Tag Archives: Psalms

Psalm 71 A Prayer for Help Shaped by a Life of Worship

An Old Woman Reading, Probably the Prophetess Hannah by Rembrandt (1631)

Psalm 71

1 In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.
4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother’s womb. My praise is continually of you.
7 I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.
11 They say, “Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken, for there is no one to deliver.”
12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!
13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed; let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14 But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long, though their number is past my knowledge.
16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD, I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come. Your power
19 and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens. You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.
22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have rescued.
24 All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help, for those who tried to do me harm have been put to shame, and disgraced.

The practice of worship shapes the language of our prayers and informs how we talk about God’s action in the world. Psalm 71 bears witness to this process by bringing together language from several psalms to address the situation of a faithful elderly worshiper crying once again for God’s deliverance. These psalms which have been a part of the regular recitations of those seeking to live a righteous life now shape a new prayer lifted up to God. Even as this psalm reflects on what has gone before, it becomes a pattern for others to build their own prayers and songs upon. The psalm becomes a medium where the psalmist proclaims God’s might to generations to come.

A consistent theme throughout the psalms is that God is the source of refuge and deliverance from one’s enemies. God is the refuge, the strong fortress, and the rock, all familiar images for God’s protection. The lifelong faith of the psalmist begins metaphorically from birth where God serves as the midwife delivering the psalmist from the mother’s womb. The trust of the psalmist is formed by a lifetime of worship, prayer, song, and the experience of God’s protection and rescue.

This praying one has been a portent to many. Many assume that they are a portent because they were judged by God for some past action, but it is equally likely that they are a portent of what a life lived under God’s favor is like. Although this is a psalm petitioning for God’s deliverance from enemies there is no indication that the psalmist feels distant from God or judged by God. Even though this is a psalm asking for God’s deliverance and protection it maintains a confident note of praise throughout. The current struggle that the psalmist endures does not erase a lifetime of God’s provision or the language of praise formed in worship.

In a hostile world the vulnerability that comes with old age can be a cause of great anxiety and danger. The enemies in the psalms are often looking for weaknesses that they can exploit for their own benefit, and their action here goes against the intent of the law that God provided Israel. The commandment on honoring father and mother in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 is primarily about caring for parents in their old age and the Hebrew culture was to be a culture that honored the elderly rather than preying on them. Unfortunately, in any conflict it is often the weak: the sick, the elderly, the disabled, women, children, and the poor who often are viewed as expendable. The enemies are portrayed like vultures who are waiting to pick at the psalmist’s carcass and their actions are viewed as shameful. Perhaps they are waiting to seize power from this psalmist and the psalmist, on their own, is unable to resist them as vigorously as they would have been able to when they were younger. Their vulnerability forces them to rely upon God as their refuge and strength and to bring these dishonorable ones to justice.

The life of faith is a life shaped by the praising of God for God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, and even in times of trouble this praise comes naturally to the psalmist’s lips. Even psalms of lamentations will normally turn to praise and this unnamed psalm writer[1] uses rhythms and patterns that mirror several other psalms to give voice to this praise in the midst of their crisis. J. Clinton McCann points to several places in the psalm where it mirrors Psalms 22, 31, 35, 36, 38, and 40 in addition to the verbal links with Psalm 70. (NIB IV: 958) In the midst of their personal crisis the psalmist leans into the hymnbook looking for words to express their concern and confidence in God. It is likely that we see in this psalm the process of building upon the language of faith learned in worship to express the needs to God in a new time.

The psalmist asks that they be allowed to “proclaim your might to all the generations to come.” (18) In this psalm becoming a part of the scriptures this prayer is granted. The actions of this unnamed psalmist weaving together the language they learned from a lifetime of faithfulness to respond to the struggles brought by the vulnerability of growing older becomes one of the many patterns of faithful praising and crying out to God in the midst of their life recorded in the scriptures. God was there as a midwife to begin the faithful one’s life and God will accompany the psalmist and those who read these psalms throughout their life. The writer of this psalm trusts that God is active in the world and can use troubles and calamities and the deliverance from these troubles to shape the life of the faithful one and to witness to God’s providence in the world. Instruments and voices are lifted up to praise God who has been faithful in the past. The psalmist sings in confidence that God will deliver in the present. The lessons of a life shaped by worship are not quickly forgotten.

[1] Psalm 71 is one of the psalms with no attribution.

Psalm 70 God Help Me Quickly

Psalm 70

Psalm 70

<To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.>

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me. O LORD, make haste to help me!

2 Let those be put to shame and confusion who seek my life. Let those be turned back and            brought to dishonor who desire to hurt me.

3 Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!” turn back because of their shame.

4 Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”

5 But I am poor and needy;

hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!
 
Sometimes the only prayer that can be managed in a crisis is, “dear God, help! Please! Quickly!” That is the essence of this short psalm which appeals to God for deliverance. It is possible that Psalm 70 and 71 were originally designed to be joined together, there are a number of thematic and vocabulary linkages between the two psalms, and this psalm is also present with a few minor differences as the ending of Psalm 40. Yet, in the way we have received this Psalm in the psalter it stands alone as a brief and unresolved plea for help which calls on God to act quickly and decisively to save the petitioner.

