Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 43

What I Read Today: Psalms 79-84.

What Stood Out About What I Read: Psalm 81: 1-4, ” Shout for joy to God, our source of strength! Shout out to the God of Jacob! Sing a song and play the tambourine, the pleasant sounding harp, and the ten-stringed instrument! Sound the ram’s horn on the day of the new moon, and on the day of the full moon when our festival begins. For observing the festival is a requirement for Israel; it is an ordinance given by the God of Jacob.”

and Psalm 81: 11-13, “But my people did not obey me; Israel did not submit to me. I gave them over to their stubborn desires; they did what seemed right to them. If only my people would obey me! If only Israel would keep my commands!”

Random Thoughts About What I Read Today:

I’m thinking of two songs today. The first one harkens back to the days when I was 16 and riding around with my buddies. Generally, they hated the stuff I normally listened to (the punk stuff) so when we rode around with the windows down we popped in a tape of the typical common ground of 16-year-old guys riding around with the windows down: Led Zeppelin.

Oh, sure, we argued about which Led Zeppelin tape would get priority, so we made a mix tape of our favorite songs. Granted the first few songs were ones everybody liked, like “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock and Roll.” But we threw everyone a curveball by keeping “Stairway to Heaven” off the tape (it was overplayed even by 1981)…and one song we all loved that not many people did: “Celebration Day.”

If you have it, listen to it now. It’ll help.

But here are some of the lyrics:

“Her face is cracked from smiling,
all the fears that she’s been hiding,
And it seems pretty soon
everybody’s gonna know.
And her voice is sore from shouting,
cheering winners who are losing,
And she worries if their days are few
and soon they’ll have to go.

My, my, my, I’m so happy, I’m gonna join the band,
We are gonna dance and sing in celebration,
We are in the promised land.

Now, you have to remember that we weren’t aware that the song was somewhat ironic in that it’s about race relations in America in the early ’70’s…and how the cost would be more than you thought and how when you got to the “promised land” (a brilliant reference to MLK) it wouldn’t be exactly what you thought.

Nope. We just full-throttled the chorus like the happiest people in the world. We might’ve been. My, my, my we were so happy! We were going to sing and dance in celebration. We’re in the promised land! Yep. Driving around with the windows down in suburban Alabama, blissfully ignorant of the meaning of the song, and if you’ve ever heard the song…
…Jimmy Page’s furious guitar work throughout (sounds like he’s playing 3 different parts at once)
…John Henry Bonham’s thundering drums
…John Paul Jones’ bass runs
…Robert Plant’s wailing about being so happy and dancing and singing and celebration

…suffice to say that it was an authentic celebration of life for us. We sang loud (the music was up loud enough that we couldn’t hear each other–none of us were near the vocal range of Robert Plant, let’s get real, okay?) and we meant it. We were very happy on those days.

And that’s sort of the mindset of the beginning of this Psalm. See, the Israelites were required by The Law to attend several festivals…this one, The Feast of the Tabernacles, was specifically put in place to remind the people of God’s work in Israel’s history. Kind of like America’s July 4th.

And that’s how I picture the first few verses of the song. Urgent. Flying guitar work. Happy, voices at full volume, kind of like that pure life-moment at a concert of your favorite artist. The lights come on and the crowd roars with that air of anticipation.

Get out your tambourines!
Get out the harp!
Get out the 10-stringed instrument!
Get out the Ram’s Horn–
–to start the party!
Them’s the rules!
God says we have to do this!

Let’s show the world how excited we are about the work of God!
Who wouldn’t want to follow a God that REQUIRES THIS IN OUR LIVES?!

Then they sing a song of celebration, man.
About the freedom they got from Egypt when God delivered them!
About that trust they learned from Him at Meribah!
About how God revealed Himself to them at Mount Sinai!

Rock on!
Singing loud!
Singing and dancing in celebration!
We’re in the promised land!
Furious guitar work here!
Thundering drums here!
10-string bass runs here!
More wailing like Robert Plant here!

(side note: I wish more church music were like Led Zeppelin, but that’s another issue altogether)


…verses 13-16.

Then it becomes like a Frank Turner song. Most of you haven’t heard of him and that’s a shame. But he’s got a song he wrote, “Once We Were Anarchists” in which he laments the passion of his younger days and how he’s lost that:

“…But it’s hard to keep on fighting the good fight
When no one else seems bothered, yeah,
When no one’s on your side…

But I must say I envy the way that they live
In a style that’s all take and no give,
While I’m playing the Lone Ranger,
Riding to the rescue of six billion strangers,
Armed with only unoriginal songs
And a sense that something’s wrong…

…And everybody’s jaded and tired and bored
And no one lifts a finger because
It’s just not in our culture.
Our culture is carrion and we’re all vultures,
And no one seems bothered by this state of play ‘
It seems that the stench is with us to stay…

…m young enough to be all pissed off
But I’m old enough to be jaded.
I’m of the age where I want things to change
But with age my hopes have faded.
I’m young and bored of being young and bored ‘
If I was old I could say I’d seen it all before.
In short, I’m tired…

And that’s kind of like verses 13-16.

Part of Israel’s history is that Israel doesn’t change their own history.
They didn’t listen to God’s voice.
They didn’t obey God.
They were pretty good at keeping a stubborn heart.
They were pretty good and walking however they darn well wanted to.

Cue the simple drumbeat.
Cue the lone off-key voice.
Cue the repetitive and monotonous music.
Cue the harmonica.
Cue the folk-singer sensibility of a call to action.
Cue the sing-along chorus…

If only the people would listen!
If only they would walk in God’s ways!
Oh, the things God would do for them!
Oh, the enemies he would slay for them!
Oh, the blessings he would bestow on them!
The finest bread!
The most wonderful honey!

Delivered in only the way a Bob Dylan-esque singer could do it.

And that’s what this Psalm brings out in my way of thinking: A song of celebration…fast and furious and fun and loud and all the best things of singing full-throated together…

…followed by the more pensive folk-singer coffee-shop reminder that this isn’t a history we want to repeat. This celebration should never need a folk singer with a harmonica and a guitar to remind us of what is supposed to be…

…and what isn’t.
…and that he got tired of fighting.
…and that his hopes have faded and he’s jaded…

…because the corporate reality isn’t going to change.

And today, the application is obvious:

In what ways are we not listening or obeying?
And what are we going to do about that?

Because the celebration shouldn’t have to stop, right?

(Tomorrow’s Reading: 1 Corinthians 1)