Posted by: religionthink | June 25, 2007

Psalm 28: I would become like those who have descended the Pit

Psalm 28: I would become like those who have descended the Pit

To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit. Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts. Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the Lord, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more. Blessed be the Lord, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings. The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever. (Psa 28:1-9 NRSV)

In the mentioned Psalm when read we can come to realize that the text has two distinct parts the first verses 1-5 is a personal lament pleading for Yahweh to deliver from impending death. Verses 6-9 is seen as a prayer of thanksgiving for the recovery from a sickness that may have cause death. Verses 8-9 give the illusion that this possibly was prayed by a king. Some believe that this text could be dated to the Second Temple Period.1

This text takes us back to a much older text like that of Job and of the written hardship there. We find Job sitting in the dung pile scraping his sores with ceramic shards saying almost the same types of themes we account for in the Psalm above. However we will leave this scene, and for a change turn to Eastern texts and see if there are any references to such themes as the ones we read here. One text that comes to light is the text of the Bhagavad-Gita or (the song of God). It is thought by some that the text may have been written between the fifth and second centuries BCE.2

The Bhagavad-Gita is relevant here because of the themes it presents. A warrior is on the battle field and knows he may die in that battle along with many others from both sides and results in a conversation between him and his god, Krishna. Krishna addresses his fears and in an act of divine revelation is able to encourage Arjuna to fight. Below we will compare two themes from this text to the Psalm above to bring to light the relationship in a more defined way.

The author of this essay strongly favors the translation by Juan Mascaro for its beautiful wording. For in the first chapter the text in this translation reads: “On the field of truth, on the battle-field of life, what came to pass, Sanjaya, when my sons and their warriors faced those of my brother Pandu? This translation, written in metaphoric terms places the account, as it should, squarely in our lives today. On the field of truth , on the battle field of life. Just like the first verses of the Psalm above we already have a very real and serious issues occurring from the start.3

Let us now look at some other relationships by searching deeper in the Bhagavad-Gita. Below we read the lament of Arjuna to his God:

Arguna said: Seeing these kinsmen, O Krishna! standing (here) desirous to engage in battle, my limbs droop down; my mouth is quite dried up; a tremor comes on my body; and my hairs stand on end; the Gândîva (bow) slips from my hand; my skin burns intensely. I am unable, too, to stand up; my mind whirls round, as it were; O Kesava! I see adverse omens ; and I do not perceive any good (to accrue) after killing (my) kinsmen in the battle. I do not wish for victory, O Krishna! nor sovereignty, nor pleasures: what is sovereignty to us, O Govinda! what enjoyments, and even life? Even those, for whose sake we desire sovereignty, enjoyments, and pleasures, are standing here for battle, abandoning life and wealth-preceptors, fathers, sons as well as grandfathers, maternal uncles, fathers-in-law, grandsons, brothers-in-law, as also (other) relatives. These I do not wish to kill, though they kill (me), O destroyer of Madhu! even for the sake of sovereignty over the three worlds, how much less then for this earth (alone)? What joy shall be ours, O Ganârdana! after killing Dhritarâshtra’s sons? Killing these felons we shall only incur sin. Therefore it is not proper for us to kill our own kinsmen, the sons of Dhritarâshtra. For how, O Mâdhava! shall we be happy after killing our own relatives? Although having their consciences corrupted by avarice, they do not see the evils flowing from the extinction of a family, and the sin in treachery to friends, still, O Ganârdana! Should not we, who do see the evils flowing from the extinction of a family, learn to refrain from that sin? On the extinction of a family, the eternal rites of families are destroyed. 4

After much debate on the issue and some most beautiful words and understanding given by Krishna and at the end a theophany experience, like the speech of Yahweh from the whirlwind in the text of Job, Arjuna, is most encouraged and offers a hymn of thanksgiving:

You are the supreme Brahman, the supreme goal, the holiest of the holy. All sages, as well as the divine sage Nârada, Asita, Devala, and Vyâsa, call you the eternal being, divine, the first god, the unborn, the all-pervading. And so, too, you tell me yourself, O Kesava! I believe all this that you tell me (to be) true; for, O lord! neither the gods nor demons understand your manifestation.. You only know your self by your self. O best of beings! creator of all things! lord of all things! god of gods! lord of the universe! be pleased to declare without, exception your divine emanations, by which emanations you stand pervading all these worlds. How shall I know you, O you of mystic power! always meditating on you? And in what various entities, O lord! should I meditate on you? Again, O Ganârdana! do you yourself declare your powers and emanations; because hearing this nectar, I (still) feel no satiety. 5

And later in the last chapter of the text we hear Arjuna say:

Destroyed is my delusion; by your favour, O undegraded one! I (now) recollect myself. I stand freed from doubts. I will do your bidding.6

So as we can see that there are common themes that run throughout the texts. Both cry out to the deity for assistance and both lamenters seem to receive and answer from the deity, followed by a thanksgiving confirming the wisdom, protection, and power of the God. In both cases the writers seem helpless and believe they are at an intersection of their lives and as seen both seem to deal with such issues in almost the same way even though they are from two different cultures and belief systems.

1. Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

2. Bhagavad Gita, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita

3. Mascara, Juan. The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics, New York, NY 1962.

4. Telang, Trimbak Kâshinâth, M. A. The Bhagavadgîtâ with the Sanatsugâtîya and the Anugîtâ Volume 8, The Sacred Books of the East Oxford, The Clarendon Press. 1882. pp.40-42
5. Telang, pp. 87-88
6. Telang, p. 130.

Posted by the author of Religionthink.com

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Responses

  1. Interesting bringing the bhagavad gita into the fold. If you’d like to learn more about the gita, check out http://www.gitananda.org or
    http://www.gitananda.org/wisdom-from-the-gita/index.php


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