The Psalm has an uneven chiastic structure[1] which I’ve attempted to show in the indentations above. As Beth Tanner helpfully illustrates:

Plea to hurry (v. 1)
The world as it is (v.2-3)
The world as it should be (v.4)
The world as it is (v. 5a)
Plea to hurry (v. 5b) (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 563)

The opening and closing verses share both vocabulary and theme (help, deliver(er), haste(n)) bracketing the brief psalm with an urgent cry for immediate help. The world the psalmist is experiencing is one where enemies seek to cause pain, ruin reputation, and destroy the life of this one crying for help. The psalmist asks for the shameful actions of their enemy to rebound upon these enemies causing them to be shamed. In a world as it should be the righteous who seek God know joy and are able to praise God, but in the world as it is experienced they find themselves appealing to God for deliverance from their oppressors. Psalm 70 ends with a repeated cry for immediate help and we sit with the psalmist in the time of waiting for God’s response.

Although most modern Christians don’t attend service on the Wednesday of Holy Week, this is the appointed psalm for that day and liturgically it applies this psalm to Jesus hearing the mocking words on the cross. The psalm makes sense in this setting of one being accused unjustly and calling out to the LORD for help, but it also applies to many other settings throughout the life of faith. Cries for God’s immediate response in a situation of crisis are a part of a life that trusts that God will deliver. Sometimes the shortest prayers are the ones that speak the clearest of the immediate need for help.

[1] A Chiasm is a poetic form which uses mirroring statements, vocabulary or themes.

Psalm 69 A Cry for Deliverance from Unjust Suffering

Psalm 69

<To the leader: according to Lilies. Of David.>

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.[1]
2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.
4 More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord GOD of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.
9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.
10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.
11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.
12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.
13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help
14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.
15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.
16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress — make haste to answer me.
18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.
19 You know the insults I receive, and my shame and dishonor; my foes are all known to you.
20 Insults have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.
21 They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.
22 Let their table be a trap for them, a snare for their allies.
23 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and make their loins tremble continually.
24 Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.
25 May their camp be a desolation; let no one live in their tents.
26 For they persecute those whom you have struck down, and those whom you have wounded, they attack still more.
27 Add guilt to their guilt; may they have no acquittal from you.
28 Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
29 But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me.
30 I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the LORD more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 Let the oppressed see it and be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the LORD hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.
34 Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah; and his servants shall live there and possess it;
36 the children of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall live in it.

As attractive as the simple linkage of suffering as a punishment for sin is for some people, there are moments where the magnitude of the suffering becomes impossible to correlate with the suffering that a faithful one is undergoing. Psalm 69 has often been heard in reference to Job, the suffering servant of Isaiah 52: 13-53:12, Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations, and Jesus. It is a complaint from one whose suffering, particularly at the hands of others in the community, is disproportionate to any offenses they may have committed. As we have seen throughout the Psalms, the petitioner trusts that God is the one who can save their life from the threat they face and restore justice in the face of injustice.

Structurally, Psalm 69 begins with two sets of appeals to God which parallel each other in significant ways using similar content and vocabulary. This mirroring intensifies the urgency in the appeal of the psalmist and reinforces the impression that their life is in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the forces and the individuals who oppose them. The person cries out using the imagery of rising floodwaters that they cannot flee from because they are stuck in the deep mire and cannot gain a foothold. Their time is running out before the waters rise above their neck and their life is swept away because the air they need is denied to their lungs by the overwhelming waters. The metaphor indicates a situation of dire need, and the petitioner has continued to call out to God for deliverance until their throat is dry from crying out and their eyes are weary from crying.

The image abruptly shifts from a rising flood of water to a flood of opponents who hate without cause. The psalmist does not claim to being sinless, they know their actions and attitudes have been seen and known by God, but what others are accusing them of they proclaim their innocence of. They are being asked to answer for crimes they did not commit and to pay for things they did not take. The wording of the psalm makes it likely that the psalmist is being persecuted for their faithfulness to their understanding of what God has asked of them. Perhaps they are a prophet whose actions on behalf of God have made them unpopular, or perhaps they maintain faithfulness to the worship of the LORD and practice of the law in a time when many others are serving other gods or embracing other values. Their suffering which has alienated them from even their family is correlated, in the psalmist’s view, with their faithfulness to God. This faithful one has defended God and now they ask for God’s defense and rescue of them. Only God can restore justice in this time of injustice.

The image of flooding returns in verse fourteen and once again we see and echo of the cry for God’s deliverance from the rapidly rising waters which represent the enemies seeking to overwhelm the psalmist. These enemies whose insults have broken their heart of and brought shame and dishonor upon the psalmist. These people who were viewed as their family and community have rejected them and caused them to be viewed as one whose life is forfeit. For the psalmist, the only way they can imagine their restoration and salvation is for the tables to turn. They have been met without pity or comfort, and they ask for God to show their tormentors no comfort. They in their need received only poison and vinegar and so they call upon God to respond to their lack of hospitality. They have attempted to overwhelm their life like a rising flood, and now the psalmist asks that their lives may be blotted out of the book of life. They appeal to God for rescue and deliverance and through their dry throat and dimming eyes they hold on to the hope that God will deliver them and vindicate them over their oppressors.

Within this psalm it appears that the oppressors are adding to the perceived just punishment of God. Verse twenty-six point to the psalmist’s original pain and need, perhaps in the form of an illness. This sense in heightened by the word used for food in verse twenty-one which is an unusual word for food that is often associated with food brought to the sick bed. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 560) These enemies may be seeking to exploit the weakness of the psalmist when they are sick and may be (figuratively or literally) poisoning the waters (and the food). One could imagine a scenario where if the psalmist is a king (like David who the psalm is attributed to) someone could seek to exploit their weakness to attempt to seize power. Regardless the psalm indicates that the one who implores God for help can no longer trust even their nearest kin.

