1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh– my adversaries and foes– they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
The fear of the LORD is the antidote to the fear of the things that produce anxiety in the world around the Psalmist. One of the most common commands when there is a divine revelation through a dream, an angel or a prophecy is “Do not be afraid.” Often these words come in situations that would produce fear and yet the one who calls the Psalmist, the prophets and poets, the kings and the shepherds, the young women like Mary and old men like Zechariah becomes their light and salvation throughout their life and journey. As the apostle Paul can write to the church in Rome, “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Or as Martin Luther could explain when talking about what it means to follow the first commandment of having no other Gods, “We are to fear, love and trust God above all things.” The Psalmists faith in God becomes such a central part of their life that they can enter into the darkest valleys without being paralyzed by fear because their LORD is indeed guiding them through those places and times.
The fear of the LORD is not an immunization against bad things happening to the faithful one, the Psalms and even the theology of books like Deuteronomy are not some simple prosperity gospel where trust in the LORD guarantees a return on investment in wealth, happiness, children, flocks and fields. There is a sense in which that trust is rewarded and validated but the Psalmist and those throughout scripture who are lifted up as models of faith often live challenging lives. Job, for example, would continue to believe that he would be vindicated by the LORD even when his household and health were all destroyed and yet, defiantly, Job would trust that God would answer his plea. The martial imagery of enemies that attack in cannibalistic fashion or an army that encamps around the faithful one may be metaphors for the great struggles or, if the Psalm refers backwards into David’s experience, it may reflect the reality of being one who is hunted for. Faith doesn’t make life easy but it may make the incredible struggle that one goes through bearable because faith becomes the antidote to the overwhelming fear and anxiety that may be present otherwise in the Psalmist’s life.
Worship becomes a foundational piece of the faithful life. The desire of the Psalmist is to live their life in the house of the LORD. The temple or tabernacle becomes a place to seek God’s presence, God’s voice and guidance, to reaffirm one’s trust in their God and a place where prayers can go forth. It is a place where defiant shouts of joy and joyous songs and praises can be offered. It becomes a continual reminder that the Psalmist does not journey alone, but that the LORD their God and other faithful ones, perhaps many other faithful ones also join in these defiant shouts and songs. Faith is strengthened in the continual dwelling in the house of the LORD.
Their God to the faithful one becomes shelter, the one who conceals them under the cover of the tent and the one who sets them upon a rock. Shelter, while used only here in the Psalms, reflects a common idea of the LORD sheltering the people of Israel and is the word behind the Feast of Sukkoth (Festival of Booths) remembering how the LORD cared for the people during their Exodus journey. The LORD has been the rock and foundation before, as in Psalm 18, but now the LORD places the Psalmist upon a rock where they are safe and sheltered from their enemies. As Rolf Jacobson can point out the tent can be a reference to the tabernacle or temple but it also has the element of being God’s protective presence. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 269) Within the hospitality culture of the ancient world being concealed under the cover of the tent may also allude to the expectation of protection provided for the guest that has been welcomed into one’s home and there are numerous stories throughout the bible, probably the most famous being that of Lot and the two angels that he shields within his house in Genesis 19 (a text often misinterpreted). In the ancient world if someone comes to your house and you extend them hospitality then their lives are entrusted to your care.
Yet, even the faith that knows that the LORD is their light and salvation may have to convince itself to trust in the midst of the challenges of life. For me verses eight through fourteen may be this type of internal dialogue of faithfulness in the midst of challenge. There is the plea to be heard and the reminder spoken to oneself to seek the face of the Lord and a reaffirmation of this seeking followed by a plea not to hide or turn away, a plea not to cast one off or forsake. There is the continual struggle to remember the character of God and yet the falling back into the language of commitment, deeper commitment to the faithful one than even a parental bond may yield. This Psalm has been a Psalm of commitment and trust and the Psalmist calls upon God in the midst of their struggles to uphold that trust: not to give them up to their adversaries and to lead them on the level paths. The Psalm ends on that note of trust as the wait for the LORD and the belief that in the midst of their time of trial the LORD will somehow deliver them or give them the strength and courage to endure.