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Monday, February 21, 2011

Psalm 48: The Final Verse (verse 15)

כי זה אלהים אלהינו עולם ועד הוא ינהגנו על מות׃
For this is God, our God; forever and eternally he shall be guiding us until death.

This is the final line of the psalm.  After a series of complex images, phrases and ideas the psalmist ends with a seemingly simple, yet powerful phrase.  Yet, no verse in the psalms is ever quite as simple as it might seem on the surface.

A more traditional translation of the verse would read something like “For this is the Lord, our God; forever and ever he shall lead us until death.”  The verse begins with a reminder that God is our God.  This does not imply, as one might imagine, that God belongs to us.  For God is ours because we are all a part of God.  In addition, though אלהים Elohim is translated as “God” or “Lord”, it is actually a plural noun. Many commentaries have been written on the origins of this name for God.  But in this case, I see it as a reminder that, even though God is One, there are many “gods” within the Eternal.  Or, as the tradition would put it, there are many “faces” of God.  All of these faces are “our God.”  All of these faces are part of God and therefore a part of us.

Then we are reminded of the eternal nature of God.  However, the customary phrase לעולם ועד l’olam va’ed, more literally translated as to forever and eternally, is shortened here to simply  עולם ועד olam va’ed.  This can be translated simply as forever and eternally.  Dropping “to” from the phrase may seem unimportant. However, I see this as reminding us that “forever” is not something we can look forward “to” in the future.  Forever is now.  Each moment is part of forever. And the moments continue eternally beyond any kind of time that we humans can imagine.  And being one with God, we too become part of this eternity.

But what is the nature of eternity?  What is the nature of divinity now and forever?  The psalmist states that God will be guiding us “until death.”  But doesn’t this contradict the concept of eternity?  Isn’t God beyond death?  Yes. Indeed God is just that, and the verse points to that reality.  For the psalmist did not use the expected word עד ad /until death, but instead uses the word על al, which is customarily translated as above, on or upon.  So we can understand this phrase as saying that God will guide us above, or beyond, death. 

The eternal nature of the Divine, and of our inner divine spirit, is affirmed in these last words.  All that has come before in the psalm is not just about our life in this world.  It is about the never ending world of the Eternal One.  A world of which we are all a part and from which we should never feel set apart.

God is that guiding force within each of us that has no beginning and no end.  It is that which connects us with what we might think of as past and future, but which is in reality all a part of forever.   However, this may be a little much for us to comprehend on a daily basis.  So, in our everyday lives, let us think of the verse as referring to the fact that God is the guiding force within us from moment to moment.  Each moment is its own little piece of eternity.  Each moment is an opportunity to connect with God, the world around us and each other.  Each moment is an opening to holiness, to serenity and to doing what we must to make a difference our world.

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