metaphor extensively. Which recalls a Jewish acquaintance who had
decided to attend a church service, something he had not previously
done. One thing puzzled him, the reference to communion in
the church bulletin. It brought to mind communism, but this
seemed an unlikely association. Whereupon, he beckoned to one of the
ushers. Speaking in a clearly audible voice, he inquired as to its
meaning. “Ill tell you after the service,” the usher whispered—not
wanting to distract those engaged in worship.
wanted to know after the service, I would have inquired then,” the
visitor protested. When the usher responded in hushed voice, he
observed at the front of the sanctuary what seemed to be the form of
a body covered by linen cloths. “Of course,” he allowed, “I didn’t
think it was an actual body, since we Jews extensively employ object
matter of record, this is my third text concerning the Psalter. As
such, it testifies to a prolonged appreciation of this exceedingly
rich resource. In this regard, it resembles a fountain that never
seems to run dry.
I published Psychology in the Psalms: A Portrait of Man in God’s
World. It was my first book-length manuscript; the year being
1969. Although I had no formal training in the Hebrew language, I
wanted to incorporate a free translation of select psalms.
Accordingly, I worked my way through a Hebrew grammar, and managed a
plausible translation. Much to my surprise, one of the learned
reviewers assumed that I was an established Semitic scholar.
indicative of a prime interest in theological anthropology, which
would become increasingly evident in subsequent publications. It was
expressly documented in Man: The Perennial Question (1999).
This consisted of quotations from various articles I had authored,
arranged in chronological fashion—along with an abbreviated
thereafter, I added Devotions with David: A Christian Legacy
(2000). Now while it is customary for me to imagine a profile of the
person to whom I am writing, I yielded to personal preference on
this occasion. Consequently, it was more along the line of a
monologue than a dialogue.
the Twentieth Century, long removed from their Christian origins,
fail to appreciate
the pervasive devotional use to which the Psalter was put by
the early generations of believers,” I observed on that occasion.
“We are told that they were recalled as folk labored in the fields,
at morning and evening prayers. As they associated around the house,
during public worship, and on the lips of the martyrs.”1
Then, by implication, we would do well to emulate them.
retired for the third time, this provides greater opportunity to
engage in writing—which at the outset served as an extension of my
teaching profession, and still reflects that concern. So it is that
the current topic solicited my attention, since I am well beyond the
three score and ten years designated for a life span. All things
considered, let the discussion begin!
Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatsoever he does prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1).
* * *
I have quoted this
initial psalm in full since its theme resonates throughout the
Psalter. By way of affirmation, “This opening beatitude serves as an
introduction to the book. Its location as the first psalm is not
accidental; the psalm is there to invite us to read and use the
entire book as a guide to a blessed life.”2
The text contrasts the ways of the righteous and wicked, an
ongoing imagery not only in the psalms but Scripture in its
entirety. For instance, Abraham incredulously inquires of the Lord:
“Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Gen. 18:23).
Later on, “The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited
to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against
him” (Ezek. 18:20). Still later on, “They (who were unresponsive to
the needs of those around them) will go away to eternal punishment,
but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
ways is reflected in the physical environment. The expression
“from Dan to Beersheba” (Judg. 20:1) was meant to incorporate—from
north to south—that appropriated by the Israelites. It was
approximately one hundred and fifty miles as the crow flies. The
region between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River narrowed to
thirty-five miles in northern Galilee and extended to eighty-five
miles at the southern end of the Dead Sea.
the point, “It was a land between two great meteorological
systems: the dry scorching heat from the desert and the moist breeze
from the sea. These struggled to gain and maintain control as if two
relentless combatants. This provided the theological imagery for the
it recalls a time when my colleague and I were hiking with our
students down into the Jordan Rift. It was early in the day, and
some of them were leaping from rock to rock—imitating a mountain
goat. However, as the day wore on and the heat continued to build, a
number despaired. “Go ahead,” they urged us, “since there is no need
for all to perish.”
youthful colleague suggested that I continue, accompanied by those
who felt up to it. He would encourage the remainder to persist at a
slower pace. I acquiesced to his proposal. At the top of the next
rise, we looked down on a line of green foliage snaking its way
toward the Jordan River. It alerted us to a stream persisting in its
discovery, the stragglers rushed to join us—having remarkably
regained their composure. We all descended on the stream, startling
shepherds who were caring for their flocks nearby. Soon we were
refreshing ourselves in a pool of water, celebrating the gift of
the way things play out in that region. There is ample rain and
moisture to the west, providing for grazing and agriculture.
Conversely, life is problematic to the east, where wadis (dry
river beds) proliferate, and life is precarious. All things
considered, it amounts to a comprehensive metaphor—concerning the
ways of the righteous and wicked.
Qualifications aside, there are only two ways. Not one, and
not many. Some years ago I was accompanying a Nigerian evangelist to
a regional gathering. We came to a fork in the road, there being no
sign indicating which way we should take. Seeing a woman standing by
the side of the road, the evangelist called out: “Madam, which way
is Egbe?” She motioned to the left.
the opportunity, he continued: “And which way are you going in
doesn’t matter,” she responded, “since all roads lead to the same
destination.” She did not propose to elaborate.
this life, nor the one to come,” he assured her. Whereupon, we took
our leave. The woman seemed frozen to the spot, perhaps reflecting
on what he had said. Needless to say, we continued to remember her
psalm begins with a beatitude, one’s attention is readily drawn to
Jesus’ sermon on the mount. We are told that he instructed his
disciples in the presence of the multitude. Until recently, they had
been one and the same. Now there was something that distinguished
one from the other.
the disciples had determined to follow Jesus. In the words of the
gospel refrain, “no turning back, no turning back.” In other
regards, they differed markedly.
the multitude monolithic. While some were diligently searching,
others were less motivated. Nonetheless, they had not as yet
responded to Jesus’ invitation. In proverbial terms, “A miss is as
good as a mile.”
there may have been little to distinguish the disciples from the
indiscriminate populace. The former were a work in progress. As for
the others, they share both the virtues of common grace and human
degradation. Nevertheless, what may have seemed an inconsequential
divergence initially would widen into a chasm with eternity.
Assuming that the notion of the two ways runs true to course.
is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand
in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of the scornful.” The text
is progressive, one thing leading to another. In this regard, the
rabbis observed that the yetzer/evil inclination first takes
up residence, and then becomes master of the household.
to frustrate the evil inclination, they advocated the building of
fences. These were calculated efforts to keep from being tempted.
For instance, “If a thorn gets stuck in a person’s foot while he is
in front of an idol, he should not bend down to remove it, as it
appears he is bowing down to the idol. This holds true even if there
is no one around to observe the act.”4 Since this might
dispose him or her toward idolatry. Instead, the person should wait
to remove the thorn, or turn his back on the idol before doing so.
wrong concerning the building of fences,” an orthodox rabbi
inquired. When I deferred to him, he replied: “Nothing is wrong
with building fences, so long as you do not worship them.”
Otherwise, a person is caught up in idolatry.
turn, recalls the story of the bloody-nosed Pharisee. It seems that
he was so intent on not inciting lust that he shielded his eyes, and
ran into a wall. This story was told in rabbinic circles to
discourage the meticulous care given to inconsequential matters.
delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day
and night,” the psalmist continues. Accordingly, the rabbis
concluded that those who occupy themselves with God’s instruction
will escape the evil inclination. This provided the positive
counterpart to the earlier caution. “The basic meaning of the term
torah is instruction, not legal rules and stipulations.
Commandments and ordinances are called torah because they
particular, the person is blessed who continually delights
(takes pleasure) in reflecting on divine instruction. As for the
former, the psalmist allows: “I desire to do your will, O my God,
your law is within my heart” (40:8). Moreover, “You do not delight
in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt
offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and
contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (51:16-17).
As for the
latter, meditation is employed in various contexts. During our
four-year stay in Jerusalem, my favorite place for meditation was a
knoll overlooking the shepherds’ field, in sight of Manger Square in
Bethlehem. It recalled in a vivid manner the announcement of Jesus’
birth, and all that anticipated. All things considered, the person
is blessed who embraces God’s word as were it a manual for living in
his world and by his grace.
like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in
season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
In greater detail, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?,” the
psalmist elsewhere inquires. “Who may stand in his holy place? He
who has clean hands and a pure heart. He will receive blessing from
the Lord and vindication from God his Savior” (Psa. 24:3-5).
resemble a tree with an abundant supply of water, nestled somewhere
west of the central ridge. As a result, it will bear fruit in
season. Incidently, the fruit produced in a certain region of the
coastal plane has a delightfully unique flavor—thought to be
associated with the mineral content of the ground. Then even during
times of drought, it will survive.
whatever is meant to be comprehensive. As sometimes
expressed, expect great things from God. Its corollary is to
undertake great things in his name. In this connection, do not
shrink God to accommodate a deficient faith, but increase faith to
encompass a deity who works wonders.
the wicked!” the psalmist abruptly interjects. “They are like chaff
that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the
judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord
watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly
those who yield no fruit. Jesus told a parable to illustrate this
point. Now the kingdom of heaven resembles a man who was intent on
going on a journey. Consequently, he summoned his servants. To one
he entrusted five talents, to another two, and to still another one.
long time had intervened, the man returned—with the intent to settle
his accounts. “Master,” the first reported, “you entrusted me with
five talents. See, I have gained five more” (Matt. 25:20).
done, good and faithful servant!” his master exclaimed. “You have
been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many
things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
the second observed, “you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have
gained two more.”
done, good and faithful servant!” his master replied in like manner.
“You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge
of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
man entrusted with one talent made his appearance. “Master,” he
reasoned, “I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have
not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was
afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here it
what belongs to you.”
wicked, lazy servant!” his master rebuked him. “So you know that I
harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered
seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the
bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with
interest.” “Take the talent from him and give it to the one who hast
the ten talents,” he continued. “For everyone who has will be given
more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even
what he has will be taken from him.” Then the worthless servant
was cast aside into the darkness, where there was remorse
moreover, recalls the Valley of Hinnom—from which Jesus derived the
imagery of hell. Come late afternoon, I would on occasion descend
into the valley to look for potshards. Not uncommonly these dated to
the time of Jesus, when the location served for the disposal of
trash. Accordingly, one can imagine the fire burning day and night.
the primary association I derived from this experience was that hell
was intended to accommodate that which no longer served the purpose
for which it was intended. This was in keeping with the above
parable. It remains for C. S. Lewis to observe that hell is the last
resort supplied by a loving deity for those who will embrace nothing
speculates further. For instance, he imagines persons gradually
moving away from one another—resulting from their persisting
alienation. Thus it takes a day’s travel to visit with someone who
used to live next door.
allows that the very existence of hell may still be a matter of
dispute. Some are not convinced. I take it that he means to imply
that our future existence is an extension of our present life. So it
is that we should not be concerned about the severity of divine
justice, but its equity. We get no worse than we deserve.
considered, the wicked resemble chaff—which the wind drives away.
“Thus is the grain separated from the chaff. The latter consequently
appears as rootless, weightless, and useless. It remains for us to
make the decision as to which way we shall take, and to accept the
inevitable consequences.”6 We are therefore well advised
to recall the vivid contrast between the inviting terrain as it
extends toward the coastal region, and that which drops into the
wilderness. Here the biblical drama was for the most part played
out, with a constant reminder of the benefits of righteousness, and
the futility of wickedness.
Persons may also be
exemplary, whether for better or worse. In this regard, “By faith
Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was
commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings”
(Heb. 11:4). In particular, he offered a choice portion, whereas
Cain made a perfunctory offering. Accordingly, Abel’s offering
resembled that which one would conscientiously set before an honored
example, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in
holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned
the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith”
(v. 7). The two ways are thus portrayed in a contrasting manner, in
terms of obedience and disregard. As for the former, the patriarch
did precisely as the Lord had directed him, resulting in the
deliverance of himself and his family. As for the latter, the
populace continued in routine fashion—oblivious to the impending
the Psalter is indebted to various authors, it coalesces in David.
In greater detail, “The result of attributions and cross-references
was to make David the patron and prototypical case of the piety of
dependence and trust represented by the psalms, especially the
prayers. David became the example and teacher of psalmic piety, as
Solomon did of proverbial wisdom.”7
In still greater detail, the third psalm is ascribed to David,
on the occasion when he fled from his son Absalom. We are told that
Absalom plotted a rebellion, gathering supporters in Hebron from all
over Israel. After Abithophel, one of David’s trusted advisors,
joined Absalom, the latter announced his ascent to the throne. By
the time that news of the conspiracy reached David, he had no
alternative but to flee for his life.
particular, a messenger arrived with the announcement: “The hearts
of the men of Israel are with Absalom” (2 Sam. 15:13).
David alerted his officials. “We must flee, or none of us will
escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move
quickly to overtake us and bring ruin upon us and put the city to
the sword.” He realized that the usurper would consolidate his
regency by eliminating all opposition, and this would extend to the
his leave, along with his household—leaving a token company in
place. “All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites
and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who has accompanied
him from Gath marched before the king.” This was by way of
expressing their loyalty.
should you come along with us?” David inquired of Ittai the Hittite.
“Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile
from your homeland. And today shall I make you wander about with us,
when I do not know where I am going?” David faced an uncertain
as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives,” Ittai resolutely
replied, “wherever the lord the king may be, whether it means life
or death, there will your servant be.” Accordingly, he was
determined to cast his lot with David.
ahead,” David responded to his pledge of allegiance, “march on.” It
was a moment to remember.
David had retained the support of his standing army, “so also the
current religious hierarchy remained loyal. The senior priests Zaduk
and Abiathar put themselves immediately and firmly in David’s camp.
They brought the ark of God with them, and they intended to travel
with David and to use the ark as a potent tool to draw support for
David, however, had them return the ark to Jerusalem, thus foregoing
any short-term advantage for the preservation of the monarchy.
subsequent retreat was accompanied by ritual mourning. In this
regard, “David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went;
his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him
covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up” (v. 30).
This cast the third psalm by way of a lament.
how many are my foes!” David exclaims. “How many rise up against
me!” (Psa. 3:1). “It is difficult enough to be part of a minority,
but more difficult still when the minority is shrinking. So it must
have seemed to David since ‘the conspiracy gained strength, and
Absalom’s followers kept on increasing’ (2 Sam. 15:12).”9
On the other hand, it is said that even one with God is in the
majority. David expresses his concern to the Lord, who is
eminently able to rectify the problem. In this connection, man’s
adversity not uncommonly solicits God’s gracious intervention.
saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him.’” Whereupon, a pause is
indicated. As for the idiom, unless God delivers him, there is no
deliverance. The term many would seem to imply a general
enjoyed a cherished legacy to remind him of this fact. Such as the
unlikely scenario of Israel’s deliverance from bondage. Followed by
the rigors of the wilderness sojourn. Then, too, in connection with
the conquest, enduring the turbulent time of the judges, and now
with the uncertainties of the monarchy.
are a shield around me, O Lord;” David insists in spite of the
detractors, “you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” While the
imagery does not require a military application, it is appropriate
in this context. Conflict with Absalom at some point seems
humbled by the turn of events, David anticipates that God will
exonerate him. It would be at a time and in a way that the Almighty
deems advisable. Hence, it requires trust and earnest resolve.
Lord I cry aloud;” he continues, “and he answers me from his holy
hill.” There is another pause. He prays audibly, combining petition
holy hill likely refers to Mount Zion. In this regard, “May the
Lord bless you from Zion all the days of your life; may you see the
prosperity of Jerusalem, and may you live to see your children’s
children. Peace be upon Israel” (Psa. 128:5-6).
down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will
not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.”
The I is emphatic, corresponding to the you of verse
three. I lie down, sleep, and wake: “such is his certainty
that God heard him; and so it had in fact turned out. Verse 6 builds
on this encouragement: the Hebrew (idiom) for ten thousand is
a reminder of the word for ‘many’ in verse 1 and ; although
encirclement (6b) now intensifies the threat, he can confidently
face the worst.”10
In other words, the worse things become, the more he puts his
trust in the Lord. Otherwise, one is tempted to rely on favorable
circumstances. However, the situation can change abruptly, leaving
persons in proverbial terms grasping for straws.
Lord!” all things considered. “Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my
enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” David is not
content with a stand-off, but calls for triumph. This, moreover,
brings to mind Paul’s confident assurance: “No, in all these things
(whether persecution, famine, in want, in danger, in threat) we are
more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37).
general terms, we are alerted to the fact that there can be no
compromise between the ways of the righteous and wicked. The cause
of one is furthered only at the expense of the other. Neutrality
proves to be impossible.
retrospect, David observes: “From the Lord comes deliverance. May
your blessing be on your people.” Then there is a final pause. In
brief, Without the Lord there is no ultimate success.
Meanwhile, with him there is no circumstance so desperate
that we need despair.
“As an added incentive, we recall the sage counsel of V.
Raymond Edman, former president of Wheaton College: ‘Never doubt in
the darkness what God has shown you in the light.’ God does not go
back on his promises, not to David and not to any who trust their
ways to him.”11
ascription to psalm 51 next draws our attention. It is identified as
a psalm of David, “when the prophet Nathan came to him after
David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” “In the spring, at the
time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s
men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and
besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 11:1). The
point is to account for the events that followed, rather than to
appraise the situation.
evening David got up from his bed, and walked around on the roof of
the palace. From there he saw a woman bathing. She was very
beautiful. Accordingly, the king sent someone to inquire concerning
her. It turned out that she was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the
Hittite—a person of renown. Furthermore, she was the granddaughter
of Ahithophel, which may account for his subsequent support of
for her, and she came to him. Whereupon, she became pregnant. The
significance of this account is two-fold. First, it demonstrates
that in spite of being God’s anointed ruler, David was subject to
temptation. In this instance, he acted upon his impulses—without
consideration of the possible consequences.
“shows that David acted like any other oriental despot. He behaved
as if he were above the law. The account makes it clear that both
king and people must realize that it is unacceptable to God for
power to be abused in this way.”12 Then, by implication,
it was not acceptable to deviate from the covenant ethic in some
monarchy constituted a system of checks and balances; the
willingness of the people to be governed being a critical
ingredient. Consequently, David’s indiscretion could have serious
political ramifications. In any case, he sent word for Uriah to
return to Jerusalem.
arrival, David inquired on behalf of his field commander Joab, the
military, and progress of the siege. He then enjoined Uriah, “Go
down to your house and wash your feet.” The idiom implies that he
enjoy the privileges associated with marriage. Thus it would
hopefully account for his wife being pregnant.
Uriah slept at the entrance of the palace. When David learned of
this, he inquired: “Haven’t you just come from a distance? Why
didn’t you go home?”
resolutely replied: “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in
tents, and my master Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open
fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and live with my
wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!” His
integrity thus stands out in bold relief over against David’s
indulgence and deception.
one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back,” the ruler
countered. He then succeeded in making him drunk, supposing that he
would relent. Uriah nonetheless refused to return home.
morning David composed a letter to Joab, to be delivered by Uriah It
instructed him, “Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is
fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
The account puts the blame for his demise on the ruler, even though
he was not strictly involved.
Bathsheba heard that her husband was dead, she observed the stated
time for mourning. She was then betrothed to David, and bore him a
son. “But the thing (he) did displeased the Lord.” We are thus
assured that this was not the end of the matter.
So it came
to pass that the Lord sent Nathan to confront the errant ruler.
“There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor,”
the prophet observed. “The rich man had a very large number of sheep
and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb
he had bought.” He cherished and cared for it.
traveler came to the rich man, who felt obligated to offer him
hospitality. However, instead of taking one of his own animals, he
seized the ewe lamb belonging to his neighbor. While observing the
letter of the law concerning hospitality, he violated its spirit.
furious. “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves
to die!” he exclaimed. “He must pay for the lamb four times over,
because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
the man!” Nathan replied. He then detailed David’s offense, and set
forth the consequences. Now when their son died, David comforted his
wife and she bore him another son—who would succeed him. Throughout
this difficult interim, the ruler demonstrated his deep contrition.
thus primed to consider the text attributed to David on this
occasion. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing
love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my
transgressions, and my sin is always before me”(Psa. 51:1-3).
mercy is an admonition of guilt. It is also an appeal for grace.
Unfailing love is a covenant word, suggesting God’s blessing
in keeping with the penitent’s petition. This, then, is in the form
of a covenant renewal.
Nonetheless, the “accusing record of the sin remains, and the
pollution clings. The pleas, blot out, means ‘wipe away’,
like the writing from a book. The companion metaphor, wash me
thoroughly, uses a verb normally connected with the laundering
of clothes, as if David is comparing himself to a foul garment
needing to be washed and washed.”13
you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so
you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”
Sin is ultimately an offense against the Almighty, even
though it has personal and social implications. This serves to
accent the seriousness of the transgression. Moreover, God’s
righteousness is at issue.
you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the
inmost place.” It bears repeating, wrong behavior springs from an
evil inclination. In this regard, Jesus allowed: “You have heard
that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone
who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone
who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (Matt.
term wisdom is sometimes used interchangeably with
knowledge, it focuses more on the practical application. As
such, it implies skill—not unlike that of an artisan. For
instance, “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be
wise!” (Prov. 6:6). In particular, emulate its industry and
cooperative spirit. In addition, wisdom and truth are
coupled together as a composite ideal.
me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter
than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have
crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my
iniquity.” As metaphorically expressed by the cleansing of a leper,
involving not only healing but acceptance back into society.
Accordingly, as a witness to God’s gracious restoration.
me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do
not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing
spirit, to sustain me.” As might a potter, who seeing a defect in
the vessel taking form, recasts his clay—in anticipation of
fashioning something more functional and/or aesthetically pleasing.
case, this is something quite apart from what one can accomplish on
his or her own. Fortunate indeed is the person who realizes one’s
personal limitations. Still more fortunate is the one who recognizes
that God is not so inhibited.
will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to
you.” Thus are we alerted to the fact that more is at stake than the
reclamation of an individual. Others are encouraged to follow suit,
one generation after another.
enhanced when a person assumes the obligation of nurturing others.
In this regard, Jesus informed his followers that they were to make
disciples of all nations (cf. Matt. 28:19). Starting where they
were, expanding their efforts into areas nearby, and ultimately into
the far regions.
deliver me. In addition, enable me. Under no circumstances, forsake
me. In response, David pledges a contrite spirit.
good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.”
As a testimony to the Great King. Where his name is honored,
and in anticipation of the nations gathering to render him homage.
the Israelites serve in the capacity of a kingdom of priests. Not
simply on their own behalf, but that of others. Since the Almighty
is sovereign, and not simply a patron deity.
as a light to the Gentiles. Pointing out the way they should go,
alerting them to obstacles, and encouraging them along the way. This
is in conjunction with David: who in spite of grievous sin, showed
great remorse. Then, having made his peace with God, he served in an
exemplary fashion—so that subsequent pontiffs were measured by his
stalwart performance. While not the best of situations, neither was
it the worse.
alludes to God on five occasions as his fortress (18:2; 31:3;
71:3; 91:2; 144:2). This obviously constitutes a lingering point of
reference. As such, it invites our careful attention.
Now it is
generally thought that Masada provided the proto-type. “The Masada
rock was originally part of a high plateau looming above the
southwestern shores of the Dead Sea. Millions of years of erosion
had isolated it so that it formed a natural fortress.” After Herod
became king, “he built a casemate wall all around the summit of
Masada. He strengthened the wall with 30 towers, building them
mainly around the western and eastern sides, since it was impossible
for any army to scale the northern and southern sides of the rock.