The psalm abruptly shifts to praise in verse thirty-one. Perhaps we see the deliverance of the one crying out or perhaps the psalmist merely anticipates that God will deliver. As J. Clinton McCann rightly states, “In the book of Psalms, to live is to praise God, and to praise God is to live.” (NIB IV: 953) The psalms, even in their appeals for help, live in expectation and gratitude of God’s deliverance from the floods that overwhelm and enemies who oppress. The psalmist lifts their voice into the great chorus of all creation praising God for God’s continual provision and redemption. Gratitude lifted up in witness and acclamation is more important in the psalms than providing the proper sacrifices at the temple. The psalmist lives in the love of God’s name, in the shelter of God’s protection, and in the expectation of God’s help.

[1] Hebrew nephesh has occurred frequently throughout the psalms and normally means ‘life’ or ‘soul’ but here is a location where it refers to ‘neck.’ Yet, in the metaphorical waters rising to the neck the life/soul of the petitioner is endangered.

Psalm 65 A Song of Thanksgiving to a Gracious Creator

Jennie Augusta Brownscome, The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1914) Plymouth Hall Museum, Plymouth, MA

Psalm 65

<To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.>
1 Praise is due to you,[1] O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed,
2 O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
3 When deeds[2] of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions.
4 Happy[3] are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.
6 By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
7 You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples.
8 Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
9 You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it.
10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy,
13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.

It feels serendipitous to arrive at Psalm 65 in the week before the celebration of Thanksgiving in the United States. This psalm is appropriately used in many Thanksgiving services. This song which celebrates a gracious and forgiving God whose awesome actions to deliver, sustain, and protect the people of God along with all of creation evoke praise from God’s people and the earth itself. The praise delivered to God may be done in silence or with shouting and singing for joy, but the poet who composes the psalm recognizes their place among the thankful creation acknowledging all that its gracious creator has done. As Martin Luther could state in explaining God’s act of creation in the Small Catechism, “For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.” (Luther 1978, 25)

The initial praise emanates from the chosen people in Zion, likely in the temple or tabernacle. Most translations begin like the NRSV, “Praise is due to you” but the Hebrew states, “to you, silence is praise.” Poetically following the Hebrew makes sense as the psalm moderates back and forth between sound and silence. The things that are audible in the poem are often things that interfere with recognizing the gracious actions of God: words of iniquity (v. 3), the roaring of the seas and their waves and the tumult of the people which God silences (v.7). The two things in the poem that metaphorically shout for joy: the gateways of the morning and the evenings (v.8) and the meadows and valleys (v. 13) are both silent. Perhaps the psalmist is inviting us into silence so that we can observe as the creation responds in praise to God’s actions and we might in our own way learn to do the same.

God is the primary actor in this psalm. God is a redeemer who answers prayers, (v. 2) forgives transgressions, (v. 3) and delivers through awesome deeds. (v. 5) God is the creator who established the mountains, calms the threatening and chaotic water and the tumult of the nations, and who presides over all humanity and creation. (v. 6-8) God is the great farmer who waters the earth and causes the plants to grow into a bountiful harvest. (v. 9-11) The psalmist and all creation only lift up their silent praise together with their shouts and songs of joy. Happy (or blessed) are the ones who by God’s gracious action are brought near to live in the courts of God and to worship in the temple of God for they can see, with the rest of creation, the proper stance towards their gracious redeemer, creator, sustainer, and provider. Part of the wise life is being satisfied with the abundance that God has provided.

One of the gifts of the Lutheran tradition which I was formed within is the focus on God being the primary actor in the world rather than humanity. Much of the Christianity formed in the United States places a large emphasis, due to our individualistic culture, on the actions of the individual in obedience to God. Especially with the secular assumptions that most modern Christians bring to their faith, God’s action seems more distant and human action becomes more central. Reinhold Niebuhr’s incisive critique of the American practice of Thanksgiving from almost a century ago (1927) still resonates:

Thanksgiving becomes increasingly the business of congratulating the Almighty upon his most excellent co-workers, ourselves…The Lord who was worshipped was not the Lord of Hosts, but the spirit of Uncle Sam, given a cosmic eminence for the moment which the dear old gentleman does not deserve. (NIB IV:935)

Perhaps this psalm can help us to join with the rest of creation as it responds with praise to what God is doing in the world regardless of the transgressions of the chosen people who seem unable to live into the obedience to the covenant of God. Perhaps this short song can encourage us to lift our heads and expand our horizons beyond the walls of our community and reflect upon the actions both awesome and miniscule that God does to maintain the harmony of creation. As people gather together for their feasts of Thanksgiving, may it be an opportunity to reflect upon God’s actions of provision from the abundance of God’s harvest which we can gratefully partake in.

[1] The Hebrew text here reads “To you, silence (dumiyya) is praise” Most translations follow the LXX (Greek text) which uses the Greek prepo (fitting or proper) feeling this is a song of praise and sound is a central act. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 527) See my comments on this above.

[2] The Hebrew dabar is normally translated word but can have the meaning of things or matters. Within the poetic flow of the Hebrew ‘words’ makes sense.

