Four Branches December 2016

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Exegetical Theology: Pondering the Penitentials (Part 1)

When looking at the psalms designated as “penitential” [1], one can’t help but see a connection between Psalm 6 and Psalm 38, with the latter taking on an expanded form. The opening words in English translations of both psalms are frequently identical: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” (NIV)

A small difference in the Hebrew text of Psalm 6 provides an interesting difference, however. In Psalm 6 the common Hebraism that uses the word  אַף “nostril” for anger is found in the opening verse.[2] A literal translation would be: “O Lord, not with (flared) nostrils rebuke me, nor in your burning wrath discipline me. ”

David is not opposed to divine discipline or rebuke, but it’s the righteous anger that drives fear and makes his sinful flesh tremble.[3] David’s words paint a picture of justifiable fear that all sinners ought to have over the “look” that they’ll receive from God – that of God turning toward him with nostrils flared in rage.

But what other “look” from a righteous God could be expected? David’s vocabulary in vs. 4 provides us with an alternative that recalls how the LORD revealed himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6. There the LORD defines himself as אֶ֥רֶךְ אַפַּ֖יִם וְרַב־חֶ֥סֶד literally “long (i.e. “slow”) of flared nostrils and abundant in merciful love.”

So, what’s the look that his truly penitent, sick-over-sin heart receives from God? Psalm 6:4 gives the answer as David appeals to the very nature of God. He calls on God to turn and look, not with flared nostrils, but with a saving face  לְמַ֣עַן חַסְדֶּֽךָ (“because of your merciful love”.)  Finally, what greater relief can there be for the penitent heart than the certainty of God’s loving gaze? The merciful love that has provided the Atoning Sacrifice for sin gazes at us through Christ’s sufficient work and the look of love endures.

Rev. David Bivens serves Christ the Lord Lutheran Church and Sienna Lutheran Academy in Sienna Plantation, TX, and as chairman of the BWM’s Administrative Committee for African Missions.


N.B.  Interested in working through the Penitential Psalms with your congregation? A free Bible Study option that provides one way to do so is found here: Please note, this is not a WELS produced resource. As always discretion and personal preparation will carry the day.

[1] Psalm 6 is the first of seven psalms that has been grouped together for centuries under the category of Penitential Psalms. The other are 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 (6, 31, 37, 50,101,129 and 142 in the Hebrew text)

[2] In Psalm 38:1, the term קֶצֶף is used for “anger” while the rest of the parallel construction remains the same.

[3] Note the position of the negative: place in front of the substantives as opposed to the verbs. Cf. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p.480. Also John Brug’s “A Commentary on Psalms 1-72”, p. 156.


Systematic Theology: The Idiomatic Genus

In the Nicene creed, we confess, “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and became fully human.”  The Logos asarkos became the Logos ensarkos!  What a miracle!  What humiliation!  And the best part of it?  God did that for me, for us and for our salvation!  Traditionally (and still today in many catholic churches), fittingly, there is a pause in the service at these words to give people time to kneel or bow their heads in awe of God’s action of becoming man for us.

Can Jesus be weak and all powerful?  Can Jesus learn and know all things?  Can Jesus be in one location and fill all things?  The answer is yes!  That’s the genus idiomaticum.  Since Jesus is 100% human and 100% divine in one person, what can be said of each nature can properly be said of the one person, Jesus.  “They would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (2 Corinthians 2:8)  The divine and human attributes of Jesus are attributed to his one person.

The church of history has struggled to define this truth.  In an attempt to safeguard the humanity of Jesus, Nestorius erroneously taught that one must make a distinction between the actions of the two natures of Jesus.  He separated the two natures in Christ to make two natures and two persons, like boards that were glued together.  But, if only Jesus’ human nature died on the cross, we cannot be saved.

When’s the last time you re-read how the Lutheran dogmaticians have written on this subject with brilliant clarity?  With each article, I will refer to you a resource that is likely on your shelf.  Start with Lyle Lange’s “For God So Loved The World,” pages 237-266.

