Pinocchio Deconstructed

I thought I'd do another one of these...

One of the earliest animated films that the Disney studios put out was “Pinocchio.” It is also probably one of the worst movies to show to your children if you are looking for a film that teaches any kind of positive values or realistic messages about life. Sure, on the surface it appears to present a heartfelt message about hope and truthfulness, but when this movie is put under the cruel magnifying glass of reality, it reveals a series of morally inconsistent characters making blatantly hypocritical decisions. Don’t believe me? Read on.

The film begins with Jiminy Cricket trying to find shelter. He enters the house of the wood-carver Geppetto, who has built numerous clocks, and is finishing work on his latest carving, a marionette that he calls Pinocchio. After lots of unnecessary singing and dancing with Geppetto and his puppet, (as well as the cat Figaro and the fish Cleo, who serve as the film’s attempt at comic relief), Geppetto gets tired and goes to bed. He then forces his cat to open the window, and wishes on a star that Pinocchio would become a “real boy.” As soon as he is asleep, the Blue Fairy shows up and animates Pinocchio, giving him free will and the ability to move without a puppeteer. However, she says he will not be a real boy until he proves himself “brave, truthful, and unselfish.” She also appoints Jiminy to be Pinocchio’s “conscience.” Pinocchio and Jiminy sing another song about always letting your conscience be your guide. This awakens Geppetto, who responds to Pinocchio’s newfound animation with further singing and dancing, and then sends everyone back to bed with the intention of shipping Pinocchio off to school the next morning.

The next day, on the way to school, Pinocchio is ambushed by Honest John and Gideon (a fox and a cat), who persuade him that being an actor is better than going to school. Jiminy tries to talk Pinocchio out of this, but fails. Honest John sells Pinocchio to the puppet-master Stromboli, who makes lots of money off of him, but then threatens to chop him into firewood. After Stromboli locks Pinocchio in a cage, the blue fairy shows up, and Pinocchio tells a series of escalating lies that causes his nose to get bigger. The blue fairy forgives his lies and frees him. Pinocchio is determined to go to school again, but is ambushed again by Honest John, who this time persuades Pinocchio to go to “Pleasure Island.” Jiminy fails to talk Pinocchio out of this as well. Pleasure Island turns out to be a place where boys do whatever they want (which is a bunch of bad stuff), and then inexplicably turn into donkeys, in one of the most frightening Disney scenes that has ever traumatized children in a G-Rated animated film. Fortunately, Pinocchio escapes the island with only ears and a tail, and swims to shore with Jiminy.

After arriving home, Jiminy and Pinocchio discover that Geppetto has left to find Pinocchio who has obviously not come home from school. The Blue Fairy sends a messenger saying that Geppetto has been eaten by the whale Monstro. Pinocchio and Jiminy swim into the ocean to find this whale, and after being eaten and meeting Geppetto in the belly of the whale, they attempt to escape by starting a fire on their boat and making him sneeze. They succeed in escaping, but their raft is smashed and they barely make it to shore. Pinocchio risks his life to save Geppetto, and winds up drowning in the process, but the Blue Fairy shows up at the end to bring him back to life and make him a “real boy.” Also, she cures his donkey ears.

The movie ends with everyone getting rewarded and with the message that if you wish upon a star, your dreams will come true.

This movie is so full of plot holes and blatantly irrational decisions that it is almost impossible to decide where to begin. For starters:

Why can the Blue Fairy not do anything right the first time?
If the point of this movie is that wishes come true, then the agent of making wishes come true does a crummy job at making things happen. To begin with, after Geppetto makes his wish that his puppet would be a real boy, the blue fairy shows up and tells him that he “deserves to have his wish come true.” She then animates Pinocchio. However she conveniently leaves him in his “wooden” state, basically making him a puppet that can move without strings. She then tells Pinocchio that making Geppetto’s wish come true will be completely up to him and his unselfish behavior.

Right away, there is a problem. The Blue Fairy really wants to make Geppetto’s wish come true as a reward for all of the joy he has given to other people. However, instead of making this happen right away, she decides to leave the entire thing up to chance, and place that chance in the hands of a naïve little wooden boy. She tells him he must learn the difference between “right” and “wrong.” Pinocchio asks how he will know this, and rather then give him any moral instruction she appoints a vagrant cricket to be his “conscience” without any sort of screening process or appeal to common sense. What the Blue Fairy does is essentially the equivalent of giving birth to a baby, and then abandoning that baby and telling him that he is going to have learn everything about right and wrong from a bug if he wants to stay alive.

There is a bigger problem though. The fact that she has made Pinocchio a wooden puppet with free will turns out to be the single source of all of his troubles throughout the film. He can’t even walk from his house to the school without being seen by an opportunistic fox and sold to Stromboli. While Honest John obviously does not live up to his name, it is hard to fault him. At the very least, Pinocchio is a candidate for “Ripley’s Believe it or Not!” Needless to say, because of the Blue Fairy’s stupid hack job in bringing Pinocchio to life, he winds up being sold to a traveling entertainer and then locked in a cage.

