Messiah Blog: Day 15

Note: This is part of a series which began on December 10. To start from the beginning of the series, or to access the Table of Contents, click here.

Now that we’ve established that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, that he performed miracles, that his greatest miracle was his resurrection from the grave, and that his victory over death made a way for unrighteous sinners to be adopted as sons by a Holy God, what is to be our response? What sort of people ought we to be (2 Peter 3:11)?

This is the question asked and answered by Jennens in the next segment of the Messiah libretto.

#35: Chorus
Psalm 68:11 — The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers.

#36: Air (Soprano)
Romans 10:15 — How beautiful are the feet of them: that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.

#37: Chorus
Romans 10:18 — Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world.

Daniel Block’s essay provides the following comments:

In segment 3 of Part II (#35-41) Jennens captures the missiological implications of the triumph of the Messiah. The new movement opens with a vision of the courts of heaven where God issues a command (presumably to proclaim to all the universe) the victory of the Messiah (#35). The AV rendering of Psalm 68:11 obscures the textual difficulties. NAS captures the literal rendering of the Hebrew, “The women (a choir?) who proclaim good tidings are a great host,” unless, of course one treats hambaśrôt as an abstract plural, “the proclamation of tidings was a mighty host!” In any case, AV “preachers” is an odd rendering of this word, which means, “to proclaim news.” In #36 the hearer’s attention is drawn to the messengers themselves. Most commentators on the oratorio assume this to be a quotation from Rom 10:15, but since Paul is here quoting Isaiah 52:7, the citation could just as well have been taken directly from the Old Testament prophet.

The following chorus (#37) also quotes two texts. Again, most commentators find the inspiration for this citation in Romans 10:18, but one could just as well claim Psalm 19:4 as its source. In any case, this text announces the scope of the Messiah’s triumph in the herald’s proclamation – wherever the heavens declare the glory of God, there the messengers proclaim the triumph and exaltation of the Messiah.

Once again we encounter a situation in which the translators who produced the King James Bible have chosen a term which, as Block generously states, “obscures” the original meaning of the text. This is an all-too-common occurrence, and in many instances, it might be more accurate to say that the KJV “changes” rather than merely “obscures” the meaning of the text… which is to be expected from a translation in which the King of England directed the translators to ensure that the new translation would conform to and legitimize the traditions of the Church of England (which included, conveniently, the “divine right of kings”).

I don’t want to get into a translation debate here, but I would like to commend to you here the English Standard Version, and particularly the ESV Study Bible. This is the translation I use (though not dogmatically) for nearly all of my Scripture references on the blog. It is a very precise yet readable English translation. Furthermore, the ESV Study Bible has quickly become an indispensable resource for my personal library. Even if the 3,000-page tome is a bit intimidating for you, the access to the online version of the ESVSB that comes free with a purchase of the Bible is worth the cost by itself!

Returning from that brief detour, I should point out that the specific translation peculiarity in question here in Psalm 68:11 does not alter any vital theological truth. As we learned yesterday, the context of Psalm 68 is a triumphant return from battle. As the ESVSB points out, the “women who announce the news” are probably the groups of women who would travel from town to town ahead of the returning triumphant army, spreading word of their victory. Instances of this happening are recorded in Exodus 15:20-21 and 1 Samuel 18:6-7.

Nevertheless, the KJV’s use of the word “preachers” here does provide one valuable redeeming quality: A convenient link between the previous and following texts for Jennens as he sought to connect Paul’s quotation of a later verse from this Psalm with Paul’s quotations of other Old Testament texts pertaining to the sharing of the Gospel. Given Paul’s identification (in Ephesians 4) of “preachers” as one of the gifts given to men in Psalm 68:18, the KJV rendering of Psalm 68:11 does make for a smooth transition. Taken in the context of Romans 10, where Jennens takes us next, one could easily proclaim as a great Truth: “The Lord gave the Word: great is the company of those who preach it”. The only problem is that quoting Psalm 68:11 for that purpose completely divorces the text from its actual meaning and context!

All in all, this is a fairly harmless separation of a verse from its context. Jennens uses it responsibly to arrive at the greater emphasis on the mandate of those who have received the Good News to share it with others. Still, it serves as a reminder that God’s Word can be used to “prove” nearly any point one cares to make if verses are taken out of context. Preachers, authors, theologians, philosophers, and (especially) politicians love to claim Scripture as the authority for their doctrine. Many others love to misquote Scripture to set up and destroy Straw Men in support of their own unbelief.

It is no wonder that people today are so confused regarding the God of the Bible, when His own Word is so often used in ways that are mutually exclusive. It is imperative, then, that we investigate not only the actual words within God’s holy Word, but also the context a passage has within the greater Story of the Scriptures. It is only through diligent, Spirit-guided study of all that God has spoken in the Bible that we are able to properly exercise discernment among the many truth claims made in His name. It is only through diligent, Spirit-guided evangelism that God’s people will break through the clouds of confusion in our culture to shine light on who He has revealed Himself to be.

And at last we’ve arrived at the Truth which Jennens wanted us to see in these texts. It is one on which he, myself, George Fredric Handel, the apostle Paul, and true Christians everywhere through all time may exuberantly and wholeheartedly agree, no matter which translation of the Bible we use!

On to Day 16

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