He then went about improving the water supply.”14
memorable is the account of Zealots who revolted against Roman
occupation. “For three years about a thousand men, women and
children withstood a Roman siege. The Roman commander eventually
overcame the fortress by building a giant ramp, topped by a stone
platform. This took 7 months to construct.”15 When, at
long last, the Romans succeeded in breaching the defenses, they
found only two women and five children alive—the remainder having
committed suicide. If it were of consolation, they had died free.
pleasant memories of the region. If not feeling well, a visit to the
area seemed to improve my health. The so-called snake path was a welcome challenge when younger. The remains of the northern
palace were most impressive. On one occasion, while looking out over
the summit from a nearby vantage point, I discovered a jug handle
dating approximately to the time of the alleged siege. Needless to
say, all this contributes to my appreciation of the imagery alluded
to by the psalmist.
ascription to Psalm 18 attributes it to David on the occasion when
“the Lord delivered him from all his enemies and from the hand of
Saul.” This recalls the time when the Israelites were returning
home, “after David had killed the Philistines,” and the women
greeted them with singing and dancing. “Saul has slain his
thousands,” they allowed, “and David his tens of thousands” (1 Sam.
exceedingly angry. The popular acclaim of David appeared to him a
threat to his regency. “And from that time on Saul kept a jealous
eye on David.”
afraid of David, because the Lord was with David but had left
Saul.” The latter no longer enjoyed the Lord’s favor. “So he sent
David away from him and gave him command over a thousand men, and
David led the troops in their campaigns. In everything he did he had
great success, because the Lord was with him.”
eventually instructed his son Jonathan to kill David. However,
Jonathan was fond of David, and warned him of his father’s intent.
Moreover, he offered to intercede on David’s behalf. As a result,
Saul relented for the time being, only to resume the efforts to do
away with him.
follows an extended account of David’s flight, and Saul’s relentless
pursuit. Needless to say, Saul was not successful. God saw to it
that David was able to escape his calculated efforts.
David declares: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the
horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psa. 18:2). He thus resembles
the sanctuary of Masada, although it goes without saying that the
latter suffers by way of comparison—as would any other alternative.
is likewise deliberate. David takes refuge in the
Lord, as over against the idolatrous alternatives that plague
humans. Such as have eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear.
In greater detail, “I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and
I am saved from my enemies.”
is simply described as “a psalm of David.” Accordingly, we might
assume it as representative of his piety. As the sage observes, “the
more some things change, the more that other things appear
constant.” The sentiment of the psalm is assuredly of the latter
“In you, O
Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me
in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my
rescue, be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.” The
text is of three parts. Initially, it asserts that the psalmist has
put himself under the protection of the Lord (1-8). This is cause
for his enemies to refrain from seeking to harm him.
segment commences with the petition, “Be merciful to me, O Lord, for
I am in distress” (9-13). “The deepening demoralization of the
victim, from gloom to hopelessness (12) and terror (13), show how
murderous is the impact of hatred, especially when it takes the form
of rejection. Jeremiah knew this cruel encirclement, and borrowed
the phrase terror on every side (Jer. 6:25; 20:3).”16
portion concludes with praise and exhortation (14-24).
Representative of the former, “How great is your goodness, which you
have stored up for those who fear you; which you bestow in the sight
of men on those who take refuge in you.” The Lord is thus depicted
as accumulating goodness to lavish on those who rely on him.
As for the
latter, “Love the Lord, all his saints! “Be strong and take heart,
all you who hope in the Lord.” This is no simple matter. Martin
Luther observed on one occasion that while he could readily fear the
Lord, he found it difficult to genuinely love him. In this regard,
he was a work in progress—as are we all.
Not to be
overlooked, David’s confession is thought to provide the impetus for
Jesus’ consummate prayer: “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (Luke
23:46). Consequently, it has assumed a prominent place in Christian
passion liturgy. As a result, it is coupled together with Psalms 22
and 69. All this is immeasurably enriched by its association with
the Lord as a strong fortress.
appears as if an extension to the previous psalm, looking back over
virtually a lifetime that has intervened. “In you, O Lord, I have
taken refuge; let me never be put to shame. Rescue me and deliver me
in your righteousness; turn your ear to me and save me. Be my rock
and refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.” In greater brevity, the
psalmist is assured that the Lord remains his fortress throughout
the exigencies of life.
speaks and his enemies withdraw. This recalls an earlier text: “Why
do the nations conspire and the people plot in vain?” (Psa. 2:1).
“The One in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” They are
helpless to oppose his righteous decree.
“Therefore, you kings, be wise,” the psalmist admonishes them.
“Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling.” Since he is
sovereign, and deserving of recognition. “Blessed are all who take
refuge in him.” This qualifies as an invitation to one and all.
have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth,“
the psalmist continues. “From birth I have relied on you; you
brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you. I
have become a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge”
(71:5-7). We are thus assured of three things. First, this
privileged relationship has extended throughout life. As such, it
has been a continuing encouragement.
the Lord has been available at every turn in the road. He has
remained faithful, even when others wavered in their commitment.
Then, too, even when circumstances took a decided turn for the
worse. No less when the psalmist felt dejected and despairing.
that God was actively engaged. According to the sage, he delights in
turning obstacles into opportunities. As confirmed by Paul, “And we
know that all things work together for the good of those who love
him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
result, the psalmist has become a portent to many, an
indication of what is about to happen. As was Noah, when he built an
ark for the perpetuation of human life. As was Abraham, when he set
out for the promised land. As was Joseph, when he left instructions
that his remains accompany the Israelites when they took their
psalmist’s petition for rescue and deliverance results
from his recognition that the Lord is his rock and
fortress. The metaphor may be one and the same, since Masada
appears as an imposing rock formation that has resisted the erosion
of former times. Otherwise, as not uncommonly is the case, the
metaphors are mixed. As for the former, we are reminded of a firm
foundation. In this regard, Jesus told a parable concerning wise
and foolish builders. In particular, “Everyone who hears these words
of mine, and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built
his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the
winds blew, and beat against the house; yet it did not fall, because
it had its foundation on the rock” (Matt. 7:24-25).
everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into
practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain
came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against
that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Consequently, one
should choose carefully.
dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of
the Almighty,” the psalmist begins in eloquent fashion. “I will say
of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I
trust’” (91:1-2). His declaration is enriched not only by four
metaphors concerning security “but by the four names. Most High
is a title which cuts every threat down to size; Almighty
(Shaddai) is the name sustained the homeless patriarchs. By the
further appellation, The Lord (Yahweh), Moses was assured
that ‘I am’ and ‘I am with you’ (Exod. 3:14, 12); while even the
general term ‘God’ is made intimate by the possessive, as my God.”17
dwells implies constancy. It is not adequate to search out the
Lord when confronted with some perplexing problem. This, in turn,
recalls a time when I visited an acquaintance in the hospital. At a
loss for words, I speculated that he was much in prayer at this
all,” he replied. Then, after a brief pause, he added: “I employed
prayer before being admitted, and now I am exercising trust.”
to the Most High brings to mind an experience some years ago
in Nigeria. I was invited to sit with the church elders in the front
pew of the sanctuary, in front of the portrait of a middle-aged
woman missionary. It seems that she was intent on bringing the
gospel to the remote interior, but was not given permission by the
English officials—fearing that it would cause friction with the
Muslim populace. She, however, felt obligated to a higher power,
and as a result had a bountiful harvest.
combined reference to refuge and fortress may imply
not simply security, but a vantage point from which to assault the
forces of evil. This is admirably captured by the military allusion
to high ground. Such is often difficult to secure, but
necessary for pronounced success.
detail, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your
right hand, but it will not come near you” (v. 7). “You is
emphatic: ‘to you it will not draw near’. This is, of course, a
statement of exact, minute providence, not a charm against
adversity.”18 In proverbial terms, “the truth is in the
fine-print.” Consequently, may the Lord deliver us from
Conversely, we should not suppose that we are immune from
ill-fortune. This is no excuse for taking unnecessary risks, or
involving others. In this regard, the sage cautions: “Look before
is attributed to David, without further elaboration. However, the
text reflects a military engagement. In particular, “Praise be to
the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for
battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my
deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples
part of the psalm is singular (1-11), and the latter communal
(12-15). As for the former, “Deliver me and rescue me from the hands
of foreigners, whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are
deceitful.” As for the latter, “Then our sons in their youth will be
like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace.”
brings to mind the appropriate caution, “Let him who cannot be alone
beware of community;” along with the alternative, “Let him who is
not in community beware of being alone.”19 In greater
detail, “Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you
had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray and
alone you will die and give an account to God.”
Nonetheless, “Into community you were called, the call was not meant
for you alone; in the community of the called your bear your cross,
you struggle, you pray.” One is not alone even in eternity.
posting his ninety-five theses on the door of Wittenberg’s Castle
Church in October 1517, Martin Luther faced many years of trials and
persecution. (He) came to know better than most the gracious power
of God’s sheltering hand.”20 This gave rise to the
inspiring lyrics: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never
failing; our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.”
Then at a later juncture: “And though this world, with devils
filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear, for God hath
willed his truth to triumph through us.” Then in conclusion: “Let
goods and kindred go, this mortal life also—the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still: His kingdom is forever.”
My wife and I
resided in a modest apartment in a mission compound during a
short-term teaching assignment. We would on occasion hear the
roaring of lions, although their enclosure was a considerable
distance away. I was told that they were only fed on certain days,
so as to approximate their experience in the wild. They were
apparently not pleased with this arrangement, and not reluctant to
voice their displeasure.
occasion, we were driving through a nature preserve. Suddenly a
lioness appeared and began to run alongside our vehicle, then darted
across the road, and disappeared into the brush. Our driver abruptly
pulled over, and both he and I chased after the animal. As we turned
onto a path, the lioness confronted us. It was as if she was want to
say, “Make my day.” At this, we decided to retreat with all due
haste. Such are my memories associated with the allusion to a lion
in the Psalter.
ascription to Psalm 7 identifies it as “A shiggaion of David,
which he sang to the Lord concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.” The term
is probably a liturgical reference, perhaps implying something akin
to the stirring of one’s emotions. Nothing is known of Cush,
although Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, and this likely pertains
to his pursuit of David.
My God, I take refuge in you,” the psalmist allows, “save and
deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.” It thus extends
beyond Cush to any who emulate him. All such as are of a predatory
results of an encounter with a lion are detailed. One’s flesh is
lacerated, leaving gaping wounds. The beast begins to feast while
its victim is still clinging to life. The only alternative is that
someone capable intervene. Such as a sturdy warrior, with spear in
“O Lord my
God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands—or I have
done evil to him who is at peace with me, or without cause have
robbed my foe, then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him
trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.” The
three-fold conditions imply something contrary to fact. David
professes his innocence in this regard.
apparently implies a hurt deeper than persecution as such, that of
unfamiliar with a shame culture cannot grasp the anguish involved.
It appears that David was charged with a variety of offences, in
hopes of thoroughly discrediting him.
his enemies can be expected to inflict the punishment, it would only
be insofar as God allows them to do so. Job comes to mind in this
context. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God inquired of Satan
“There is no one on earth like him, he is blameless and upright, a
man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8).
fear God for nothing?” Satan impugns. “Have you not put a hedge
around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed
the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread
throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything
he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Thus the trial
“God is a
righteous judge,” the psalmist resolutely concludes. “There is great
breadth of vision here, revealing a concern for universal justice
which was always the motive behind David’s personal appeals for
vindication.”21 This elevates the shame motif another
level, to embrace the Almighty. Accordingly, the psalmist is
concerned lest God’s name be dishonored.
and 10 are together a song of the people of God who live in faith in
the reign of God in the midst of the afflictions of history. Though
the song is divided into two parts in Hebrew manuscripts and in most
English versions, it appears as one psalm in the Septuagint.”22
Then, too, there are a number of common features. The combined text
is identified as A Psalm of David.
praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your
wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to
your name, O Most High” (9:1-2). In particular, “My enemies turn
back; they stumble and perish before you. For you have upheld my
right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging
connection, I have insisted on occasion that knowing who holds the
future, one does not have to fear what the future holds. God
delights in turning adversity into blessing. We can only stand back
in amazement at his gracious initiatives.
praises to the Lord enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations
what he has done” (v. 11). Let the anthem first be sounded in his
holy sanctuary, and then the refrain be picked up throughout the
expanse of the world. As it is in keeping with the sovereign Lord of
Lord, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your
presence” (v. 19). It resembles a call to military engagement. The
enemy has mounted a serious threat, and need to be discouraged. If
not, irrefutable harm will be done. Not only to the righteous, but
Lord, do you stand far off?” the psalmist inquired. “Why do you hide
yourself in times of trouble?” (10:1). This, in turn, recalls a
painful discussion with a Jewish friend. While allowing that his
wife and children were religiously observant, he could not bring
himself to allow for God’s existence in the light of the Holocaust.
psalmist’s attention then shifts to the arrogance of the wicked
man, who hunts down the weak. “He boasts of the cravings
of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. In his
pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no
room for God. His ways are haughty and your laws are far from him;
he sneers at all his enemies.” He is thoroughly incorrigible and
shall he be likened? “He lies in wait like a lion in cover; he lies
in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags
them off to his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they
fall under his strength.” His triumphant roars all but drown out the
cries of its helpless victims.
He says to
himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” He
feels secure in his disregard for the innocent. The law of the
jungle leaves no room for accountability. Again, thoughts of the
Holocaust come to mind.
Lord!” the psalmist pleads. “Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget
the helpless.” Since this is in keeping with his faithful character,
and resolute disposition.
are assured: “The Lord is King for ever and ever.” As the prayer
returns to affirmation (16-18) “it gathers up further themes heard
before. Verse 16 looks abroad to the nations, as Psalm 9 did,
and the psalm ends with the same reminder of puny man, who is of
the earth (18), as did its predecessor. Meanwhile, however
distant may be the day of justice, one promise is not delayed: thou will strengthen their heart
continues the reflection of a righteous person who is being
afflicted by the wicked. It is simply ascribed as A prayer of
David. Accordingly, it recalls various incidents during his life
when at risk from hostile forces.
of many psalms, this begins with the petition to hear. That
is to say, to favorably respond. This in accord with the psalmist’s
circumspect devotion. Nevertheless, we ignore the liturgical nature
of the psalms “if we read them as absolute claims reporting on one’s
moral status. Rather they are confessions given to worshipers to
affirm their loyalty to Yahweh’s way of righteousness. For the sake
of educative clarity the liturgy presents only two choices, either
one is righteous/innocent or one is wicked/guilty.”24
makes its entrance, as if waiting off stage for its cue. “They (the
wicked) are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching
in cover” (v. 12). As some thirst for righteousness, so others
hunger for wickedness.
relevant aside, the Assyrians settled people from elsewhere to
replace those dispersed from the northern kingdom. “They took over
Samaria and lived in its towns. When they first lived there, they
did not worship the Lord, so he sent lions among them and they
killed some of the people” (2 Kings 17:24-25). When this was
reported to the Assyrian ruler, he mandated: “Have one of the
priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and
teach the people what the god of the land requires.” Consequently,
the Samaritans were demeaningly referred to by the Jews as lion
converts. Consequently, they lacked credible motivation.
the Samaritans put a different spin on the story. They claimed to
have descended from Israelites who were allowed to remain in the
land. Moreover, they insisted that the prophets had compromised the
case, the psalmist closes on a confident note. “And I—in
righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be
satisfied with seeing your likeness.” In context of Jewish
tradition, “‘when I awake’ may have referred to a ritual of spending
the night at the holy place after prayer for help waiting for the
propitious time of the morning. But the verse can be read with a
second sense, because it is only the resurrection to be with the
Lord that brings the final and full justification of the life of the
faithful.”25 A plague of lions notwithstanding!
reports as well to be A psalm of David. “My God, my God, why
have you forsaken me? Why are you far from saving me, so far from
the words of my groaning?” Jesus quotes from this psalm at his
crucifixion (cf. Matt. 27:46). This does not constitute “a lapse of
faith, nor a broken relationship, but a cry of disorientation as
God’s familiar, protective presence is withdrawn and the enemy
closes in.”26 It was characteristically employed by those
going through times of severe testing.
serves as a reminder that we shield ourselves from life by “refusing
to view the sordidness and suffering of the world. We cut ourselves
off from people, conceding them as objects rather than subjects. We
reject even our own suffering by postponing consideration or by a
flight into unreality. In so doing, we divorce ourselves not only
from life but from the God of the living.”27
bulls surround me, strong bulls of Bashan encircle me,” the psalmist
protests. “Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide
against me” (vv. 12-13). The situation appears desperate.
Conversely, the psalm ends with a positive rejoinder. “Posterity
will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They
will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has
done it.” Thus are we to understanding Jesus’ final comment from the
cross: “It is finished” (John 19:30), not as simple resignation but
as the successful conclusion of his redemptive mission.
57-59 and 75 are linked by what appears as a common theme: Do not
Destroy. In any case, the joined texts allude to David, while
the latter to Asaph. Psalm 57 is cited on the occasion “When he fled
from Saul into the cave,” and Psalm 59 “When Saul had sent men to
watch David’s house in order to kill him.”
begins with the petition: “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on
me, for in you my soul takes refuge.” They subsequently conclude
with the confident affirmation: “O my Strength, I sing praise to
you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.”
context, the psalmist implores: “Tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the
lions! Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw
the bow, let their arrows be blunted.” (58:6-7). The metaphors
multiply: let the lions be defanged, water recede, and their arrows
blunted. Frustrate the plans of the wicked.
initially asserts, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” In greater detail, “For he
will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your
ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not
strike your foot against a stone” (vv. 11-12). “It was
characteristic of the devil to read this promise as an invitation to
arrogance (Matt. 4:6). It was characteristic of God that angelic
help was sent when it was most needed (Matt. 4:11; Luke 22:43)
accepted as strength for service and sacrifice, and refused for
self-advantage (Matt. 26:55f).”28
Furthermore, “You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will
trample the great lion and the serpent.” They terrify to no avail.
Those who put their trust in the Almighty have nothing to fear.
he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he
acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I
will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With
long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.’”
Accordingly, it is said: “All is well that ends well.”
portrays the lion in a less threatening role, cast in context of the
larger creation. “O Lord, my God, you are very great; you are
clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with
a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the
beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his
chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.”
of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests; the stock has its home in the pine
trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a
refuge for the coneys” (vv. 16-18).
fashion, “The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from
God” (v. 21). As is their custom, rather than from some evil
design. Then as an invitation to praise God for all his provision.
“Praise the Lord, O my soul” (v. 35).
It goes without
saying that the morning as metaphor derives from its literal
usage. This, then, recalls a time when one of my friends was
visiting the Holy Land. Enthusiastic at the prospect of a scheduled
field trip, he leaped from bed with the exclamation: “This is the
day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa.
roommate, who was a reluctant riser, exclaimed: “I could have killed
him!” Accordingly, it would appear that persons can face the
prospect of a new day with greatly differing perspectives. Even so,
there are doubtless common elements that may not come readily to
worthy of note, the culture was oriented toward the rising sun. In
pagan thought, it was construed as a prominent deity or
representative of such. As for the Israelite, it was a prime object
of God’s creation. Qualifications aside, it was a reminder of his
imagery appears initially in Psalm 5, which is succinctly identified
as A psalm of David. First in general terms, “Give ear to my
words, O Lord, considering my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my
King and my God, for to you I pray.” Life is not meant to be
negotiated alone, but with divine assistance.
more particular terms, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in
expectation.” “This is a morning psalm (3) in five strophes, three
of which are turned fullface to God, alternating with two that
passionately denounce the enemy to Him. The whole psalm expresses
the spirit of the crying verse 2, ‘my King and my God’.”29
regard, Jesus admonished: “But seek first his kingdom, and his
righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well
(concerning the basic necessities of life). Therefore do not worry
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has
enough trouble of its own” (Matt. 6:33-34). Consequently, life must
be broken down into manageable segments—soliciting the morning
Conversely, “The arrogant cannot stand in your presence” (v. 5).
They are cautioned not to usurp divine prerogatives. Nor are they to
continue in their perverse ways, ignoring their accountability.
all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may
rejoice in you. For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you
surround them with your favor as with a shield” (vv. 11-12).
Seemingly contrary considerations notwithstanding, the Lord remains
alludes to the dedication of the temple and concerning
David. An alternative rendering construes it as a dedication of
David’s living quarters. In any case, it appears that he has emerged
from his earlier trials, to experience more favorable circumstances.
As for confirmation, “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you have lifted
me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.”
the Lord you saints of his; praise his holy name,” the psalmist
enjoins. “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a
lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the
morning” (vv. 4-5). While our troubles are transitory, blessing is
renewed each morning.
provides a mind-set whereby we anticipate what new blessings we may
experience during the coming hours of the day. The anticipation is a
critical factor in their realization. In other words, confidence
reaps a good harvest.
that is, we do not indulge in escapism. Instead, the psalmist calls
for engagement, implying communion with the Almighty and
availability to others. Then making the most of our opportunities.
turned my wailing into dancing,” the psalmist concludes, “you
removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing
to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks
forever” (vv. 11-12). Continually and without exception. Since the
Lord is good and does good.
is attributed to the Sons of Korah. As noted earlier, it
provided the inspiration for Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is
Our God. Since we have considered it in some detail previously,
we entertain the observation: “There is a river whose streams make
glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God
is within her, she will not fall. God will help her at the break of
day” (vv. 4-5).
security of Jerusalem did not result from its auspicious location or
ample fortifications, but the divine presence. Otherwise, it would
readily succumb to its foes. Consequently, it would survive even
the most threatening situation.
connection, God would be on duty at the break of day. In
anticipation of the problems that might arise, and so as to
encourage those residing within its walls. In fact, “he who watches
over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will
neither slumber nor sleep” (Psa. 121:3-4). Accordingly, one can rest
assured of the Lord’s protection, and rise with confidence in his
is also associated with the sons of Korah. The psalm is
representative of wisdom literature, “and its purpose is didactic.
This proverb is not just for Israelites but for all you peoples, all
who live in this world—irrespective of social station (both low and
high) and economic status (rich and poor alike). For the rich and
poor, however, this psalm bear different messages. For the former it
conveys a warning, for the latter a hope.”30
Brueggemann elaborates on this bifurcation between low and high in
terms of shalom for have-nots and haves. As for the former,
“People who live in the midst of precariousness shape their
vocabulary and their faith, their perceptions and their liturgy in a
distinctive way. One of the most important ways the Israelites
expressed their faith was around the them of ‘cry out, hear, and
As for the
latter, “Obviously the well-off do not expect their faith to begin
in a cry but rather in a song. They do not expect or need intrusion,
but they rejoice in stability. Predictably, such a way of perceiving
the world and responding in faith requires a very different
they reconsider, those who trust in themselves will perish.
Moreover, they will be superceded by the upright in the morning
(vv. 13-14). In this regard, the psalmist anticipates: “But God
will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to
himself.” I am reminded of the birth of a hymn in Nigeria. A certain
family was relocating, and the congregation sang the refrain “I’ll
see you in the morning.” With the passing of time, it came to be
associated with the resurrection. As such, it became a testimony to
the triumph of faith over death.
59, we return to David—on the occasion when “Saul had sent men to
watch David’s house in order to kill him.” “Deliver me from my
enemies, O God,” he appropriately petitions; “protect me from those
who rise up against me.” “See how they lie in wait for me!” he
exclaims. “Fierce men conspire against me for no offense or sin or
mine, O Lord.”
return at evening, snarling like dogs, and prowl about the city.
