s arms,

So I, too, run to you, “my shelter from life’s storms.”

Lord, I long to dwell with you in the secret place,

My buckler, my shield, deliverer, my fortress,

Strong tower, defender, who responds to my prayer.

For Lord, you are faithful, who will establish me

And protect me and deliver me from evil.

We conclude our discussion with one of my favorite musical compositions inspired by Psalm 121 “My Help” offered by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

Keep asking, seeking, knocking

January 22, 2016

Matthew_7-7-8

Originally posted a year ago, the following blog entry is modified and re-posted below:

The Verse of the Day for January 22, 2016 comes from Matthew 7:7-8 (NKJV):

[Keep Asking, Seeking, Knocking] “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened

This passage brought to mind a scripture memory song composed more than 16 years ago. The arrangement of the lyrics shows an acrostic poem that spells out the word “ask,” the first three letters of which form the three verbs found in verse 7. In addition to singing the lyrics, the song involved gestures that reinforced the message. In a prayer notebook that I once had, I recall having a card with the words “Ask God” on one side and Matthew 7:7, 8 (KJV) on the other. Here are the lyrics to the simple song:

Ask and it shall be given you;
Seek and you shall find.
Knock and it shall be opened unto to you.

Ask, seek and knock.
Ask, seek and knock.

For everyone who asketh receiveth.
He that seeketh findeth.
And to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.

Ask, seek and knock.
Ask, seek and knock.

In reflecting on the passage from the Sermon on the Mount, I thought of the last phrase of the 8th verse: “. . . and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened.” Revelation 3:20 came to mind where the Master declares, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and openeth the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”

In discussing Orientalisms or Eastern customs and manners found in Scripture, Bishop KC Pillai, converted Hindu Bible teacher, notes that eating with someone was a most intimate act. One did not eat with strangers or those outside his most intimate circle of family and friends. In that light, Revelation 3:20 takes on even more significance as an invitation to intimacy. Luke 24 speaks of Jesus and the disciples on the Road to Emmaus and of their breaking bread together, a time of intense intimacy when Jesus opened the eyes of their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures. This unfolding of Himself as revealed in the Scriptures occurred during a meal, a time of wonderfully rich fellowship and intimacy.

During the same period when I wrote the scripture memory song using Matthew 7:7-8, I also recall composing a song that we used to sing before serving our lunch at the summer program for school-age children where I worked. It is based in part on the passage from Revelation:

Come and dine with me, Jesus said
Come and dine with me, Jesus said
I’ve prepared a table to set before you
Come and dine with me, Jesus said

In thinking about the passage from Matthew 7:7-8, we recognize that in the Greek New Testament the three verbs are expressed in the present progressive tense: meaning keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. In the New King James Version we find a similar preface in brackets before the actual scripture. In the same manner that a child will keep asking for a treat while shopping with his or her parents, Jesus Christ says to continue to ask, continue to seek, continue to knock.

A few years later after having composed the first scripture memory song, I also wrote another acrostic poem whose lyrics became another song based on the same passage:

Always ask, no matter how great or small the task.
Serve the Lord God with a pure heart and remove the mask.
Keep trusting in the Lord–all you have to do is ask.

Someday soon we shall stand on top of the mountain peak.
Every golden promise God has fulfilled, as we speak.
Each day adds another victory toward our winning streak.
Keep pressing toward the mark to obtain the prize we seek.

Keep renewing your mind, assess your thoughts and take stock.
Never give up–build your hope on Christ, the solid rock.
Overcome the odds–by faith get around any roadblock.
Count your blessings with every tick-tock of the clock.
Keep this in mind and call on the Lord: ask, seek, and knock.

Kim McFarland and the Thompson Community Singers offer this stirring reminder: “Just Ask in My Name”

Voice of the bridegroom

December 29, 2015

The familiar passage from John 14 brought to mind thoughts about heavenly mansions.

Taken from John 14:1-3 in the New Living Translation, the Verse of the Day for December 29, 2015 is a familiar passage that expresses great comfort:

[Jesus, the Way to the Father] “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

Recently this well-known passage from the King James Version was recited at a funeral or “home-going” service for a dear friend and fellow believer.

