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The Religious Experience in the Book of Psalms


Shamai Gelander

This book deals with the world of the psalms, in order to reveal the elements of faith as expressed in the various prayers. It includes an encompassing study of the variety of experiences: How can an individual in distress experience a situation which contrasts his actual reality altogether? What causes an individual to believe that God wants him to live and does not want him to die? What are the individual’s sources of confidence in justice as ruling over the universe, and his confidence that the harmony of the universe leaves no room for evil? Virtually all books of the Old Testament express the world view and opinions of their authors, with a didactic purpose on mind. Not so the Book of Psalms: Here we can find an expression of the pious individual’s world and his beliefs. The psalms are what the authors sought to place in the mouth of the worshippers, thinking that they would aptly express what was on their mind. Anybody who seeks to understand how faith and thoughtfulness join together with the individual’s emotions through a wonderful creative shaping, is invited to read this book.


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4. The Experience of Harmony: Justice and World Order


(23) Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (24) Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven. (Ps. 85: 10–11) Commentators who have discussed this psalm have focused mainly on other aspects of it1 – especially the relationship between its opening verses (1–3) and its third section (vv. 8–13),2 or the difficulties arising from its change from plural first person to singular (“I will hear” – v. 8).3 In the conventional view, the above verses are thought to pose no difficulties, since they offer an optimistic ending, as one might expect in a prayer of this sort.4 Commentators appear not to have con- sidered the actual meaning of the text – whether it is metaphorical or a turn of phrase – nor have they enquired into significant and internal 1 See our discussion of this psalm above in chapter 1, section 3. 2 Gunkel rejects the notion that the first part of the psalm alludes to past sal- vations in the hope that the impending salvation will be similar. He believes (particularly in view of the alliteration of the root sh-b-t in the Hebrew of v. 1: shavta shvut Yaacov. (“thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob“) that the psalm’s first part, like the third, is also future-oriented to the End of Days – as it were, a kind of perfectum propheticum. See: H. Gunkel, Die Psalmen, Göttingen, 19685, p. 373. 3 Weiser thinks this psalm...

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