[3] This is the Hebrew asre which is often translated ‘happy’ in Hebrew scriptures. This word often used in wisdom literature and is the Hebrew equivalent to the Greek word makarios which is translated ‘blessed’ in the New Testament (particularly in the Sermon on the Mount).

Psalm 64 Protect the Innocent One for the Words of the Wicked

By Rashid al-Din – “History of the World” by Rashid al-Din. Photograph by German image bank AKG-Images, published in “The Mongols and the West”, Peter Jackson, 2005., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3237525

Psalm 64

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.
2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the scheming of evildoers,
3 who whet their tongues like swords, who aim bitter words like arrows,
4 shooting from ambush at the blameless; they shoot suddenly and without fear.
5 They hold fast to their evil purpose; they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see us?
6 Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.” For the human heart and mind are deep.
7 But God will shoot his arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly.
8 Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake with horror.
9 Then everyone will fear; they will tell what God has brought about, and ponder what he has done.
10 Let the righteous rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him. Let all the upright in heart glory.

This portion of the psalter is full of petitions to God to deliver the one crying out from the malicious action of those who oppose them. Most people have encountered a time when they felt unfairly targeted by a group that threatened to ruin their reputation and may have even threatened physical violence. We don’t have to look far in our modern world to see people who wield words as weapons and who gather together to seek the advancement of their own power, fame, or fortune while thinking themselves immune to any consequences from their words or actions. The faith of the psalmist, which has been handed down to us, is that God hears and sees the injustice of the world and that God will eventually set the world back in balance. The dangerous words and scheming plots of the wicked may wound but God will rise to defend those who call for deliverance.

The psalm begins with an urgent call for God to hear and act to guard the life of the one praying for God’s preservation. This righteous one is dealing with many enemies who are gathering together and plotting against them. The NRSV translates the gathering together or the enemies as a ‘secret plot’ but the Hebrew sod is a gathering of a company of persons (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 522) and so the actions of the enemies is more like a gathering mob rather than a quiet conspiracy. The actions of these ‘scheming evildoers’ is intentionally unfair, and the psalmist feels ambushed by their words which have been weaponized like swords and arrows. The cry for help goes up when the psalmist feels exposed and unable to defend themselves against the onslaught of words and clever snares laid for them. These wicked ones are convinced that they have laid out a clever plot which the petitioner cannot escape from and have probably manipulated things to make themselves appear righteous in their assassination of the character and reputation of the righteous one.

The psalmist trusts that God will respond to the words and actions of the wicked ones and will guard their life. Just as the wicked ones aimed their bitter words like arrows, now they are wounded by God’s arrows, and they find that their tongues which they sharpened like swords cut both ways. They intended to bring about the destruction of the reputation and life of the righteous one, but now they find themselves as objects of horror. Their cunning plots unravel and and now they stand exposed before the community. They become the example of the ‘wicked’ whose punishment becomes an example to others who would follow their foolish ways. The psalmist trusts that God will put the world back in balance and the righteous will rejoice in God’s protection while the wicked are revealed before the community.

The persistent reality of those who are willing to use words as weapons and whose schemes often cause damage both lives and reputations causes many to continue to lift up their complaints to God. It is difficult to deny that many of these schemers seem to act without consequences in the present, but faith calls the one praying to trust in the power of God to ultimately overcome the scheming of humans. Sometimes the action of God may be violent, like the archer shooting arrows to defend one ambushed, but often it may be to allow the actions of the ‘evil ones’ to be revealed and their cunning plots to become known. Yet, the petition is for God to act and the psalmist entrusts that God can use the tools at God’s disposal to put the world back in balance and to guard the righteous ones.

 

 

Psalm 63 Hungering and Thirsting for God’s Presence

Trinity River in Texas

Psalm 63

<A Psalm of David, when he was in the Wilderness of Judah.>
1 O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.
3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
4 So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;
10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

Trust in the midst of trouble has been a common theme in this portion of the book of Psalms. Sometimes the trouble precedes a turning to trust in the life of the psalmist, but sometimes the psalmist begins in trust and then addresses their troubles to God. This Psalm, which is attributed to David’s time in the wilderness when he was hunted by Saul, begins with a thirst and hunger to experience God’s presence like the psalmist experienced in the past. Yet, even though the psalmist longs for God’s presence and desires to share a rich feast in the security of God’s love and protection, they trust that their life is upheld by the power and protection of God.

We have previously seen the metaphor of thirsting for God’s presence at the beginning of Psalm 42, where the nephesh[1]pants for God like a deer pants for water. Once again the nephesh thirsts for God and the flesh faints for God. The psalmists entire being is weakened by the perceived absence of God’s presence like a person wandering in a hostile wilderness may be threatened by the harsh sun, unforgiving winds, and the lack of water. The psalmist is able to look back on times where they encountered the presence of God in the tabernacle or temple and came to know the hesed (steadfast love) of God. This encounter with the presence and love of God made a powerful impression on the psalmist, causing them to understand that the proper response was to dedicate their life to blessing and living in prayerful thanksgiving to their God.

The metaphor now shifts from thirst to hunger as the nephesh is satisfied with a rich feast.[2] Much as the feast of Thanksgiving in the United States was intended to give thanks to God for the abundance of harvest, now the psalmist participating in this festive meal, probably understood as taking place within the context of sacrifice, responds with lifting up praises with joyful lips. Hunger and thirst sated, now the psalm moves to the bed where the psalmist can rest in the peace provided by God’s protection and can lay down with a joyful song on their lips. They may experience hunger and thirst, but they trust that God will provide for the needs of their body and life. They can go to sleep even in the midst of their enemies continuing to make trouble because their God is a God of steadfast love and protection.

