Psalm 16- Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Giovanni Francesco Barberi (il Guercino), King David (1651)

Psalm 16

<A Miktam of David.>
1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.
4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names upon my lips.
5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.
7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit.
11 You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy;
 in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
 
When I was growing up I assumed that the world of the Hebrew Scriptures (or the Old Testament) which was written to the people of Israel and Judah was a world that was as monolithic as I assumed things were growing up in my own childhood. Just because everyone I knew growing up was associated with a Christian church and I think the church was still, at least the Lutheran churches I grew up within, operating out of a Christendom concept where everyone at least had a church that they belonged to (even if they didn’t regularly or ever attend). I was wrong about the world that I grew up in and I was wrong about the Hebrew Scriptures. Perhaps being a pastor I have a heightened awareness to the other things that have placed their claims upon people’s lives and I do believe that the church is losing the privileged place it once held in society. There are so many competing voices that the church deals with (and perhaps the church has always dealt with) and I know I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can address the questions that are a part of our world while remaining faithful to the core ideas of my faith.

In Psalm 16 the Psalmist is attempting to remain faithful in the midst of an atmosphere that has several religious choices. The Psalm itself may be from a priest or from David (as its it is attributed to) but in their attempts at faithfulness they feel isolated. The holy ones of the land, presumably those who are remaining faithful, seem to be in conflict with those who are either turning away to other religious options or who are trying to blend together the worship of the LORD with gods like Baal and Asherah (treating the LORD as one among many). Perhaps the Psalmist is trying to distinguish between himself and the others who are willing to present offerings to other gods and take their names upon their lips. The Psalmist in their gut (in verse seven where it speaks in the NRSV translation of my heart instructs me this is literally my kidneys, the guts-where feelings come from in Hebrew thought) knows that what they are doing is right, but it may be unpopular. The more I spend time with the Hebrew Scriptures, the more I realize that there were few, if any, times where the people exclusively worshipped the LORD.

In our own day we too have to struggle with how to remain faithful in a pluralistic world, where many of the other messages may not be associated with another religion but instead may be reflective of the consumeristic society, the allegiance to states, various political ideologies or the continued pressures of a society where entertainment and sports occupy a huge amount of the public’s loyalty. None of these are bad things but they are penultimate (less that ultimate, secondary things). There are many things that may demand our tribute, our own blood offerings. Yet, I think the challenge in this and every age is to trust in the LORD, to know in one’s gut that one’s faith in the LORD is well placed, and even in the midst of other alternatives to let our heart be glad, our soul rejoice and our body secure in the portion that the LORD has allotted to us.

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