After all of this, the Blue Fairy has the audacity to show up and “tsk tsk” at Pinocchio like the fact that he is trapped in a cage is his own fault. After rebuking him for his unrealistic portrayal of the day’s events she then chides him saying,
“I'll forgive you this once, but remember, a boy who won't be good might just as well be made of wood.”
Really? That’s the Blue Fairy’s advice? Isn’t it her fault in the first place that Pinocchio is still made of wood? This is practically an implicit admission of her own blame in making Pinocchio “not good.” After Pinocchio and Jiminy both promise to be good, she then says,
“Very well. But this is the last time I can help you.”
This statement turns out to be a blatant lie as well. For someone who seems to take pleasure in putting spells on people for lying, the Blue Fairy doesn’t really hold to her own standards very well. Later on in the movie, she sends a dove messenger with a letter telling them where Geppetto is. This piece of help was obviously necessary for Pinocchio’s quest to become a real boy, but since that is the case, why does she make such a rash refusal to help them earlier?

When all of the evidence is put together, the Blue Fairy is either a sadistic person who enjoys using her powers to taunt other people and dangle things over them that they want, or she simply lacks any foresight to see the obvious consequences of her bad decisions. In other words, she has to be either really vindictive or really stupid.

Why does everyone have such unrealistic expectations for Pinocchio?
When Pinocchio comes to life, it is assumed that he has absolutely no knowledge of anything. He somehow has the ability to speak, but that is about the extent of what he knows. Essentially, he is the wooden equivalent of a newborn baby, if babies could walk and talk.

In the original book, Pinocchio is portrayed as mischievous and mean-spirited. He squashes the Cricket when he first meets him and willfully spurns most of the helpful advice that is given to him. However, the movie Pinocchio is quite the opposite. He appears to be well intentioned. He wants to do the right thing. However, not one of the people who should be helping him find his moral compass actually makes any sort of effort to teach him anything. Pinocchio is more about the failure of parenting than the troubles of rebellious youth. I’ve already pointed out the problem of the Blue Fairy simply abandoning him to get his advice from a bug. However, the Blue Fairy’s expectations are just the beginning.

First, Geppetto wakes up, and after his excited celebrations, he determines that Pinocchio will go to school the next morning. Why would he do this? He has not even known Pinocchio for 24 hours and he is already sending him into the public school system! I realize that Geppetto probably has a desire for Pinocchio to get a top quality education, but give the puppet a break! He’s only been self-aware for less than a day! Once again, this is the equivalent of a parent meeting and adopting a child in a matter of hours, and then sending that child off to school before there is any chance for them to bond with their new parent. There is absolutely no reason in the world why Pinocchio should be expected to go to school, which is why Geppetto stops giving coherent answers to Pinocchio’s constant “Whys.”

For that matter, Geppetto does not even accompany Pinocchio on the way to school. There is no indication to give Pinocchio directions on how to get there, or any attempt to make sure that Pinocchio is not kidnapped on the way over (which is exactly what happens). The puppet has never even seen the outside of the shop before his first day of school. Now he is expected to walk through an unfamiliar town unaccompanied with no directions and dishonest prowlers on the street. There has to be a huge amount of shock value to this kind of unfamiliarity.

Then Honest John persuades Pinocchio that he should become an “actor.” Really, he becomes a supernatural sideshow act for Stromboli, who somehow loses his temper after Pinocchio trips on the stage at the beginning of the show. (Apparently, having a puppet with free will isn’t enough—he has to sing and dance and be coordinated).

Then, after being locked in a cage, Pinocchio, who probably has no realistic grasp of any of the day’s absurd events, is expected to accurately recollect what happened to him. It doesn’t help that the entirety of Pinocchio’s moral instruction has consisted of a bug using big words like “temptations,” a fox telling him that an actor’s life is the best kind of life, and an evil fat puppeteer paying him with a bent piece of metal. While lying was not the best way to respond to the Blue Fairy’s instructions, she doesn’t really leave him with any motivation not to lie other than “I’ll make your nose grow big.” She tells him, “A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.” However, this seems more like a motivation to be a better liar than it does to be a truthful person (since Pinocchio’s lies are depressingly obvious).

The expectations for Pinocchio to demonstrate bravery and responsibility are completely unfair. Maybe if he didn’t have the naïveté of an infant, things might have turned out considerably differently. However, it isn’t even like Pinocchio was entirely willing in his deviations from going to school. After arguing with Honest John the second time, he is basically dragged to Pleasure Island anyways with their song and dance. Speaking of Pleasure Island…

Why do boys become donkeys on Pleasure Island?
There really is no explanation for this, other than the fact that the Coachman talks about what happens when a boy makes a fool out of himself. The main message of this part of the movie is that if you spend a lot of time drinking and smoking and playing pool, you will turn into a donkey and be sold to work in the salt mines. The scene in which this happens to Lampwick probably rivals the firefighting clown scene in the “Brave Little Toaster” for most traumatizing footage ever slipped into an animated film.