Only in the final three verses does the external threat of the enemy make its appearance, but in contrast to the experience of the faithful one their future is, through the eyes of the psalmist, one of shame and silence. The psalmist trusts that they will be surrounded by the presence of God, but their enemies will ‘go down’ to the depths of the earth-a place perceived to be distant from God. Their lives may have been lived violently, and the psalmist trusts that they will end violently, and they will end up the prey of scavengers who wander the wastelands. The voice of the psalmist will be lifted up in praise but the mouths of the liars who oppose him shall be silenced. Perhaps the ending of the psalm seems vengeful, but vengeance is left in God’s hands. Ultimately the threat of the psalmist’s enemies are real but they trust in the protection of their God to deal with these threats and they look forward to being in the holy spaces and lifting up their voice as they wonder and marvel at the presence and steadfast love of God which satisfies their thirst and sates their hunger.

[1] The Hebrew nephesh is often translated soul, but a Hebrew understanding of this word is closer to ‘my life’ or ‘my whole being.’

[2] Literally fat and fatness.

Psalm 61 A Life Dependent on God

Wartburg Castle, Eisenach, Germany. Photo by Robert Scarth shared under creative commons 2.0

Psalm 61

<To the leader: with stringed instruments. Of David.>
1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.
2 From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I;
3 for you are my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.
4 Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings. Selah
5 For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
6 Prolong the life of the king; may his years endure to all generations!
7 May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
8 So I will always sing praises to your name, as I pay my vows day after day.

In C. S. Lewis’ classic parable, The Great Divorce, the experience of hell is a grey city where the inhabitants choose to live a life that is increasingly joyless and friendless as they move further and further away from their neighbors. An escape from this grey city is readily available if the people of the place let go of their own security and accept their reliance on God’s grace (which is both a painful and healing process in the dream that forms the book) but most sullenly either remain or return to this increasingly private hell which they choose instead of heaven. One of the paradoxes of our current time is that we live in a time in society where we have resources and comforts unavailable to people at any other time in history and yet as our affluence has increased our depression and anxiety have also increased. Perhaps this poem that the psalmist lifts up from the end of the earth has something to speak to a people who have lived in the anxiety of attempting to make meaning for oneself and finding, in the words of Ecclesiastes, that it is all vanity. That perhaps Augustine’s confession that ‘our heart is restless until it rests in you” may be the gospel we need to lead us back home.

This psalm is the appeal of an individual for God’s help in the midst their trouble. The psalmist cries to God from ‘the end of the earth’ which could be a geographical location, being far away from the temple, but more likely is a perception of the psalmist’s distance from God. In the midst of the trouble, they are experiencing they have found their own resources insufficient. They are in need of a place they can escape from the rising floodwaters. They are faint of heart and fading fast.[1] The appropriate place to turn in their distress is to their God who in a flourish of images of strength is the psalmist’s refuge, strong tower, tent to abide within, and wings to be sheltered under. The crisis of the psalmist has shaken them out of their self-reliance, demonstrated their distance from their God, and caused them to cry out to return to their God’s presence.

The psalm moves from trouble to trust. The God of the psalmist is one who hears their petitions and vows. The heritage, or inheritance, mentioned in verse five is often associated with the land that God has promised. In an agricultural society one’s security is intimately linked to the land and the provision of weather at the appropriate time. Yet, one’s security is also determined by the actions of the leaders of that land. The king, and here it would refer to a Davidic king, would provide the physical security for the land. But theologically the king is merely a means by which God provides for the covenant people and the military security of Israel is ultimately provided not by swords and spears but by God’s protection. Martin Luther captures this idea when expounding on the petition asking God for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer noting that it not only includes food and drink but also, “upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” (Luther 1978, 36) The psalmist realizes that the way of self-sufficiency is vanity and that their life is dependent upon God’s gracious provision which comes in many forms.

The psalm promises a grateful response to God’s act of provision. A skeptical reader may view this as an attempt to bribe God to get one’s way, but the psalms have stated in other places that God needs nothing that the psalmist can give.[2] As Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger can state, “Israel, however, was not aware that the transaction could be reduced to a quid pro quo, an attempt to bribe YHWH.” (Brueggemann 2014, 272) The appropriate response to God’s provision is praise, thanksgiving, promising to serve one’s God with whatever one has to offer. Self-reliance has led to isolation from God and trouble. Repentance has allowed one to return to reliance upon God’s provision and a response of gratitude for God’s gracious protection, provision, and shelter.

[1] As Beth Tanner notes, the root Hebrew word translated faint demonstrates a serious distress and proximity to death. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 511)

[2] For example Psalm 50: 8-13.

