The Old Testament: The Book of Psalms III – Ask Not What We Can Do for You, Ask First What You Can Do for Me

Like most kids who got an allowance, I got mine on the weekend.  Saturdays could not come soon enough.  Among the uses for my allowance (with which I could be occasionally quite tight): 45s or cassettes, rocks pins, candy/pretzels/nachos from the little league snack stand, and, of course, Star Wars figures.  I knew how to make five bucks stretch.  Mom taught me well.

For some reason I would occasionally get wind of a new wave of figures hitting stores (strange, given the pre-Internet era, so I don’t remember how I heard—ads maybe?) and I knew, if I asked nicely, I could convince Dad to take me.  The major hurdle was my allowance.  If I’d spent it or had designs on something that would require a few weeks’ worth, I needed a little advance.  In those cases, I’d have to turn on the charm as I stuck my hand out.

And when I asked, Dad—who was always up for a little negotiation—would ask if I’d done my chores for the week (such as picking up the dog poop in the yard and emptying the bathroom trash baskets).  Sometimes I’d lie—sure, of course I did—but usually I would just say no, perhaps confused about what this had to do with my request.

“You see, if you don’t do your chores, you don’t get your allowance.  That’s how it works.  You can’t ask to be paid for something you haven’t yet done.  That’s NOT how it works.”

Now, I’m no Bible expert, but I’ve read enough of the Old Testament by this point to realize that when the Psalmists—in some case speaking for David, in some cases anonymously—write that God should do something for the speaker and then the speaker will sing his praises, spread the word, etc., , he has things a bit backwards.  You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to realize that you probably shouldn’t ask God to hook you up with the promise that you’ll do him a solid in return.  Apparently, the Psalmists are bargaining with God: do this for us and will spread the word.

Seems that the first part has to happen before the second part kicks in.

They also seem to have no qualms about demanding the speed with which their requests should be delivered: quickly. You can find this sentiment all over the Book of psalms: 5:10, 31:2, 71:12, just to name a few. I can see this coming across as wishful thinking on the part of the speaker, but it seems like a please would help.  I can see God responding the way a restaurant server does when a customer snaps a finger or waves in his or her direction—this usually pushes you to the back of the line, where rude people belong.  Did the authors here really think God would be impressed by being told (as from David’s perspective) to fight David’s enemies… and then his soul would rejoice in the lord (35:9)?

Thankfully I eventually learned that you have to meet your obligations before you get what was promised you.  Still, I can’t help feeling a bit sorry for my Dad.  He probably lost track of the times he had to tell me that I actually had to do my chores.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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2 Responses to The Old Testament: The Book of Psalms III – Ask Not What We Can Do for You, Ask First What You Can Do for Me

  1. Harrod says:

    If somebody did something nice for me I’d go around telling others.

    • virgowriter says:

      Of course, and you could expect-at some level- that someone should. Here, I see someone demanding something before singing the praises. Should people need a reason or should they do it because it’s the right thing to do?

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