Tuesday

29 June 2010

"Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts." (v.4)

Background

"Righteous" is one of those 'religious' words that we often find in hymns, prayers and, of course, the Bible. In Christian language it has come to have all kinds of complicated meanings to do with an individual's status before God (such as "being declared righteous through faith"). But in the Bible it tended to have a much simpler meaning. The righteous do what is right, rather than what is wrong. God is righteous, because God does what is right. God's people are called to be righteous.

So, therefore, the 'unrighteous' are "the wicked" and "evildoers". And for the purposes of this psalm, the wicked are those who don't live in Judea or worship in Jerusalem.

This psalm or Song of Ascents would have been sung by processions going up to the Temple in Jerusalem, reminding the people that God was protecting them from their enemies. The northern kingdom of Israel, with its wicked kings, may have fallen to its enemies, but Judah was secure. Other tribes may have "turned aside to their own crooked ways" and as a result been led "away with evildoers", but God would "do good ... to those who are good" and who are "upright in their hearts". At least, that was the theory.

While the north suffered and the south flourished, this simple theology served Judah well and encouraged people to do what was right. That happy situation was not to last, though: 125 years after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians, Judah was to suffer a similar - even a worse - fate at the hands of the Babylonians. Doing the right thing is certainly what God requires of God's people, but it's no guarantee that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

To Ponder

Righteous means 'doing what is right'. Do you agree? Why?

How can those who know they are righteous avoid seeming smug?

How do we explain why God does not always seem to do good to those who are good?

Bible notes author: Revd David Rhymer

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