Psalm 59 God’s Steadfast Love as an Alternative to the Dog-Eat-Dog Worldview

Battle between Cimmerian cavalry, their war dogs, and Greek hoplites, depicted on a Pontic plate

Psalm 59 God’s Steadfast Love as an Alternative to the Dog-Eat-Dog World

<To the leader: Do Not Destroy. Of David. A Miktam, when Saul ordered his house to be watched in order to kill him.>

1 Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me.
2 Deliver me from those who work evil; from the bloodthirsty save me.
3 Even now they lie in wait for my life; the mighty stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD,
4 for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Rouse yourself, come to my help and see!
5 You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Awake to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah
6 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
7 There they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips — for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”
8 But you laugh at them, O LORD; you hold all the nations in derision.
9 O my strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress.
10 My God in his steadfast love will meet me; my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.
11 Do not kill them, or my people may forget; make them totter by your power, and bring them down, O Lord, our shield.
12 For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter,
13 consume them in wrath; consume them until they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob. Selah
14 Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city.
15 They roam about for food, and growl if they do not get their fill.
16 But I will sing of your might; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been a fortress for me and a refuge in the day of my distress.
17 O my strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

Many of the Psalms in this section of the psalter are attributed to the time when David’s life is continuously under threat from his king and father-in-law Saul.[1] These desperate pleas to God, which can fit a number of circumstances that people encounter in a world, are an underutilized portion of Psalms. They are perhaps overlooked because they may appear too vengeful for some Christians, but they point to a resilient faith in the reality of God’s steadfast love in the midst of a world of dogged opposition. The psalmist trusts that God’s protection will allow them to see their opponents punished for their unjust violence they have done and will vindicate their continued trust in their God which allows them to opt out of the dog-eat-dog mindset of competitive violence.

God is the one who must deliver the psalmist from their situation. The psalm is a series of imperatives directed at God: deliver, protect, deliver, save, (1-2) rouse, come, see, awake, spare none, (4-5) make them totter, (11) and consume (twice in verse 13). Immediately the psalmist begins with an impassioned appeal for God to save them from dire circumstances that are created by enemies who are conspiring against them. These evil working and bloodthirsty ones continually create a world of conflict and violence for the poet despite their innocence. The psalmist emphasizes their innocence by utilizing the three major Hebrew words for ‘sin’[2] and declaring they are without fault, transgression, or sin. This three-fold appeal to the psalmist innocence is followed by a three-fold titling of God: LORD (the divine name of God) God of hosts (a militaristic image of God as the leader of armies) and God of Israel (the God of the chosen people). God is one who can be called upon by name, and yet has the power to aid in conflicted situation, and is also the God who stands with the chosen people in the midst of the nations. The psalmist trusts that the God that they call upon is able to save and deliver them from this world of trouble created by their persistent and unjust enemies.

The metaphor used in this psalm for the enemies is dogs. They prowl like a pack, and they wound with their words. They continue to prowl the city and utter their threatening howls which inform the poet that there is no time when they are free of their presence. These enemies consider themselves strong but all their growling, prowling, and howling ultimately evoke laughter from God. In Psalm 52:6 the righteous laughed at the foolish and violent enemies, but here it is God who laughs at these violent ones who take themselves and their power so seriously. Their strength when compared to the protective and sheltering strength of the God of Israel or the liberating strength of the God of Hosts is laughable, and their boasts are hollow. The faithful and innocent one trusts that God’s steadfast love (hesed) will ultimately be the final word and will put these dogged opponents in their place.

This prayer comes from the perspective of one who is struggling in an unjust world and is calling upon God to act decisively against their oppressors. Perhaps one of the reasons this Psalm is seldom used is the desire for vengeance against one’s enemies and there is some danger when those in a privileged position view themselves as oppressed and use that narrative to justify their own actions of oppression. Yet, in the Psalms the actor who restores the oppressed one to justice is always God. Here the psalmist wishes not for a quick removal of the enemy, but a staggering but not fatal blow where the enemy becomes the unwitting example of God’s justice that is not quickly forgotten. As Bellinger and Brueggemann can say appropriately, “even in its most confident faith Israel can be honest about its resentments and its hope for vengeance and retaliation.” (Brueggemann 2014, 266) The psalmist is maintaining their innocence and committing themselves to God’s steadfast love and justice.

This psalm again confronts us with the distance between the world as it is experienced by the psalmist in this moment of their life and the world as it should be under the steadfast love of God. As J. Clinton McCann can aptly summarize the world the psalmist experiences, “What we end up with is a dog-eat-dog world, a culture of cut-throat competition in which we’re convinced that no one will look out for us if we don’t look out for ourselves.” But the psalm points to “a deeper reality, an alternative world, which is drive not by the lust for power but by the power of love.” (NIB IV:914) In the belief of the psalmist, we may begin with the need for deliverance from the dog-eat-dog mindset of competitive violence. The final words in this psalm and in worldview of the psalmist is God’s steadfast love (hesed). The wise live their lives oriented towards this deeper reality where the lust for power will be proven foolish and the power of God’s steadfastlove will endure.

[1] The superscription refers 1 Samuel 19: 8-17 when Saul has David’s home watched and Michal (David’s wife and Saul’s daughter) helps David escape and deceives her father.

[2] NRSV translates these words as ‘transgressions,’ ‘sin,’ and ‘fault’ in verses three and four.

