The importance of place
Psalm 126:1-6 (NIV)
When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
I have a real interest and passion for context as I read the bible. For many people that means understanding the verses leading up and following a particular verse. I agree. However, I also realize that in many cases there is an even broader context that needs to be examined; the context of the time, culture and geography.
The message of the bible has a number of audiences. There was the audience under the direct influence of the inspired author; the people of the time and place. However, there is also the larger audience who transcend time and place. We are part of that audience. If you live in a city in America you may not have a clue what the Psalmist is taking about when he says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1). The reader may know what a deer is, but why is the deer panting after water, why is that like the thirst the Psalmist has for God? Understanding that context, or perhaps more importantly, being able to visualize that context can change a persons understanding, or appreciation of the scriptures.
In Psalm 126 the Psalmist recounts the joy that filled the hearts of the returning captives. If the author is David, then he is prophetically describing the Jewish return from the Babylonian exile as suggested by the Jewish content site “AISH.” Regardless, any reader can get a sense of the joy described as having, mouths filled with laughter, and tongues with songs of joy. We do not have to be a prisoner to at least have some understanding of how freedom gained would be a joyous occasion. However, if you do not know what the Negev is, what image created by having one’s fortune restored like streams in the Negev (Psalm 126:4)? At times like these, understanding the geography can be very helpful in appreciating the Psalmist’s expression. The Negev is a barren (see image to the left), but beautiful area in southern Israel. Rain is rare, but when it comes there can be an explosion of color. What is lost in the summer, can be restored by the winter rains.
If you want to gain a better understanding of the culture and geography there are opportunities. You can always find books about ancient customs and there are some books written about geography of the bible. Better yet, take a trip. See the land. Join us in June 2012 for a 14 day excursion intothe land of the bible. Watch this site for details
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