1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, *
and his mercy endures for ever.
2 Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim *
that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.
3 He gathered them out of the lands; *
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
17 Some were fools and took to rebellious ways; *
they were afflicted because of their sins.
18 They abhorred all manner of food *
and drew near to death's door.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, *
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent forth his word and healed them *
and saved them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy *
and the wonders he does for his children.
22 Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving *
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.
This is the Psalm selection to be sung aloud on the fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. This song of praise follows an Old Testament reading about the bronze serpent raised upon a pole by Moses. It precedes the Epistle reading of Paul writing to the Ephesians, saying “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Finally, this song accompanies John’s Gospel account of Jesus telling Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
This song of praise is 43 verses in total, meaning only 9 of the whole are read today. That equates to roughly 21% or one fifth of that stated by David. The selectivity for today can be seen (fairly easily) as cherry-picking verses that fit the Numbers theme of disobedience, death, repentance, and salvation. Still, because David did not specifically list that event, the same themes fit all wayward believers, at all times.
In these nine verses, the NRSV has translated the word “Lord” four times (which I marked in red above). The Hebrew word written each time is “Yahweh” [“לַיהוָ֣ה”]. While calling Yahweh the “Lord” is certainly appropriate for all (like David) who sing praises to God [“Yah-weh”], the mistake in always using that title, because it can mislead the weaker believers to see God as an entity that lords over one, forcing one to do His Will. Because these selected verses are David recalling Israelite history [from the Torah], where Moses was the intermediary between Yahweh and the Israelites, the name “YHWH” [which means, from “’ey-yah ’ă·šer ’ey-yah” – as YHWH] says “I Am Who I Am.” Moses knew God by that name; and, while Yahweh was the Lord of Moses, it was based on his willingness, from love, to allow that domination of the Lord come over him. It is, therefore, important to feel “Yahweh” when one reads these verses, more than know “Yahweh” is the Lord God.
Realizing that one needs to ‘be on a first name basis’ with Yahweh, where one’s soul should be in a marriage relationship with God, through union with His Holy Spirit [as His wife], the first verse sings praise to that presence within. David was married to Yahweh and his having been filled with the Holy Spirit allowed him firsthand knowledge of Yahweh. David knew he was not the only one who had willingly submitted his soul to Yahweh, so he sang to all Israelites, “Give thanks to Yahweh for he is good and his mercy endures forever.” That says David’s soul knew the eternal salvation being married to Yahweh provided.
In verse two, where David sang, “Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed proclaim that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe,” this becomes a statement that marriage to Yahweh is not the norm. While God’s goodness and mercy extends endlessly, most people will not have a deeply spiritual relationship with Him. This says that David was singing out to Israelites, “those whom Yahweh redeemed” by leading their forefathers out of Egypt, as brides He chose. The “hand of the foe” is all worldly places (like Egypt), where the lures away from marriage to God are strong. Therefore, David knew not everyone would be able to sing praises to Yahweh.
In verse three, David sang about who God will accept as His wives, because many in Israel (like Saul, and some military leaders under David) refused to marry Yahweh. God accepts anyone, regardless of which direction they come from, as long as they repent wayward ways and offer complete submission to do the works of Yahweh. In verses one, two and three, the foundation of this song of praise is established, allowing the selection of the following verses to be examples of this goodness and mercy that only the truly blessed will want to sing loudly about.
In verse seventeen, David sings loudly, “Some were fools and took to rebellious ways; they were afflicted because of their sins.” Here, David calls all those who refuse to become wives and servants of Yahweh “fools,” a word that in Hebrew is “evil” [“אֱ֭וִלִים”]. By saying the Israelites who followed Moses into the wilderness were “fools” when they acted in “rebellious ways,” it was foolishness to willfully act against Yahweh and Moses [the epitome of a "“transgression”]. That “sin” led them to bring about their own “afflictions,” which came from themselves attracting poisonous serpents to come bite them, having turned away from Yahweh.
Verse eighteen then adds to their “rebellious ways” by saying they “abhorred all manner of food.” Here, the Hebrew actually states: “kāl- ’ō·ḵel --- tə·ṯa·‘êḇ nap̄·šām;” which literally translates to say, “the whole of food --- abhorred their souls.” In that, the Hebrew word “nephesh” is used, making this a reflection of their “rebellious ways” being rooted in their hatred of “spiritual food,” which fed “their souls.” The only way to withstand all the challenges of life in the wilderness, the Israelites needed more than food for the flesh. Manna became the "whole food" that kept them from perishing.
Those Israelites “abhorred” having to eat manna from heaven, because it kept their faces bowed down in submission to Yahweh, not leaving them the freedom to dwell on sinful thoughts. This is the way of normal mortal, not those married to Yahweh. Thus, this verse sings loudly not only about the past of David’s Israel, but well into the future, reverberating strongly in the present.
Verse eighteen also sings about one drawing “near to death's door.” This is a realization that the soul cannot maintain life in a body of flesh, beyond the limits of the flesh. Being poisoned by snakebites is not something easily remedied. Many had already died from the poisons of sins. All were mortal, thus known to die. Those who felt death close by were filled with great fear, due to knowing it was their faults [sins] that brought them to that doorstep.