Psalm 55-A Desperate Prayer from an Unsafe Environment

Apophysis-Betrayal (1footonthedawn at deviantart.com)

Psalm 55

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David.
1 Give ear to my prayer, O God; do not hide yourself from my supplication.
2 Attend to me, and answer me; I am troubled in my complaint. I am distraught
3 by the noise of the enemy, because of the clamor of the wicked. For they bring trouble upon me, and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
4 My heart is in anguish within me, the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
5 Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.
6 And I say, “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;
7 truly, I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
8 I would hurry to find a shelter for myself from the raging wind and tempest.”
9 Confuse, O Lord, confound their speech; for I see violence and strife in the city.
10 Day and night they go around it on its walls, and iniquity and trouble are within it;
11 ruin is in its midst; oppression and fraud do not depart from its marketplace.
12 It is not enemies who taunt me — I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me — I could hide from them.
13 But it is you, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend,
14 with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng.
15 Let death come upon them; let them go down alive to Sheol; for evil is in their homes and in their hearts.
16 But I call upon God, and the LORD will save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he will hear my voice.
18 He will redeem me unharmed[1] from the battle that I wage, for many are arrayed against me.
19 God, who is enthroned from of old, Selah will hear, and will humble them — because they do not change, and do not fear God.
20 My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me
21 with speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war; with words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
23 But you, O God, will cast them down into the lowest pit; the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.

This Psalm is filled with unusual Hebrew words that account for the differences in wording among translations. Although individual words may present challenges the overall message of the words are clear. This is a desperate prayer for deliverance from an unsafe environment where human relationships have failed, trust has been violated, and the psalmist feels unsafe. It is a petition for God’s help. It is a cry for God to condemn those who have brought such pain. It bears witness to the psalmist grasping to their faith in God’s justice when others have proven faithless.

Many people can reflect on moments in their life when they can identify strongly with the words of this Psalm. For me, the words of this psalm take me back to a time when a dream had died, I was leading a congregation that was splitting apart due to conflict, and even home was no longer a healthy place as I attempted to deal with a betrayal by one I loved. It was a time where it felt like all the things that defined me had rejected me. My hopes for the future, my work, my place of worship, and even my family all had been impacted and the only thing I had left to hold on to was the faith that God would hear my cry in that moment, that the pain would eventually end, and that God would save me in a time when I could not save myself.

Perhaps the reason that the words in this Psalm are so difficult to translate is that the poet has to grasp for words in the midst of their pain which seem just out of reach. Deep pain seems to shatter our ability to narrate what is happening, the events become unspeakable. Yet, it is precisely this inability to speak about the trauma that one endures which can trap us within it. One of the gifts of scripture, particularly the Psalms and the prophets, is honest language which attempts to bear witness to the pain and suffering that are often a part of the life of the faithful. Being a religious person does not prevent one from experiencing conflict, betrayal, anxiety, fear, and even desiring to run away from one’s home or one’s vocation.

The Psalm begins with four verbs asking God to pay attention to the desperate prayer (Give ear, do not hide, attend, and answer) followed by a long list of troubles caused to this faithful one by the actions of the enemy/wicked. The righteous one is troubled, distraught, experiencing anguish in their heart and the terrors of death, fear, trembling. and horror overwhelm them, and their desire is to flee from the city, their home, and their responsibilities to some wilderness retreat. These early descriptions of the psalmist’s current condition seem in tension the affirmation later in the Psalm that “the LORD…will never permit the righteous to be moved” but they need to voice the full extent of their affliction before they can enter into the trust in God’s provision. J Clinton McCann highlights that many of the things the righteous one is experiencing are exactly what those opposed to God’s way and experiencing God’s judgment have experienced in the past:

“Terrors” (v.4) and “trembling” (v.5) are what the Egyptians experienced as a result of opposing God (see Exod 15: 15-16), and overwhelming horror is what Ezekiel promises as a result of God’s judgment (see Ezek 7:18). (NIB IV, 898)

Now in a world turned upside down by violence and betrayal the righteous are experiencing this at the hands of the wicked and only God can reestablish justice in this unjust environment. The psalmist, like the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 9:1-6, desires to be away from this place of betrayal and pain.

The city itself has become unsafe because of the actions of the wicked. There is no safe time and there is no safe place. Morning to night and from the walls of the city to the marketplace and even in the heart of the city the enemy cannot be avoided. The features of the city that are supposed to bring security are occupied by the enemy, commerce has been corrupted, and there is no place to go where violence, strife, and ruin have not transformed the city which was once a home into a prison for this petitioner. God must act in the midst of this injustice and the psalmist echoes God’s judgment of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 where the languages of the city are confused.

It is only in the middle of the psalm that we learn that the betrayer who has made their world unsafe is, “my equal, my companion, my familiar friend.” This intimate friend who has shared times both mundane and sacred with the speaker has become their oppressor. The transformation from friend to enemy has broken the petitioner’s world and they cry out for God to judge them like God judged Korah and his company that were taken alive into the realm of death. (Numbers 16: 30-33) Although Sheol as a place of the dead does not have the same meaning as Hell in much Christian thought, the injustice committed by this former close friend and companion has damaged the petitioner so deeply they want them removed from the sphere of the living. As uncomfortable as these words crying out for judgment may be, they need to be spoken and lifted up to God so that they can leave the speaker’s heart. Like Jeremiah 9:1-6 mentioned above, it is neighbors and kin who bring about, “Oppression upon oppression, deceit upon deceit!” (Jeremiah 9:6) and now the fate of these friends turned enemy belongs to God. The companion who laid hands on the psalmist and violated their covenant now finds themselves in the hands of the God who is faithful to the covenant.