They wander about for food and howl if not satisfied. But I will
sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love, for
you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble” (14-16). In
the evening and in the morning are set over against one
another. At times our situation seems bleak, but then God comes to
73, we turn back to Asaph. It inspired the beloved hymn Be Thou
My Vision. This seventh or eighth century work is autonomous.
“The word vision is used to indicate not only what we focus on but
also what we strive for. As we strive for a goal, we gain a
long-range perspective that helps us see today’s disappointments as
trivial when compared to the heavenly vision.”33
readily sense the thrust of the psalm from the following lyrics: “Be
Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; nought be all else to me, save
that Thou art. Thou my best thought, by day or by night, walking or
sleeping, Thy presence my light.” In greater detail,
“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine inheritance,
now and always, Thou and Thou only, first in my heart, High King of
heaven, my treasure Thou art.”
down-side, “All day long I have been plagued, I have been punished
every morning” (v. 14). At times the oppression seems relentless.
Each morning is like the previous one, and there appears to be no
It was not
until the psalmist went to the sanctuary that things were put into
proper perspective. “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you
cast them down to ruin,” he subsequently allows (v. 18). Conversely,
“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
is yet another text associated with the sons of Korah. It is
in the form of a lament over the situation, while void of
incrimination against others or overt praise for the Almighty. In
this regard, “May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my
cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the
There is a
note of desperation, “You have taken from me my closest friends and
have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape” (v.
8). Do you do your wonders in secret? Are your blessings reserved
for the after-life?
Appearances to the contrary, “But I cry to you for help, O Lord, in
the morning my prayer comes before you” (v. 13). Persistence
is thus implicated, as is patience. It remains for the Lord
to intervene, at an appropriate time and in an appropriate manner.
Only he has the wisdom to provide a redemptive resolution.
is introduced as A prayer of Moses the man of God.
Nonetheless, it serves as a corporate prayer concerning the brevity
and travail of life. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations,” the text allows. “Before the mountains
were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from
everlasting to everlasting you are God.” “For a thousand years in
your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in
By way of
contrast, “You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like
the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up
new, by evening it is dry and withered” (vv. 5-6). Most notably in
the spring, when the grass seems to wither before one’s eyes with
the blast of hot air out of the wilderness. Life is thus portrayed
us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy
and be glad all our days” (v. 14). Having met our needs at the
outset, then to continue to do so. In this regard, “May the favor of
the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for
us—yes, establish the work of our hands.”
is designated A song for the Sabbath day. “Of all the
holidays of the Jewish year, the weekly Sabbath is the most
cherished and beloved. Conveying its grandeur and significance in
the life of the observant Jew is a most formidable task, perhaps
inevitably doomed to failure.”34 Just as it is impossible
to describe the beauty of a sunset to one who has not seen it, so
one cannot fully convey the significance of the Sabbath to one who
has not experienced it.
regard, “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name,
O Most High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your
faithfulness at night.” In the morning and at night
echo the designated offerings at the temple (cf. Num. 28:4, 8).
Initially, concerning God’s love and eventually concerning
As for the
Lord, he is exalted forever (v. 8). As for their enemies, they will
be scattered to the wind (v. 9). As for the righteous, they will
flourish like the palm tree and sprout up like the cedars of Lebanon
(v. 12). Moreover, they will proclaim: “The Lord is upright; he is
my Rock, there is no wickedness in him.”
is attributed to David. It consists of a series of assertions.
Initially, “I will sing of your love and justice.” In order, “I will
be careful to lead a blameless life.” More in particular, “I will
walk in my house with blameless heart.” Rounding out the first
segment, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing” (vv. 1-4).
psalmist then deplores perverse behavior. Whereupon, he adds: “I
will have nothing to do with evil.” Conversely, “My eyes will be on
the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk
is blameless will minister to me.” This is by way of acknowledging
that the righteous are called to community.
conclusion, “Every morning I will put to silence the wicked in the
land” (v. 8). As for apt commentary, “One’s loyalty to Yahweh is
measured, in part, by the company with which one aligns oneself.
These psalms, including Psalm 101, do not advocate a separate
community, but they do advocate avoiding any participation with evil
company in the deeds they practice.”35
is designated as A song of ascents, one of fifteen said to be
associated with those making their way to the temple to celebrate
the Jewish festivals. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O
Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for
reflection, “If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who
could stand?” In creedal terms, sin is any lack of conformity
to the will of God. By such exacting measure, none is without fault.
you there is forgiveness,” calling for reverence. Accordingly, “My
soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning” (vv. 4, 6). Only then will
watchfulness no longer be required.
Allusion to the
heavens has from antiquity been a means of putting life into
perspective. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your
fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what
is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for
him?” (Psa. 8:3-4). Apart from this divine point of reference, “man
walks the peculiar twilight zone between beast and God. He is
repulsed by the jungle code but sits uneasily on the throne of
self-worship. While his conscience is disturbed by a visit to the
harlot’s house he is awed in the great cathedral.”36
There are a number of peculiar features about this psalm. For
one, it is the only text to consist entirely of an address to God.
Accordingly, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies
proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth
speech; night after night they declare knowledge” (Psa. 19:1-2).
This is in terms of an universal language.
encourages the psalmist to respond. He does so in terms of praise,
rather than petition—as is often the case. In particular, it
finds expression in the refrain: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is
your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9).
Conversely, the line between creator and creation is clearly drawn.
There is no hint of pantheism in the text. In this connection, it
resembles the work of an artisan—most notably that of a potter.
context, the psalmist is lead to inquire as to what purpose humans
serve. They are so insignificant with reference to the expansiveness
of the universe. Yet, they seem to be of vital concern to the
solicits the observation: “You made him a little lower than the
heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him
ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his
feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds
of the air and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the
seas” (vv. 5-7). In the manner of a steward, who would be held
accountable. In these and other regards, the heavens prove to be our
previously encountered Psalm 18, attributed to David on the occasion
when the Lord delivered him from his enemies; in particular, with
reference to Saul. “I love you, O Lord, my strength,” the psalmist
confesses. It consists of the
deep, abiding affection one feels for his or her benevolent
benefactor. It concerns not simply what one receives, but the
compassionate nature of the one who provides.
to the sage, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” So it would
appear from David’s extended discourse. In brief, “I call to the
Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies” (v.
3). He then expands on the seriousness of his situation, as if it
would put an end to him.
distress I called to the Lord,” he allows. “The earth trembled and
quaked, and the foundations of the mountains shook,” by way of
response. “He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were
under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the
wings of the wind.” He parted the heavens so as to reveal his
“The Lord thundered from heaven” (v. 13). This was in the form of a
rebuke to David’s enemies, and by way of encouragement to him. In
any case, it was in keeping with his sovereign character.
detail, “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew
me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my
foes, who were too strong for me. He brought me out into a spacious
place” (vv. 16-17, 19). Given his divine leverage, as One residing
in heaven. If a spacious place, then not constricted by
I will praise you among the nations, O Lord. I will sing praises to
your name. He gives his king great victories; he shows unfailing
kindness to his anointed, to David and his descendants forever.”
(vv. 49-50). This serves as a testimony to the Gentiles, and an
encouragement to subsequent generations.
joyfully to the Lord,” the righteous are subsequently enjoined (Psa.
33:1). The psalm is incorporated along with others attributed to
David. It is notably in the form of an imperative.
good from Hebrew perspective. Providing, that is, it is lived
according to divine specifications. Otherwise, it is calculated to
unravel. Consequently, evil amounts to good gone wrong.
regard, “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry
host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea
into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses” (vv. 6-7). “This
section focuses on Yahweh’s sovereign power with respect to nature
(vv. 6-9), the nations (vv. 10-12), and their armies (vv. 13-19).
Yahweh has made the awesome heavens and he has contained the
fearsome deep.” To appreciate “these claims we must recognize that
many of the ancients considered both the starry heavens and the
watery deep to contain fearsome powers or to be those powers
unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,” by way of benediction, “even
as we put our hope in you.” Granting the changing circumstances of
life, may his love remain constant. This will lend credibility to
our hope, whether in general terms or concerning life’s numerous
is also attributed to David. It assumes the cast of an oracle,
especially concerning the wicked. For instance, “even on his bed he
plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not
reject what is wrong” (v. 4). He calculates to do wrong, sets his
course accordingly, and does not relent.
By way of
contrast, “Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your
faithfulness to the skies.” It embraces all of creation, most
notably his estranged offsprings. Even hell is best conceived in
context of persons who will accept nothing better from a benevolent
you preserve both man and beast,” the psalmist continues. “How
precious is your unfailing love. Both high and low among men find
refuge in the shadow of your wings” (vv. 7-8). His unfailing love
extends to all his humans, regardless of social status. As for the
latter, Peter observed: “I now realize how true it is that God does
not show favoritism but accept men from every nation who fear him
and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
turns our attention back to Asaph. God appears in Zion, summoning
those from the rising sun to the place where it sets. More
expressly, “He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may
judge his people.” This allows for the requirement that there must
be two witnesses to verify an incident (cf. Deut. 17:6).
“For it is
time for judgment to begin with the family God,” Peter allows, “and
if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not
obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17). “The picture is that God has
begun judging within the church, and will later move outward to
judge those outside the church. The refining fire of judgment is
leaving no one untouched, but Christians are being purified and
strengthened by it.”38 This by way of imagery derived
from the Hebrew scriptures.
me my consecrated ones, who make a covenant with me by sacrifice.
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is
judge” (v. 6). Israel’s special calling is not played down, but
quite the reverse—since it is repeatedly mentioned. It is because of
this, and not in spite of it, that she is called to a strict
account. This, in turn, brings to mind: “From everyone who has been
given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been
entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
As for the
remainder, Amos perhaps said it best: “Away with the noise of your
songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice
roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
previously noted, Psalm 57 is attributed to David—When he fled
from Saul into the cave. This solicits the petition: “Have mercy
on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge.” As
an expression of his love and faithfulness.
exalted, O Lord, above the heavens,” the psalmist appeals; “let your
glory be over all the earth” (v. 5). In this manner, he looks beyond
his own personal concern, to that which is more critical. “It is
easy to overlook the breadth of this vision, forgetting that the
shelter of the cave and the withdrawal of the enemy would have
satisfied most men in the hard-pressed situation of David. But his
thoughts had already soared ‘above the heavens’; and his Lord was no local ruler.”39
“For great is your love, reaching to the heavens,” the
psalmist concludes. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your
glory be over all the earth.” When God assumes his rightful place,
good things are in the offing.
is also associated with David. It applauds God’s efforts to
vindicate his people, and rout the enemy. For instance, “When you
went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the
wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain. You gave
abundant showers, O God, you refreshed your weary inheritance” (vv.
wilderness sojourn especially comes to mind. Here one generation
passed away, and another took its place. While it was not the best
of times, neither was it the worset—because God proved to be
also reminded of the early and latter rains, necessary for a good
harvest. Folk expectantly search the sky above for their arrival,
and rejoice at their advent. As a result, persons can hopefully not
only provide for the needs of their families, but those less
fortunate. In this manner, they cooperate with God’s benevolent
the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in
the skies,” the psalmist admonishes. “You are awesome, O God, in
your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his
people. Praise be to God!” (vv. 34-35).
solicits a reference to Ethan the Ezrahite. “It has three
distinct sections: a hymn celebrating Yahweh’s right to cosmic
kingship (vv. 1-18); a prophetic oracle outlining the Davidic
covenant (vv. 19-37); and a lament over the king’s battle defeat
(vv. 38-51).”40 In addition, it concludes with a
heavens are alluded to twice in the initial segment. Initially,
“The heavens praise your wonders, O Lord, your faithfulness too, in
the assembly of the holy ones” (v. 8). The heavens may be a
reference to the angelic assembly, and/or the cosmos. In any case,
it is echoed in the community of the saints.
“The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the
world and all that is in it” (v. 11). We are encouraged to enjoy
life, while being held accountable. As expressed by resilient Job,
“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord
be praised” (1:21).
to the Lord forever!” the psalmist pointedly concludes. Without
equivocation or reconsideration, but with sincerity and resolve.
“Amen and Amen.”
appears as if an extended doxology. Accordingly, “Declare his glory
among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples” (v. 2).
None other shares his credentials. None other is deserving of such
context, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the
sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and
everything in them” (vv. 11-12). As if a choir, joining in an
inspiring anthem. The heavens and the earth are
comprehensive, the latter being subsequently particularized.
Moreover, be assured: “He will judge the world in righteousness and
the peoples in his truth.” Nothing will dissuade him, and his word
will be vindicated.
* * *
The discussion to
this point has extended the motif of the two ways to embrace related
themes. Initially, God is genuinely awesome. This is detailed in two
connections. First, concerning the functional utility of his
creation. For instance, we are told that human life would be
impossible except for the extended universe.
terms of its aesthetic character. “And why do you worry about
clothes?” Jesus inquired in this connection. “See how the lilies of
the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not
even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these”
is God awesome but benevolent. The biblical account of creation
differs from many alternatives in this regard. As for the latter,
they depict the gods as creating humans to make life more enjoyable
for themselves. As for the former, the Lord allows: “I have no need
for a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every
animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills”
(Psa. 50:9-10). It was not out of need, but the desire to share that
he created the universe.
righteous tune into this way of thinking. They gladly accept what
God offers, and seek to further his interests. They are not readily
discouraged, and persist in the face of difficult obstacles.
the wicked remain unconvinced. In this regard, they are no better
than the gods they serve. They are inclined to indulge themselves at
the expense of others. Then, even when motivated by more altruistic
concerns, they are disposed to settle for something less than the
My mother always
enjoyed visiting old grave sites. On some occasions she came across
information concerning family or friends. It also seemed to be a
means for her to cope with her mortality. We are thus reminded of
the metaphorical significance of the grave, as it is
associated with death.
Ed was a
college classmate. He was a very devout and conscientious young
person, and active in Torch Bearers—a devotional and ministry
oriented on-campus group. He eventually settled on teaching in West
Africa, where he succumbed to a tropical decease. Ed was buried
where he has served.
later, I was engaged in a short-term assignment. Standing before the
chapel built by missionaries, I gazed toward the village in the
distance. Then I noticed a white cross in between. It turned out not
to be his grave, but that of a fellow missionary. Consequently, it
serves as a reminder of the cost of discipleship.
As a final
example, I came across the remains of a cemetery, overgrown with
grass and weeds. I could, nonetheless, make out the message revealed
on a grave stone. “Remember me as you pass by, as you are now, so
once was I,” it appealed; “as I am now, soon you will be. Remember
man eternity.” The person buried there had left behind this word of
caution for subsequent generations.
Psalm 6 is
yet another psalm of David. The psalmist’s life seems
threatened. “Be merciful to me, Lord,” he petitions, “for I am
faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony” (v. 2). The
perspective stands in bold relief over against the Socratic
tradition. “The death of Socrates is a beautiful death. Nothing is
seen here of death’s terror. Socrates cannot fear death, since
indeed it set us free from the body. Death is the soul’s great
But not with regard to the psalmist. Death appears as the
ultimate enemy, which only God can overcome. “For he must reign
until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” Paul insists. “The
last enemy to be defeated is death” (1 Cor. 15:25-26).
is in anguish,” the psalmist continues. “How long, O Lord, how
long?” Human pain thus seems intensified, associated not only with
one’s physical condition but in terms of one’s social and religious
orientation. In fact, emotional duress is often more difficult to
in such desperate condition has little by way of reserve to cope
with anything but pain itself. In this connection, a nurse inquired
of me what counsel to give to a woman, who was screaming in pain:
“What have I done that God is inflicting me?”
nothing at the moment,” I pensively replied. “You might console her
by holding her hand. Then at a more opportune time, you could
attempt to reason with her.”
Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love. No one
remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” “Sheol
can be pictured in a number of ways: chiefly as a vast
sepulchral cavern (Ezek. 32:18-32), or stronghold (Ps. 9:13); but
also as a dark wasteland (Job 10:22) or beast of prey (Isa. 5:14).”
The imagery is “poetic and evocative, and it is matched by various
phrases that highlight the tragedy of death as that which silences a
man’s worship (as here). These are cries from the heart, that life
is all too short, and death implacable and decisive.”42
concludes with the assurance: “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy;
the Lord accepts my prayer.” Consequently, one’s enemies would be
well-advised to desist from their evil initiatives. In this regard,
the grave awaits us all, the strong and the weak. It is, in
fact, the great leveler.
earlier, Psalm 30 concerns the dedication of the temple—citing
David in this connection. “I will exalt you, O Lord,” the
psalmist pledges, “for you lifted me out of the depths and did not
let my enemies gloat over me.” On what occasion? Whenever the need
arose, since it is the Lord who delivers—he and he alone.
you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into
the pit.” You brought me up from the grave as would one draw
a bucket from a well. With a firm grip and strong resolve. Then to
serve a constructive purpose.
is there in my destruction?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires.
“Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?” (v.
9). Assuredly not! Accordingly, praise the Lord; praise him while we
have breath to do so.
again invites our attention. This, too, is identified as A Psalm
of David. “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be
put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.” Since he has
already taken a stand, and continues his righteous resolve.
confirmation, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O
Lord, the God of truth”(v. 5). Bringing to mind a time when having
lunch with in the school cafeteria with the clinical psychologist
Don Tweedie, when a student stopped by our table. He hoped to
receive guidance concerning what major to select.
not matter all that much,” Tweedie responded. “Discover someone who
is skilled in living, and learn all you can about life.” He supposed
that the discipline in a liberal arts setting was incidental. Then,
too, God has no peer as a mentor.
situation was deplorable, “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are
my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and
from those who pursue me” (vv. 14-15). Conversely, idols are useless
and best repudiated.
not be put to shame, O Lord, for I have cried out to you; but let
the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave” (v. 17). My
brother thought he could rectify this matter by having a recording
which protested whenever one approached his grave site, “Get off my
chest!” Instead, there is no word of recognition for those who pay
Lord, all this saints!” the psalmist admonishes. In this regard,
love God and do as you please, for those who love the Lord will
attempt to do as he pleases. No alternative will suffice.
again beckons us. Its opening summons addresses all, whether rich or
poor. “My mouth will speak words of wisdom,” the psalmist assures
his audience; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.”
This might seem presumptive were his confidence not in the Lord’s
can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike
perish and leave their wealth to others” (v. 10). All can see
serves as a reminder of the vivid imagery of the grave. As for the
remainder, a person was asked how much a certain rich man left upon
his demise. “So far as I know,” the other replied, “all of it.”
psalmist would concur. In this regard, “Do not be overawed when a
man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he
will take nothing with him when he dies; his splendor will not
descend with him. Though while he lived he counted himself
blessed—and men praise you when you prosper—he will join the
generation of the fathers, who will never see the light of life.”
Then in conclusion, “A man who has riches without understanding is
like the beasts that perish” (vv. 16-20).
again comes on stage. While A Psalm of the Sons of Korah, it
singles out Heman the Ezrahite. Death stalks the writer: “For
my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave” (v. 3).
“I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave,
whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care” (v. 5).
no note of praise to punctuate the long lament. Prayer is expressed
from time to time (vv. 2, 9, 13). Given the context, it nevertheless
appears as a half-hearted effort, with little enthusiasm or
expectation.”43 Sooner or later, death claims us all.
standpoint of God’s congregation and His glory in the world, all
that is said here is true. It is among the living that His miracles
are performed, His praises sung, His constancy and acts of
deliverance exhibited. Death is no exponent of His glory.”44
Ultimately, however, God provides an alternative. Hence one must
live either toward the grave or the Almighty.
Nevertheless, the psalm closes on a somber note. “You have taken my
companions and loved ones from me,” the psalmist mourns; “and
darkness is my closest friend.” That is to say, darkness
draws near. Incidently, the Hebrew scriptures are relatively silent
concerning the future life. There is more than a glimmer of light in
that regard, but not the brilliant expectation that characterizes
the New Testament. The general line of reasoning appears to be that
since God lives, we will live also. Apart from him, all is lost.
the second time around for Psalm 89 as well. It expressly concerns
the Davidic Covenant. In this connection, “I have made a covenant
with my chosen one. I have sworn to David my servant, I will
establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all
generations (vv. 3-4).”
simplest form of a covenant was the common meal. This brings to mind
an occasion when my wife and I were invited for dinner by an Arab
family, living in Bethlehem. Given the unrest in the area, I was
afraid to risk the school vehicle. However, I was assured that the
greatest care would be taken to see that nothing would happen. This
was in keeping with the sacred obligation of hospitality.
particular, the Davidic Covenant guaranteed that the dynasty would
be perpetuated. In terms of immediate succession, and with the
coming of the Messiah.
“The Messianic profile nonetheless remained obscure due to seemingly
contradictory ingredients, accentuated by personal or corporate
preference. On the one hand, it appeared as God Himself would
intervene; on the other, as if through a chosen agent.” Moreover,
“On the one hand, the Messiah appeared as a military figure; on the
other, as a heavenly agent. On the one hand, he was represented as
the royal heir to David’s throne; on the other, as a suffering
God Almighty, who is like you?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires.
“You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you” (v.
6). He is both omnipotent and benevolent. As for the former, he can
do anything that is intrinsically possible. He cannot create a round
square, because there is no such thing. Nor will he contravene his
righteous resolve, since that would be contradictory.
As for the
latter, he resolves to do good. If hard love, since it
insists on spiritual growth; then no less unconditional love,
in that it persists in spite of man’s failure to respond. Humans, in
turn, are meant to emulate the divine example.
have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your
anointed one. You have renounced the covenant with your servant and
have defiled his crown in the dust” (vv. 38-39). “Renounced
may be too decisive a word for this rare verb, whose meaning has to
be guessed from its parallel terms, i.e., ‘defiled’ and
‘scorned’. It is in any case the language of experience, not an
accusation of bad faith.”46 It is as if the covenant were
experiencing an eclipse.
how fleeting is my life,” the psalmist pleads. “What man can live
and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?”
(vv. 47-48). “O Lord, where is your former great love, which in your
faithfulness you swore to David?” The situation, however, has
changed for the worse. It remains to rectify matters, and get the
covenant pledge back on track.
is a prayer composed for those who take refuge in the Lord (v. 8) in
flight from the words and deeds of the wicked in their world (vv.
3-4). It is composed largely in the idiom of petitions.”47
It is ascribed to David.
“O Lord, I
call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you.”
There is an unmistakable sense of urgency in the appeal. The
situation threatens to rapidly deteriorate.
Precipitous action under such circumstances can seriously compound
the problem. Accordingly, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep
watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is
evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let
me not eat of their delicacies” (vv. 3-4). In this connection, Paul
admonishes: “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but
always try to be kind to each other and in everyone else (outside
the faith community)” (1 Thess. 5:15).
righteous strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on
my head.” Accordingly, the sage acknowledges: “Wounds from a friend
can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6). This
is set over against both the fury of the wicked and hidden love.
prayer is ever against the deeds of evildoers” (v. 5). Their rulers
will be cast down from the cliffs, and the psalmist’s words
vindicated. In greater detail, “Pride goes before destruction, a
haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be lowly in spirit and among
the oppressed than to share plunder with the proud. Whoever gives
heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the
Lord” (Prov. 16:18-20).
say, ‘As one plows and breaks up the earth, so our bones have been
scattered at the mouth of the grave.’” It is difficult to determine
whether this text should be tied into what precedes it or what
follows. In any case, the psalmist subsequently affirms: “But my
eyes are fixed on you, O Sovereign Lord, in you I take refuge—do not
give me over to death. Keep me from the snares they have laid for
me, from the traps set by evildoers” (vv. 8-9).
wicked fall into their own nets,” the text concludes, “while I pass
by in safety.” Let them experience for themselves what they had
planned for others, while the righteous negotiate the threatening
aspects of life—from the cradle to the grave. Then as a testimony to
the Lord’s faithfulness.
appears to have been first used concerning an ancient Jebusite
fortress, located thirty-three miles east of the Mediterranean
Sea—at an elevation of approximately 2,500 feet. It was situated at
the crest of the Judean hill country, and originally included in the
tribal inheritance of Benjamin. It consisted of an eleven acre
spur, or some portion thereof.
