1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.
Many have stood in times where they felt unjustly accused by those in authority or those with power in their lives (whether friends, family, or perhaps in an educational, work or legal setting). In a familiar pattern from the Psalms in this part of the book of Psalms the petitioner and God stand against the judgment they experience from the forces around them. Martin Luther, for example, could reference his own struggles in attempting to be faithful to God’s Word and the persecution he is feeling in 1525 when he expounds upon the Psalm, (LW 12: 184) The Psalm invites us into that struggle with the difference between the life one expects in attempting to be faithful to God and the reality that the faithful one may experience.
The first two verses call upon God to act: to vindicate and to prove. Ultimately the crux of the Psalm is the trust that the speaker has for the LORD. They have tried to walk in a manner that reflects that faith and trust and it is that walk that has led them into this time of trial. The LORD is the one they call upon to act in setting the tables right and restoring the things that have been lost in this time where their way of life has been called into question. In parallel with this prayer to be vindicated is a parallel prayer to be evaluated. They cry on the LORD to weigh their life on the scales of justice and to see if their punishment is just. In the psalmist’s view the struggles they are going through do not fit the life they have tried to live and they open themselves up to God’s evaluation. This is perhaps a terrifying place for many people who are painfully aware of their sins or times they have not been completely faithful but as Beth Tanner can state about this text, “The point here is not to prove oneself, but to demonstrate one’s trust in God’s power of hesed and grace.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 263)
It would be easy to become critical of the tone of this and many other Psalms where the psalmist places themselves in the position of the righteous one who is judged and yet that would miss the point in this Psalm. The Psalms are experienced theology put into prose rather than some type of systematic theology which needs to be consistent throughout. The freedom of the Psalms is the ability to give voice in a faithful way to the world one is experiencing. There will be moments where the Psalms will focus on the writer’s guilt or their need of redemption, but there are also times in the Psalms and in life where the speaker feels unjustly persecuted. The Psalms can provide us a ‘Liturgy for the Falsely Accused’ in the words of William Bellinger and Walter Brueggemann. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 137) There are times where we need to know that we are innocent, or at least justified if we want to be dogmatic, where we haven’t associated with the wrong people or done the wrong things. Where our life has attempted to closely follow our values and where we do need a God who can judge between us and our persecutors. We want God to discriminate between us and the ones who we feel have acted unjustly. Maybe in the space of the prayer God acts, maybe in the space of the prayer our enemy changes, or maybe in the space of the prayer we are tested in heart and mind and we need to change. Yet, the speaker trusts that God will do something with their words and with their life. God will not remain silent and inactive.
Most of the prayer calls upon God to act on the psalmist’s behalf: to vindicate and to prove and not to sweep them away with the sinners. Yet, in the final two verses we return to the life the speaker is trying to live, a life that is in harmony with the trust they have in their LORD and the integrity in which they have attempted to walk. Even before God’s redemption they will continue to walk in integrity, and to bless the LORD in the worshipping community. They will continue to try to live the life they feel called to live, a life faithful to their calling as a person of the LORD.
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