To the leader: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
1 Help, O LORD, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
Our lips are our own—who is our master?”
5 “Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,” says the LORD;
“I will place them in the safety for which they long.”
6 The promises of the LORD are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O LORD, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.
The Psalm begins as a cry for help and while the cry may come from an individual the cry goes forth on behalf of a community that no longer is the place it was intended to be. What was dreamed to be a place of faithfulness and trustworthy people has turned into a place where tongues have been loosed, boasts have been made and community has been destroyed. The double-hearted nature of the community has broken the heart of the Psalmist and sent them into a search for hope in the midst of the empty words they see in a community that was meant to be something much different. In a toxic environment where the tongues of those who are seeking their own interests rule the day the community of the faithful is in mortal peril.
Many leaders of communities have known times where the community, through conflict or by the actions of a bully, devolves into the opposite of its original intent. Unfortunately, it is all too common for churches and places of worship which preach forgiveness to become unforgiving. Sometimes the message of justice becomes perverted into a message of just-us, and sometimes the boastful words overpower the quiet insistence of those trying to follow whole heartedly. It is from this experience of disillusionment that the Psalmist cries for help. In a feeling of isolation and desolation where the faithful have been replaced by the duplicitous, the powerlessness of the Psalmist on their own is overpowering.
Family Systems Theory can talk about a Karpmann Drama Triangle where people are stuck into roles as the victim, oppressor or hero. Claus Westermann noted that in many of the Psalms of Lament that Israel or the speaker find themselves in the role of the victim where the LORD becomes the liberator of the speaker or Israel from their adversaries. (Brueggemann, 2014, p. 74) With the speaker in the role of the victim in the midst of their adversaries they are reliant upon God as their deliverer from their adversaries. This is the nature of the relationship that the people of God have with their deliverer. However, the danger is that these same people can easily move into the role of the oppressor where now the LORD must stand with the oppressed ones over against them. Perhaps, this is something that the Psalmist feels is now happening among their community. That the empty words have allowed the people to deny the contingency of their existence that is based upon their living into the covenant they have with the God of Israel.
The Psalmist sees those around him denying reality and doing violence to others in that denial. They have arrogated themselves into the position of being their own gods who no one can judge. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 156) Their tongues have become the small member that boasts of great exploits, setting fire to the world around them. (See James 3: 1-12) In claiming this place they have denied the reign of God feeling free to craft their own dominions. Yet, as so often is the case, when the powerful and the boastful feel free to create their own realities it comes at the expense of the poor and the vulnerable. Whether the Psalmist can claim a spot among the alien, the widow and the orphan (the classic way that the Hebrew bible speaks of the vulnerable) or not they are aware of the way in which the law, the commandments and the ordinances of God attempt to create a society where the oppressed are cared for. Yet, as the community moves away from its groundings and devolves into a place where unpleasant truths are denied at the expense of a more convenient illusion it also becomes a place that loses its understanding of hospitality and mercy.
The Psalm rests on the confidence that God will see and God will intervene even when the immediate evidence may point in the opposite direction. In a place where vileness is exalted among humanity and the poor are despoiled and the needy groan the Psalmist sees beyond the present moment to a hopeful future where God sees and acts. The Psalms understand, like the rest of the Bible, that God acts on behalf of the powerlessness and has an ear for the cries of the poor and oppressed. It is in the LORD’s answer, “I will now rise up” that the Psalmist trusts. The LORD has acted in the past; the LORD’s promises are true and precious. In comparison to the dross the Psalmist hears spoken around him the promises of God to them are like pure silver. As Mary can sing in Luke’s gospel the time is coming when:
He has shown the strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1: 51-55)