As I have grown in the faith and in my depth of Biblical knowledge, my favorite Psalm is likely the 139th. It is full of richness and was likely composed after the Jews experienced Exile in Babylon. "Settling at the farthest limits of the sea" in verse nine certainly speaks of the diaspora which established Hebrew communities across the Mediterranean world.
We see the presence of God being transient rather than stationary in Israel. This theological understanding is important and is also mirrored in the story of Jonah.
As Jonah seeks to flee from God's presence, he finds that he cannot. The covering of darkness as well as making his bed in Sheol could refer metaphorically to the belly of the whale.
Many times, we end the reading with, verses 17-18:
These are comforting verses and it seems as if they are an appropriate end to the Psalm. However, if you continue to read, you find that this author is dealing with hatred of God's enemies. In fact, it is a prayer for God to annihilate them. The emotion is real and raw and if we are honest, we actually feel this way at times in our lives. They are the same emotions that Jonah expresses after God relents and forgives the Assyrians in Nineveh. Jonah goes and sulks on a hill, angry enough to die.
|Jonah fled on the sea from Joppa. Here's a picture from Jaffa, the |
modern-day location. The farthest limits of the sea look very much the same.
Many think that the story of Jonah was also composed during the post-exilic period. Could it have been written as a response to the entirety of Psalm 139? It seems to me to be an excellent rabbinic response to the confessional nature of the faith.
After all, none of us what to be seen as pouting on a hill.
I'm looking forward to preaching on this text on Sunday.
Picture by By Deror_avi via Wikimedia Commons