It was a
favorable location for three prime reasons: “First, the site has an
unfailing water source in the Gihon Spring. Second, (it) was very
suitable for defense under the conditions of ancient warfare. Deep
valleys protected ancient Jerusalem from the east, south, and west.
Third, Jerusalem lay just east of the north-south travel route that
stretches south to Beersheba and north to the Valley of Jezreel.”47
Routes also extended northwest to Joppa, and east to Jericho.
valleys make their way up into region. The Hinnom curves around to
the south and west of the Western Hill. Here child sacrifices were
offered to Baal and Molech in antiquity (cf. 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6).
It also provided the imagery for Jesus’ depiction of hell (cf. Matt.
5:29-30), since refuse smoldered day and night.
turns to the right between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives. Josiah
burned an Asherah pole taken from the temple in this vicinity (cf. 2
Kings 23:6). Jesus and his disciples, having left the upper room,
crossed over the Kidron on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.
Tyropoeon takes a more central course. Josephus associated with the
cheese makers. It is the least pronounced of the three. All things
considered, the psalmist enthusiastically declared: “As the
mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds his people both
now and forever” (125:2). The physical aspects of Zion thereby lend
themselves to a spiritual application. It remains to explore this
feature in greater detail.
lacking an ascription, Psalm 2 is attributed elsewhere to David (cf.
Acts 4:25). Of course, this may simply be in recognition of the
prime role he plays in the Psalter. The psalmist is astonished that
the kings of the earth revolt against the Sovereign Lord,
especially in the light of their impotency.
be any doubt, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill” (v.
5). It was God’s call, and required no confirmation. It involved a
person—David, his lineage, and a
location. As noted above, this was calculated to draw attention to
God’s protective surveillance.
God is everywhere present, he manifests himself in special
connections. For instance, when he appeared to Moses in the burning
bush that was not consumed. Moreover, he is celebrated in particular
contexts—Zion being a prime example. This phenomenon is sometimes
referred to as complex monotheism: a singular deity variously
common in antiquity to think in terms of patron deities.
Accordingly, each of the gods would supervise some particular
region. His efficacy would decline or be ineffective elsewhere. In
contrast, the psalmist insists that God exercises his sovereign role
out of Zion, and is in no way inhibited. This is perhaps the crux of
the issue addressed on this occasion. “Therefore, you kings, be
wise: be warned, you rulers of the universe. Serve the Lord with
fear and rejoice with trembling. Blessed are all who take refuge in
him” (vv. 11-12).
group is excluded. None is so despicable but that they can be
reclaimed; none so reputable that they need not repent. The Almighty
is quick to respond to those who call upon him in sincerity and
is the great king who is sovereign over the world and all the
nations in it; Zion, the city and the hill on which it stands, is
the great king’s capital and site of the temple-palace. This is the
theology on which Psalm 48 is based.”48 It is ascribed to
the Sons of Korah.
the Lord, and most worthy of praise in the city of our God, the holy
mountain,” the psalmist enthusiastically introduces his text. “It is
beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth.” It is
unique in this regard, and solicits universal acclaim and
“God is in
her citadels; he has shown himself to be her fortress” (v. 3). When
the enemy was about to lay siege to the city, they were confounded.
“Trembling seized them there, pain like that of a woman in labor.”
They were as if ships shattered by an east wind. “As we have
heard, so have we seen in the city of the Lord Almighty, in the city
of our God: God makes her secure forever.”
your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love. Like your
name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your
right hand is filled with righteousness” (vv. 9-10). So the
situation appears from within and without, with those worshiping the
Lord and those looking on.
around Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her
ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next
generation. For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be
our guide even to the end.” This takes on the character of a joyous
procession, one that can be appreciatively recalled as a continuing
considered Psalm 51 more in detail, we will only touch briefly on a
pertinent text. “In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up
the walls of Jerusalem,” the psalmist petitions. “Then there will be
righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then
bulls will be offered on your altar” (vv. 18-19).
This is in
the wake of Nathan’s rebuke of David concerning his adultery and
disregard for life. There could be adverse effects not only for him
but for the populace. Instead, the ruler pleads that God establish
the dynasty, and thereby encourage devotion. In this connection,
righteous sacrifices are void of hypocrisy.
is also attributed to David. “This psalm reveals a vulnerable man:
one who could not shrug off slander, betrayal or self-accusation, as
a hard or self-absorbed person might, and whose sense of justice had
not been dulled. His prayers and curses both alike spring from this
personal and moral sensitivity.”49 The psalmist initially
pleads: “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I
sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.” He seems
destined to drown unless the Lord should intercede.
follows an extended description of his plight. In conclusion, “I am
in pain and distress; may your salvation protect me” (v. 29). But
for the grace of God, he would assuredly perish.
now takes a pronounced turn for the better, in anticipation of God’s
deliverance. “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with
thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a
bull with its horns and hoofs. The poor will see and be glad—you who
seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does
not despise his captive people.”
heaven and earth praise him, the seas and all that move in them, for
God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. The people will
settle there and possess it; the children of his servants will
inherit it, and those who love his name will dwell there.” They will
claim their inheritance, and rejoice in it.
echoes a now familiar theme, associated with the sons of Korah.
“He has set his foundation on the holy mountain; the Lord loves the
gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things
are said of you, O city of God.” Thus Zion serves as the focal point
of his kingdom agenda. It was strategically located between two
great population centers, readily accessible but relatively secure.
For a variety of reasons, some of which escape us but are known only
to the Lord.
refrain this one was born in Zion occurs three times in the
text (vv.4-6). This is by way of emphasis, reflecting the
privileged character of those associated with the city of the Great
King. Then, too, the expectation is greater.
sing, “All my fountains are in you.” You are the source of life and
vitality. You satisfy our collective thirst. There is no substitute.
companions, especially its immediate neighbors, this psalm (97)
sings of God’s coming as universal king. But whereas Psalms 96 and
98 catch the sheer delight that is in store for the world, here the
doom of rebels brings out the darker side of that event.”50
The psalmist initially declares: “The Lord reigns, let the earth be
glad; let the distant shores rejoice.”
Almighty manifests himself in awesome splendor. “All who worship
images are put to shame.” Conversely, “Zion hears and rejoices, and
the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, O Lord.”
They are righteous without exception.
exhortations follow in the light of the anticipated advent. First,
“Let those who love the Lord hate evil” (v. 10). “No one can serve
two masters,” Jesus insisted. “Either he will hate the one and love
the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other”
(Matt. 6:24). Idolatry cannot be reconciled with genuine worship.
“Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy
name” (v. 12). Meditate on his word, reflect on its promises, and
welcome the opportunity to serve his gracious purposes. Holiness is
not a solemn exercise, but a joyous expression of one’s faith.
is identified as A prayer for an afflicted man. It is on the
occasion when he laments before the Lord. Accordingly, “Hear
my prayer, O Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your
face from me when I am in distress.”
are like the evening shadow, I wither away like grass,” the psalmist
laments. “But you, O Lord, sit enthroned forever; your renown
endures through all generations” (vv. 11-12). But you
delineates the turning point in the psalm, turning from the
petitioner’s plight to the enduring character of the Almighty.
arise and have compassion on Zion, for it is time to show favor to
her; the appointed time has come.” “It may give earth’s perspective
rather than heaven’s, for God looks beyond the skirmishing to the
final victory; yet man’s urgency and God’s measured pace are both
insisting, in their different ways, that there is no time to waste,
and that the fullness of time is approaching.”51
Lord will rebuild Zion and appear in his glory” (v. 16). Here there
is no room for disagreement. God will attain his righteous purposes,
in his time and through his means. This will serve as a testimony to
subsequent generations. “The children of your servants will live in
your presence; their descendants will be established before you” (v.
constitutes another song of ascents. “When the Lord brought
back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths
were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” This, in
turn, recalls Cyrus’ gladly received decree: “The Lord, the God of
heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has
appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone
of his people among you—may the Lord his God be with him, and let
him go up” (2 Chron. 36:23).
“Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things
for them.’” With this they heartily concurred, “The Lord has done
great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” It was apparent to
our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in
tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying
seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with
him” (vv. 4-6). This expresses a continuing need for restoration.
“Two images follow, the first from nature and the second from
farming. Streams in the Negev refer to the wadis, or seasonal
streams, of the south, which flow with the winter rains but are dry
in the summer. Implicit in the second image, Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy, is a call for both hope and patience.”52
Hope concerning that which has yet to transpire, and patience
until such time as it comes to pass.
prospect of Zion continues to loom large on the horizon with
the songs of ascent. Accordingly, “May all who hate Zion be turned
back in shame” (Psa. 129:5). In retrospect, “They have greatly
oppressed me from my youth” (v. 1). In prospect, “May they be like
grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow.” May none
invoke God’s blessing on them.
regard, we see the legacy of hate. “You have heard it said, ‘Love
your neighbor and hate your enemy,’” Jesus allowed. “But I tell you:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may
be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:43-45). Since children
should emulate the righteous ways of their parents.
another song of ascent, Psalm 132 affirms: “For the Lord has chosen
Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling” (v. 13). The second
segment of the psalm constitutes a positive response to the
adversity which has been experienced. The pledge extends beyond
God’s immediate blessings to that which will be experienced with the
coming of the Messiah.
Consequently, one can assume that current blessings are in the form
of an earnest on the future. I explored this phenomenon on another
occasion: “I call these whispers of heaven. They often occur
when one least expects them. They also linger in our memory as a
reminder of things to come. One should cherish them as if precious
the Roman embodiment of justice. As such, she brings to mind the
psalmist’s emphasis on God in his judicial capacity. This imagery
never seems far removed from the psalmist’s thinking.
is frequently portrayed as a matron, carrying sword and scales. She
is sometimes blindfolded. As for the sword, Paul rhetorically
inquires: “ Do you want to be free from fear of the one in
authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is
God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he
does not bear the sword for nothing” (Rom. 13:3-4).
As for the
scales, it is necessary to carefully weigh all relevant
matters. For instance, the Mosaic code requires that if men are
fighting and hit a pregnant woman so that “she gives birth
prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be
fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But
if there is serious injury, you are to take the life for life, eye
for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for
burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Ex. 21:22-25).
Incidently, the lex talionis (concerning commensurate
punishment) was meant to preclude inappropriately severe means, but
allow for taking into consideration extenuating circumstances.
As for the
blindfold, this constituted an appeal for objectivity.
Bribery was strictly forbidden, as was special consideration. Social
status was to be ruled out in the furtherance of justice.
thus primed to consider the topic in light of the Psalter. Having
encountered Psalm 7 previously, we turn to a manifestly pertinent
text. “Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of thy
enemies,” the psalmist petitions. “Awake, my God, decree justice”
(v. 6). “The imperative, Arise, evokes the image of Yahweh seated on
his judgment throne (cf. 3:7, 9:7-8, 19:12; 82:1, 8). At the temple,
this image was symbolized by the cherubim-ark.”54
was an oblong chest made of acacia wood. It measured about 45 by 27
by 27 inches. It contained the two tablets of the law, and a pot of
manna. Its lid was called the mercy seat, consisting of a
slab of gold fitting over the top. The designation was derived from
the God was thought to be enthroned (seated) between two winged
cherubim (angels) positioned opposite from each other.
imagery gave rise to Thomas Moore’s inspirational lyrics: “Come, ye
disconsolate, where’er ye languish. Come to the mercy seat,
fervently kneel. Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your
anguish: earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.”
assembled people gather around you,” the psalmist continues. “Rule
over them from on high; let the Lord judge the peoples.” On high
invokes the Lord’s sovereign power, while the peoples
implicate an universal judgment. In a manner of speaking, there is
no justice where some are excluded.
O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O
Most High.” The psalmist does not imply that he is without fault,
but that he seeks to do what is right and otherwise anxious to make
amends. He also readily defers to the Lord’s righteous decisions.
righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the
violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.” Judge
according to your righteous disposition and unrestricted insight.
Thus put an end to the violence of the wicked, and provide
security for the righteous.
considered, “God is a righteous judge. He engages evil and comforts
the afflicted. “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his
righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most
By way of
contrast, a certain policeman closed a bar room which remained open
after curfew. Now the case was held over until a judge who could be
bribed held court. While summarily dismissing the charges, he
warned the officer that should he again take action, he would be
charged with breaking and entry. The conscientious public servant
was immobilized by this shocking perversion of justice.
previously on Psalm 9 in conjunction with the succeeding psalm, but
now return in connection with the current theme. “The Lord reigns
forever,” the psalmist enthusiastically declares; “he has
established his throne for judgment. He will judge the world in
righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice” (vv. 7-8).
reigns, both now and forever. Not only does he faithfully
delineate between good and evil, but will triumph in the end.
Meanwhile, persons are advised to defer to his righteous judgment.
is known by his justice,” the psalmist subsequently allows; “the
wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands” (v. 16). The Lord
and the wicked are thus set over against each other. As
for the former, he exhibits a well-deserved reputation for justice.
As for the latter, he reaps the undesirable results of his
also a return engagement with Psalm 33. “The Lord loves
righteousness and justice,” the psalmist affirms; “the earth is full
of his unfailing love” (v. 4). Here we encounter a triad of
righteousness, justice, and love. Righteousness is perhaps
best conceived of in terms of the covenant relationship. In this
regard, the decalogue is of prime significance. The rabbis
speculated in this regard “that it was prepared on the eve of
creation in anticipation of subsequent use; they asserted that as
each commandment was sounded from the lofty height of Sinai it
filled the world with a pleasing aroma; they concluded that all
nature hushed to hear every word as it was spoken. It subsequently
charts the way for the righteous to follow.”55
covenant contains both apodictic and casuistic
legislation, both general rules and concrete case studies. These
make up the bulk of the covenant, following the preamble and
historical prologue. The former identifies Yahweh as the
heavenly sovereign, on whose behalf Moses extends the treaty for
ratification; while the latter cites the Lord’s solicitous care for
covenant concludes with regard to sanctions and covenant
renewal. The sanctions contrast the fortunes of those who
trust their way to the Almighty, and those who choose to disregard
his gracious concern. The covenant renewal provides an opportunity
to apply irrevocable teaching in changing circumstances.
justice is thought of as an inevitable extension of
righteousness. As such, the two are often coupled together—as in
terms of righteous justice. This, moreover, serves as a reminder of
God’s sovereign and benevolent character.
rounds out the triad, providing the impetus for righteous
justice. One should emulate God’s compassion, and thus reach out to
those in need. While love does not countenance evil, it welcomes
repentance. “May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,” the
psalmist aptly concludes, “even as we put our hope in you” (v. 22).
Thus fortified, one can look forward to the exigencies of life with
earlier, Psalm 37 is simply ascribed to David. “He will make
your righteousness shine like the dawn,” the psalmist declares, “the
justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (v. 6). “To assume,
however, that these promises are blanket guarantees is to misjudge
the genre and purpose of the psalm. The opening series of
imperatives indicates the psalm is concerned with educational
instruction, not philosophical argument.”56
detail, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not
forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your
head and a chain to adorn your neck. My son, if sinners entice you,
do not give in to them” (Prov. 1:8-10).
before the Lord and wait patiently for him,” the psalmist continues;
“do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out
their wicked schemes.” Their success is short-lived. Then, too, the
Lord delivers the righteous without procrastination.
of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is
just” (v. 30). In this connection, “Trust in the Lord with all your
heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways
acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov.
3:5-6). Do not assume that your wisdom is superior to his, nor
attempt to justify it.
wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously,”
the psalmist observes; “those the Lord blesses will inherit the
land, but those he curses will be cut off” (vv. 21-22). Persons were
encouraged to cultivate the dual virtues of industry and generosity.
As I have suggested on other occasions, generosity is best measured
not be what one gives but what remains after having given. As for
the remainder, it appears to speak for itself.
is in the form of a petition on behalf of the king to exercise his
duties faithfully, and accordingly enjoy God’s blessing. In
particular, “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son
with your righteousness.” This is the first order of business, after
which other matters of concern fall into place.
justice, there is the promise of shalom/well-being: with a
vibrant family structure, social awareness, and religious devotion.
“The success of his reign—in terms of its longevity and
international influence—is determined by his exercise of saving
justice for the needy and his attention to the fertility of the
land. Thus, his kingdom would extend not by military takeover but by
the sheer attraction of his just society and prosperous land.”57
he live!” the psalmist exclaims. “May people pray for him and bless
him all day long” (v. 15). Intercede on his behalf, and rejoice in
his success. “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long
as the sun.” This is an idiomatic expression meant to result in a
cherished legacy. All nations will thus be blessed, as if an
universal catalyst of righteousness.
turn, will be attributed to the Almighty. “Praise be to the Lord
God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to
his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his
glory. Amen and Amen” (vv. 18-19). We are then informed: “This
concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.”
extols the Lord as sovereign. “The Lord reigns, let the nations
tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth
shake.” Though verses 1-3 portray the Almighty “as sovereign over
earth and all its peoples, the rest of the hymn concerns the
LORD’s relation to Jacob/Israel. The whole seems a wondering, awed
exclamation that the God of all peoples works justice and answers
prayers for this particular people who are permitted to call him
‘our God’ (vv. 5, 8, 9).”58
detail, “The King is mighty, he loves justice—you have established
equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right.” Not simply
on behalf of his chosen people, but as they were to serve as a means
to instruct the Gentiles. As noted earlier, with greater privileges
come greater responsibilities.
past. “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among
those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he
answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept
his statues and the decrees he gave them.” As, by implication,
should subsequent generations.
our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God,
though you punished their misdeeds.” You answered them in
response to their repentance, while not disregarding their
defection. As graphically expressed, “It does not matter how many
times we fall, but how often we get to our feet.”
considered, “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy
mountain, for the Lord our God is holy” (v. 9). As enjoined in the
holiness code: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev.
19:2). Thus set apart for God and his service, and without blemish.
again invites our attention. As noted previously, David is mentioned
in this regard. “I will sing of your love and justice,” the psalmist
affirms; “to you, O Lord, I will sing praise.” While love
without justice tends to degenerate into sheer sentiment,
justice without love can readily become vindictive.
walk in my house with blameless heart,” he continues—expressive of
his righteous resolve. He thus sets himself apart from all those
who do evil. “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I
put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will
I not endure” (v. 5).
will be vindicated, and righteousness enhanced. A circumspect life
is a delight to the Almighty. Especially is this the case the light
of all the good that can be harvested.
continues to magnify the Almighty. “Praise the Lord,” the psalmist
enjoins. “Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the
Lord. Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and
forevermore.” In this regard, the rabbis reasoned that one cannot
despise the gift of life, and honor its Giver.
of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are
trustworthy,” the psalmist continues. They are steadfast for ever
and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness (vv. 7-8). In this
regard, he embodies justice as no other.
provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant
forever—holy and awesome is his name. The fear of the Lord is the
beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good
understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.”
shepherd was a familiar fixture in antiquity. While manifestly less so today,
two incidents especially come to mind. Our study group had made its
way to the summit of the Herodium, a fortress constructed by Herod
three miles southeast of Bethlehem, and eight miles south of
Jerusalem. It was late in the afternoon, and we were tired from the
As I gazed
from our vantage point, I could see a shepherd taking leave of the
immediate area. A flock of sheep followed his lead. It was an
impressive sight, illustrating the close bond among them.
occasion, I had just come out of the excavation of the Essene Gate,
located on the western ridge of Jerusalem. I found myself surrounded
by a flock of grazing sheep, accompanied by a Bedouin lad perhaps in
his late teens. Just then a group of obnoxious American youths came
along, and began to ridicule the shepherd. He held his ground,
the situation, I deliberately took a position suggesting my support
of the Bedouin. The tormentors continued on their way, rather than
elevating the tension. I nodded my head to the shepherd, who
responded in like manner. We parted friends, from very differing
naturally recalls Psalm 23 concerning the shepherd motif. It is one
of the most beloved passages in Holy Writ, striking a responsive
chord in our collective psyche. Incidently, it is one of the first
passages memorized by many.
is my shepherd, I shall not want,” the psalmist affirms. Two
figures, that of the good shepherd and hospitable host blend into
what could serve as a confident refrain. In particular, I shall
not want could suitably be repeated after each verse in the
shepherd is depicted as leading his flock, as in the incident
related concerning the Herodium. “He knows them by name and is able
to pick the individual sheep from a surging mass of seemingly
identical creatures. Now and then an animal pauses to pull at
especially luscious herbage or to satisfy its curiosity over an
unusual phenomenon. But at the call of the recognized voice, he
bounds to the shepherd’s side, fondly nuzzling the outstretched
Judean hillsides could prove inhospitable. There was the need to
seek “out grazing
accommodation and fresh water, the possibility of losing the way or
tumbling into a deep ravine, or of attack by wild beast or roving
thief. The shepherd, experienced in the vicissitudes of pastoral
life and armed to ward off the enemy, was the guarantor of good
things and of safety.”60
Life consists of a variety of experiences. Certain of these
are portrayed in pastoral fashion: such as respite along the way,
managing difficult trails, and negotiating deep ravines. Initially,
“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet
waters, he restores my soul.”
turn, accents the importance of a quiet time in the life of
the pilgrim. It provides the opportunity to gain perspective, and
refresh oneself for the journey ahead. Accordingly, the psalmist
enjoins: “Wait for the lord; be strong and take heart and wait for
the Lord” (27:14). The repetition accents its importance.
me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” One would have to
be familiar with the terrain to negotiate the rocky trails
intersecting the hill country. Moreover, sheep seem to be plagued
with an exceedingly short memory. All this is coupled with the fact
that these trails can be perilous.
are my rock and my fortress,” the psalmist allows on another
occasion, “for the sake of your name lead and guide me” (31:3). The
progression implies something beyond security, relating to venture.
Consequently, the person of faith is called upon to engage
life—confident in the Lord’s faithful guidance and sustaining grace.
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.”
The shadow of death imagery pertains to the deep ravines,
shrouded in darkness. This may also account for the plea: “Have
regard for your covenant, because haunts of violence fill the dark
places of the land” (Psa. 74:20). In particular, the ravines
harbored wild beasts and thieves, who were a threat to the flock.
applies to any situation we dread. It occurred to me as a child that
if there was a God, he might have a purpose for my life—perhaps
associated with Africa. However, my impression of the region was
derived in large measure from the saga of Tarzan and the apes.
Consequently, I felt intimidated by the prospect.
arrived when I booked flight for a short term teaching assignment in
Nigeria. I was greeted by a missionary couple, and we spent the
night at a rustic motel. Upon pulling back the sheets, I saw to my
dismay a collection of insects—some dead from insecticide and others
surviving. This helped confirm the irrational feelings I carried
over from childhood.
morning we set out for the mission compound, a day’s journey into
the interior. We eventually turned off on a narrow dirt road, with
elephant grass standing higher than our vehicle. It was night by the
time we arrived. After being warmly welcomed, I was ushered off to a
cabin which would accommodate me during my stay. The generator had
been turned off by that time, so that I was dependent on a lamp to
provide modest light.
also caught the attention of flying insects that hovered around it.