God will judge the wicked and restore the just. The redemption which the psalmist longs for is not merely a removal of the wicked but also a relief from their anxiety and a complete return to wholeness and happiness. The only life after this experience of betrayal and oppression can come from the LORD who sustains the righteous. Ultimately for the healing to begin the environment must change and the only way the petitioner sees for that to happen in their current state is for the violent betrayer to be removed. There is no trust in one whose speech was smoother than butter and whose words were smoother than oil which hid a heart set on conflict and actions which cut deeply.  For the psalmist human beings have proven untrustworthy, and it has driven this righteous one towards God. Perhaps in a place and time where the poet’s center of life has been returned to peace and wholeness there will be a space for reconciliation and forgiveness, but in the immediate aftermath of betrayal as the poet lives in fear and anxiety their horizon can only embrace a future without their betrayer.

 

[1] Literally “he will ransom in shalom (peace-wholeness) my nephesh (soul-center of life)” As Beth Tanner notes, “my very life will be protected, not just from harm, but will be restored to complete wholeness and happiness. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 475)

Psalm 54 A Cry for Deliverance

View of the Judean Wilderness, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve shared by Yuvalr under Creative Commons 3.0

Psalm 54

To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Maskil of David, when the Ziphites went and told Saul, “David is in hiding among us.”
1 Save me, O God, by your name, and vindicate me by your might.
2 Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
3 For the insolent[1] have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah
4 But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.[2]
5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
6 With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O LORD, for it is good.
7 For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph[3] on my enemies.

This Psalm is a cry for help for deliverance from one’s enemies. This is the first of a series of prayers (Psalm 54-63) which are petitions for help from God and with the exception of Psalm 60 they are all individual prayers for God’s action on the psalmist’s behalf to deliver them from their oppressors. All of these prayers remain confident that God will help for the righteous one and God will repay the insolent ones with evil for their evil. The prevalence of these petitions for God’s action to deliver the righteous from the persecution of the wicked in the Psalter point to the formation of a practice of prayer which relies on God in the midst of crisis and the formation of a persistent hope which relies upon God’s promised justice in the experience of injustice.

The superscription of the Psalm places it shortly after the events in the superscription of Psalm 52 in 1 Samuel. Psalm 52 refers to the action of Doeg in 1 Samuel 21-22, while Psalm 54 refers to David’s time in the wilderness of Ziph in 1 Samuel 23: 15-28. The wilderness of Ziph is located within Judah, and the betrayal by some of the Ziphites revealing David’s presence in their region which brings King Saul into pursuit of David. Saul comes close to capturing David before the Philistines raid Israel and Saul has to act against an incursion by this external opponent. If the Psalm is read in the context of the superscription, then the enemy of David’s enemy becomes the means by which God delivers from trouble and the Philistine becomes the tool of God’s deliverance for the righteous from their own king.

The Psalm, although it never utters the name of the God of Israel, asks for God’s vindication by God’s name and might. To appeal to God’s name is to appeal to God’s reputation and character. The psalmist calls upon God to act like the God who hears the prayers of the righteous and listens to the words of they speak to God. The actions of the ‘insolent’ or ‘estranged’ one who is persecuting the righteous one and is seeking their life demand a God of justice to act (in the psalmist’s view) or the reputation of God is in danger.

The speaker remains confident is God’s identity as both a helper of the oppressed ones and the upholder of the life of the righteous. The enemy of the speaker of the psalm may indeed desire to end the life of the righteous one, but the psalmist trusts that if God stands with them then the oppressor is ultimately powerless. The poem, in Beth Tanner’s words, “states the flip-side of the golden rule. The one praying wishes that all of the harm the enemies have caused will be visited back on them.” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 471) In return for God’s action on behalf of the oppressed the petitioner states they will offer a sacrifice and bear witness to the truthfulness of God’s character as expressed by the name of God. Perhaps, to the skeptical reader, this may look like an attempt to bribe or barter with God so that God will answer their prayers. A more charitable reading can see this response as an act of gratitude to God’s deliverance.

Another objection sometimes noted to Psalm 54 is the triumphal note of looking upon one’s enemies at the end. The Psalms are songs and prayers that deal with the experience of the life of the ones attempting to live righteously in an unjust world. Sometimes these prayers may seem unorthodox to Christians who have been taught that the life of faith is a docile and polite one or who view God as distant or unengaged. The Psalms engage in the difficult struggle of faith in a world of violence, cruelty, betrayal, and oppression and yet the judge and actor to restore justice is God. As Martin Luther King, Jr. would articulate at a speech given at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968, “We shall overcome because the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.” For both Dr. King and the psalmist, the one who bends that moral arc toward justice is God. For the faithful ones, those who attempt to bend the arc towards injustice will be repaid for the injustice they commit, and they will be seen by the righteous ones who continue to endure while the unrighteous fall.

[1] The Hebrew zarim can mean estranged or strangers or insolent. If the poem is read in the context of the superscription, and the oppressing one is King Saul, the word may be better translated ‘estranged’ as Beth Tanner suggests. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford 2014, 471)

[2] The Hebrew nephesh here is often translated ‘soul’ but the Hebrew idea of ‘soul’ is not the same as the Greek idea of ‘soul’. In Hebrew this refers to the essence of life, not something that is detachable from it.

[3] ‘In triumph’ is not in the Hebrew, the Hebrew is literally my eye has looked upon my enemy.’ Nevertheless, the connotation in the poem is looking at one’s enemies from the position of having endured and standing triumphant. Most English translations that insert ‘in triumph’ capture this aspect of the poem.