[The book’s depiction of this is somewhat milder. First of all, the location is called the “Land of Toys,” a place where boys can avoid going to school and play hide-and-seek all day. Eventually, they become stupider and stupider until they turn into donkeys (a symbol of ignorance in Italian culture). The movie has the boys participating in considerably worse behavior.]

Seriously though, there is absolutely no way in the world that what is taking place on Pleasure Island is in any way legal. Even Honest John quips about “the Law” when the Coachman mentions this to him. The Coachman looks like a fat version of Satan complete with the red coat and the pointy ears. He has dozens of faceless henchmen who are all dressed darkly. He basically pays John and Gideon a huge bag of money to kidnap boys for his evil purposes. The only difference between Pleasure Island and a child slave-trafficking ring is the fact that Pleasure Island apparently has magic.

At the end of the film, justice is not served. The Coachman, as far as we know, continues to turn boys into donkeys and sell them to salt mines. No outcry is ever made by the parents of the children in this village who have all mysteriously disappeared from the face of the earth. This is less a plot-hole and more a blatant overlooking of the sheer horrifying nature of just what the Coachman is getting away with.

Why did Geppetto get on a BOAT to look for Pinocchio?
In one scene, Geppetto is seen searching the village streets with a lantern in the rain, crying out for Pinocchio. This is the last we see of him until Monstro eats him. The question is how do we fill in the gap between Geppetto’s fruitless search of the streets, and being swallowed (boat and all) by a whale?

I can only think of three possibilities:
A) Pinocchio has been gone a REALLY long time, and Geppetto has exhausted all other search possibilities
B) Geppetto has somehow learned that Pinocchio is on Pleasure Island
C) Geppetto has completely lost touch with reality (assuming he was ever in touch with it to begin with).

Option A is similar to the explanation found in the book. However, the book’s plot was departed from early on when Jiminy Cricket was not killed at his first appearance. If this option is correct, it means that way more time is passing than Disney is depicting in the film.

Option B begs the question—How would Geppetto know where Pinocchio was? Did the Blue Fairy tell him? If this is the case, the Blue Fairy gets yet another strike for vindictiveness and/or incompetence, since she didn’t tell Geppetto when Pinocchio was in the wagon that passed him while he was hollering in the streets. Also, if she did tell Geppetto about Pleasure Island, she conveniently forgot to mention the fact that boys go there to become donkeys (as evidenced by Geppetto’s surprise when Pinocchio reveals he has grown ears and a tail).

Option C seems the most likely however. Geppetto has already been the most hopelessly neglectful parent in the world, sending his kid to school on the first day of his existence, and then failing to actually walk him there to keep him out of trouble. The fact that Geppetto carves wooden puppets and talks to them, and then makes wishes on stars suggests that he is already somewhat mentally unbalanced. Getting swallowed inexplicably by a whale during his search for Pinocchio is just the sort of thing that only a man with Geppetto’s mental capacity would be capable of.

Also, why are Cleo and Figaro with Geppetto in the belly of Monstro? Did he take his cat and his fish with him when he went to search for Pinocchio? While he was searching the streets, he seemed perfectly content to leave them at home to stare at their gourmet dinners while they got cold. Why did he feel the need to drag them into this mess? I’m not an expert at looking for lost puppets, but I don’t imagine that a kitten and a goldfish in a bowl would be much help in a search like that.

Why is Jiminy Cricket such a horrible conscience?
The worst has been saved for last. Jiminy Cricket is probably the single most useless character in the entire film. He starts out as a vagrant wanderer who invades people’s homes and mooches off of their fireplaces. He ends up as an unjustly rewarded cricket with a badge and a future career in education videos. But how did Jiminy get there? Let’s look at his “accomplishments” as a conscience:

Jiminy’s first action as “conscience” is giving Pinocchio his one and only “heart to heart” talk in the film. The entirety of his advice consists of avoiding “temptations,” a word that Pinocchio openly does not know the definition of. Jiminy’s definition is explained as follows:
“They're the wrong things that seem right at the time. But even though the right things may seem wrong sometimes, sometimes the wrong things may be right at the wrong time or vice versa. Understand?”
No Jiminy, no one could ever possibly understand that, especially not a puppet who has been made self-aware in the last five minutes. I think Jiminy’s definition of “temptations” might qualify for one of the stupidest things ever said in a Disney movie. The “wrong things may be right at the wrong time?” That doesn’t even mean anything, and if it did, it probably wouldn’t be true.

The other thing Jiminy tells Pinocchio is that he should whistle if he ever gets into trouble. Oh, and “always let your conscience be your guide.” Since Jiminy Cricket has just been appointed as Pinocchio’s conscience, that last bit of advice seems oddly self-serving, especially considering what a failure as a guide he turns out to be.

