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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Psalm for Wednesday. Psalm 94, verse 10

הֲיֹסֵ֣ר גֹּ֭ויִם הֲלֹ֣א יֹוכִ֑יחַ הַֽמְלַמֵּ֖ד אָדָ֣ם דָּֽעַת׃
Shall the one who chastises the nations not rebuke; Shall the one who teaches humanity not know?

There seems to be a difference of opinion as to the correct translation of the second part of the verse. Some translate it as I have above. Others translates the verse as, “Shall the one who chastises the nations not rebuke? The one who teaches humanity knowledge!”.

The first translation follows the same pattern as verse 9 (see last week's commentary): “Shall the one who implanted the ear? The one who formed the eye not see?” And so that seems to me the more likely. However, nothing says I can't use a little of each translation when writing my commentary!

In this verse, God is portrayed as the one who chastises the nations. This is certainly a powerful image of punishment. However, the other verb in the first half of the verse has a different connotation. Rebuke can also be translated as “reprimand” or “admonish”. To me, rebuke has tellins someone exactly what they did wrong and that they'd better not do it again. Rebuke, though harsh, implies some kind of corrective intention. Chastise, on the other hand, is about punishment and discipline, plain and simple.

So one could read the first half as saying, “yes, God will discipline or punish us when we do something wrong, but in the end it's really about teaching us how we have erred, so we don't make the same mistake again.”

The idea of teaching then leads us right into the second half of the verse, which is all about God teaching humanity. Continuing from my translation above, one can read the second part of the verse as , “after all, the one who teaches humanity has the knowledge.” The one who is the source of all knowledge knows how to use it. You just have to trust. For if you don't trust and you don't have faith, where are you spiritually? But here is where the two variant translation become important. “Shall the one who teaches humanity not know?” seems to me a response to someone who doubts. It is in itself a kind of rebuke: 'how could you think that the source of knowledge doesn't know what's right or best for you?!!'

The other translation, which reads simply “...the one who teaches humanity knowledge” is more of a statement of “fact” modifying the first half of the verse. It is as if the psalmist is calmly say, “of course the one who teaches humanity knows what's right/good.”

For many of us, both punishment and rebuke are difficult. They are difficult to give and they are difficult to receive. This also applies to ourselves. We have a difficult time accepting our own faults sometimes. Then again, at other times perhaps we take our faults too seriously. But this verse can serve as a reminder. When we chastise others or ourselves, do it for the sake of change. Do it so we hopefully won't make the same bad choice again. Chastisement for chastisement's sake is simply about degrading ourselves and others. And that's not what God is about. That's not what the Divine within is urging us to do.

But ultimately this all comes down to knowledge. In our lives, we can vacillate between belief in a God who knows what is best and is trying to help us act differently the next time, and a God that just wants to punish us. That is an image of a God who doesn't know what is best, who doesn't care what happens to us. That image of God only wants to punishment.

As we look at ourselves in each moment, let us always choose to use chastisement or criticism of self or others as an opportunity to impart knowledge of God's will, however we choose to define that. Let it not be about denigrating others or ourselves. Nor, let it be about doing the ego's bidding and simply denigrating others in order to lift up our own sense of self.

As with all things, this is ultimately about acting from a place of compassion and love. Always doing what we can to make the world better. Always doing what we can in each moment to remember that we are connected to one another, we all depend upon one and other, and we are all united within the love and compassion that is Divine.

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