This encouraged me to turn off the lamp, and climb into my bunk. I
soon heard strange noises, quite unlike anything one would be
familiar with from an urban setting. At one point it sounded as if
some beast was approaching my quarters. I peered hesitantly out the
window, half expecting to come face to face with a ferocious animal.
Instead, I could hardly make out the contour of the trees and bushes
nearby. All things considered, this translated into my valley of
the shadow of death—along with the realization of the Lord’s
prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint
my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will
follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of
the Lord forever.” Jesus subsequently elaborated: “In my father’s
house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am
going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a
place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you
also may be where I am” (John 14:2-3). We anticipate that such will
be the divine hospitality offered to the weary traveler.
goodness and love resemble two guard dogs—bent on attending
to the needs of the flock. Not only protecting them from some wild
beast, but keeping them from going astray or lingering along the
way. They thus serve the shepherd in his faithful ministry.
shepherd plays a less prominent role elsewhere in the Psalter. Psalm
28 serves as an example. “To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn
a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who
have gone down to the pit.” As for apt commentary: “Sheol is a place
of silence where neither God’s word nor human praise is heard. To
experience the silence of God is a foretaste of death, a visit to
Sheol. Verse 2 describes the act of prayer, the cry for help with
hands lifted up toward the inner chamber of the temple, as a way of
giving the petition added reality.”61
petition then gives way to praise. “Praise be to the Lord, for he
has heard my cry of mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my
heart trusts in him, and I am helped” (vv. 6-7). It is as if he
could peer over the crest of the next knoll. While his climb is not
concluded, this gives him confidence to proceed.
psalmist’s thought subsequently turns to others of like precious
faith. “The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of
salvation for his anointed one,” he allows. “Save your people and
bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever”
(vv. 8-9). Deliver them from all their dilemmas, and bless their
going out and coming in. Guide and sustain them, each day at a time,
both now and forever.
serves as another example. “Psalm 78 is the voice of a teacher. It
is largely composed of narrative, a telling of the story of the
Lord’s way with Israel. In this respect it is similar to Psalms 105,
106, and 136. Because of this dominant feature, this group of psalms
is often classified as ‘historical psalms’.”62
For instance, “he rained down manna for the people to eat, he
gave them grain of heaven. He rained meat down on them like dust,
flying birds like sand on the seashore” (vv. 24, 26). Nonetheless,
he was displeased because of their continued grumbling. “In spite of
all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did
not believe.” So it was that a generation perished in the
manner, “he chose David his servant and took him from the sheep
pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of
his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance” (vv. 70-71). This, in
turn, recalls the commendation: “You have been faithful with a few
things; I will put in you charge of many things” (Matt. 25:21).
shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skilled hands he led
them.” He was assuredly faithful in his calling, while confronted
with provocation and overt hostility. His reliance was on the Lord,
whom he sought to emulate in terms of the provocative shepherd
provides a final example from the Psalter. “Hear us, O Shepherd of
Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock, you who sit enthroned
between the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim, Benjamin and
Manasseh. Awaken your might, come and save us.” “The occasion
underlying this corporate prayer psalm appears to be one of extreme
national distress: passers-by ravage as they please, burning and
destroying (vv. 12-13, 16). The people experience sorrow and strife
shepherd king is invoked to deliver them from their plight. The
petition restore us (or its equivalent, return to us)
occurs four times in the text (vv. 3, 7, 14, 19). Initially,
“Restore us, O God; make your face shine upon us, that we may be
saved.” In other words, bless us and by implication make us a
God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers
of your people? Will you be angry forever?” How long would
seem to imply that this was a protracted situation. In any case, it
bears repeating: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day
that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night” (Psa. 90:4).
This serves to put life in context of eternity, and to validate
God’s initiatives and their strategic timing.
come as no surprise that Jesus picked up on the shepherd motif. “I
tell you the truth,” he solemnly declared, the man who does not
enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is
a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). This “passage continues Jesus’
words to the Pharisees in 9:41. It is based on Old Testament images
of God as the shepherd of Israel (Gen. 48:15; Psa. 23:1), of Israel
as his flock (Psa. 74:1; 78:52), and of abusive or unfaithful
religious leaders as destroyers of his flock (Jer. 23:1-2; Ezek
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus
went on to clarify. “All who ever came before me were thieves and
robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate;
whoever enters through me will be saved.”
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for
the sheep.” Conversely, “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns
the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep
and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.”
Jesus perhaps had in mind the efforts to create divisions among his
“I am the
good shepherd,” Jesus again affirms. “I know my sheep and my sheep
know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay
down my life for the sheep” (14). This he said by way of repetition,
with the cross figuratively looming on the horizon.
other sheep that are not of this sheep pen,” he added. “I must bring
them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one
flock and one shepherd.” Two plausible applications might come to
mind. First, that he was thinking in terms of gathering the chosen
people from the diaspora. Second, that he had in mind the gathering
of the Gentiles. One need not exclude the other.
reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it
up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own
accord.” This was in accord with his Father’s redemptive purposes.
If for no other reason, we ought not to minimize the importance of
his vicarious sacrifice.
Jewish audience was divided. Many of them concluded, “He is
demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?”
replied, “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon.
Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” In this connection, his
words and deeds bear witness to the truth of his teaching.
fitting benediction, “May the God of peace, who through the blood of
the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that
great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for
doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him,
through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen”
HUNGER & THIRST
“Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” Jesus declared, “for they
will be filled” (Matt. 5:6). So we would gather from even a casual
reading of the Psalter. Accordingly, the remainder could be
the expression hunger and thirst lightly, having eaten a few
hours earlier. The prime exception that comes to mind concerns a
time when I was deployed overseas, and awaiting assignment. Our
provision was adequate but modest. As a result, I found myself
dwelling on the prospect of food. I even dreamed of indulging.
Furthermore, we may not be aware of our need. Our students traveling
around the Holy Land had to be reminded to take sufficient liquid,
not being aware of the extent of their dehydration. We did not
always succeed, as evidenced by a young fellow who collapsed upon
returning to campus. Students were more attentive when addressed by
a young man trained in survival procedures. He would brace himself
in the aisle of the bus, and insist that persons comply.
deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God,”
the psalmist acknowledges. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living
God” (42:1-2). “His prayer, the psalmist says, is like the braying
of a deer over watercourses gone dry. The comparison may be strange
to our cultural and religious sensibilities, but it expresses the
frustrated and compelling demand of unslaked thirst. Ths soul cannot
survive without God.”65
psalmist recognizes what is lacking. As illustrated above, not all
are so fortunate. As a result, they look elsewhere, only to come up
others, spiritual drought is a temporary feature. They are
distracted by temporal concerns, and neglect covenant obligations.
Or they simply tire of the pace, and drag their feet.
I go and meet with God?” the psalmist ponders. He likely has the
temple sanctuary in mind. This underscores the importance of
corporate worship. This, in turn, recalls the admonition: “Let us
not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but
let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day
approaching” (Heb. 10:25).
you downcast, O my soul?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires. “Why so disturbed
within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my
Savior and my God” (v. 5). In colloquial terms, “There is a light at
the end of the tunnel.”
is attributed to David on the occasion when he pretended insanity.
In greater detail, he sought sanctuary with Achish king of Gath.
“David hoped to work as a mercenary soldier and that his being
recognized by one of Achish’s servants was an unfortunate accident.
Achish had heard of David’s reputation and was wary of his
intentions. David feared for his life but managed, by feigning
madness, to convince Achish that he presented no danger.”66
extol the Lord at all times,” the psalmist allows; “his praise will
always be on my lips.” “Glorify the Lord with me,” he continues;
“let us exalt his name together.” “The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who hear him, and he delivers them “ (vv. 1, 3, 7).
may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good
thing” (v. 10). Their hunger will be quenched, their spirits
refreshed, and their vision restored. “The eyes of the Lord are on
the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry; the face of
the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them
from the earth” (v. 15). The motif of the two ways thus emerges,
although it is never far below the surface.
puts a different spin on hunger. “In contrast to most psalms,
it is God who addresses his people. As a psalm, it is set in
Israel’s liturgical worship of the temple on Zion (v. 2). As a
prophecy, it show us that temple worship was no mere monologue.”67
In this regard, “The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and
summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it
sets. From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.” Persons are
to give their diligent attention, out of respect for the Sovereign
“I do not
rebuke you for your sacrifices,” the Lord allows, since they serve a
legitimate purpose. However, “I have no need of a bull from your
stall, or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is
mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. If I were hungry I would
not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it” (vv.
moreover, recalls an apocryphal account of Daniel. “Do you not think
that Bel is a living God?” the king inquired of him. “Do you not see
how much he eats and drinks every day?”68
“Do not be deceived, O king,” the prophet replied; “for this
is but clay inside and brass outside, and it never ate or drank
anything.” Then the king was furious, and set about to investigate
the matter. This was acceptable to the pagan priests, since they had
constructed a secret entrance. When the priests had left, the king
had food laid out for Bel, and then the door to the sanctuary was
sealed. Meanwhile, Daniel had ashes strewn on the floor.
next morning, the king found that the food had disappeared. “You are
great, O Bel,” he declared; “and with you there is no deceit, none
Daniel laughed, and pointed to the footsteps leading to and from the
secret entrance. The king was enraged, and had the priests and their
families executed. He turned the idol over to Daniel, who destroyed
it along with the temple.
is ascribed to David when situated in the Judean wilderness. David
fled to the wilderness to escape Saul: in the vicinity of Ziph (1
Sam 23:14-15), Maon (vv. 24-25), and En-gedi (24:1). En-gedi, for
instance, “is an oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea,
directly across from where the Wadi Arnon enters the sea. The site
is named for the copious spring that waters the area. It was here
that Saul went into a cave in which David was hiding. David could
have killed Saul, but he refused to lift up his hand against the
Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:3-7).”69
wilderness is characteristically arid, desolate, and non-arable.
It is not completely barren, but provides seasonable
pasture—depending on the former and latter rains. It also plays to
mixed reviews. On the one hand, Job describes it as uninhabited
(38:26). On the other, it was recalled that God sustained his people
during their wilderness wandering. As a result, some retreated to
the wilderness as a spiritual exercise—either periodically or for a
longer duration of time.
Accordingly, the psalmist’s words seem especially apt: “O God, you
are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body
longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
This recalls a more favorable setting, “I have seen you in the
sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is
better than life, my lips will glorify you.”
repeating, your love is better than life. This, in turn,
recalls the stalwart faith of the martyrs. In this connection,
Ignatius observes: “It is good for me to die for Jesus Christ rather
than to reign over the farthest bounds of the earth.”70
then have I delivered myself over to death, unto fire, unto sword,
unto wild beasts?” he rhetorically inquires. “But near to the sword,
near to God; in company with wild beasts, in company with God.”71
psalmist anticipates divine deliverance. His enemies will not
prevail. All who call upon the Lord will be vindicated, but those
who repudiate him will be silenced.
again invites our attention. Initially, its author feels overwhelmed
by circumstances. Such as those that confronted the exiles. While
not the first severe test for God’s chosen people, it was
distinctive. The temple lay in ruins, their social structure in
disarray, and the future uncertain.
rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.” When
asked to sing songs of Zion, they replied: “How can we sing
the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?” (Psa. 137:1, 4). The
prophets, who had cautioned the people considering their covenant
obligation, now offered hope for their restoration. This would
result in what some have referred to as the second exodus.
gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (v. 21). This
appears to be a means of enabling the victim to deal with his
suffering, later alluded to concerning Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Matt.
27:34). The psalmist allows that this provided little in the way of
Consequently, “May they be blotted out of the book of life and not
be listed with the righteous” (v. 28). This, moreover, became a
rebuke in Jewish circles, meant to express one’s frustration with
the behavior of another. As such, it sometimes introduces a
Notwithstanding, “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his
captive people. Let heaven and earth praise him, for God will save
Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah. Then people will settle there
and possess it, the children of his servants will inherit it, and
throw those love his name will dwell there” (vv.33-36).
takes on a return engagement. “O Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.” The psalmist thus
acknowledges the Almighty as his sovereign. Others may and do take
issue with him. Nevertheless, he remains resolute.
the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes
winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants” (vv. 3-4). “This
is as poetic a figure as that of the flying chariot, no more
in conflict with the knowledge that ‘the heaven of heavens cannot
contain thee’ than the assurance that God dwells in Zion. All these
kinds of language are needed to express the relation of God to our
familiar world, to the universe and to ourselves.”72
Hence, they attest to the pervasive use of metaphor in the Psalter.
the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (v. 5). The
creation account suggests that this was achieved through successive
stages, which allowed for the proliferation of life. Once in place
and qualifications aside, it would resist the ravages of time.
addition, “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows
between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the
field, the wild donkeys quench their thirst” (vv. 10-11). These
resilient resources bear witness to a creative design. The waters
they produce are for the benefit of all.
of the Lord are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted”
(v. 16). In a manner of speaking their thirst is satisfied, and
their future preserved. Along with this, it serves as a reminder to
humans of their similar dependence on God’s gracious provision.
are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is
full of your creatures” (v. 24). These are not only remarkable in
themselves, but in the way they interact with one another. It is as
if each had an assigned role, although it is not always observed.
glory of the Lord endure forever” (v. 31). Since he is worthy of
honor and reverence. Moreover, in that he readily shares with his
creatures. “May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in
the Lord” (v. 34).
is an exhortation for praise to the Lord for his compassion.
Initially, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love
endures for ever.” Circumstances change, but God’s love remains
constant. Persons waver in the face of obstacles, but his love
remains constant. Opposition builds, but his love remains constant.
Up to the present, and forever more.
hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out
to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their
distress” (vv. 5-6). On repeated occasions, as a testimony to his
faithfulness. Then as an encouragement for others to put their trust
(subsequently) led them by a straight way to a city where they could
settle.” This, in turn, recalls Jesus’ urgent exhortation: “Enter
through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road
that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is
the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find
it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful
deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry
with good things” (vv. 8-9). In greater detail, James speculates:
“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If
one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well
fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”
rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and
fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those
who lived there” (vv. 33-34). In this connection, “Do not be
deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The man
who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap
destruction” (Gal. 6:7-8).
Conversely, “He turned the desert into pools of water and the
parched ground into flowering springs; there he brought the hungry
to live and they founded a city where they could settle.”
Consequently, it bears repeating: “Blessed are those who hunger and
thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
The notion of a
mountain recalls childhood memories. In particular, concerning
Mt. Katahdin. While it was several hours drive from where we
lived, it could be readily seen from a distance. Everything else
seemed dwarfed by comparison, and inspired by its presence.
detail: “If one takes the Hunt Tail, it is 5.2 miles from the foot
of Mt Katahdin to its peak. Persons characteristically begin the
climb at the crack of dawn. The path from the camp grounds winds
through dense foliage. One can see only to the turn ahead.”
Some time later, one approaches “the tree line. Scrub trees replace
their towering cousins. Off to one side is an alternative ridge.
From a vantage point we can look back toward the valley below. Soon
there are no trees to block our view. Slopes appear on both sides as
the tree line continues to recede.” Still one’s view is limited,
being able to see only to the next rise.
“The plateau looms above. We encourage ourselves with the thought
that our destination is close at hand. Anticipation continues to
build. Our energies astonishingly revive. With one final effort, we
stand erect—greeted by a breath-taking view. The slopes plunge
headlong into the tree line, giving the impression of a majestic
monument to God’s ingenuity.”73
mountain(s) is employed about forty times in the Psalter,
attesting to its critical importance in the collective thinking of
the chosen people. Accordingly, we will be selective in our
treatment of the topic. Initially, “To the Lord I cry aloud, and he
answers me from his holy hill/mountain” (Psa. 3:4). This is by way
of affirming the Almighty is responsive to our petitions.
Ultimately, God is the answer to our prayers. Circumstances
may differ, since he may chose to respond in ways we did not
anticipate. Then, too, he deals with us in a corporate setting,
where other persons are involved. Some are our contemporaries, while
others are yet to be born.
often accompanied by two stages in our awareness. First, we are
surprised by what transpires. It was not within the range of what we
anticipated; or, if so, there were unexpected ramifications. Second,
we sense something of the providential character of God’s
initiatives. In this regard, it bears repeating: “And we know that
in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who
have been called
according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Lord I take refuge,” the psalmist affirms. “How then can you say to
me: ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain’” (11:1). There are numerous
options: unholy alliances, military might, compromise of
convictions, and the like. While these may prove tempting, they fall
short of a solution. Accordingly, the psalmist has opted for the
certainly not the most elevated location. Still, it was customary to
speak of ascending to God’s holy hill—as if it were the most
prominent topological feature. In terms of metaphor, that was the
case. If for no other reason, the sanctuary was located here—evoking
imagery concerning access to the Almighty.
to earlier, God manifests himself in Psalm 18—coinciding with his
deliverance of David from the hands of his enemies. The language is
reminiscent of his appearance at Sinai. In greater detail, “The
earth trembled and quaked, and the foundations of the mountains
shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his
nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed
out of it. He parted the heavens and came down, dark clouds were
under his feet” (vv. 7-9).
connection, the mountains seem most impervious to changing
circumstances. While there is erosion, it is not as a rule
perceptible. Even so, they quake at the appearance of the Lord. The
imagery is likely derived from an earth tremor, where creation
trembles before its Creator.
contrast to the relative stability and permanence of the lofty
mountains, human life appears fragile. “As for man, his days are
like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows
over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more” (Psa.
103:15). The mountains thus serve as our mentor, inciting reverence
of and deference to the Almighty.
turns up yet again; it being associated with the dedication of the
temple. “When I felt secure, I said, ‘I will never be shaken.’ O
Lord, when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm, but when
you hid your face, I was dismayed” (vv. 6-7). My mountain here incorporates the Davidic dynasty. This is portrayed as a
critical aspect of God’s gracious design.
Nevertheless, the fortunes of the dynasty would wax and wane.
Representative of the former, Josiah “stood by the pillar and
renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord—to follow the Lord
and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart
and all his soul, thus confirming the words of the covenant written
in this book. Then all the people pledged themselves to the
covenant” (2 Kings 23:3).
of the latter, “He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal
palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he
burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the
imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem” (2 Kings
25:9-10). Exile awaited an unresponsive and wayward people.
earlier, Psalm 36 takes the form of an oracle concerning the
wicked. In this regard, “Your righteousness is like the mighty
mountains, your justice like the great deep” (v. 6). The dual
reference to the mighty mountains and the great deep is calculated to graphically describe the comprehensive character of
God’s righteousness and justice.
By way of
contrast, there is a characteristic erosion of righteousness/justice
in society. In greater detail, “The words of his mouth are wicked
and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his
bed he plots evil, he commits himself to a sinful course and does
not reject what is wrong” (vv. 3-4).
progression implied in the text is aptly captured by Alexander Pope:
“Vice is a monster of so frightful men, as to be hated, needs but to
be seen; yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face, we must first
endure, then pity, then embrace.”74
slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned,” the
psalmist concludes. “The Lord redeems his servants; no one will be
condemned who takes refuge in him” (vv. 21-22). Here evil is
personified, as if a notable adversary—which must be recognized as
again invokes the mountain imagery: “God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though
the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their
surging” (vv. 1-3). “Until recently, man has had few thoughts to
spare for the possibility of a world catastrophe. But this psalm can
face it unafraid, because its opening phrase means exactly what it
says. Our true security is in God, not in God plus anything
thus reminded that some texts take on special significance with the
passing of time. One is lead to conclude that this is in keeping
with God’s providential concern for successive generations. Then,
too, to look for creative applications to abiding truth.
Refuge and strength imply not only security but
enablement. In proverbial terms, “The best defense is a good
offense.” Conversely, a good offense requires a sound defense. In
terms of the text, both are provided.
result, we will not fear. One who reveres God is disinclined
to be otherwise intimidated. Otherwise, we are readily terrified by
real and imagined threats. We also invite problems that would not
have otherwise been encountered.
previously observed, Psalm 50 portrays God summoning the earth
from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. “Israel
has appealed to God, only to find that she is herself the one on
trial. The rest of mankind, with all heaven and earth, has been
assembled to witness the charge, not to answer it. Judgement must
‘begin with the household of God’ (1 Pet. 4:17).”76 Then,
if with the household of God, none can expect to be exempted.
is thus depicted as belonging to God. “I know every bird in the
mountains,” the Lord assures us, “and the creatures of the field are
mine” (v. 11). Nothing is hidden from him, and all are responsible
to him. The mountains appear in this context as distant and
majestic. They also resemble hands lifted toward heaven in earnest
is a song of joyful praise. From beginning to end, it does not cease
its grateful recital of God’s works and their benefits. It praises
God as God of the temple (vv. 1-4), God of the world (vv. 5-8), and
God of the earth (vv. 9-13).”77 Illustrative of the first
segment, “Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in
your courts! We are filled with the good things of your house, of
your holy temple” (v. 4).
Representative of the second section, “You answer us with awesome
deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends
of the earth and the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your
power” (vv. 5-6). In this instance, the mountains recall
God’s awesome capability. As commonly expressed, “God can do
anything but fail.”
Characteristic of the final portion, “You care for the land and
water it; you enrich it abundantly. The streams of God are filled
with water to provide the people with grain, for so you have
ordained it” (v. 9). He thus sustains life, in spite of all that
would threaten it. In this regard, “He causes his sun to rise on the
evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the
unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).
its enthusiastic prologue and epilogue, “the two main parts of
(Psalm 68) celebrate, first, God’s victorious march from Egypt, with
its culmination at Jerusalem (vv. 7-18), and secondly the power and
majesty of His regime seen in the ascendancy of His people and the
flow of worshipers and vassals to His footstool (vv. 19-31).”78
As for the former, “Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at
the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the Lord himself will
dwell forever?” (v. 16). It is as if they supposed that he would opt
for some more credible alternative.
Conversely, it is not unlike the Lord to choose modest means to
accomplish his marvelous purposes. One recalls in this connection
the reduction of Gideon’s army, “In order that Israel may not boast
against me that her own strength has saved her” (Judg. 7:2). Then
subsequently his striking victory over the formidable enemy.
As for the
latter, “Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession
of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers,
after them the musicians, with them are the maidens playing
tambourines. Praise God in the great congregation, praise the Lord
in the assembly of Israel” (vv. 24-26). This was a joyous occasion,
which one would not readily forget.
recalls Israel’s exodus, conquest, and settlement; carried over into
the time of its expansion during the monarchy. In greater detail,
“You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and
planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and
filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the
mighty cedars with its branches” (vv. 8-11).
mountains are thus appropriated by God’s chosen people. Early on,
it was customary to locate dwellings on rising ground, allowing
fields for agricultural and grazing purposes. With the rise of
industry, this is no longer prevalent. Qualifications aside, the
mountains remain a constant reminder of the Jewish legacy.
seems a fitting climax to the present discussion. “In its enigmatic,
staccato phrases this remarkable psalm speaks of Zion as the
destined metropolis of Jew and Gentile alike. The most memorable
commentary on the psalm is John Newton’s masterly hymn (Glorious
Things of Thee are Spoken).”79 In particular,
“Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God; He whose
word cannot be broken formed thee for His own abode: on the Rock of
Ages founded, what can shake thy sure repose? With salvations’ walls
surrounded, Thou may’st smile at all thy foes.”