After this useless talk, Jiminy winds up being late for his first day. When Pinocchio gets up to go to school, Jiminy sleeps in, and has to run to catch up. By the time he catches up with Pinocchio, Honest John and Gideon have already persuaded the puppet that an actor’s life is better than school. Jiminy, pulling Pinocchio aside has the idiotic audacity to say, “Remember what I said about temptation?” He then tells Pinocchio to go to school. There is no explanation of “right” or “wrong” in this conversation. There are no reminders of his need to learn things, his need to please his father, or his need to become a real boy. There is just Jiminy’s stubborn insistence that Honest John is one of those “temptations.” But following Jiminy’s logic that “the wrong things may be right at the wrong time,” I can see exactly why Pinocchio would follow Honest John to the theater. After all, even though it’s the “wrong thing,” maybe it is really right, since it’s the wrong time.

Jiminy’s response to this is to quit. He doesn’t go tell Geppetto what has happened, since that would apparently be “snitching.” He doesn’t follow Pinocchio and nag him about how he is neglecting his father’s wishes, or about how he is going to get into trouble (like a real conscience would do). He just observes his stardom and then gives up.

Later on, Pinocchio is locked in a cage by Stromboli. At this point, any clear thinking individual would find their situation to be pretty perilous. So of course like any good boy, Pinocchio follows Jiminy’s stupid advice and whistles. By this point Jiminy has already quit, so he does not show up to help at this point. The ONE time in the film that Pinocchio remembers to whistle, Jiminy does nothing. This is yet another failure.

In fact, the only way that Jiminy even meets up with Pinocchio again is completely by chance, when he sees Stromboli’s wagon and decides to “wish him luck.” Once inside, he finds Pinocchio locked in a cage. He climbs into the lock and subsequently fails to get it open, making a dumb excuse about how this is one of the “older models.” Once again, Jiminy has failed to be even the remotest bit useful in a difficult situation.

After escaping from the wagon, Pinocchio winds up on Pleasure Island. Jiminy is unable to do anything to prevent this, largely because he was too concerned with winning a race home. He spends a good deal of the time on Pleasure Island separated from Pinocchio and trying to avoid being squashed by the crowd of boys. When he finds Pinocchio, he tells him off, loses his temper, gets into an argument with Lampwick, and freaks out when Pinocchio says Lampwick is his “best friend.” Jiminy doesn’t lecture Pinocchio about the dangers of choosing the wrong friends. Instead, he just reacts with jealousy, since he is no longer Pinocchio’s “best friend.” He threatens to beat Lampwick up (which is both unrealistic, and probably not the proper moral response of a conscience), uses a faulty analogy (“You buttered your bread. Now sleep in it!“), and then storms out of the room. As if that isn’t bad enough, Pinocchio actually pleads with him not to leave. Jiminy just quits AGAIN, in spite of the fact the Pinocchio still wants his conscience around.

Jiminy does only one useful thing in the whole film—he warns Pinocchio about the fact that the boys on the island turn into donkeys. This action doesn’t have anything to do with morality and has everything to with self-preservation. This is Jiminy’s only helpful point in the movie.

After arriving back home, Jiminy and Pinocchio learn that a whale has swallowed Geppetto. Pinocchio resolves to do the right thing and save him. Jiminy however, responds by actually trying to talk Pinocchio out of doing the right thing. In the moment of proving bravery and selflessness, Pinocchio is the one with the moral compass, and Jiminy is entirely concerned with self-preservation. Pinocchio should have been Jiminy’s conscience.

It is unclear why Jiminy receives a badge at the end of the movie, as he has done nothing to deserve it throughout the film. To recap his failures:
-Fails to explain right and wrong to Pinocchio
-Fails to wake up in time to accompany Pinocchio to school
-Fails to talk Pinocchio out of becoming an actor
-Fails to tell Geppetto about the danger Pinocchio is in
-Fails to show up when Pinocchio whistles
-Fails to open the lock on Pinocchio’s cage
-Fails to stop Pinocchio from going to Pleasure Island
-Loses his temper and does nothing useful when he catches Pinocchio drinking and smoking
-Quits again
-Tries to talk Pinocchio out of doing the right thing, which later results in him becoming a real boy

I should add that Jiminy is motivated entirely by attractive women, nice clothes, and a shiny badge. I’m not sure who is more at fault, him for being a horrible conscience, or the Blue Fairy, for allowing such an ethically bankrupt individual to be allowed anywhere near children.

Pinocchio is a wooden puppet that is brought to life by a cruel fairy in the home of an absent-minded carpenter. He is given a moronic bug for counsel, who is exactly the opposite of useful. Because he is still made of wood, he is taken advantage of by a conniving fox, an evil puppeteer, and an even eviler Coachman. Eventually, in spite of all of the horrible attempts of everyone around him to make him fail at life, he at least proves himself brave and unselfish (but not truthful!), and the fairy figures that two out of three isn’t that bad after all, allowing him to become a real boy.

