Blessed nation?

In Psalm 37:25 David says “I was young, and now I’m old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread.”

There is an American doctor named Mary to whom I will always be grateful. You see, she works in Wollaitta, a poverty-ridden town in Ethiopia, where both my little girls were born. She is the doctor who watched over my baby’s life for a month when she was very tiny, and then delivered her to the Catholic orphanage in Addis Ababa so that a few months later she could be adopted by us.

This doctor has seen so much suffering that when asked about the above words from King David, she said fiercely, “I don’t think that verse should be in the Bible.”I hope you’ll read this whole post– you won’t forget it.

I have always believed that the Bible is divinely inspired, and that every word was put there for a reason. And yet I also am puzzled by that verse. How can it be true, when so many mothers in the world cannot feed their children? And what is the purpose of its presence in the Bible?

I don’t usually get into huge theological discussions here, but I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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  1. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, I believe King David was speaking personally of his lifetime. Israel and Judah were enjoying a time of plenty for the most part during David’s childhood and his reign as King.

    All through the Bible it speaks of times of plenty and times of hardship, in Old Testament times, New Testament times and even prophecy of future times. God never promised that his children would never suffer hardship.

    Even living as faithfully as we can by God’s Scriptures doesn’t guarantee that Christians won’t suffer along with the rest of the world. It rains on the just and the unjust.

    I can’t say I understand it completely either, Mary. All I can do is accept it and do my best to live a Godly life.

  2. I do not believe the Bible is the place for modern day solutions to many of the world’s issues. Many times the Bible is recording what people said and did, and does not necessarily offer solutions to current problems. I do believe the Bible can be a source of comfort for many things. I don’t think David could have foreseen that our world would be so massively over-populated and full of disease and poverty. We are reading the words of one person…not God’s words. David spoke them and they (Psalms for instance) are an account of his words. And while his words inspire songs and give comfort to many, his words are merely that….David’s words.

    I believe it saddens God to see the children he loves suffering. I believe he gives divine wisdom and guidance to those who can and should help. And for those who can, what a blessing. God does not choose for his children to be hungry, homeless, family-less and sick. But to search the Bible for answers to those kinds of questions is futile. And because the Bible can offer no specific solutions, many take that as a failing of God to care for this planet. When in reality, God helps this planet in ways we cannot begin to see or imagine.

    After all…for 6 orphaned children, God gave them John and Mary!

  3. Definitely tough questions. There’s always the contrast between God’s good and perfect will for the world he created perfectly, and the way it is corrupted by general sin in the world. Our pastor always says,

    “God is a good provider. Man is a very poor divider.”

    I am glad that this life, with all of the sufferings it contains in its current condition, is but a vapor, and taht it will all be made new someday. Wish I had more time to think about this today…

  4. Define “bread” and there’s your answer. Does King David mean literal bread? Righteous people do not have to beg God for spiritual bread.

  5. This verse is included in the traditional Jewish table prayer after meals. Since the Holocaust, there are groups of Jews who refuse to pray this segment of the prayer.

  6. Two writers on the Psalms have influenced me a lot. One was C.S. Lewis. His Reflections on the Psalms shocked me when I read it as young adult because he took what I then perceived to be great liberties with the “truth” value of the words. The thing is, the Psalms are poetry, not theology – at other points in the Psalms David expresses the opposite sentiments, feeling abandoned by God without cause. Both moods are part the experience of knowing God.

    The other person I think of is Kathleen Norris. I think it was in The Cloistered Life (The Cloister Life?) that she talks about singing through the psalms, including the rage psalms, in a regular cycle throughout the year. Her experience of that was that there is a kind of depth in experiencing every mood of faith – and in some ways the confident, jubilant Psalms may be more difficult for us to enter into now than the angry ones.

    The Psalms tell the truth – but the truth they tell is more about us than it is about God. (There are plenty of other parts of the Bible whose purpose is to tell us who God is and what he has done.)

  7. I don’t know the answer to this. I don’t think we are promised health & prosperity, or even food and shelter. Look at the apostle Paul. If any human “deserved” good things because of all he had done, he did. But, he went through so much in his life, including being without food, shelter, etc. This question is one I have struggled with, and I don’t think there is a nice, pat answer, unfortunately.

  8. I think it’s a literary device, like how you might say to a child “I’ve never seen a mess like that in my whole life!” when literally — you have. But you use a turn of phrase for effect. It’s not an issue of true vs. false (in my opinion) but a way to call attention top a general point: that the speaker emphasizes his blessings from a young man to an old one. I can’t imagine that there has never been a nation that didn’t have it’s poor.