Verse nineteen then sings, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” There, David restated verse one, where Yahweh is known by His wives to be “good and show mercy for ever.” Those who realize their ways of evil, seeing the ‘up close and personal’ aspect of death being the only reward of sin, sincerely repented their wrongdoings and begged Yahweh for forgiveness (mercy) is their last hope. This then says that those who seek the salvation of Yahweh do so after having reached the bottom. Those riding high in life are never the one’s who feel “distress,” so they think of themselves as gods. However, when one has an epiphany about one’s mortality, then one often turns to God for divine assistance.
Verse twenty then places focus on God hearing the prayers, which were mediated by Moses in order to save the sinful Israelites. Since the coming of Jesus, who is the model from which all souls can become duplications of Moses-David-Jesus, as Saints reborn in the name of Christ [as Jesus resurrected], Jesus Christ merged with one’s soul becomes the mediator in all true Christians. The Transfiguration revealed Jesus in this light, along with Elijah and Moses [other mediators for Yahweh]. Thus, “[Yahweh] sent forth his word [through His mediator] and healed them and saved them from the grave.” Being “saved from the grave” does not say death will not happen to the flesh, as it means death will still come; but it means the soul is freed from returning into mortal flesh, once redeemed.
Verse twenty-one then sings, “Let them give thanks to [Yahweh] for his mercy and the wonders he does for his children.” This is a repeat of verse one, while now letting one know that songs of praise to Yahweh come from those who have receive God’s Holy Spirit and become His obedient wives. Here, the inclusion of “children” leads one to see this be a reflection of the “children of God,” who were the Israelite people. That can be misleading to Christians today. However, that translation ignores the truth of what is written.
In verse twenty-one, David wrote, “wə·nip̄·lə·’ō·w·ṯāw, liḇ·nê ‘ā·ḏām.” Those words [rooted in “pala ben adam”] say, “and his wonderful works, to the sons of man.” The insertion of a comma after “and his wonderful works” means the works of Yahweh are not His directly, as they can only manifest on earth through His children. The important point to grasp from the Hebrew is it says all His wives were [and always are] “sons of man,” thereby the resurrections of His Son. One can only be a child of God by being His Son [which differentiates normal mortals with souls from divine beings with souls merged with God's Holy Spirit]. We Christians today know that as us having been reborn as Jesus, after our souls marry Yahweh and we receive the Christ Mind [individually].
David’s verse twenty-two then ends this selection song by singing, “Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.” Here, the word that fits the season of Lent is “sacrifice” [“zabach”]. While modern minds will think “sacrifice” means doing without, which will lead some to think the wayward Israelites who complained against their souls and Moses, then gave up whining in order to be forgiven and saved from the grave [like a Lenten promise]. That is not how one should read the word written, which relates it back to being the “works” that will be shown by “the sons of man.”
As a selection that fits the theme of the bronze serpent hung from a pole, the reality was the “serpent” was a “fiery serpent,” which is one of the “seraphim” [a “seraph”]. God told Moses to fashion a likeness of himself, whose soul was eternal, like an angel. The wayward souls were then like seraphim, which needed to be “sacrifice” and mounted on a pole for all to see the result of sinful ways. Thus, the Hebrew written that translates as “and let them sacrifice” [“wə·yiz·bə·ḥū”] really means “to slaughter for sacrifice,” so their “sacrifices” were themselves as the lambs of the Passover. The only way to save one’s soul from a return to a mortal existence [death repeated, via reincarnation] is to kill one’s self-ego and be mounted upon a pole for all the others to see. Death of self keeps one's body of flesh from being led by a wayward soul that wants to complain against God, his mediators, and make one feel forced to go to Bible Studies [hating manna]. Thus, being the “works, those of the sons of man,” means doing as Moses and Jesus did, which means raising one’s soul upon a cross of death, so that others may be saved.
As a Psalm chosen with verses that are specific to the season of Lent, it is the element of self-sacrifice that must be seen as only possible when a soul has already surrendered itself to Yahweh, having already become His obedient wife. This self-sacrifice comes on the altar of marriage, when one hangs from the sacrificial pole as the bronze serpent or when one hangs on the sacrificial cross as Jesus dying. The ceremony of marriage takes place when the slaughter sacrifice is complete and one’s own holy blood [the blood of Jesus] has been smeared around the door frame of one’s flesh. That self-sacrifice is the sacrifice of self-ego, so one can take on the name of Yahweh – become another of the “sons of man.”
Lent is then the honeymoon of one’s relationship with Yahweh, when one can call Him by the name that means “I Am Who I Am,” because one has become one with God, wearing His face, in the name “I Am Who I Am” from marriage. The wilderness experience that is not from marriage to God is one of failure. It is when one acts foolish, through rejecting that presence within. Rejection of God’s Holy Spirit in marriage to a soul means one’s flesh is the god one serves obediently. Attempting to survive a wilderness experience by depending fully on one’s own intellect will lead to mortal death, and a soul bound to the grave.
This year one needs to hear the words of this song of praise, as one who has made the sacrifice of marriage and become one of the sons of man [regardless of human gender]. This is when one becomes a wife of Yahweh and can truly sing about His goodness and mercy, from having experienced I personally. In that way, Lent becomes a honeymoon that lasts for ever.