Ironically though, the funniest line uttered in this entire film was said by Jiminy Cricket:
“What does an actor want with a conscience anyway?”
  • rainbowsandpuppies
    Jiminy really should have told Geppetto that Pinocchio did not go to school. If he had told him, he wouldn't have spent the rest of the movie worrying and not knowing where he was and could have just gone to the puppet show with the police and taken him home.
    by rainbowsandpuppies at 04/15/11 11:02PM
  • engelishgentleman
    I think I agree with this analysis of the movie 100%. Nicely done, Wayne.
    by engelishgentleman at 04/15/11 11:31PM
  • kattath
    I love reading your analysis of movies!!! :)
    by kattath at 04/17/11 4:52PM
  • Megalexandros

    I love these, I laughed so hard.

    by Megalexandros at 04/18/11 10:43AM
  • minimoyer
    You know you're about to become a father, when....
    by minimoyer at 04/24/11 11:26AM
  • paradise_ray
    so would the remedy be a "Leave it to Beaver" movie?
    by paradise_ray at 05/22/11 10:18PM
  • cowboybrian
    after reading first paragraph: Everyobody knows Disney is a part of the MK ultra mind control program to condition children to allow demon possession.
    by cowboybrian at 09/19/14 2:00AM

Whiter than Snow

Once again, the following thoughts lack coherent organization.
Today, while studying, I came to this passage (yes, after all this time, I am STILL in Leviticus).

"When the infection of leprosy is on a man, then he shall be brought to the priest. The priest shall then look, and if there is a white swelling in the skin, and it has turned the hair white, and there is quick raw flesh in the swelling, it is a chronic leprosy on the skin of his body, and the priest shall pronounce him unclean; he shall not isolate him, for he is unclean. If the leprosy breaks out farther on the skin, and the leprosy covers all the skin of him who has the infection from his head even to his feet, as far as the priest can see, then the priest shall look, and behold, if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; it has all turned white and he is clean. But whenever raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean. The priest shall look at the raw flesh, and he shall pronounce him unclean; the raw flesh is unclean, it is leprosy. Or if the raw flesh turns again and is changed to white, then he shall acome to the priest, and the priest shall look at him, and behold, if the infection has turned to white, then the priest shall pronounce clean him who has the infection; he is clean" (Leviticus 13:9-17).

A couple of points:

-First of all, I am not convinced that the disease being translated in Leviticus 13-14 as "leprosy" is actually the specific disease of "leprosy" as we would think of it in today's world. The Hebrew term appears to be used generically for a variety of skin disorders, as well as mildew / mold in houses and garments.
-Second, the passage quoted above is especially interesting. Apparently, an infection that turns skin white is enough to make someone unclean. However, if this infection spreads to cover the whole body, then the person is entirely white, and therefore entirely clean. If raw flesh reappears, then he becomes unclean again--until the "whiteness" covers it back up.

Either I am reading something wrong, or allowing the infection to become "all-encompassing" is the same as having no infection at all.

Then I remembered these passages:

"Come now, let us reason together,
Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be as wool
" (Isaiah 1:18).

"Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean
Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow
" (Psalm 51:7).

-The latter quote is especially interesting, since "hyssop" was part of the cleansing ritual for the skin diseases of Leviticus (see chapter 14).
-The color "white" is obviously associated with cleanliness or purity, and over half of the occurrences of the usual Hebrew word for the color white are found in Leviticus 13 (20 out of 34).

I think all of these passages / ideas are somehow connected, but I'm still not 100% sure what the point is.

Anyone else have ideas?
  • engelishgentleman
    I've thought before that it was odd that a patch was white was unclean, but if it spread everywhere it became okay.

    Certainly the ubiquity of "white" in Lev. 13 seems like reason to suspect it's significant.

    I will keep this in mind, but I have no answers.
    by engelishgentleman at 03/08/11 10:02PM
  • deusvitae
    Leviticus 13 is dealing with "reality," and Isaiah 1 is dealing more with metaphor. I wouldn't be too quick to make a connection between the two.

    Perhaps it is perceived that when the condition overtakes the whole body it's not really a communicable disease inasmuch as a personal skin condition, whereas a condition that does not overtake the whole body is communicable.

    As to Isaiah, not only is it a metaphor, but it is also ambiguous-- is it a declaration or a question? It's an open issue.
    by deusvitae at 03/08/11 10:56PM
  • waynardferguson
    True, but aren't all metaphors based on referents in reality in the first place?
    I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss a possible connection simply on the basis that one is "reality" and the other is metaphor, especially considering how many prophetic writings draw on the Law for their metaphors in the first place.

    As for the Isaiah "question," whether Isaiah is making a declaration or a question would not necessarily eliminate the possibility of a connection in the first place, although that would certainly be an interesting factor to consider.
    by waynardferguson at 03/09/11 9:59AM
  • thejoyoftom
    My gut feeling (probably from listening to Tom for over 27 years) is that there is a connection between the two passages. Is not the physical world (and our time spent in it) a type of lesson about the spiritual reality that God is preparing us for? (Good ole typology) Beyond that, I do not know what to make of the specifics. I plan to ask Tom what he thinks.
    by thejoyoftom at 03/09/11 10:09AM
  • Megalexandros

    Yeah, this is the first time that I've actually read it. Our family would listen to the book on CD. I never really had much interest at the time, but currently I am loving it (most likely placing itself as my favorite book). This time around, I can actually appreciate the detail that Tolkien puts into his books. It's just absolutely amazing.

    by Megalexandros at 03/25/11 4:29PM

09/10/10 10:01AM

Bible study is one of the biggest obstacles to getting sermons done.
  • engelishgentleman
    by engelishgentleman at 09/10/10 10:18AM
  • dominic
    lol True that.
    by dominic at 09/10/10 10:45AM
  • kattath
    by kattath at 09/10/10 11:50AM
  • Megalexandros

    I think this is the shortest post of yours that I've ever read.

    by Megalexandros at 09/10/10 11:36PM
  • beunsung
    Well, if you're like me, I sometimes just use something that I've studied upon during the week for my sermon. So in that case, Bible studies end up making my sermons be done.
    by beunsung at 09/11/10 5:19PM

"O Yahweh, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?"