Rev. David Scharf serves as a professor of theology at Martin Luther College and on the Commission on Congregational Counseling.

Historical Theology: This Is Most Certainly…False

There are things that Luther never said or did that are often cited as part of the “Luther canon.” One of the most egregious of Luther’s apocryphal actions is that he used bar tunes – drinking songs – for his hymn texts. Rick Warren writes “The tune of Martin Luther’s ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’ is borrowed from a popular song of his day. (Today, Luther would probably be borrowing tunes from the local karaoke bar.)”[1] One hears this historical “fact” in worship discussions in WELS from time to time.

Luther, Melanchthon, and Amsdorf very well may have enjoyed a good Wittenberg beer or two while the Word went to work against the papacy. What is most certainly false, however, is that Luther enjoyed singing good Wittenberg drinking songs in church! Yes, Luther used bar tunes, but not the bar one might think. Luther’s “bar tunes” had nothing to do with the Rheinheitsgebot.[2] Luther’s bar tunes had everything to do with the Hofweise – the songs of the German princely courts. Barform is not so much a musical “style” (classical, folk, popular) as it is a musical form.

A Mighty Fortress” is a textbook example of a barform song. The musical formula is

Stollen [AA] + Abgesang [B] = Barform.

What does this mean? Look at CW 200.

  • Sing the words “A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon.” You have just sung “A”. Now sing “He helps us free from every need That has us now overtaken.” The melody here is repeated without change, “A” again (AA=Stollen).
  • Now sing “The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight.” The melody here is different. This is section “B” (B=Abgesang).
  • Finally, melody “A” makes a brief reappearance at “On earth is not his equal.”

This is classic German barform – something completely different than a classic German barroom.

Luther used barroom tunes? This is most certainly…FALSE. The music choices that Luther did make are far more interesting – and certainly more helpful – for today’s worship discussions. In sum: History’s facts are richer than barroom fiction!

Brothers with some musical background, consider reading Luther’s Liturgical Music or The Lutheran Chorale: Its Basic Traditions.

Brothers with less musical background, consider reading Worship Wars in Early Lutheranism, Luther on Liturgy and Hymns, or Luther’s Works: American Edition, Vol 53.

Rev. Aaron Christie serves Trinity Lutheran Church in Waukesha, WI, and is chairman of the Hymnody Committee for the WELS hymnal project.

[1] Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995. p. 282.

[2] The famous German purity law of 1516 limited the ingredients in beer to barley, hops, and water.

Practical Theology: Be a Blessing When You Are–and Aren’t–the Pastor

There is a limited period of time when we rejoice at having a special privilege (a gift of God’s grace) like that which God once gave to his Apostle Paul: Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ. (Eph 3:8)

Of course, it’s always our privilege to speak the good news about Jesus to troubled sinners at every stage of our lives. We call that the universal priesthood. But there is that limited time when we proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ as public ministers of the gospel. To acknowledge that they recognize you as such a called servant of Christ, people will even refer to you as Pastor. But that time ends.

  • Sometimes that time ends with your death. Then, the certainty of the resurrection to eternal life which you gave to worshipers at so many funeral services will be the joy they share with your survivors. Perhaps they’ll even remember you and talk about you from time to time – with kind words, I’m sure.
  • Sometimes that time ends when you are no longer a pastor because you left the public ministry when you retired. Be a blessing when you’re not pastor.
  • Sometimes that time ends when you are no longer the pastor because you left the public ministry in place by accepting a divine call to serve in another place. Be a blessing when you’re not the pastor.

Being a blessing in those last two circumstances is difficult because you have a sinful nature. After so many faithful years of service as an overseer – ἐπίσκοπος (1 Timothy 3:2) it can be hard to resist the temptation to become a meddler, an ἀλλοτριοεπίσκοπος (1 Peter 4:15).

The love and the blood of your Savior, Jesus, forgives even your sins of meddling, but it’s important to recognize those sins. A little more on that in the next Four Branches.

Rev. John Seifert serves Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Midland, MI, and as president of the Michigan District.