    Generally, I don’t agree with the idea that faith = getting all the good stuff. It makes me feel like God’s being treated like a servant, whose job it is to make sure our lives are easy. I think that we have faith because we have it, and our reward isn’t worldly riches, but rather a connection/knowledge of God.

    I think that’s the meaning (again, opinion) why Jesus says “blessed are the poor,” because people thought that if they were poor, they must have been bad, not to be blessed with riches. But riches isn’t the reward. If they were, than rich really would equal better or more valuable in God’s sense, and I don’t like to think that’s true. Cause um…I’m not rich, and I hope God loves me! 🙂

  9. A Jewish perspective… 🙂

    The Hebrew word for bread, “lechem”, is often understood as a metaphor for torah. So, the children of the righteous (tzaddikim in Hebrew) will never lack for torah. And indeed anyone who seeks it will have a place in the World to Come (olam habah).

    This verse is also the last part of the very long Grace After Meals that Jews say after completing a meal with bread. It was placed there to remind us that, even when we are full and satisfied, we must remember our obligation to take care of those around us. That’s also why Jews do Grace *after* meals, because one is more likely to forget to be thankful when we are full of good food.

    We also have a *beautiful* melody that is sung to that verse. When we have time to linger at the table we always sing it out loud. 🙂

  10. I believe King David and I know what I have seen in my own life. God has not always provided the solution I desired, on my schedule, but He has always been on time with what I really need 🙂

  11. I do think that this refers to times and places where the food is available.

    One of the first things I thought of as I contemplated this was all the provisions God had made for the poor in Israel. For example, if you had a wheat field, you could not harvest all the way to the edges or go over it a second time. You could not go over your grapes a second time when harvesting them to make sure you didn’t miss any. So in David’s time, if a man’s children were starving, he was too proud or too lazy to do this for them, even if he were very poor.

    The bread=word of God analogy also occurred to me, and it occurred to me that perhaps David had personally seen to it that the righteous did not go hungry.

    Then I went to look at the verse in context.

    25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.

    26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be blessed.

    That gives me a completely different feeling for this scripture. David’s message is not “If you are righteous, you will never go hungry” but “If you are generous when others face a time of need, you will receive generosity when you face a time of need.”

    And it obviously cannot be applied when the food is simply not there. Even a generous man cannot receive food if there is no food to be received. It is based on the assumption that even when you face difficulties, not everyone around you is facing that same difficulty. So I don’t think one could apply this particular scripture to literal bread in a place facing severe famine.

  12. I have no insight but wow I am loving these responses!

  13. christine Masloske says:

    Dear Mary,

    I appreciate not using the blog for theological discussions; very wise! I would like to add a couple of things for consideration here, though…

    First, to address Beth and any others, the Bible is the very Words of God. When reading David’s writings or any others in the Bible, it must be known that they are not merely man’s writings. The Word is the Lord Jesus (read Gospel of John). The Psalms are extremely prophetic and not just nice to sing along to, although we should be singing the Psalms regularly!

    Second, possibly “righteous” and “bread” are words that people have a hard time with. Only God would know who the true righteous are and the “bread” is addressed by Jesus in such verses as “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” and that Jesus is the bread of life. Spiritual bread that only He provides.

    The very prayer that He gave us confirms that He will give us daily bread when we ask for it. Doing a Scriptural study on “bread” and “righteous” may help, along with much prayer for wisdom and discernment from the Lord. So very many who love the Lord Jesus suffer terribly for His name and there are tons of Scripture that address that as well.

    I pray that no one interprets my words to sound unloving or callous towards those who truly are hungry. These words also are not written with contention but with love and prayers that any who doubt the Word of God cry out to the Lord and seek the Lord Jesus who gives all wisdom, faith and understanding.

    Love in Christ,

  14. The Bible may be the literal word of God, as many people believe, but some inadequate human had to translate it into English — working off of other human-created translations, at that.

    Who knows what was misinterpreted along the way?

  15. I’d have to say I agree most with comment #12 made by Christine. How could someone be considered unloving when they are doing the most loving thing in the world which is pointing another to Christ?!
    One more point to ponder…if the church today were functioning as it did in Acts wouldn’t the righteous and their children be taken care of? I think they would be indeed. God’s way always works.

  16. That verse has puzzled and frustrated me for a long time. Thanks for bringing it up. The responses are quite thought-provoking!

  17. The quote should be in the bible! The problem is that we cannot take literally the things in the bible. The book may be inspired but this was not written but passed by word of mouth for those people at that time. Jesus himself said that he told us these parables(stories) so that we could understand. God is not saying that those who are hungry or begging for their children are not good people and serving God.

    Aunt KT

  18. I was all ready to type a comment this morning and then I looked up and the Baby was playing with her poop on the living room rug…where was my brain when I forgot to put her diaper on?