Psalm 14 is a unique Psalm--because of its lack of uniqueness. That is to say, it is one of the few Psalms that is wholly duplicated elsewhere in the book (Psalm 53). There are a few minor differences between the two, namely the fact that Psalm 53 replaces "Yahweh" with "Elohim." (This is related to the fact that Psalm 53 appears in a large section of the Psalms that tend to used Elohim predominantly over Yahweh as the name for addressing God.)

Some initial points of comparison:
If the Psalms are revolving around a contrast between the righteous and the wicked, (Psalms 1 and 2) then Psalm 14 is certainly an extended description of the wicked. The "fools" of 14:1 are the "wicked," "enemies," "sons of men," etc. that have appeared so far in Psalmist's writings.

Another point of comparison, already addressed in an earlier post, is the similarity of 14:1-2 to 10:4:
"The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (14:1).
"All his [the Wicked's] thoughts are, 'There is no God'" (10:4b).

"Yahweh has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand, who seek after God
" (14:2).
"The wicked in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him."(10:4a).

I suggested earlier that the problem in Psalm 10 with the statement, "There is no God" is not a person's conviction on whether or not God exists per se, but how a person conducts himself in the context of that God. It is further clarified in Psa. 10:11 - "He says to himself: 'God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it." The ancient pagan world of course, did not deny the existence of Yahweh. There merely considered him one of many deities, and a localized one at that. Likewise, even the people of Israel (who seem to have been the source of David's real enemies for most of his life) claimed to follow Yahweh, but in fact turned aside after many different gods, and didn't even properly worship the true God that they had.

Another dimension of the problem is addressed in Psalm 14--God is looking among the sons of men, not merely for people who believe that He "exists," but rather for people who "do good" (14:1, 3), "understand" (14:2), "seek after God" (14:2), or "call upon the Lord" (14:4). God is looking for people who take refuge in Him, like what happens in 14:6. Of course, if the parallel between Psalms 1 and 2 means anything, the "righteous" man is also the man who takes refuge in God. The people who God will save are not the people who have some kind of academic awareness of God's existence, but rather the people that trust Him with their difficulties and take refuge in Him for protection. Psalm 14 echoes the thought of Psalm 1 in saying:

"God is with the righteous generation" (14:5).
"Yahweh knows the way of the righteous" (1:6).

Also note that the salvation of God's people comes out of Zion (14:7), the same place that God set His King in (2:6). This righteous King will ultimately be the source of salvation for all Israel.

What exactly is the point of this Psalm however? The fact that it gets repeated somewhere else in the book is itself intriguing, and those who would present the Psalms as merely nothing more than Israel's songbook might liken this to the behavior of a modern songbook editor who can't make up his mind whether he likes singing "Higher Ground" in 3/4 or 4/4. However, if the arrangement of the Psalms is important (which I believe it is), then there is a possibility that Psalm 14 and 53 are identical ideas, but placed into different contexts.

The NT use of this Psalm is interesting. Parts of the first three verses are quoted in Romans 3, when Paul is establishing the universal nature of sin:
"There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside
Together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.

In this same context, Paul also draws from Psalm 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7; and Psalm 36:1 to establish this point, in what is one of the longest composite quotes of Scripture in the NT. I mentioned in an earlier post that we ought to view the Psalms as doctrinal rather than merely devotional. Part of the reason for this thought is quotations that Paul makes like this. These six OT passages (five of which are from the Psalms) are apparently enough to establish the teaching that "all have sinned," which becomes the foundation for the remainder of the argument in Romans.

In fact, there are two problems with the thematic statements about the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1.
-The wicked appear to be prospering while the Psalmist continues to suffer
-There really aren't any righteous people in the first place, since everyone at some point "turns aside" (14:3)

Psalms 14 is meant to state this second problem. As the book of Psalms unfolds, I believe that answers to both of these dilemmas are given and expanded upon.

In fact, this raises the question of Psalm 15:1:
"O Yahweh, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?

For some reason that is still beyond me, the NASU is not consistent in translating the word for "mountain / hill" (הר). In 2:6 it is rendered "mountain," and in 15:1 it is rendered "hill." Both are technically valid, but I really wish they would pick one and stick with it.