“He has set his foundation on the holy mountain” (v. 1). “Indeed, of
Zion it will be said, ‘this one and that one were born in her,’ and
the Most High himself will establish her” (v. 5). Indeed, the
righteous from all peoples will rejoice in his holy mountain.
We will set the
stage for discussing inheritance in the Psalter with an
incident from the era of the patriarchs. This will serve to
illustrate the cultural legacy of the Hebrew tradition. It will also
provide a reminder that the use of metaphor requires an actual
alerted at the outset, “This is the account of Abraham’s son Isaac”
(Gen. 25:19). In typical fashion, a lead-in is provided. In
particular, “Abraham became the father of Isaac and Isaac was forty
years old when he married Rebekah daughter of Bethel the Aramean
from Padda Aram and sister of Laban the Aramean.”
petitioned the Lord because his wife was barren. “The Lord answered
his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled
each other within her and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
So she inquired of the Lord.
replied, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within
you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” This assumes the notion of corporate personality, whereby one is representative of the
time came to give birth, there were twin boys. The first to appear
was ruddy in complexion, “and his whole body was like a hairy
garment.” They named him Esau. These details enhance the story as it
is told to an appreciative audience.
second twin came out of the womb with his hand grasping Esau’s heel.
This so struck the fancy of his parents that they named him Jacob,
‘one who grabs a heel, a finagler.’ His behavior at birth symbolized
the strife between him and Esau through their childhood.”80
As the boys matured, Esau became a skillful hunter, but Jacob
was content to stay among the tents. There is no moral
assessment of these contrary dispositions. Since Isaac relished wild game, he preferred Esau. Conversely, Rebekkah
Jacob—for he was more of a companion.
Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the open country.
“Quick,” he exclaimed, “let me have some of the red stew! I am
sell me your birthright,” Jacob replied. “The firstborn received a
double share. Jacob, the master manipulator, perceived that Esau was
too exhausted to value something as abstract as a birthright over
tangible food at that moment. The skill with which Jacob handled the
opportunity suggest that he had been pondering for some time how he
might get the birthright.”81
“Look, I am about to die,” Esau protested. “What good is the
birthright to me?” If, in fact, he should succumb.
me first,” Jacob insisted. Esau complied. Then Jacob gave him some
bread and lentil stew. “He ate and drank, and then got up and
left”—soliciting the appraisal: “So Esau despised his birthright.”
This, in turn, suggests the great importance that was placed on
addition, it helps the reader to identify with the narrative
framework in which the Psalter is cast. It is a more concrete
setting than we would at first realize. As such, it consists of
events along with privileged interpretation.
commences with a cryptic petition: “Keep me safe, O God, for in you
I take refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; apart from you
I have no good thing.’” The request relies on a cherished
relationship. Many presume that the Almighty should honor their
concerns while steering their own course. However, the psalmist is
not among them.
detail, “As for the saints who are in the land, they are the
glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” Conversely, “The sorrows
of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out
their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.”
provides the cue for the theme of inheritance to make an
entry. “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup, and have
made my lot secure. The boundary liens have fallen to me in pleasant
places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (vv. 5-6). This, in
turn, brings to mind the image of a gentle, rolling hill; alongside
a refreshing stream.
made known to me the path of life,” the psalmist confidently
concludes; “you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal
pleasure at your right hand” (v. 11). All things considered, it
bears repeating: “Surely I have (received) a delightful
“To you, O
Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God,” the psalmist
invokes. “Do not let my enemies triumph over me” (Psa. 25:1-2). “To
lift up the soul to God is a metaphor for what the gesture means.
The metaphor portrays prayer as an act in which individuals hold
their conscious identity, their life, in hands stretched out to God
as a way of saying that their life depends completely and only on
the help of God.”82
note, ritual can play a constructive role in worship—providing it
does not become an end in itself. Accordingly, it can help focus
one’s attention, express sincere devotion, and solicit service.
Otherwise, it degenerates into idolatry.
is the man that fears the Lord?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires.
“He will instruct him in the way chosen for him. He will spend his
days in prosperity and his descendants will inherit the land” (vv.
12-13). A righteous inheritance is meant to be passed on from one
generation to the next. Ideally, this should be enhanced
by every succeeding generation. Conversely, it can be readily
Israel, O God from all their troubles,” the psalmist concludes. He
thus displays a corporate concern, consistent with his pious
resolve. In proverbial terms, “Good things are best shared.”
again invites our attention. “The Lord is the strength of the
people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one,” the psalmist
allows. “Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their
shepherd and carry them forever” (vv. 8-9). Here the chosen people
appear as a divine inheritance.
This is in
a dual respect. First, they are to be a peoples set apart for his
service. In this regard, they are not unlike the vessels in the
temple. However, there are moral implications where humans are
implicated. Consequently, they are to emulate the Lord, and thereby
bring honor to his name.
they are to serve as a light to the Gentiles. This created what was
meant to be constructive tension between the two ideals. Otherwise,
one would predominate at the expense of the other. The text of Jonah
addressed this problem, calling for the prophet to take compassion
on the despised Assyrians.
people are thus called upon to be in but not of world.
In this connection, while any culture can serve as a means through
which to express God’s righteous resolve, no culture is without
serious inhibitions. All things considered, God’s inheritance is
thus presented as a work in progress.
makes still another appearance. “Sing joyfully to the Lord, you
righteous;” the psalmist enjoins; “it is fitting for the upright to
praise him.” Not so the wicked, since this would amount to
hypocrisy—which compounds the problem.
is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his
inheritance” (v. 12). This incited the rabbis to inquire as to why
the Almighty chose the Jewish people rather than some other. Was it
because they were more pious? Not necessarily. Perhaps it was
because of the integrity of the patriarchs. This seemed a more
likely option. Could it be because of their modest means? This did
not seem to occur to them. Ultimately, they concluded that only God
knows, and he has not revealed his reasoning.
case, they inherit God’s blessing. In this life and that to come.
Often in undesirable circumstances, and in that he remains faithful.
In countless ways, too numerous to mention. So as to glorify his
name, and benefit the chosen.
also appears as a frequent visitor. “To make sense of this wisdom
psalm we must first pay heed to hints of its social setting. The
wicked have wealth, the righteous little (v. 16).”83 The
wicked have perhaps become corrupted by their wealth, while the
righteous are among the common folk.
meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace” (v. 11). Jesus
subsequently recalls: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit
the earth” (Matt. 5:5). “‘Those of gentle spirit’, not the grasping
and the greedy, receive from life its most satisfying rewards. The
aggressive are unable to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. Only the meek
have the capacity to enjoy in life all those things that provide
genuine and lasting satisfaction.”84
of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will
endure forever” (v. 18). The Lord keeps an accurate ledger. Given
this realization, the righteous are in an enviable situation.
Accordingly, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.
But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust
do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt.
6:19-20). For where one’s treasure is, that will be his or her
wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously;
those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses
will be cut off” (vv. 21-22). Jesus subsequently observed: “It is
more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Paul, in turn,
bore this in mind when ministering to the Ephesians.
evil and do good,” the psalmist admonishes. “For the Lord loves the
just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected
forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off, the
righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever” (vv.
27-29). Here the contrast is carried over into successive
generations. Whereas ill-gotten gains diminish, good seed yields a
the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.” (v. 34). Some are in
too great haste to wait on the Lord. As a result, they
squander countless opportunities. The righteous must live a
disciplined life, in anticipation of inheriting the land—which is
to say, realizing life’s genuine potential.
constitutes an universal summons to worship the Sovereign Lord. In
particular, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with
cries of joy. How awesome is the Lord Most High, the great King over
all the earth!” Let joy be unrestrained and enthusiasm kindled. As
sage advice, “It is better to turn on a light than to curse the
our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved” (v. 4).
Our inheritance and the pride of Jacob are a dual
reference to the promised land. Why this rather than some other?
First, as noted earlier, it was inviting from a pastoral
perspective. Then, too, it was strategically located.
reigns over the nations” (v. 8). In greater detail, “From one man he
made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth,
and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where
they should live. God did this so that man would seek him and
perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from
each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).
arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him”
(Psa. 68:1). “Psalm 68 begins with this invocation of God the divine
warrior whose victory established his reign in the world and whose
strength is the salvation of his people. The victory and the reign
of the divine warrior are its underlying theme.”85
went out before your people, O God, when you marched through the
wasteland, the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain, before God
the One of Sinai, before God, the God of Israel. You gave abundant
showers, O God; you refreshed your weary inheritance” (vv. 7-9).
Here the exodus is graphically described. God covenants with his
people at Sinai, and sustains them during their wilderness
sojourn. The downpour is replaced by gentle rains, nourishing the
land; and then indirectly, the people as well.
the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel, whose power is in
the skies. You are awesome, O God, in your sanctuary. Praise be to
God” (vv. 34-35). Herald the good news that God reigns, and that he
rewards those who put their trust in him.
proves to be a frequent visitor to our discussion. The text divides
into two segments: concerning petition (vv. 1-29) and praise (vv.
30-36). As for the former, “Rescue me from the mire, do not let me
sin; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters” (v.
14). “Answer me, O Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your
great mercy turn to me” (v. 16).
As for the
latter, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with
thanksgiving” (v. 30). “Let heaven and earth praise him, the seas
and all that move in them, for God will save Zion, and rebuild the
cities of Judah. Then people will settle there and possess it; the
children of his servants will inherit it, and those who love his
name will dwell there” (vv. 34-36).
thus appears as a critical feature for obtaining an inheritance.
Praise God for who he is; then, too, for what he does. Praise him
for his individual and corporate concern. Praise him concerning the
routine of life. Praise him for his lavish grace in times of stress.
one of the prime figures in wisdom literature. He appears impervious
to instruction. Nevertheless, an appeal is made for him to
reconsider his ways. Otherwise, as graphically described, he
resembles an accident waiting to happen.
passing of time, it became common to distinguish between the natural
and licensed fool. The latter was along the line
of a court jester, whereas the Psalter is concerned with the former.
That is to say, a relatively dull, slow-witted individual. Moreover,
there is something of the fool in all of us.
this is not the only role player in wisdom literature. The scoffer
sides with the fool, over against the wise person. He
not only dislikes correction, but holds truth up to ridicule. He
thus appears more contentious.
sluggard is disinclined to initiate worthwhile activity; if
initiated, he is prone to not carrying it through. He is reluctant
to face up to issues, and is depicted from time to time as restless,
helpless, useless, and exasperating.
positive side of the ledger, a good friend is constant in his
or her devotion (Prov. 17:17). He or she is likely to be candid,
accepting, reassuring, and tactful.
wise person is highly commended. Such readily welcomes
instruction. With understanding, he or she gains insight; with
insight, skill in living; with skill, the ability to plan ahead;
with all, to orient life toward God and according to his gracious
been introduced to the cast, we turn to the Psalter—singling out the
fool for special consideration. “The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is
no one who does good” (Psa. 14:1). In context, this pertains to the
practical rather than the theoretical atheist. In
order words, the person who behaves as if God does not exist, rather
than insists that this is the case.
one may err on both accounts. Some years ago I was corresponding
with a candidly honest atheist. In the course of our correspondence,
I observed that his claim to atheism pertained to what he did
not believe—namely, in divine existence—rather than what he
believed. He allowed that this was the case, substituting the term
humanist. As briefly explained, man is the measure of all
inquired whether he was open to reconsideration. He allowed that he
was, and that he would accept any relevant evidence, not limiting
his inquiry to empirical considerations. In an attempt to be of
help, I asked if he could conceive of matters in terms of the
theology of hope—its emphasis being on the future manifestation of
the Almighty. This did not appeal to him.
volunteered the observation that if he were to reconsider, it would
most likely be associated with the historical Jesus. He chose not to
elaborate. His intent was that we would discuss the matter in
person, but I subsequently lost track of him.
reported this incident at some length in order to point out the
potential difference between an earnest theoretical atheist and his
practical counterpart, as the latter appears in the Psalter. Having
ruled God out of his life, the practical atheist feels little
constraint. He is tempted to indulge himself, without proper regard
for those in dire need.
detail, this is revealed “in two ways: in flouting God’s law (vv.
1-3) and oppressing His people (4:6), that is, in both direct and
indirect contempt of heaven. It is this reckless folly almost as
much as the wickedness of it that emerges in the psalm.”86
As for the former, “All have turned aside; they have together become
corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (v. 3).
behavior appears selective in this instance, Paul insists: “for all
have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Or, as
expressed above, there is something of the fool in all of us.
Some, however, are repentant; while others are not.
As for the
latter, “Will evildoers never learn—those who devour my people as
men eat bread and who do not call on the Lord?” (v. 4). They seem to
take a special delight in oppressing the righteous. In this regard,
they turn their freedom into license.
nonetheless, terminates on a more positive note. “Oh, that salvation
for Israel would come out of Zion!” the psalmist exclaims. “When the
Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and
Israel be glad!” (v. 7). This recalls a story I have repeated on
other occasions. It seems that a group of devout Jews were
witnessing the destruction of their beloved temple. All were
bemoaning the tragic event, except for one who appeared elated.
you rejoice at a time like this?” his associates inquired of him.
destruction of God’s sanctuary can solicit such anguish,” he
observed, “imagine the joy associated with its restoration!” So it
would seem in keeping with the thrust of the psalmist’s reasoning.
is intensely personal. The psalmist determines, “I will watch my
ways and keep my tongue from sin. I will put a muzzle on my mouth as
long as the wicked are in my presence.” So as not to intensify the
hostility, and compound the problem.
I was silent and still, not even saying anything good, my anguish
increased. My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated the fire
burned; then I spoke with my tongue” (v. 3). Whereupon, he vents his
frustration on the Almighty.
Lord, what do I look for?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires. “My
hope is in you. Save me from all my transgressions, do not make me
the scorn of fools” (v. 7). This, moreover, recalls a pertinent
text: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up
anger” (Prov. 15:1).
prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help,” he pleads. “For I dwell
with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were” (v. 12).
As applied to Christians: “They pass their days on earth, but they
are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the
same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and
are persecuted by all. . . . yet those who hate them are unable to
assign any reason for their hatred.”87
again invites our attention. “Hear this, all you peoples; listen,
all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike,”
the psalmist enjoins. “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the
utterance from my heart will give understanding.” This consists of a
call to one and all, and not to the chosen people in particular.
Wisdom literature characteristically draws on general revelation
as its appeal. This, of course, is refined in terms of the
can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike
perish and leave their wealth to others” (v. 10). As far as the
certainty of death is concerned, wisdom and folly are irrelevant. It
remains to consider how responsibly one has used his or her
resources. Blessed is the person who is remembered for his or her
generosity, whether concerning material resources, time, or insight.
Accordingly, “Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the
splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him
when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him” (vv. 16-17).
In proverbial terms, “A temporary gain is no gain at all.” Inviting
as it seems at the time, it proves to be misleading in the end.
conclusion, “A man who has riches without understanding is like the
beasts that perish” (v. 20). Two graphic alternatives are available.
First, there is the law of the jungle. As my maternal grandmother
would say, “Each for his own, and the devil get the hindmost.” Live
like a beast, and die like a beast.
there is life as if in a sanctuary. Wherein the heavens declare the
glory of God, and the earth displays his handwork. An occasion where
work and worship go hand in hand. Then where persons are available
to one another, counting it a privilege to be of service. One is
advised to chose this latter option.
repeats the initial text from Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart,
‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there
is no one who does good.” The remainder of the psalm is also
notable difference is that the term God replaces that of Lord
on repeated occasions (cf. vv. 2, 4, 6-7). As for the
former, it corresponds in large measure to the High God tradition.
“In fact, belief in the High God appears so pervasive among
traditional peoples as to be virtually without exception. It is said
that he is called by several thousand names of record. Some have
supposed this application a corruption of an original monotheism.”88
In particular, the High God is thought to be inscrutable.
Various theories have been set forth to account for this. In some
instances, the High God is said to have withdrawn because of man’s
variations of the High God tradition portray man as attempting to
rectify the problem. For instance, it was said that humans
attempted to build a tower reaching into the heavens. They, however,
ran out of tiles. Whereupon, The Mother of Men advised them
to take tiles off the bottom and put them on top. This resulted in
the whole edifice crashing to the earth. It was then decided that
man must wait for the High God to take the initiative. According to
the Psalter, this is precisely what the Almighty has done. It
remains for humans to appreciatively respond.
Conversely, the term Lord pertains to God’s name. It is
probably meant to distinguish him from the lifeless deities that
proliferate in pagan religion. In context, it also seems to imply
that God will supply the resources necessary for the righteous. The
interchange of terms reminds us that he is one and the same.
“The most noticeable difference is found in verse 5, which describes
terror as it falls on the evildoers. In Psalm 14, the corresponding
lines describe the terror God as God’s action to protect the poor.”89
It goes without saying that the latter is more explicit.
consists of a corporate inquiry. In particular, “This tormented
psalm has the marks of the national disaster that produced Psalms 79
and 137 and the book of Lamentations, i.e., the Babylonian
destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 587 BC. Perhaps the
closest parallel is in Lamentations 2:5-9, where the silencing of
prophecy is one of the most disorientation blows of all.”90
detail, “The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to her appointed
feasts. All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan, her
maidens grieve, and she is in bitter anguish” (Lam. 1:4). In
conclusion, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may return;
renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are
angry with us beyond measure” (5:21-22). It remains to be seen which
is the case.
uninviting context, the psalmist petitions: “Remember how the enemy
has mocked you, O Lord, how foolish people have reviled your name”
(v. 18). They thereby solicit destruction, whether overtly flagrant
in their opposition, disregarding the Lord’s counsel, or some
combination of the two.
O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day
long. Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries, the uproar of
your enemies, which rises continually” (vv. 22-23). The overall
strategy of the psalm thus becomes clear: “God is seen as the
divine king and supreme judge. On the one hand, the speaker argues
that Yahweh, the divine judge is, in fact, the injured party and
that these invaders are the offenders. On the other hand, he argues
that this ‘congregation’ is also an injured party by appealing to
the rights of the poor.”90
As allowed earlier, Psalm 92 accents the importance of the
Sabbath in Jewish piety. The Lord’s Day serves as similar
purpose in most Christian congregations. As for the latter, it is
meant to celebrate not only the resurrection of Christ, but
the renewed life in Christ. In Christ serves as Paul’s
signature expression, it or its equivalent said to occur 165 times
in his epistles. In this regard, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a
new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17).
connection with the Jewish Sabbath or Christian alternative: “It is
good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O God Most
High, to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at
night” (v. 1).
Conversely, “The senseless man does not know, fools do not
understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all
evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed” (vv. 6-7).
Although the wicked seem to proliferate, they will not endure. Then
while God allows the sin of the fathers to impact to the
third and fourth generation, he shows love to a thousand
generations of those who love me and keep my commandments (cf.
is prefaced by the admonition: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is
good; his love endures forever.” There follows unidentified groups
of people. Initially, “Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding
no way to a city where they could settle” (v. 4). They were hungry
and thirsty. They cried out to the Lord, and he delivered them. As
an implied refrain, for he is good; his love endures forever.
in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron
chains” (v. 10). Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and
he saved them from their distress.” Since he is good, and his love endures forever.
became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction
because of their iniquities. Then they cried to the Lord in their
trouble, and he saved them from their distress” (vv. 17, 19).
Indeed, he is good, and his love endures forever.
went out on the sea in ships. They mounted up to the heavens and
went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought
them out of their trouble” (vv. 23, 26, 28). Be assured that he
is good, and his love endures forever.
complex. Accordingly, our physical needs resemble the proverbial tip
of the iceberg. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs thus provides a
helpful introduction concerning the needy as portrayed in
hierarchy consists of needs associated with life, safety and
security, belonging and affection, the respect of others and one’s
self, and self-actualization. The struggle for survival is deemed
basic to the rest. For instance, concerning the American ideal of
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; life is
essential for the remainder.
physiological needs are relatively well gratified, there then
emerges a new set of needs, which we may categorize roughly as the
safety needs (security; stability; dependency; protection; freedom
from fear, from anxiety and chaos; need for structure, order, love,
limits; and so on).”91 Now a person may become virtually
obsessed with these needs, so that he or she gives little attention
to anything else.
if both the physiological and safety needs are reasonably well
managed, the person will as a rule increasingly turn his or her
attention to satisfying the needs associated with belonging and
affection. Then a new center replaces the former one, involving both
primary and secondary relationships. As for the former, family and
close friends. As for the latter, more casual associations that lend
structure to life.
addition, “All people in our society (with the few pathological
exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based,
usually high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or
self-esteem, and for the esteem of others.”92 This
remains as still another focus in the hierarchy of needs.
all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always)
expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop,
unless the individual is doing what he, individually, is fitted
for.”93 In this regard, a person feels obligated to
realize his or her potential. It goes without saying that one can do
so in greater or lesser degree in various ways.
Furthermore, this is related to the notion of calling, in a
general and particular sense. As for the former, one is obligated to
be a faithful steward of his or her gifts. As for the latter, one’s
calling is related to kingdom priorities. In this connection, “But seek first his
kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to
you as well” (Matt. 6:33). In particular, that which relates to the
other features of the hierarchy of needs.
Incidently, missionaries are sometimes criticized for manipulating
persons to gain converts. In some instances, the criticism may be
legitimate. Even so, this may be a false impression derived from the
missionary’s concern for the full range of human needs. Were this
the case, anything less would be unacceptable.
alerted to the complex nature of human needs, Psalm 9 again solicits
our attention. The psalm peaks on two occasions concerning divine
sovereignty. Initially, “Sing praises to the Lord enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done. For he who avenges
blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the afflicted” (vv.
Subsequently, “But the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the
hope of the afflicted ever perish. Arise, O Lord, let no man
triumph, let the nations be judged in your presence” (vv. 18-19).
Here the needy and afflicted appear in parallel
construction. This could be related to overt abuse or the absence of
assistance, but most likely a combination of the two.
one needs to distinguish between intent and strategy. In particular,
persons may want to address the needs of others while not agreed as
to the best way to proceed. Then they not uncommonly impugn the good
intention of the other person, while assuming something better
depicted in Psalm 12 as quite alone in his righteous resolve. “Help,
Lord,” he consequently pleads, “for the godly are no more; the
faithful have vanished from among men.” Everywhere he looks, there
is flattery and deception. Hypocrisy appears to breed hypocrisy.
indeed is the person who knows where to turn in times of adversity.