In discussing these verses, Bishop KC Pillai, converted Hindu and prominent Bible teacher whose areas of expertise are Eastern customs and manners known as Orientalisms, points out that this particular passage is more appropriate for a wedding than for a funeral. The words that Jesus speaks to his disciples are actually spoken by the bridegroom when he departs to literally prepare an apartment or dwelling place for his bride, according to the customary wedding ceremony during Biblical times. Pillai goes on to explain in more detail:

In New Testament Bible days a wedding ceremony lasted ten days. On the tenth day the bride and groom are declared husband and wife. For the first 12 months of their wedded life the two young people just learn to understand and live with each other. (Not a bad idea.) They live two months with the groom’s parents, then two months with the bride’s parents. They commute back and forth between the in-laws every two months, concluding their first year of married life in the home of the bride’s parent’s.

At the conclusion of this first year of marriage there is a unique religious service, with all the people of the town present. The husband brings forth his wife, appearing before all the village people. He stands his wife in front of him, facing himself, with the best man on his right side and the virgins that attended the wedding on his left hand, and with loving authority the husband says to his wife before them all, “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.”

In thinking about those “many mansions” that God has prepared for us, I recall the lyrics to a gospel song referring our dwelling place as “a building not made with man’s hands.” Those lyrics were the inspiration for this poem that includes a reference to the opening verses John 14:

Not Made by Man’s Hands

Lord, keep my day by day,
in a pure and perfect way.
I want to live, I want to live on
in a building not made by hand.

Traditional gospel song

I recall the poignant words of the Lord Jesus Christ,
Words of the Bridegroom to reassure his Beloved:
“I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am
There you may be also, and if I go and prepare
A place for you, I will come again and receive you
Unto myself that where I am, you may be also.”
Though my dwelling place is furnished just to my tastes,
Will I need an office where I can compose my thoughts?
Is there a kitchen for me to prepare meals that bless?
Or will Christ make his servants sit down and enjoy
Sumptuous feasts prepared to satisfy the appetites
Of those who hunger and thirst for more than food or drink?
I know I will enjoy my custom-crafted mansion,
Exquisite design from God’s mind, not made by man’s hands.

Listen to the Scripture song based on John 14:2, 3: In My Father’s House are Many Mansions:

Tattooed in the palms of God’s hands

April 22, 2014

Isaiah 49 15-16

Without question, tattooing or body art, as some call it, has becoming increasingly popular in recent years. According to nbcnews.com, studies from the American Academy of Dermatology indicate that 24 percent of Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed. Annually Americans spend $1.65 Billion on tattoos, so say statistics.

Among the reasons individuals give for getting tattoos is to honor loved ones, using their name or a verse or some other design as a permanent tribute worn on their bodies. Similarly, in a most unusual manner, God, our Father, not only holds us in the palms of His hands, but the scriptures also reveal that He has tattooed portraits of those whom He loves in the palms of His hands. The Amplified Bible translates Isaiah 49:16 in this manner:

Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me.

New Living Translation renders the verse this way:

See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.

Although tattooing is extremely popular today, what God has done to honor and express His love for His people is unique. Bishop KC Pillai, converted Hindu and Bible teacher, relates a specific Orientalism, a custom or practice from the Eastern sectors of the world, explaining that tattooing is the oriental way of remembering people expressed in Isaiah 49:16:

If you give a present you may lose it, but if you tattoo something on an individual you will never lose it. Therefore, we always remember you. They tattoo all over the arm [in] different places, but never in the palm. . . . No man can engrave on palms, because the area is tender and the needle is hot and hurts too much. It takes time to look for other tattoos, but here in the hand [there is] no time to look, just as open as your palm.

Every time God “does something with His hand,” those whom He loves come to mind, for He remembers everything about them. The Psalmist asks,

What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? (Psalm 2:8)

In response, God, our Father,  expresses His love and concern for His creation when He engraves our image in the palms of His hands—we are always before Him. Beyond the lyrics of Willie Nelson’s love song, “We are always on His mind.” God tells His beloved just how special we are in a special way.

Selah, in singing the classic hymn “Before the Throne of God above,” makes a reference to Isaiah 49:16 with the line “My name is graven on His hands.”

Psalm 121: Looking beyond the hills

September 11, 2013

Psalm_121-1

The Verse of the Day for September 11, 2013 is a familiar passage from one of the most recognized Psalms of David:

Psalm 121: 1-2:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.

This photo of Mount Zion is taken from Abu Tor.

