Lectionary Year A
June 16, 2002
Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Step IV: Context

A. Primitive Christianity

(JFC) The love of God, with which this week's lection begins, is emphasized often in the New Testament, e.g., in Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to the Pharisees that the greatest commandment in the Law is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind." I Peter 1:8 commends believers who "love him whom you have not seen", the Risen Christ. And, of course, love in general is also highlighted there, too, cf., I Corinthians 13. And, II Corinthians 5:14 asserts that "for the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; . . . ." Then, Peter's sermon on the first Christian Pentecost states, as does Psalm 116:3, "God has raised him (Christ) up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held by its power", as, presumably it was also for the Psalmist of the 116th. Then, of course, the cup of salvation becomes in the New Testament "the cup of blessing", in I Corinthians 10:16, the Passover becoming the Eucharist.

B. Old Testament and Judaism

(JFC) The word, bh;a', in the Old Testament, describes God's love for Israel, the people faithful. On it is based humans' love for God as this Psalmist begins expressing. A classical human illustration of such love comes in the David and Jonathan friendship in I Samuel 18:1-4, 20:17 and II Samuel 1:26. "At the same time, the feeling of love for God and the prayer, 'I love Yahweh, because he has heard my fervent cries' (Ps. 116:1, emended text) are based on man's faith in the active love of God for him." Humans become aware of God's love in the Old Testament sanctuaries and they most readily reciprocate that love in Jerusalem's Temple, TDOT, vol. I, pages 104 and 116. Hannah (I Samuel 2) seeks God for help, the prayer is heard and answered, she gives thanks and lives up to the vow she made, as was the case in our text at hand. Also, Jonah 1:16 reports prayers for help in a storm at sea, vows made and thank offerings given when the prayers are answered, too. A "drink offering" is ordered by God in Leviticus 7:12-15 and Numbers 28:7, from which, perhaps Psalm 116:13 might come. The gathered people are to give thanks to God for helping in Isaiah 40-55, Psalms 30, 32 and 118, plural imperatives, according to P. D. Miller in They Cried to the Lord. As the first century turned into the second of the CE, the Odes of Solomon, 29:11, pictured God as the gracious and merciful creator, who rescued the Odist from his chains and it said, "And I gave praise to the Most High, because he has magnified his servant and the son of his maidservant." These images seem similar to Psalm 116:16.

C. Hellenistic World

(JFC) These thinkers believed in one God, as does the Psalmist of this week. Surely they could have appreciated God's attitude toward the death of the faithful, as verse 15 of our text says. The family ties and the loosed bonds in the next verse (16) probably led the Hellenists to dialogue the significance of these sentiments, too.

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