Exegesis of Psalm 24:1 via Daffy Duck: ‘Pronoun Trouble’

The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
Psalm 24:1 (King James)

When reading through the historical accounts of the Old Testament, I’ll admit there are times when my spirit struggles to accept one very simple lesson, typically due to what feels like its seemingly-endless repetition. At my absolute worst, I can even get to a point of crying out, “Alright, alright, enough, already! I get it! Sheesh!”

Philippians 2:3-4Of course, these shameful incidents serve as indictments of the wretched condition of my proud, sinful heart more than anything else, but the biblical truth stands firm despite the sinful impatience of any given reader: “The people of God are a forgetful lot; over and over they allow comfort and safety to draw them into progressively-awful disobedience and, ultimately, complete apostasy.” The lesson seems straightforward enough…and yet God’s Word is so replete with warnings against our forgetfulness that we clearly are being asked to take heed. (Multiple times.)

The process typically goes something like this:

  1. The people of God sin horribly, primarily against God, but also against one another.
  2. In His mercy, rather than giving them over to their sinfulness, God allows His people to experience painful hardship as a tangible sign, an unmistakable pointer to their ongoing need for Him.
  3. After the suffering becomes intolerable, the people of God repent, seek the Lord, and nearly always make lavish, heartfelt promises regarding their future faithfulness…promises that are almost never carried out.
  4. God hears their cries; He very often responds by raising up someone to deliver His people.
  5. The people of God rejoice and begin anew to worship God in spirit and in truth.
  6. God’s people, now secure in His deliverance, slide into progressively-awful disobedience and, ultimately, complete apostasy.

After several rounds of this cycle, the reader’s disbelieving head-shaking begins: “How is that these fools don’t know enough to look back at their collective history to ‘figure out’ the pattern that is, by now, so blazingly obvious? Why do they keep having to learn the exact same lesson over and over and over again?”

Apparently, there is contained within every blessing the deadly potential to imagine that the great gift is something that was brought about by my own hand: “Something must be so great about me, and my capacities, that I have managed to secure for myself this temporal blessing while so many others have been forced to go without…I guess maybe I am a pretty big deal after all.”

No one with any social graces whatsoever would speak these thoughts aloud, but the sentiment itself is easy enough to spot; just pay attention to the number of times you say “my” or “mine.”

Rabbit SeasoningThere’s a classic scene in the 1952 Merrie Melodies cartoon “Rabbit Seasoning” where the character of Daffy Duck – perpetually out-smarted by his nemesis Bugs Bunny – correctly identifies the source of a particular problem that invariably culminates in Daffy getting his beak blown off by Elmer Fudd’s shotgun. I found a clip of the routine that is only 2:04 in length, you can watch it if you wish, but the basic premise is that by simply changing the object of a pronoun, Bugs is able to con Daffy into demanding that Elmer blast him in the face not once, but twice. Just a few minutes later, the cartoon concludes with Daffy falling for the exact same gimmick when Bugs appears to have met his demise: “He’s got me dead to rights, Doc. Would you like to shoot him here…or wait til you get home?”

While I’m pretty sure that the brilliant minds behind this classic cartoon were not trying to give us a great word picture of biblical truth, I have nonetheless found it helpful to appropriate the phrase – “Aha! Pronoun trouble!” – when confronted with many of the unpleasant realities of trying to live and work redemptively in this world.

Psalm 24 kicks off by stating simply that the Earth belongs to God, “and all the fulness thereof,” which would be pretty tough to interpret as meaning anything other than, “absolutely everything on the face of the planet.” Given that the Lord makes this claim, it seems like we either need to believe Him – we truly own nothing – or work long hours to develop a twisted version of biblical truth, maybe something like…a prosperity gospel? “Jesus wants you to be rich, happy and healthy.”

Given that we all use everyday speech primarily to get things accomplished, it may or may not be appropriate for the CEO of a large corporation to close a meeting by announcing, “If the Lord wills, this committee will reconvene at 3:00 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.” Depending on the setting, such an announcement might be OK, but it’s more likely we would just say, “See you all tomorrow at 3:00.” If we become relentless in insisting that our friends strike the words my and mine from their speech, we will soon enough have no friends left to so admonish.

But in light of the thousands of people who perished without warning on “just another normal, average Tuesday” 15 years ago, I’d like to suggest that perhaps this week we believers take a bit more seriously the words given us by King David in Psalm 24 and also by James, the half-brother of Jesus (below). While some may readily acknowledge the idea that the concept of “my time” or “our time” is demonstrably untrue, the Bible seems to go much further and assert that everything you have – absolutely everything, including the intelligence and ability to read these words – is a great and gracious gift from your loving Heavenly Father.

While it might seem odd to crib a phrase from Daffy Duck to describe one of the deepest, most-sinful patterns of the human heart, it also seems to me that there is much wisdom in acknowledging that we all have “pronoun trouble,” a relentless resistance to admitting the simple truth that we eternally “own” absolutely nothing. And once again, unintentionally echoing the biblical account of God’s people, I find it poignant that this classic cartoon short concludes with Daffy once again paying dearly for having already forgotten an important truth…a truth that he himself correctly identified just a few minutes prior.

Acknowledging the biblical truth that I am helpless to keep myself alive – that it is God who holds my heartbeat in His hand this very minute – should fuel a level of gratitude that enhances the surpassing greatness of the gift of life. Everything I am and have is the property of the same God Who made Heaven and Earth; this truth frees me up to be a generous person, open to lavishing time, talent and treasure where the most pressing need might be. Relinquishing ownership, even down to the way we speak of the material provision God has made for us, is both exhilarating and truly freeing.

Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

James 4:13-16 (ESV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

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