The Stairstep Psalms

I am currently reading the weekly Torah portions with little stirring… When I read the musings of my peeps I seek a stirring of the mind, heart and will… but, mainly of the heart…

I’ve been reading again this week in Peter Drucker and he emphasizes over and over that to be effective we must know our strengths and how we operate… How do we learn? How do we communicate? What are we good at?

In the realm of spirituality, as much as I love the intellectual side of things I am fundamentally a creature of the heart (“The heart has it’s reasons that that the reason knows not of.” see Pascal on the heart). It is emotion that moves me…

My mind and will may be the banks and bed of the river… but my heart is the water.

I have been seeking a paradigm shift in my approach to reading Torah… Torah study not as learning but as meeting… communing with the ground of my being… connecting anew… no, remembering- becoming aware again of the connection between the divine sparks at the core of my soul and the ultimate divine spark… A unity that persists regardless of whatever I may think, say or do.

As a side note… I think that this is why there is such emphasis in psalms and proverbs on blamelessness, being just, doing right… Not for some moralistic/ rewards-punishments kind of reason but rather because of potential connectivity issues (as we say in IT language)… G-d in us is inseparably connected to G-d above… but, evil and wrongdoing obscure and cloud the connection functionally… again, functionally, not relationally… G-d is always my mother and father- no matter what I do… but, when my way is blameless… when I am pure in heart I can see G-d and experience Her/ Him in my day to day.

Back to Torah… I can’t understand why so much of the primary spiritual mother’s milk and father’s meat of the peeps (Torah) would focus on ritual, rite and things like how to address lesions and bodily fluid discharges (Leviticus)… Just don’t get the rationale for granting the amount of time and attention to these matters given the very limited real estate that is the 5 books of Moses… I trust that with time this will make more sense to me…

I continue to read as part of my daily study/service Torah along with a psalm a day and a chapter from proverbs… Of late, the proverbs stir me… the psalms rarely do. This has not typically been the case over the past 30+ years.

Today I read the final psalm in the stair step psalms (Psalms 120-134)…

Chapter 134

1. A song of ascents. Behold: Bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who stand in the House of the Lord in the nights. 2. Lift up your hands in holiness and bless the Lord. 3. May the Lord, Who makes heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.

Many of the psalms can tend to ramble a bit for me these days (more a Jonathan issue than a psalms issue)… the stair step psalms are like industrial strength psalms… concentrate. Succinct… to the point. I love them… they stir me.

I like to use them as a “template” for a personalized prayer…

Oh Lord, bless you… bless you for all your goodness and faithfulness to me… I am your servant. My heart, mind and will stand at the ready in your house day and night for your call. I lift up my hands asking you to search my heart and expose any fault in me… May my way be pure and right… pleasing to you… in harmony with the natural order of things… the way the universe flows. Maker of all, source and ground of my being… I ask for your blessing on my way, my family, my life work. Lover of my being, may my love for you make real and enveloping that union that has existed since you first knew me…

I will be mulling over the songs of ascents this week… also, re-reading the story of king Hezekiah…

More about The Songs of Degrees (Ascents)

There is no difference of opinion as to the meaning of the word “degrees”. It means “steps”, but interpretations of the use of the word in this connection manifest a great difference and discordance. Some think these Psalms were so called because they were sung on the fifteen steps of the Temple. But there is no evidence that there were fifteen steps. In Ezekiel’s Temple (Ezek. 40:22, 31) there are to be two flights; one of seven steps in the outer court, and another of eight steps in the inner court. But that Temple is the subject of prophecy, and is still future.

Others suggest “a Song of the higher choir”, “on the stairs of some high place”; others, “in a higher key”. Others interpret them of “the going up of the Ark” to Zion; others, of “the going up of the tribes” to the feasts; others, “a Song of high degree”. Others refer them to “a synthetic arrangement of the parallel lines”; others, that they refer to “the going up from Babylon”, which makes them all “post-exilic”. Others regard them as referring to the yet future return of Israel from their long dispersion; while yet others spiritualize all the expressions, and interpret them of the experiences of the Church of God at all times, and in the present day.

One thing is clear, i.e. that all these interpretations cannot be correct. So we still look for one which shall be worthy of the dignity of the Word of God as “written for our learning”; and one which shall produce and combine intellectual enjoyment with experimental satisfaction. Dr. Thirtle (*1) has called attention to the use of the definite article. The Hebrew reads “A Song of THE Degrees” (Shir hamma’aloth). In this simple fact lies the key to the solution of the problem, which is as simple in its nature as it is grand in its results.

Once we note the use of the definite article, “THE Degrees”, we naturally ask what Degrees? The answer comes from the Word of God itself, and not from the guesses and imaginations of men. The only “degrees” of which we read in the Bible are “the degrees” on the sundial of Ahaz, by which the shadow of the sun went backward in the days of his son Hezekiah, as a sign from Jehovah that he should recover from his sickness, while Jerusalem was surrounded by the armies of the king of Assyria, and Hezekiah was under sentence of death from the King of Terrors (see 2Kings 20:8-11, and the Structure of the chapters in Isa. 36-39). Scripture knows of no other steps or “degrees” that can be connected with the shadow of the sun.

On recovery from his sickness, Hezekiah said (Isa. 38:20) :

“Jehovah was ready to save me :
Therefore we will sing MY SONGS (*2) to the stringed instruments
All the days of our life
In the house of Jehovah.” (*3)

More than 250 years ago (1602-75) this interpretation was suggested in a passing remark by Dr. John Lightfoot in his work on Old Testament Chronology : but so far as Dr. Thirtle is concerned, it was his own independent discovery. The number of these Psalms (fifteen) adds to its testimony to the certainty of this interpretation. It corresponds with the number of the years (fifteen), which were added to Hezekiah’s life : while the number written by himself (ten) corresponds with the number of “the degrees” by which “the shadow of the sun went backward”.

Hezekiah called them “MY songs”. There was no need to put his own name to them, but he put the names to the other five. The one by Solomon is in the center, with two by David on either side. In each of the seven Psalms (on either side of the central Psalm) the name “Jehovah” occurs twenty-four times, and “Jah” twice (once in the third Psalm of each seven). In the central Psalm, “Jehovah” occurs three times.

There are five groups consisting of three Psalms each. The first of each group has Distress for its subject; the second has Trust in Jehovah; while the third has Blessing and peace in Zion. In the notes on these Psalms, the passages in the Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah, to which they refer, are carefully supplied : the passages in the historical books also are referred to in these Psalms. Here we give, in order, the facts of Hezekiah’s history which are referred to in these Psalms. These fifteen points of contact can be used in connection both with the Psalms and the historical books.

We have noted fifteen events in the life of Hezekiah which find their counterpart, and are celebrated, in these fifteen Psalms. Space forbids our giving here more that the bare references. Further details will be found in the notes in the historical books, the prophet Isaiah, and the Psalms in question.

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