By Reverend Thomas K. Murphy, O.F.M.
We now come to the other part of the Covenant relationship: and you shall be my people. The sun, moon and stars, the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the vegetation and animals of the earth all act according to the Will of their Creator in a deterministic way. The results are fascinating and delightful to behold. Only we human beings, fashioned in the image and likeness of our Creator, are called to act according to the Will of our Creator through the exercise of our inner gifts of understanding and free will. The results are usually fascinating, but as we see in our daily news accounts, not always delightful.
When God called the community of Israel into a Covenant relationship (cf. Ex 19 and 20), he said, and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (cf. Ex 19:6a). By these simple words, he intended to fashion a holy nation that would bring God’s blessing to all peoples.
Yet God understood their human weakness. After their original dismal failure (cf. Ex 32), God agreed to take a second chance. Moses said, I beg you, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin . . . (cf. Ex 34:9b). Moses was anticipating the role of Jesus about 1300 years later.
The importance of instructing the people in the ways of the Covenant is highlighted by the presence of four groups of Wisdom Psalms: Wisdom Psalms Proper (teaching of the sages of Israel), Liturgical Psalms (instructions by the priests in the Temple), Prophetic Exhortations (given by God at various gatherings), and Historical Psalms (the record of the people’s actual behavior).
Again, to demonstrate the importance of instruction, the first Psalm in the Book of Psalms is a Wisdom Psalm. Psalm 1 speaks of the wisdom and happiness of the person who freely chooses to do the Will of the Lord: Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water . . . (cf. Ps 1:1-3). All the Wisdom Psalms remind the people that their sanctification is always primarily the work of God: Trust in the LORD, and do good . . . He will bring forth your vindication as the light . . . But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity (cf. Ps 37:3,6,11).
Psalm 24 is a Liturgical Psalm. The priest asks in verse 3, Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? The answer comes in terms of personal and social virtues in verse 4, He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.
In the Psalms of Prophetic Exhortation, the people were reminded that the Lord observes all human behavior: The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any that . . . seek after God (cf. Ps 14:2). Sadly, favorable reports are rare: But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would have none of me (cf. Ps 81:11).
The Historical Psalms, 78 and 105, show God’s purpose in shepherding his people: And he gave them the lands of the nations . . . to the end that they should keep his statutes and observe his laws (cf. Ps 105:44, 45).