This photo of Mount Zion is taken from Abu Tor.

Bishop KC Pillai, a converted Hindu, dedicated his life to enlightening students of the Bible regarding Orientalisms or customs and practices from the Eastern sectors of the world that so clearly influence our understanding of Scripture. Pillai and other scholars point out that the first verse of Psalm 121 is often rendered as a statement when in actuality it should be a question. In contrast to the rendering of in the verse 1 in the King James Version which opens with “I will lift up my eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help”, Pillai suggests that the verse should be read: “Shall I lift up my eyes to the hills? From whence comes my help?”  The answer follows in verse two: “My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

This particular psalm is said to be among the Psalms of Degrees or Songs (Psalms) of Ascent. Psalms 120-134 comprise a “hymn book” from which pilgrims sang as they were ascending Mount Zion, the highest point in Jerusalem, the place of celebration of the annual feasts mandated by God for the Children of Israel.  Paul Stroble, in his blog devoted to this psalm points out that “Clift McCann writes in The New Interpreter’s Bible that these psalms are all short enough to be memorized and several contain references to everyday life, implying that these psalms reflect the experiences of everyday people traveling or arriving at Jerusalem.”

Stroble, also mentions that various writers refer to Psalm 121 as “the psalm for the journey of life,” and “the psalm for sojourners.”  He continues his discussion of the merits of this psalm that he finds especially meaningful  “because of the comfort of its promises as one travels literally and figuratively.”

One of my favorite musical compositions inspired by Psalm 121 is offered by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.

 

In its rendering of Psalm 121:1 the Amplified Bible makes reference to Mount Zion:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills [around Jerusalem, to sacred Mount Zion and Mount Moriah]—From whence shall my help come?

Here is an artist's rendering of Mount Zion by William Henry Bartlett.

Here is an artist’s rendering of Mount Zion by William Henry Bartlett.

Indeed, Zion is the ultimate destination of those pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem and those sojourning through life. Ten years ago when most providentially found myself in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, I heard a life-changing teaching on the spiritual significance of Zion in a believer’s life, and the message inspired this poem:

Zion

For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.

Psalm 132:13

 

To ascend the holy hill, the quest to reach Mount Zion,

To dwell in that high mountain, a place of untold beauty.

Still onward and upward in this lifelong journey,

I situate myself in an accurate position,

As my obedience activates the blessings of God.

My spirit overflows and floods my heart with new song.

 

With all that is within me, I yearn to sing the Lord’s song,

As I migrate upward from Babylon to Mount Zion,

Up to Jerusalem, the place of the Temple of God,

The place where I shall worship God in all of His beauty.

I am ever moving toward that ultimate position,

Knowing both anguish and joy in my perfecting journey.

 

I am moving toward a place of wholeness as I journey

From an alien land where I could not sing the Lord’s song,

As I arise to a more elevated position,

To stand on the Rock, the chief cornerstone, laid in Zion,

Where I shall behold the Lord in His resplendent beauty

And see more clearly revelation from the heart of God.

 

Great and glorious and wondrous is the City of God.

We celebrate the goodness of God along this journey.

The Lord, our God, has fashioned the perfection of beauty.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised with joyful song.

God displays His passion for Jerusalem and Zion:

He reigns over all the earth from this lofty position.

 

The grace of God flows freely from the highest position,

From the exalted place of the tabernacle of God,

Who has set His King upon the holy hill of Zion.

The sons of God shall be blessed and refreshed on their journey,

Teaching each other with psalm and hymn and spiritual song.

Ascend to worship at the transcendent throne of beauty.

 

The stone once rejected is now the stone of great beauty.

The chief cornerstone has become the foremost position.

The Rock of our Salvation fills our hearts with a new song.

Glory and honor and power and wisdom to our God,

Who strengthens and sustains us with power on our journey

To our destiny, perfected in a place called Zion.

 

The Lord, the Almighty God, is enthroned in great beauty.

As we journey, we maintain an accurate position,

For from Mount Zion flow countless blessings and endless song.

I recall a familiar hymn from childhood “We’re Marching to Zion” which turns out to be one of the hymns composed by Isaac Watts, said to be the father of hymn. The simple lyrics and rousing melody have become much more meaningful within the past 10 years. Here is a rousing rendition of the classic hymn recorded live with the Gaithers: