Biblical Themes :
The Middle of the Bible
Any one for a spot of hill-walking? Let's all go together; but first, this.
Do any of you remember being encouraged when you were young to read a chapter
of the Bible every day?
I'm ashamed to say my favourite was Psalm 117. It has only two verses, but
it counted as a chapter all the same!
Later, when I was older, I discovered a curious thing about my chapter. It
is the middle chapter of the Bible as well as the shortest. There
are 1,189 chapters altogether, and it is the 595th.
The traditional division of chapters used to be ascribed to a little-known
man, Hugh of St Cher, and dated to about 1262. Now it is attributed to Stephen
Langton, a lecturer at the University of Paris and subsequently Archbishop of
Canterbury, who died in 1228.
It is only by a kind of chance that Psalm 117 is the middle chapter. But it
is a kindly chance: it deserves the place. Look at it for a moment and you will
It gives us a concise description of God's love which it says is faithful,
sure and enduring. In the New Revised Standard Version, which is the version of
the pew Bibles in the church, it reads:
- 'Praise the Lord, all you nations! Extol him all you peoples!
- For great is his steadfast love towards us, and the faithfulness of the
Lord endures for ever. Praise the Lord!'
It is at this point that we return to our hill-walking. It is marvellous to
climb to the summit of a hill, and see the countryside laid out beneath you.
This psalm, the middle chapter, is like the central ridge, the highest peak of
We climb up from Genesis on the one side, so to speak, or from
Revelation on the other, and when we reach the top we look before and
after, and all round, north, south, east, and west - and what do we see?
Nothing but the love of God! 'Great is his steadfast love towards us, and the
faithfulness of the Lord endures for ever.' It's a wonderful sight, and all the
more wonderful because we know it is not a mirage, but is real, solid, and
This great love of God for us calls forth our praise. This psalm, tiny
though it is, begins and ends with a call to praise God, almost as though it
were suggesting that praise is our first and last duty to God.
Oh, I know: life can be sore and wounding, and we can become disgruntled and
querulous; but why should we always fix on the disadvantages and difficulties?
A friend in trouble once wrote to Charles Lamb that his world seemed
'drained of its sweets'. To which Lamb replied, 'Drained of sweets? I don't
know what you mean. Are there not roses and violets still in the earth, and the
sun and moon still reigning in heaven?'
When the low mood comes, we should fix on the mercies, for they are always
there; and when it is difficult to be brave, then that is the very time to
praise God. And the very act of praise will lift our souls and bring us right
back into life's firing -line again.
And more than that. Praise is contagious, it is catching. The spark of
praise leaps from heart to heart. Our song may start others singing who would
never have thought of raising the song themselves.
One of his own contemporaries said of Francis Xavier, the founder of the
Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), that if ever any of the brothers were sad, the
way they took to be happy was just to go and look at him.
That is how our praise can help. If we keep sounding the note of praise,
others may face life more gallantly because of us, even if we don't know it.
So let's take the Psalm to heart, and 'Praise the Lord!'
|Rev Charles Robertson,
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