    So I’m back after a full day, and and article that refuses to be written even though the deadline fast approaches. I love these comments.

    First rule of Biblical Exegesis, even before context is….genre, genre, genre. You don’t say things the same way in poetry as you do in an a research paper on WWI right. If you write a poem about WWI but say for example that it rained bullets, no one would expect that the clouds themselves poured down bullets upon the earth now would they? But would the poem be false, simply because you have used a metaphor instead of plain literal language? Would anyone say, no, it didn’t happen exactly like that, that poem isn’t true?

    Well, the Psalms are poems, not histories, or economic manifestos. That right there pretty much solves the problem for me because I don’t read it as a literal promise for the material future of all those who trust God. It isn’t meant to say that. It’s a superlative statement.

    First of all, the Psalm is an acrostic. Each stanza begins with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s primarily a literary endeavour.

    If you read the entire Psalm, you may notice that the rest of it looks forward to some day when God will deal with the wicked. “the Lord laughs at the wicked for he knows that their day is coming.”vs. 13 TNIV

    This verse falls in between several verses that essentially say, “Someday the wicked are gonna get theirs, so don’t fret, obey, and someday you will inherit the land forever.” Don’t you love my clever paraphrasing?

    As a statement of truth I think the Psalm looks forward to the day when this is true, including the verse in question. It’s a description of the way things ought to be, of what the kingdom of God will look like. Does that make it less true if it’s not what we see happening all around us? Is God’s plan for his kingdom, his people, made less good by the fact that the wicked continue to fight against it?

    “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

    The way I understand most of the Bible it’s the story of the ongoing battle between God establishing His kingdom through people who choose to obey and work toward the promise of a kingdom that lives in men’s hearts and minds, and those who are evil and give into evil and selfishness and oppose it. And through out echoing over and over again is that promise that all will come right in the end. This falls into the promise category for me.

  19. Sorry if that was overly long or technical. It comes of being married to a theologian, in a family of theologians. This is dinner conversation for us. 🙂

  20. A Moore, a responder at the original article (link from Mary’s post) has the best answer.

    Of course, the Bible is alive, and every word of it applies to every one of us every minute of our lives, whether we can see it or not.

    IMO, King David did not speak literally of “bread” because we all know of plenty of people who have to beg for food (mostly in other countries.)

    The point A Moore makes so beautifully in her answer is that the REAL poverty (of spirit) is found more in America than on any country on earth.

  21. Here is A Moore’s answer in its entirety:
    “One of the things I worry about is that when we all die and approach the throne of God these children will be with him and then we will have to make answer.

    I wonder that our interpretation of blessed isn’t somewhat different than God’s. I’m not entirely sure america is a blessed nation or that she is anymore or better blessed that Ethiopia and other nations. Differently blessed, maybe. American’s suffer from a hardness and a blindness that I don’t think I’ve seen as much of in other nations. I wonder if that isn’t the burden that Americans carry and when God sees us He sees us no different than the widow and the orphan.

    No real answer for children begging bread- I’m sure David didn’t and maybe that vs. was meant to apply to David’s time literally.

    But the righteous forsaken, I don’t believe God “forsakes” the righteous. He holds them nearer and has a plan we can make no sense of. That is the knowledge I try to keep very fresh at hand on hard days. I’m very thankful things aren’t according to my plan but God’s.
    7:04 PM”

  22. These verses come to mind:

    “His ways are not our ways”
    “Now we see through a mirror dimly…”

  23. christine Masloske says:

    Since the beginning of mankind, Satan has put doubt into human minds about God’s Word…”Yea, hath God said…?”

    Jesus makes it clear that the Scriptures are the very Words of God, from the first Word of the Bible to the Last Word, and that He is the fulfillment of those Words.

    Jesus spoke in parables to the Jews to fulfill Scripture but explained the meaning to the disciples, which was recorded for our knowledge as well.

    If any are in doubt, please ask God to give you wisdom and understanding; to open up your hearts, eyes & hears and pick up your Bible and read what God really said and what really has happened in history.

    “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 3:16

    “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you;

    As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.

    Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.” 2Peter 3:15-17

    Love in Christ,

  24. Christine,
    You are well-named.

  25. Thank you all for this discussion. I’ve now posted photos with my Ethiopia trip comments on my blog if you are interested. The link is above in Owlhaven’s post.

  26. That is a very interesting article. I wish my husband (Ethiopian) would some day lay out his ideas and beliefs on this subject–he lived through starvation and deprivation, yet still somehow believes in the goodness and good provision of the Lord.

    I ahve to say, your baby is a lucky one to have been cared for by Dr. Mary. She is *dedicated* to those little babies in a big way. I had the privilage of caring for a few of “her” babies when we were in Ethiopia.