In fact (as may may guess from the above comment), 15:1 is connected to 2:6 by the expression "Holy mountain." The entirety of Psalm 15 is sometimes called a description of the "Citizen of Zion." In other words, what does a person who lives in the city of Zion look like? The rest of the Psalm is a depiction of what that righteous citizen does and does not do. Psalm 15 acts as a foil or a response to Psalm 14. Psalm 14 primarily depicted the character of wicked people, while Psalm 15 primarily depicts the character of the righteous. The righteous person:

Walk with integrity (15:2)
Work righteousness (15:2)
Speak truth in his heart (15:2)
Despises reprobates in his eyes (15:4)
Honors those who fear Yahweh (15:4)

Slander with his tongue (15:3) (Remember the discussion on "speech" in Psalm 12?)
Do evil to his neighbor (15:3)
Take reproach up against his friend (15:3)
Does not change when he makes a vow that hurts himself (15:4)
Does not put out his money at interest (15:5)
Does not take a bribe against the innocent (15:5)

Some of this material is similar to later wisdom psalms, such as Psalm 34 or 37. There is an emphasis on the "fear of Yahweh" that is characteristic of Psalms that fall into the "wisdom" genre. There is also an emphasis on doing good (contrasted with 14:1, 3), and not acting selfishly. Virtually everything listed in this Psalm is mentioned in the Law of Moses. It seems as if the Psalm is meant to say that the person who dwells in God's tent is the one who keeps the Law.

Of course, if the dilemma of Psalm 14 is correct, there is no one righteous who actually fits the descriptions listed! In light of the NT understanding, we all realize that no one keeps the Law perfectly, and that all fall short of the expectations listed in this Psalm. In one sense, this describes the ideal "Citizen of Zion," but in another sense, the only person who could genuinely fit this description perfectly is the righteous King of Zion Himself--Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it is He who will be able to sanctify His people and bring them into that tent with Him, but more on that later.

Psalm 16 is a Psalm that primarily expresses trust in God. Every verse (with the exception of 16:4) expresses trust in God in some capacity.

16:1 begins with the Psalmist's claim that he has "taken refuge" in God--similar to the beginning of Psalm 7, but again recalling the theme of those who "take refuge" (2:12).
In 16:3-4, there is a contrast between the delight the Psalmist has in the "holy ones" and the sorrows that will be multiplied for idolaters.
In 16:4-5, there is a possible connection between the "drink offerings of blood" that the wicked are offering, and the true "cup" that is Yahweh
In 16:5-6, there is a parallel between Yahweh being the Psalmist's "inheritance" and the fact that the Psalmist's heritage is "beautiful" to him
Because Yahweh is the Psalmist's Lord (16:2), portion (16:5), inheritance (16:5), and cup (16:5), the Psalmist "blesses" Yahweh who counsels Him
16:9 expresses trust in life--the Psalmist's flesh will dwell securely
16:10 expresses trust in the face of death--the Psalmist will not be abandoned into Sheol
16:8 and 11 contrast Yahweh being at the Psalmist's "right hand" with there being pleasures in God's "right hand."

It is possible that this Psalm is acting as a response to the lament of Psalm 13.
"Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death." (13:3)
"For You will not abandon my soul into Sheol; Nor will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay." (16:10)

"My adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken." (13:4)
"Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken." (16:8)

"My heart shall rejoice in your salvation" (13:5)
"Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices" (16:9)

If this is the case, it is a further illustration of the proper response to difficulty. While there is a place for lamenting and pouring out our problems before God, we must pour these problems out so we can look at them in their proper context. Once we understand God's relationship to both us and our difficulty, we will build a profound sense of trust in God like the Psalmist did.

Of course, Psalm 16 is not merely a devotional expression of trust. The NT writers used this Psalm apologetically to advance the case for the resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:25-31; 13:34-37). The extent of trust that the Psalmist shows in God is such that He believes God will even deliver Him from the power of death and decay (16:10). However, David who wrote this Psalm died and was buried, and his tomb existed even in the days of the apostles. David definitely underwent decay in this state of death, so the implication is that unless God intervened in some manner, the teaching of this Psalm was left unfulfilled.

Perhaps this is why, in spite of a lack of clear OT teaching on the resurrection, most Jews by the days of Jesus had a belief in the resurrection of the dead. It seems to be the only reasonable conclusion for those who put their hopes in the Scriptures. Since the statement of not undergoing decay did not apply to David, it had to apply to one of His descendants--in this case Jesus Christ who is now seated on the throne in heaven. In the same way, the Psalm still has a teaching left to be fulfilled, in that God will raise to life everyone who trusts Him to walk in paths of life and to finally dwell in righteousness on His holy mountain.

Thoughts? Comments? I'm thinking about taking a break from Psalm-posting.
  • engelishgentleman
    I have loved reading these! Hard to add much of anything. Thanks for sharing.
    by engelishgentleman at 09/03/10 10:24AM

"I will sing to Yahweh, Because He has dealt bountifully with me!"

In previous posts, I've been suggesting that Psalms 1-2 present the lens through which the rest of the psalms should be viewed, namely in their depiction of the "blessed" man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, and who "takes refuge" in God. I also noted how Psalms 3-7 appear to be cries to God for justice because these rules that have been laid out in Psalms 1-2 do not appear to be true when one observes the apparent successes of those who do not take refuge in Him. Psalm 8 is a psalm of praise, bracketed by calls to praise at the end of 7 and the beginning of 9. Psalms 9-10 are an acrostic when combined that deals extensively with the subject of God's justice.

