1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts.
4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the LORD, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.
There is an intensity and beauty to this Psalm in its movement from crying to be heard to blessing the LORD who has heard. We can never enter the original Psalmist’s world and know who their enemies are or what is the crisis they are experiencing or how long they cry before they know that the LORD hears and responds, and yet we have their words which can echo our own crises and cries. The life of faith can inhabit this wide space between the desperate cry and the confident trust of one who has been answered. Faith does not exempt the faithful one from these times of crisis, but it does give the faithful petitioner a Faithful One who they trust will hear and answer their calls.
The intensity of the petitioner’s prayer is carried by the verbs focused on hearing: “I call, do not refuse to hear (literally do not be deaf), if you are silent” and the additional contrast between the LORD’s role as the petitioner’s rock and their destination if their rock proves untrustworthy, the pit. The psalmist cries out to the LORD, their rock, because the LORD is the only one who can deliver them. This cry is both an individual cry for help but also has the connotation of worship with lifting up hands toward the sanctuary. The Psalm doesn’t bargain with God but instead attempts to lift up the desperate reality that the Psalmist finds themselves within. If God does not rescue them from the wicked their life will end. The words of the Psalm 28 point to a life or death reality and wait upon the LORD for deliverance.
In contrast to the words of the Psalmist are the words of the wicked who speak peace while plotting mischief. The wicked often masquerade as the righteous and yet the Psalmist can point to the “fundamental disjunction between words, intentions and deeds.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 276) The wicked here are portrayed as those who do not ‘regard the work of the LORD,’ who seem to easily inhabit that space of God’s perceived silence with their own certainty that their words will go unpunished. They fill the pause in God’s perceived works with their own evil works and while the Psalmist wants the LORD to repay the evildoers for their works he also wants to ensure that he is not swept away along with them. Do not mistake my words for those of the evildoers who oppress me, do not mistake my work for their work or my deeds for their deeds. The work of the wicked is contrasted with the work of the LORD and the trust is that their disregard for the LORD’s working will result in their own destruction.
The space between verse five and six, the space between the LORD will break them down and blessed be the LORD who has heard is unknown. During that time the one praying holds onto the promise of the LORD’s hearing and the remembrance of the way the LORD has acted for the faithful ones in the past. Yet, the Psalm takes us across the unknown span of time to the resolution where God has acted, where the Psalmist can rest because God has provided them safety and strength, God did hear and act and save. It is this space where the Psalmist can utter the words of praise for the LORD who is faithful to the promises that were made. Now the Psalm moves beyond the individual to the community that calls upon God for their inheritance as well as guidance. The LORD is called upon to be their shepherd (which also has royal/kingly connotations in the Hebrew Bible) and to watch over and lead them forever. Perhaps, like in Psalm 23, the people will again find themselves in the darkest valley needing to cry out for the LORD to hear and rescue them again and then once again the intensity of the beginning of this Psalm may be a part of the movement again to that time when the LORD has heard and acted.