Psalm 11 also deals with the subject of judgment, although the terms "judge," "judging," and "justice" do not appear in this psalm. The psalm is structured in two basic parts (vv.1-3 / 4-7). It begins with a reiteration of the Psalmist's faithfulness to God--namely the fact that he has "taken refuge" in Yahweh (11:1). This is, of course, related to the blessing of 2:12, and echoes the claim of 5:11 and 7:1.

In fact, there are several parallels between Psalm 11 and Psalm 5 in particular:
"At Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for you" (5:7)
"Yahweh is in His holy temple; Yahweh's throne is in heaven" (11:4)

"The boastful shall not stand before your eyes" (5:5)
"His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men" (11:4)

"You hate all who do iniquity" (5:5)
"The one who does violence, His soul hates" (11:5)

And the ending verses of both psalms:
"For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Yahweh. You surround him with favor as with a shield" (5:12)
"For Yahweh is righteous, He loves righteousness / The upright will behold His face" (11:7)

Also intriguing is the statement in 11:4, where it says "His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men." The phrase "sons of men" appears to be a reference to the wickedness or sinfulness of humanity, at least during the early parts of the psalms. 4:2 asked, "O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception?" Psalm 12 carries this theme by bookeneding itself with the phrase "sons of men."

"The faithful disappear from among the sons of men" (12:1)
"Vileness is exalted among the sons of men" (12:8).

Later on, in 14:2-3:
"Yahweh has lookeed down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one.

These similarities between Psalms 5 and 11, coupled with the fact that Psalm 8 is bracketed by calls to praise in Psalms 7 and 9, initially led me to wonder if there is some sort of small chiastic arrangement within the Psalms that centers around Psalm 8. Of course, further searches for evidence of such a chiasm have been in vain so far and it may be that such parallels are coincidental in nature anyways, but I am still open to ideas or discussion on that.

Psalm 12 seems particularly focused on the subject of "speech." In fact, since I have been reading the Psalms, the subject of speech is something I have noticing in numerous places, usually in the context of God's speech being contrasted with man's. Virtually every line in 12:2-4 says something about speech or the tongue.
"They speak falsehood to one another;
With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
May Yahweh cut off all flattering lips,
The tongue that speaks great things;
Who have said, 'With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?

By contrast, in 12:6
"The words of Yahweh are pure words;
As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.

This illustration of speech is crucial, especially in the overall context of Psalms 1-2. Psalm 1 acted as a contrast between the righteous and the wicked, particularly in terms of judgment. That is why it ended with,
"Yahweh knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish
" (1:6).
Compare that with:
"You, O Yahweh, will keep them;
You will preserve him [i.e. the righteous man] from this generation forever.
The wicked strut about on every side
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

Of course, if God's words are to be refined as silver, why are the wicked strutting around? Why are they winning? Has God "forgotten" like they seem to have thought in 10:11?
"He says to himself, God has forgotten;
He has hidden His face; He will never see it.
It is possible that such questions may have prompted the lament of Psalm 13, which begins with,
"How long, O Yahweh? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
" (13:1)

Psalm 13 is probably the paradigm for understanding how laments work, and it is easy to follow since it is so short. The structure is laid out as:
13:1-2 - Complaint to God ("How long?")
13:3-4 - Cry for help ("Do something!")
13:5-6 - Affirmation of trust ("I will praise you")

Because the nature of laments runs so counter to the praying/singing done in modern worship, a prayer like Psalm 13 would seem out of place in the modern assembly (especially one that is used to Stamps-Baxter publications and a "Hoedown" version of the Crucifixion). Coupled with the tendency of many to view all complaining as irreverent, the odds of something similar to Psalm 13 being used in any kind of current worship setting are pretty small. Yet the fact remains that many laments and statements of complaint towards God exist in the Psalms, and Christians who accept the divine origin of Scripture should be more willing to question their own conceptions of prayer than the Psalmists. In fact, many of the laments seem to affirm trust in God, rather than just complaining for the sake of complaining. All of the laments in the Psalms (with the exception of Psalm 88) contain some affirmation of trust in God to resolve the apparent conflict between what He has said and what appears to actually be happening.

Thus, the "paradigm lament" actually ends with another call to praise, not unlike the ones in 7:17 and 9:1-2. It seems doubtful that the Psalmist's conflict was dealt with halfway through writing such a short piece, and it also seems unlikely that the Psalmist was just inherently bipolar. A more likely possibility is that he is either writing retrospectively after God's deliverance, or he trusts God to the point that he knows the problem is resolved simply on the basis of his praying about it.

Next time I post, I will try to get through 16 or 17. If anyone has any additional insights or feedback on this material, I would love to read it!
  • engelishgentleman
    Intriguing. No comments, but must digest this more.
    by engelishgentleman at 08/27/10 6:30PM