Accordingly, the psalmist cries out to the Lord. Not only on his own
behalf, but to rectify an intolerable situation.
of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will
now arise,” the Lord replies (v. 5). The weak and needy
are thus bonded together. They appear unable to fend for
themselves. Were they able to do so, they should not expect others
to do for them what they were unwilling to do for themselves. Their
lack may be due to some physical impediment and/or more subtle
you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever,” the
psalmist concludes (v. 7). Accordingly, satisfy their need for a
sense of belonging and affection. Then in a less precise manner
deal with other features embraced by the hierarchy of needs.
next invites our consideration. “Contend, O Lord, with those who
contend with me,” the psalmist petitions at the outset; “fight
against those who fight against me.” The military metaphor is likely
figurative, although not necessarily so.
like you, O Lord?” he rhetorically inquires. “You rescue the poor
from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who
rob them” (v. 10). None match the Lord in his concern for the
poverty stricken and in dire need. Even the most generous appear
poor and needy are linked, as is so often the case. We
should, however, not overlook the fact that the more affluent may
not have ascended the hierarchy of needs. Their situation may even
be compounded as a result of their needs not as readily being
recognized, by others and even themselves.
prohibition against stealing was applied in various ways in Jewish
tradition. For instance, one was said to steal if he failed to pay
wages on time. This could be especially critical should the employee
be destitute, and dependent on his daily stipend. Then, too, the
demeaning of another persons was thought to rob them of their
reputation. As a result, an individual may zealously refrain from
stealing in one regard, while indulging in some other manner.
fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong,” the
psalmist enjoins; “for like the grass they will soon wither, the
green plants they will soon die away” (Psa. 37:1). Here two
unacceptable alternatives are identified. For one, a person may fret because of evil men. This allows the wicked to set the
another, do not be envious of those who do wrong. Since their
lifestyle appears less inhibited and more common. The cost of
discipleship can weigh heavily on the shoulders of the righteous.
wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and
needy, to slay those whose ways up upright” (v. 14). The poor and
needy are along with the upright a target for the evil
inclination. The rabbis concluded that this wicked disposition could
only be thwarted by being spiritually alert. Otherwise, it
progressively takes control of the individual.
for the righteous to forge an alliance with those in need, so as to
resist the relentless oppression. This, in turn, puts them at
greater risk. It also brings to mind the Jewish adage, “So long as
anyone is in bondage, no one is free.”
patiently for the Lord,” the psalmist allows; “he turned to me and
heard my cry” (Psa. 40:1). In more graphic terms, “He lifted me out
of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire.” This is perhaps a
reference to a cistern, or being caught up in flood waters.
Conversely, “Yahweh’s salvation is depicted in the image of a rock
and a firm place to stand. As seen in Psalm 22, this speaker is
confident that his experience of deliverance will have repercussions
to others. As in 31:6, one’s trust in Yahweh is contrasted not with
trust in false gods but with ‘looking to people he turn away to
false gods.”94 It goes without saying that this is the
more subtle temptation.
who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion,” the
psalmist pleads. “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in
you” (Psa. 40:14, 16). This is by way of a striking contrast between
the two. The ways of the righteous and wicked are more diverse than
we may be led to believe.
“Yet I am
poor and needy,” the psalmist concludes; “may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer; O my God, so not delay.” Yet I
am poor and needy, as are we all. This recalls the experience of
Charlotte Elliott, who “seemed to have everything going for her as a
young woman. She was gifted as a portrait artist and also as a
writer of humorous verse. Then in her early thirties she suffered a
serious illness that left her weak and depressed.”95
illness, she was visited by the noted cleric Caesar Malan. Observing
her depression, he asked whether she enjoyed peace with God. She
initially resented the question, and refused to discuss it. However,
she apologized a few days later—indicating that she wanted to take
care of some things in her life before becoming a Christian. Malan
advocated, “Come, just as you” She responded.
recalled these words fourteen years later, inspiring her to write
the most beloved invitation hymn: “Just as I am, without one plea
but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bidd’st me come to
Thee, O Lamb of God I come! I come!” Moreover, “Just as I am, Thou
will receive, will welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve; because Thy
promise I believe, O Lamb of God I come! I come!”
king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your
righteousness” (Psa. 72:1). This seems especially apt for a psalm
associated with Solomon, in that it recalls a memorable incident in
his life. “Now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in
place of my father David,” he allowed. “But I am only a little child
(figuratively speaking) and do not know how to carry out my duties.
So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to
distinguish between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:7, 9).
as this greatly pleased the Lord, he replied: “Since you have asked
for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have
asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in
administering justice, I will do what you have asked. Moreover, I
will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor.”
will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to
help,” the psalmist anticipates. “He will take pity on the week and
the needy and save the needy from death” (vv. 12-13). “This caring
of the poor, in the context of this psalm, is not compassion or
mercy—it is justice and righteousness. It is putting things right,
the way they should be.”96 In a word, it initiates
depicted by way of contrast to the situation that now prevails.
Where persons take advantage of those less fortunate, and surround
themselves with luxuries. Where kingdom ethics is sadly lacking, and
society suffers as an inevitable result.
earlier, “Why have you rejected us forever, O God?” (Psa. 74:4).
There seems to be no reprieve. This, moreover, recalls a friend who
was in his teen years during the German occupation of Paris. He
confided, “I can’t recall the sun ever shining during that interim.”
This was indicative of his lingering depression.
let the oppressed retreat in disgrace,” the psalmist pleads; “may
the poor and needy praise your name” (v. 21). Since they will be
vindicated for their righteous resolve. No longer a reason for them
to be crestfallen, they will be jubilant.
O God, and defend your cause.” Silence those who mock you, and
commend those who are deserving. Exercise your righteous reign
without exception or without termination.
continues along much the same vein. “Defend the cause of the weak
and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked”
(vv. 3-4). The fatherless appear as a special case in point,
in that they lack necessary support. All alike—whether weak,
fatherless, poor, or oppressed—are vulnerable.
Righteousness thus appears as more than an abstraction. It is
evidenced in our efforts to minister to the needs of others. Then,
too, with our earnest intercession on their behalf.
is something of an enigma. The psalmist petitions at its outset: “O
God, whom I praise, do not remain silent, for wicked and deceitful
men have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me
with their lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.”
shortly follows a series of vindictive appeals (vv. 6-19). “First,
in verses 2-5 and 20-29 the opponents are always in the plural, but
in verses 2-19 the object of the curses is always singular. There is
no clear explanation for this unless the singular object is the
speaker of the psalm.”97 Second, both before and after
this segment the psalmist refers to his adversary’s hateful abuse.
Third, he appeals to the Lord to shame them, whereas the text
goes well beyond this. Finally, they are in the spirit of petition.
All things considered, he may be quoting the words of his
case, we can be assured that the Lord “stands at the right hand of
the needy one, to save his life from those who condemn him” (v. 31).
Thus assured, the righteous are encouraged to confidently press
ahead, while the wicked are cautioned to turn from their evil ways.
As satirically observed, “It does not help to speed up if you are
going in the wrong direction.”
I recall a metallic
cup from my childhood, with my name engraved on it. It
pertained to what they used to refer to as the good old days by providing a concrete link with the past. As such, associated with
replaced another with the passing of time, as if to accent rights of
passage. As when I left for the military—the day after my eighteenth
birthday; or when I matriculated to college upon my release. If
these cups could be recovered, they would document virtually a
retired for the third time, I rise at about six-thirty— except for
the weekend. This allows me to be in the office by seven, unless
otherwise engaged. I characteristically take a brief mid-morning
break to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and a cheese strip.
I usually employ commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of
the Institute of Holy Land Studies (re-named Jerusalem
University College), located on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. I
administered this strategic institution for four years following my
first retirement. It evokes many memories, most of which are
school’s motto was “Study the Bible in the land of the Bible.” In
this regard, I have heard it said, “The land serves as a fifth
gospel”—in that it contributes substantially to our understanding of
the text. In any case, this cup recalls various experiences
in the Holy Land, along with cherished associates. We are thus
primed for an encounter with one’s cup as it appears in the
earlier, David protests the counsel that he seek security, since he
has taken refuge in the Lord (Psa. 11:1). “When the
foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” he
rhetorically inquires. This is not an uncommon experience. For
instance, the most rapidly growing segment of the American public is
that claiming to be non-religious—now estimated at fifteen percent.
This is at the expense of those professing some religious tradition
or another, for the most part Christian.
I do not
have difficulty identifying with the non-religious, given my
background. Upon entering the military, I was asked concerning my
religious affiliation. “None,” I accurately responded. I was told
that this was not acceptable. Consequently, I
inquired concerning alternatives.
people list ‘P’ for Protestant, ‘C’ for Catholic, or ‘J’ for
Jewish,” I was informed. It was obvious that I was not Jewish. Then,
too, I could not recall any Catholics in our extended family. I
settled for Protestant by way of elimination. It was not until later
that I left the ranks of the non-affiliated.
seems that our culture is becoming increasingly unfriendly for the
devout Christian. Some have interpreted the separation of church and
state in such a way as to amount to a secular establishment.
Politically correct views not uncommonly clash with cherished
convictions. Christians are ridiculed and even threatened. All
things considered, it is not difficult to identify with David’s
allusion to the foundations being destroyed.
one to turn at such a time as this? Recall that the Almighty is our
refuge! In greater detail, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord
is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes
examine them. The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked and
those who love violence his soul hates” (vv. 4-5).
holy temple provides a counterpart to his heavenly throne.
The former serves as a temporal expression of his sovereign reign.
This, in turn, recalls the interchange between Jesus and the
Samaritan woman. “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain,” she
observed, “but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship
is in Jerusalem” (John 4:20).
me, woman,” Jesus assured her, “a time is coming when we will
worship the Father neither on the mountain nor in Jerusalem. God is
spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
Such worship would be a continuing reminder of divine sovereignty.
the righteous and wicked would be appraised, the latter would fail
to pass muster. In particular, those who love violence, and
thereby inflict abuse on others. In this regard, “On the wicked he
will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be
their lot (cup).” This symbolism reflects the destruction of Sodom
and Gomorrah (cf. Gen. 19:24).
cup is here interpreted as his or her lot. It differs
from person to person. Some are blessed with a godly heritage, while
others in a manner of speaking have the deck stacked against them.
While one can squander a cherished legacy, so he or she can make the
best of an undesirable situation. The latter recalls an enthusiastic
woman, whose uninhibited laughter was an encouragement to all. It
was eventually brought to my attention the difficult things with
which she had to contend. However, she had learned to cope with
these in a constructive manner.
next invites our attention. It begins with a brief petition, “Keep
me safe, O God.” This is immediately followed by a motive clause,
“for in you I take my refuge.” “The rest of the prayer is an
exposition of that trust. The psalm teaches that trust is not merely
a warm feeling or a passing impulse in time of trouble; it is a
structure of acts and experiences that open one’s consciousness to
the Lord as the supreme reality of life.”98
invokes a distinctive relationship. It is somewhat comparable to
that between a father and son. This primarily translates into an
authority situation, where the son is obligated to obey the wishes
of his biological mentor. It differs in that one is expected to obey
his earthly father in the Lord, which implies that he is not
to violate his covenant obligations.
father/son relationship is also cast in a benevolent setting. “Which
of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Jesus
inquired. “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you,
then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts
to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:9-11).
is also exclusive. In this regard, “I said to the Lord, ‘You are
my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’” (v. 2). Conversely,
“The sorrows of those will increase who run after false gods” (v.
Accordingly, one must resist the God and mentality, which in
someway compromises his or her singular loyalty. The rabbis
illustrated this thesis by suggesting that it is more meritorious to
obey when disinclined than inclined. Otherwise, we are tempted to
indulge our own priorities and interests.
this trust becomes the source of one’s spiritual sustenance.
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my
lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant
places; surely I have a delightful inheritance” (v. 5). The imagery
proliferates. Initially, the Lord has assigned him his daily
provision. This, moreover, recalls Mother Theresa’s humorous
observation: “I have no doubt but that the Lord will provide what is
necessary for me to undertake the task he has for me, but I wish he
were not so optimistic.”
he has secured our inheritance. As would a guard, charged with
security. In this connection, one who is uniquely dependable. The
expression concerning boundary lines is reminiscent of the
allotment of land to the twelve tribes. In particular, it is a
generous provision. This, in turn, is meant to solicit continuing
is my shepherd,” as cited earlier, “I shall not want” (Psa. 23:1).
The Lord rather than some other, my as a personal
witness, and shepherd as indicative of his watchful care of
imagery is retained throughout the various aspects of life: whether
concerning repose by the quiet waters, struggling along the rocky
paths, or in the deep ravines. Even in the most threatening
situations, his presence provides assurance.
blends into the alternative symbolism of divine hospitality. “You
prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint
my head with oil, my cup overflows” (v. 5). According to the sage,
this amounts to “all good things in God’s time.” In particular,
one’s cup is filled to the brim and overflows. His blessing
thus excels our ability to retain it.
considered, we are reminded of the travail of Sarah Adams. “Her
mother had died when Sarah was only five—that was her first
farewell. At thirty-two, she said farewell to the stage. She wanted
to continue, but her health was failing. In her own life, she
learned that each step we take—even the difficult and painful
farewells—only draws us nearer to God.”99 She drew on her
experience to record the memorable lyrics: “Then, with my waking
thoughts bright with Thy praise, out of my stony griefs, Bethel I’ll
raise; so by my woes to be nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer, my God,
to Thee, nearer to Thee. Or if on joyful wing, cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly, still all my song shall
be nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer, my God to Thee, nearer to Thee.”
God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart” (Psa. 73:1).
In other words, to those who are deserving of their covenant
blessings. The initial verse stands alone, as if means by which all
else is measured.
for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”
Such as seem to have no care in the world, and no burdensome tasks
calculated to tempt God’s people to turn away, so as to relish their
lifestyle to the full (cf. v. 10). In literal terms, to drain a full
cup. Accordingly, to become intoxicated with worldly
result, to act incoherently. To be unsure of one’s balance. To
stagger first in one direction and then another. Moreover, to be of
little use to onself or to others.
echo the message of the former psalm, “But as for me, it is good to
be near God” (v. 28). Thus to make the Sovereign Lord his refuge.
With the prospect, “I will tell of all your deeds.” This is by way
of affirming that good news should be readily shared.
conviction runs through all of Scripture that boasting is an offense
to the divine majesty, that the arrogance of self-importance and
autonomous power stands under the judgment of God. Psalm 75 is a
song to praise God who judges the boastful wicked.”100 It
allows at the outset that God judges uprightly. It goes
without saying that this can not always be said of his earthly
more,” the Lord enjoins the wicked. “Do not lift up your horns
against heaven; do not speak with outstretched neck” (vv. 4-5). As
might oxen toss their heads, by way of refusing a yoke. In this
manner, to resist kingdom priorities.
from the east or the west or from the desert can exalt a man. But it
is God who judges. He brings one down, he exalts another.” “In verse
6 the Hebrew nouns are less stereotyped than ours, and emphasize not
the points of the compass but the element of inaccessibility (the
place of going forth of the sun), the place of evening, and the
wilderness. In other words, search where you will, there is no other
arbiter by God, therefore no worldly rank that is anything but
hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he
pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its
very dregs” (v. 8). In terms of mixed metaphors, they harvest what
they have sown. In greater detail, “The one who sows to please his
sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who
sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life”
(Gal. 6:8). Accordingly, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for
at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
me,” the psalmist aptly concludes, “I will declare this forever; I
will sing praise to the God of Jacob.” Let the wicked be cautioned,
and the righteous encouraged—as their respective cups are
passed on from one generation to the next.
is a song of thanksgiving. It is the praise of one whose prayer for
help has been answered. The heart of the song is a narrative of
salvation.”102 Initially, the psalmist declares:
“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.
Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I
of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was
overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the
Lord” (vv. 3-4). The name is indicative of the person. Hence,
this was not in the form of some magical formula, superstitiously
employed. The language is graphic, meant to express the depth of
rest, once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (v.
7). Again tested, he is encouraged to rely on the Almighty’s
faithfulness. As in times past with the patriarchs, then the
prophets, and in more general terms—with the populace.
“How can I
repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?” the psalmist
rhetorically inquires. “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call
on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the
presence of all his people” (vv. 12-14). In the development of
Christian liturgy, “Psalm 116 came to be used in the celebration of
the Eucharist, in particular and always as the psalm connected with
the Communion observed on Holy Thursday, Paul called the Communion
cup ‘the cup of blessing that we bless,’ an expression associated
with the Passover cup in Jewish tradition (1 Cor. 10:16).”103
tongue seems to have especially fascinated those in antiquity. It consists
of muscle attached to the floor of the mouth, which manipulates food
for chewing and swallowing. It also serves as the primary organ for
taste. Then, too, it assists in forming sounds employed in speech.
If protruded, it is an indication of derision.
piercing of the tongue was practiced in the Aztec and Mayan cultures
by way of example. This seems as a rule to have been associated with
religious ritual. In one instance, it was thought to allow for
eliminating evil magic. It became a popular practice in the 1980s,
as the expression of a counter culture.
surprising, the tongue is usually associated with speech.
This recalls a time when my father alerted a casual acquaintance
that he should not be offended, since I made a practice of asking
questions. It had not occurred to me that I might differ from others
in this regard.
I am reminded of an occasion when a Jewish mother informed her
precocious son: “When I want your opinion, I will tell you what it
is.” He recalled this some years later with amusement, as indicative
of her assertive character. Examples could readily be multiplied
were it to serve a good purpose. However, it seems best to turn to
the Psalter by way of expanding on the topic.
noted earlier that Psalm 5 is oriented toward the morning. In
this regard: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the
morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (v.
3). Morning and evening prayer is a common practice, accommodating
to the realities of life. As for the former, the day and its
opportunities lies ahead. As for the latter, I learned as a child:
“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and
if I die before I awake, I pray the lord my soul to take.”
Granted, it did not
serve the purpose for which it was intended, since it reminded me
that I might not survive the night and was uncertain as to my
not a God who takes pleasure in evil,” the psalmist assures himself.
“The arrogant cannot stand in your presence.” Although it may appear
otherwise for the time being.
O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make straight
your way before me.” This serves to remind us that we may err in one
direction or the
other. Thus while attempting to escape one snare, we fall prey to
word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with
destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they
speak deceit” (v. 9). Allusion is made to their mouth, heart,
throat, and tongue. These are all
instrumental in their efforts to deceive. While one would suppose
that the intent is to deceive others, they may deceive themselves as
well. In terms of a proverb, “A lie often repeated appears to be
was also disposed to point out the incongruity between word and
deed. Accordingly, persons were enjoined to say what they meant,
and mean what they say. This was not intended to excuse harsh,
vindictive abuse, since a person was to be civil even when severely
provoked. This, in turn, gave rise to the notion of a civil
earlier, Psalm 12 is introduced with the complaint that the
faithful have vanished from among men. The psalmist feels left
alone in his righteous resolve. This, in turn, recalls a similar
occasion in the life of Elijah. “I have been very zealous for the
Lord God Almighty,” the prophet affirms. “The Israelites have
rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your
prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now
they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:14).
response, the Lord provided him with an agenda, coupled with the
observation: “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees
have not bowed down to
Baal and all whose
mouths have not kissed him.” As for apt commentary: there “is no
reason for despair. For the overall strategy was always more long
term and more subtly conceived than Elijah imagined. From the
beginning it has involved the gentle but devastating whisper as well
as the all-consuming fire, the quiet ways of God’s normal providence
as well as the noisier ways of miraculous intervention.”104
Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue,” the
psalmist continues. Such as declares, “We will triumph with our
tongues; we own our lips—who is our master?” (vv. 3-4). In greater
detail, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it
makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a
small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the
parts of the body” (Jas. 3:5-6).
small instrument, the tongue boasts great things. While
exceedingly small, it can do great harm. As for the
former, I am reminded of the evangelist who described the
presumptuous as waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity. As for the
latter, even a thoughtless remark can inflict injury.
you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever,” the
psalmist concludes (v. 7). Even when the wicked appear to have
gained the upper hand. Initially, by way of his sustaining grace.
Eventually, in rewarding the righteous resolve of those who put
their trust in him.
may dwell in your sanctuary?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires.
“Who may live on your holy hill?” (Psa. 15:1). Perhaps not those who
initially come to mind. In this connection, C. S. Lewis observes
that some who were thought especially devout will turn out to
simply have had good digestion.
those who are blameless. This is not to imply that they are
altogether without fault. It is, instead, an indication of their
righteous intent. In proverbial terms, “It is not a matter of how
often we fall, but how often we get to our feet.”
those who do what is righteous. This is in accord with God’s
revealed will, and not simply human intuition. It pertains to both
greater and lesser concerns, in that they are alike indicative of
one’s spiritual disposition.
addition, those who speak the truth from his heart. Truth
pertains not only to what is correct but trustworthy.
Allusion to one’s heart is calculated to assure righteous
intent. Lacking either good intent or appropriate means, the effort
is calculated to fail.
related line, he who has no slander on his tongue. As
elaborated, “who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his
fellow man” (v. 3). Slander conveys the notion of being false
and malicious. As noted previously, Jewish tradition considers such
as an instance of stealing—since it diminishes a person’s
who despise a vile man, but honors those who fear the Lord.
Not one to the exclusion of the other, since each should get his or
her due. This should be done without partiality.
one who keeps his oath—even when it hurts, who
lends his money without usury, and refuses a bribe. Those
who behave in this manner will never be shaken. Furthermore,
a disciplined tongue is a critical component.
previously observed, Psalm 22 served to comfort those being
afflicted. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that Jesus quoted
its initial inquiry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Matt. 27:46). Then, too, in that it concludes on a triumphant note:
“They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he
has done it (dispersed justice).”
is graphically displayed, “My strength is dried up like potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust
of death” (v. 15). The tongue no longer serves to bless or to
curse; death appears imminent. Paul, however, assures us that Christ
“will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his
glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). He is not inclined to speculate
case, the tongue is associated with life. It assists in
various ways, as allowed at the outset. It serves to praise God,
commend or caution others, and accomplish both more and less than we
children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psa.
34:11). Consequently, the psalmist poses as a rabbi whose subject
matter is the fear of the Lord. The concern addressed is how
to live life to its fullest. “The answer is the practice of the fear
LORD by the avoidance of evil in speech and deed and the doing of
good in pursuit of peace or welfare of others.”105
As for the
former, one should resist the inclination to do evil. Initially,
this requires that a person must recognize its existence. Then he or
she must take into consideration both its often subtle character and
relentless appeal. Finally, one must draw upon the spiritual
resources available. In this regard, “Whoever of you loves life and
desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your
lips from speaking lies” (v. 12). Keep your tongue from evil is the more general admonition, coupled with the specific avoidance
of speaking lies—as a prime example.
As for the
latter, a constructive alternative is to be cultivated. In
particular, do good in the pursuit of peace or welfare of others.
Shalom is not simply the avoidance of conflict, but a healthy
check on the welfare of others reveals that what is best for
one may not be best for another. Some degree of accommodation must
be involved. For instance, affirmative action as a means of
addressing racial inequality can readily degenerate into reverse
discrimination. This, in turn, recalls the sage observation:
“Two wrongs do not make a right.”
psalmist concludes with the confident observation: “The Lord redeems
his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.”
This underscores the earlier invitation, “Taste and see that the
Lord is good” (v. 8). The term savor seems more along the
line that the psalmist has in mind, rather than simply to taste.
earlier, Psalm 35 appeals to the Lord to uphold the psalmist in his
struggle against evil. Life appears quite different in the contexts
of peace and military conflict. Had I thought otherwise, my
experience during World War II would have alerted me to the fact.
images remain fixed in my memory. Such as the superstructure of a
sunken ship welcoming our troop transport. Then, too, that of a lad
offering the sexual services of his sister, as an indication of the
degradation that set in. Likewise, the death of two fellow
soldiers—as the result of a tragic accident.
be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power,” Paul earnestly
enjoins his readers. “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can
take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not
against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the
authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the
spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:10-12).
adversary does in fact include earthly powers, it is not limited to
these. “The evil and cosmic powers are presented as still
exercising power over the believer even though they have been
defeated by Christ (6:12). They are still active; they continually
attempt to regain their once-eminent position; they are a constant
threat to the believer’s spiritual welfare.”106
certainly be overwhelmed were it not for the Lord’s intervention. The full armor of God
embraces the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, and
feet fitted with the
readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition, the shield of faith,
helmet of salvation, and sword of
the Spirit—which is the word of God. Then, too, pray
in the Spirit on all occasions.
will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long,”
the psalmist affirms (v. 28). This coupling of righteousness and
praises serves to highlight both God’s uncompromising
demands and benevolent availability. These invite appreciative
commentary from morning to night.
touch briefly on a few related texts in conclusion. “The mouth of
the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just”
(Psa. 37:30). The righteous can better appraise the issues at
hand, and provide realistic guidelines. Accordingly, he resembles an
impartial judge, who expertly evaluates the evidence presented in
court. He then articulates the results of his investigation.
‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin’” (Psa. 39:1).
This is in context of the wicked, and as an avowal not to join them.
Social pressure can be our undoing, as the psalmist recognizes.
Better a solitary voice in the wilderness, with God’s approval; than
in agreement with others, if displeasing to the Almighty.
instead to address his concern to the Lord. “The resulting prayer is
not what we expect. It is initially a prayer about knowledge or
insight, not about a moral dilemma, but about how fleeting is life.”107
This, however, is calculated to impress on him the importance of
keeping life in perspective. Given the frailty of life, where is one
to look for consolation? “My hope is in you,” the psalmist asserts
is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my
tongue is the pen of a skillful writer” (Psa. 45:1). “This is one of
the rare occasions when a psalmist allows us a glimpse of the
process of composition; cf. Psalms 39:1-3; 49:3f; 72:2f;
78:2f. The present verse tells of a theme almost clamoring to be
heard; the poet’s heart is ‘astir’ with it, and the words come
Here the tongue is associated with creativity. It
attempts to set forth some prized conviction in a way that commends
itself to the reader. With this in mind, it draws upon the insight
accumulated over the years—in deference to the Almighty and his
righteous ways. For additional references, note 50:19; 51:14, 52:2,
4; 57:4, 64:8; 66:17, 68:23; 71:24, 73:9, 109:2, 120:2-3, 126:2,
appears in a wide range of colloquial settings. For instance, we
urge some reluctant person to face up to it. We may have in
mind that he or she recognize the situation, and/or culpability in
that connection. We also chide persons for having failed to face up
face constitutes a military command. It may likewise indicate a
substantive change in perspective or behavior. In a religious
setting, it is virtually synonymous with repentance. If going in the
wrong direction, it is advisable to make an adjustment.
thought to be double-faced. In this regard, they appear to be
inconsistent. This may be as a means to accommodate their
associates. Not uncommonly they lack firm convictions.
observe that he fell on his face. We mean thereby to
imply that the person failed miserably. The expression is also
employed concerning one who prostrates himself before an authority
figure. I recall a youthful West African thus showing deference to
his elder brother. I was never tempted to treat my brother
similarly, but then we were from different cultures.
considered, we are alerted to expect varied nuances concerning one’s face
as we return to the Psalter. “Why, O Lord, do you
stand far off?” the psalmist laments (Psa. 10:1). He appears distant
the wicked behave in an uninhibited manner. These are confident,
“Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble”
(v. 6). In this connection, one mistakes God’s longsuffering for
to themselves, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never
sees” (v. 10). This recalls the proverbial saying, “Out of sight,
out of mind.” The imagery consists of one putting one’s hands over
his eyes, so not to be disturbed by what is taking place. In
particular, the indulgence of the wicked and their abuse of those
Appearances to the contrary, “But you, O God, do see trouble and
grief; you consider it to take it in hand” (v. 14). Not only is the
Lord painfully aware of what is transpiring, but is taking
corrective measures. In particular, he encourages the afflicted and
intercedes on behalf of the fatherless and oppressed—so as to
dissuade those who
righteous have two contrary options available when threatened by the
wicked: faith or flight (cf. Psa. 11:1). As for the former, “By
faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive
as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know
where he was going” (Heb. 11:8). Initially, he entertained God’s
gracious promise. He was assured that the Almighty meant to bless
his efforts as a result of his compliance.
he implemented the divine directive. This required that he leave his
extended family and familiar surroundings. This put in jeopardy his
personal identity, since it was derived from the network of his
associations. Continuity with the past was thus seriously
finally, he would entertain new and threatening circumstances. It
would only be with divine assistance that he could cope. He would
have to learn that the Almighty works in unexpected ways to achieve
his gracious purpose. Faith would prove to be his continuing
As for the
latter, flight proves to be an ineffective alternative. One
becomes increasingly reluctant to engage in life, and fearfully
retreats from his or her opportunities. In proverbial terms, “He
becomes afraid of his own shadow.”
imagined threats appear on every hand. Even friendly overtures are
thought suspect. All too often, what one fears will eventually come
assured, the wicked will get their just deserts. Be also assured,
the righteous will see his face (cf. v. 7). The psalm ends,
as it began, with the Lord, “whose character as righteous
answers all the fear of 3a and the frustration of 3b. And if the
first line of the psalm showed where the believer’s safety lies, the
last line shows where his heart should be. God, as ‘refuge’ may be
sought from motives that are all too self-regarding; but to
behold his face is a goal in which only life has any interest.”109
his face is to enjoy a personal encounter. Whatever else eternal
bliss may offer, it shrinks in comparison to this unique privilege.
People have died for much less, and some have perished for this
O Lord?” the psalmist again laments. “Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psa. 13:1). How long
is repeated for emphasis, given the duration of time.
there is a difference in perspective. As noted earlier, “For a
thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night” (Psa. 90:4). “It puts our world into
its context, which is God, and our time-span into its huge setting
of eternity. This is humbling to human pride (the point of this
verse), but heartening with regard to God’s interventions and their
To hide one’s face brings to mind a cherished
friend who has not visited for an extended period. Such are sorely
missed. Life seems relatively uneventful as a result.
trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation,”
the psalmist nonetheless concludes. “I will sing to the Lord, for he
has been good to me” (vv. 5-6). All things considered, he has
been good to me.
Lord, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer—it
does not rise from deceitful lips” (Psa. 17:1). Hear, listen,
give ear accent the earnestness of the plea. This
concerns the psalmist’s vindication, generated by a righteous
resolve, and without intent to deceive.
O Lord, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by
your sword” (v. 13). The petition is progressive: rise up, confront them,
rescue me. This implies an extended
commitment, with persistence in the face of obstacles.
the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they
store up wealth for their children.” Qualifications aside,
righteousness reaps its reward in time and eternity. Accordingly,
God is no person’s debtor.
righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be
satisfied with seeing your likeness.” Persons expend their energy
seeking gratification, often to little avail. The more they
accumulate, the more they want. Conversely, the beatific vision
satisfies our deepest longing.
has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one,”
the psalmist asserts; he has not hidden his face from him but has
listened to his cry for help” (Psa. 22:24). As a matter of course,
especially exemplified with Jesus’ crucifixion. Consequently, it
serves as an encouragement to the righteous.
Conversely, one may have to bear the reproach of others. Such as are
driven by political or personal expediency. Failing in this regard
to recognize the guilt they invite by disregard for the life of
repeating, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in
his holy place?” (Psa. 24:3). Among other considerations, “Such is
the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face O God of
Jacob” (v. 6). In greater detail, “From one man he made every nation
of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth, and he determined
the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for
him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us” (Acts
predetermined, in keeping with God’s sovereign purpose. Accordingly,
it was not simply the result of chance events. This would become
evident to some with the passing of time, although oblivious to
extended to the determined times set for them, and the
exact places where they should live. This recalls an occasion
when Tommy Titcomb, a pioneer missionary, made his way to a Yoruba
village. He was refused entry, but not harmed—likely because the
gods were thought to protect strangely behaving people. Undaunted,
he climbed up on a hillside overlooking the village, and began to
shout scripture verses at the startled inhabitants.
subsequently overhead two village elders, one of whom described a
certain missionary as being tommyticombish. This initially
came across as some sort of an unfamiliar disease. However, I
discovered its intent was to suggest that he resembled the earlier
missionary in that he found people in conflict with one another, and
brought about reconciliation. This, Paul assures us, was in accord
with God’s precise timing and placement.
is a favorite of many because it expresses the central impulse of
biblical religion, trust in the
LORD, in such eloquent and poignant words. In this it is like Psalm
23. It teaches what real trust is like, and it leads those who
follow its lines in liturgy or meditation toward that trust.”111
In this regard, it resembles a devotional primer.
is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” the psalmist
rhetorically inquires (v. 1). Then, by way of implication, no one
and nothing. One cannot serve both God and fear, but must
choose between them.
he or she should not take God for granted. “My heart says of you,
‘Seek his face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek” (v. 8). His search
results from the prompting of his heart. This, in turn,
brings to mind Augustine’s provocative observation: “God created a
vacuum which only he can fill.”
Consequently, “Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your
servant away in anger; you have been my helper.” It remains for the
Lord to respond to his overtures. On the one hand, the Almighty has
reason to be displeased with the psalmist’s behavior. On the other,
he has shown his compassion on previous occasions. This is followed
by a petition that the Lord teach him his ways, as a work in
aside, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the
lord in the land of the living” (v. 13). All things considered,
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
It goes without saying that wait for the Lord is repeated for
emphasis. It is as a result that one is endowed with strength, and
can take heart. It is decidedly not as a result of
ill-defined positive thinking.
consists of an enthusiastic response to divine deliverance. “O Lord,
when you favored me, you made my mountain stand firm; but when you
hid your face, I was dismayed” (v. 7). “The speaker’s feeling for
security need not be construed as self-assured arrogance, for the
psalm attributes his security to Yahweh’s favor. But while Yahweh’s
favor provides the speaker with security, it is the apparent
withdrawal of his face that leads the worshiper to draw near to
Yahweh in prayer.”112
turns his face away because he refuses to condone evil. If
spiritually sensitive, the offender will be aware of the divine
displeasure. If not, he or she may assume that nothing has changed.
Then, the longer reconciliation is neglected, the more likely that
it will be neglected.
is there in my destruction?” the psalmist rhetorically inquires (v.
9). Accordingly, “If it were his intention and he withdrew his
spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would
return to the dust” (Job 34:14-15). “Will dust praise you?”
Certainly not! It remains for the living to proclaim your
again acknowledges that the psalmist has put his trust in the Lord
(cf. v. 1). In this regard, “Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love” (v. 16). May his face shine on his servant by way of giving his approval.
eyes see what is hidden from us, so that before we call He may
answer; yet His ears are open to us: He takes our prayers
seriously.”113 He anticipates our needs, and so is
inclined to make provision for them. Even so, he is attentive to the
petitions of his supplicants, and may fine-tune his response with
these in mind. What transpires is often less significant than how it
impacts on the person at that time.
earlier, Psalm 51 pleads for divine compassion. “For I know my
transgressions, and my sin is always before me,” the psalmist
allows. “Against you, you only , have I sinned and done what is evil
in your sight” (vv. 3-4). Sin is essentially a religious
term, as an offense against the Almighty—even though it has personal
and social implications. As such, it is defined as “any lack of
conformity to God’s will.”
in its proper context accents the seriousness of the offense. We
have thereby shown our disrespect for he who created and sustains
life. But for God’s mercy, there is no hope for reclamation.
me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter
than snow,” the psalmist is assured. “Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity” (vv. 7, 9). While the Almighty is not
disposed to overlook our sin, he is prone to deal creatively with
considered, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his
face shine upon us” (Psa. 67:1). Grace consists of unmerited
favor. It resembles the favorable treatment provided by parents for
a sometimes troublesome child. It translates into hard love,
since it continues to make demands. As such, it is unwilling to
settle for something less than can be achieved.
Blessings often come in subtle forms. Things which are not
desirable in themselves can be the means by which we mature
spiritually. Then, too, others must be taken into consideration. It
is ample commendation if God is well pleased. If, as graphically
expressed, his face shines upon us.
reflects the signature expression of the prophets, “Thus God says.”
From a Christian perspective, it embraces the Old and New
Testaments. As for the former, “Above all, you must understand that
no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own
interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of
man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy
Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
OT prophets spoke, they were not passing on some understanding or
view of their own. There were revealing a message from the Spirit:
they spoke from God. It was for this reason that their words must be
closely heeded.”114 It was no less the word of God for
being the word of man, nor was it less the word of man for being the
word of God. Neither God nor man was passive in the process.
As for the
latter, the early Christian adherents “devoted themselves to the
apostles teaching” (Acts 2:42). “For all practical purposes, the
apostolic teaching encompasses the New Testament. The entries appear
to have been written by the apostles or those associated with them.
Consequently, it is proper to embrace them as normative for
Christian faith and practice.”115
helpful to distinguish between inspiration and illumination
in the above connection. Inspiration refers
to the process whereby God’s word is effectively communicated
through Holy Writ, while illumination allows for the
continuing work of the Spirit as a divine mentor. As concerns the
latter, “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you
into all truth” (John 16:13).
psalmist had to be content with the prophetic word. It was this that
offered to put life in proper focus and provide needed guidance. It
was this that defined a covenant people, and made them eligible as a
light to the Gentiles. With such in mind, the Psalter again beckons
of Psalm 119 is established at its outset: “Blessed are they whose
ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.” “God
is the teacher (vv. 33-39). Creation is the classroom (vv.
89-91). The students are the servants of God (vv. 17, 23, 124f). The
lesson is the ‘law’ of God (vv. 97-100). Learning is the way of life
God is the teacher. “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your
decrees; then I will keep them to the
end. How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your
righteousness” (vv. 33, 40). Once the temple lay in ruins, the
priest served no special function in the synagogue except to recite
priestly benediction should he be present (cf. Num. 7:24-26).
homily was not required, it was welcomed on two conditions. First,
the person was well versed in divine instruction. Second, should he
be able to communicate effectively. Consequently, the services of a
rabbi were conditionally solicited.
It was not
a task to be entertained lightly. It, for instance, required a
faithful exposition of the scriptures. This entailed an
understanding of its historical and literary contexts. In this
regard, interpretation was considered a critical stage toward
application. The intent of the author thus became a matter of
served as a custodian of God’s word. It was not his to modify in any
shape or manner. Should he stray, he would be held strictly
did not replace the Almighty in his capacity as teacher.
Instead, he served as a means for divine instruction. As a result,
we are encouraged to think of the Lord wearing academic vestments.
Accordingly, one whose understanding is vastly superior to our own.
addition, one who seeks to share such information as is critical for
our best interests. Consequently, he establishes a course of study,
and diligently implements it. Needless to say, this is not meant to
simply satisfy our curiosity, but to cultivate righteous behavior.
Creation is the classroom. “Your word, O Lord, is eternal; it
stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all
generations; you established the earth and it endures” (vv. 89-90).
Initially, we are alerted to the fact creation is meant to suggest
God’s benevolent design. Given the variables, it is astonishing that
life exists in any form, let alone with such complex entities.
however, can be sustained only under favorable circumstances. In a
pastoral setting, one is largely dependent on the early and latter
rains for a good harvest. The margin for survival is seriously
is of a different sort in industrial society. Should the market
economy fail, one’s savings can quickly vanish. Public initiatives
provide no adequate alterative. Recession can eventuate in
readily intervene. It recalls creation before God introduced the
features of an orderly universe. In particular, “Now the earth was
formless and empty” (Gen. 1:2). This expression is employed only
here, and in connection with the social malaise created by the
Babylonian incursion (cf. Jer. 4:23).
not assume that there is some precise correlation between a natural
disaster and the culpability of those implicated. Their guilt may or
may not have been greater than those who escaped (cf. Luke 13:1-5).
Even so, we are reminded of the fragile nature of our environment,
and the importance of being good stewards of that which is entrusted
to our care.
requires that we learn from the past, but not repeat it. As for the
former, we learn both from failure and success. As for the latter,
it results in legalism. In any case, no two situations are precisely
also anticipate the results of our action or failure to act.
Granted, we may not be accurate in our assessment. With this in
mind, we should be prepared to modify our plans as deemed
finally, we must make a calculated effort. It is tempting to let
things run their natural course, disregarding ominous warnings. We
may also rely on others to the point of failing to become actively
involved. Accordingly, chaos awaits us at every turn in the road.
students are the servants of God. “Do good to your servant, and
I will live” (v. 17). “Though rulers sit together and slander me,
your servant will meditate on your decrees” (v. 23). “Ensure your
servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. I am your
servant, give me discernment that I may understand your statutes”
(vv. 122, 125).
servant is meant to serve the interests of another, rather than
simply his own. This requires that he is attentive to instruction,
and rigorous in appropriation. He also relishes the approval of his
service rendered can be more or less substantial. As an example of
the former, God delights in our ministering to the poverty stricken.
As for the latter, a word of encouragement to one discouraged over
detail, civility is commended for those who would serve.
“Being civil means being constantly aware of others and weaving
restraint, respect, and consideration into the very fabric of this
awareness. Civility is a form of goodness; it is gracious goodness.”117
It extends beyond our consideration of another individual, to the
well-being of society, and that of our natural environ.
suffering servant from the Isaiah text naturally comes to mind
concerning those who serve God. In this regard, “After the suffering
of his soul, he will see the light of life, and be satisfied; by his
knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear
their iniquities” (53:11). “We may well ask why Yahweh could not
simply forgive the people, and whether requiring self-sacrifice on
someone else’s part to make this possible is not immoral. The
vision’s initial emphasis on the servant’s initiative forms part of
the answer. He was not a victim coerced into self-sacrifice but a
person who offered himself.”118
that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high
officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus subsequently
observed. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be
your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just
as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to
give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).
So it was
that Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and
wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a
basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the
towel” (John 13:4-5). He thereby assumed the role of a servant.
had finished washing their feet, he put on his outer clothing and
returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?”
he inquired. “You call me ‘Teacher,’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for
that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed
your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.” This, then, served
as an example; encouraging them to minister to one another.
lesson is the law (teaching) of God. “O, how I love your
law!” the psalmist exclaims. “I meditate on it day and night. Your
commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I
have more insight than all my teachers, for I mediate on your
statutes” (vv. 97-99). The teaching is not grievous but genuinely
result, the psalmist is encouraged to reflect on it (twice noted).
As if to write its eternal truth on his heart, and so he can share
his insight with others. Then as a general practice, one that he can
commend from experience.
Maimonides, the astute twelfth century Jewish philosopher,
enumerated 613 mitzvot associated with divine instruction—248
positive and 365 negative commandments. Representative of the
former: 1. Believing in God. 3. Loving God. 4. Fearing God. 5.
Worshiping God. 8. Walking in God’s ways. 19. Grace before meals.
52. The three annual pilgrimages. While representative of the
latter: 1. Not believing in any other God. 2. Not to make images for
the purpose of worship. 6. Not to worship idols. 15. Not to divert
people to idolatry. 30. Not adopting the habits and customs of
unbelievers. 38. Not to seek information from the dead. 47. Not to
follow one’s heart or eyes into evil.
kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word,”
the psalmist declares. “I have not departed from your laws, for you
yourself have taught me” (vv. 101-102). Spiritual discretion is
required. One must not only turn from evil, but appropriate
is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” he allows (v. 105).
Otherwise, darkness would engulf him. Even so, he must manage with
deliberate care—since much is at stake, not only for himself but how
his life impacts on others.
Learning is the way of life. “How can a young man keep his way
pure?” the psalmist rhetorical inquires. “By living according to
your word” (v. 9). “From the heartfelt prayers of the surrounding
verses it would seem that the young man is the psalmist
himself in the first place. He is praying rather than preaching.”119
thus reminded that one must learn in order to teach. The sage
observes in this connection, “The more one knows, the more he
realizes that he does not know.” Humility accompanies realistic
we would gather that the primary thrust in the curriculum is life
itself. One may become skilled in some discipline, only to get
failing grades in what matters most. Consequently, one should strive
to get his or her priorities in order.
also choose our mentors carefully. Many a student has been
shipwreck by sailing with the wrong captain.
mentor is first of all devout. Life coalesces around the Almighty,
and the failure to recognize this portends failure. This, however,
is not meant to excuse other limitations in his or her credentials.
mentor is also conscientious. He or she should make the most of the
opportunities available. This recalls an exceptional student, who
would come running to greet me whenever he saw me on campus.
Whereupon, he would ask if he could walk with me to my destination.
It was his intent to question me on a variety of topics. This seemed
to help focus his educational experience.
mentor is likewise patient. In proverbial terms, “Rome was not built
in a day.” My mother would observe from time to time, “If it is
worth doing, it is worth doing well.” Just so!
a credible mentor, some of our insights come from unexpected
sources. For instance, I was teaching an introductory Bible class in
summer school, and had a student with little in the way of
preparatory work. She eventually asked for my reaction to her topic
for a term project. In particular, she was concerned that it did not
seem to coincide with the position taken by our textbook.
evaluating her thesis, I was of the opinion that she should proceed.
It seemed to me that she had discovered something overlooked by our
academic community, which is prone to repeat erroneous perceptions
from the past. She, however, was intimidated by the prospect, and
decided to settle for something more traditional.
observes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Such would be a
shame, since we retain our capacity to learn. “Your hands made me
and formed me,” the psalmist concludes; “give me understanding to
learn your commands” (v. 73).
1. Morris Inch, Devotions with David, p. 1.
2. James Mays, Psalms, p. 40.
3. Morris Inch, Scripture As Story, p. 43.
4. Chaim Clorfene
and Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile, p. 53.
5. Mays, op. cit.,
6. Inch, Devotions with David, p. 5.
7. Mays, op. cit.,
8. Mary Evans, 1
and 2 Samuel, p. 204.
9. Inch, Devotions with David, p. 7.
10. Derek Kidner,
Psalms 1-72, pp. 54-55.
11. Inch, Devotions with David, p. 7.
12. Evans, op.
cit., p. 183.
13. Kidner, op.
cit., p. 190.
14. John Bimson, Baker Encyclopedia of Bible Places, p. 206.
15. Ibid., p. 209.
16. Kidner, op.
cit., p. 131.
17. Derek Kidner,
Psalms 73-150, p. 332.
18. Ibid., p. 333.
Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p. 77.
20. Brown, Robert
and Mark Norton (eds.), The One Year Book of Hymns, October
21. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 64.
22. Mays, op.
cit., p. 70.
23. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 72.
24. Craig Broyles,
Psalms, pp. 99-100.
25. Mays, op.
cit., p. 90.
26. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 106.
27. Morris Inch, Psychology in the Psalms, p. 95.
28. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 333.
29. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 57.
30. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 221.
Brueggemann, Living Toward a Vision, p. 28.
32. Ibid., p. 31.
33. The One Year
Books of Hymns, June 10.
Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation, p. 62.
35. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 338.
Psychology in the Psalms, p. 13.
37. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 165.
38. Wayne Gruden,
1 Peter, p. 181.
39. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 207.
40. Mays, op.
cit., p. 355.
41. Oscar Cullmann,
“Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead?”
Immortality and Resurrection (Stendal, ed.),
Psalms 1-72, p. 61.
Devotions with David, p. 99.
Psalms 73-150, p. 318.
45. Morris Inch,
Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew and Up From
the Depths, p. 9.
Psalms 73-150, p. 324.
47. Carl Laney,
Baker’s Concise Bible Atlas, p. 271.
48. Mays, op.
cit., p. 188.
Psalms 1-72, p. 245.
50. Ibid., p. 349.
51. Ibid., p. 361.
52. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 458.
53. Morris Inch,
Whispers of Heaven, p. 9.
54. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 67.
Scripture As Story, p. 35.
56. Broyles, op.
cit., pp. 178-179.
57. Ibid., pp.
58. Mays, op.
cit., p. 315.
Psychology in the Psalms, p. 75.
61. Mays, op.
cit., pp. 133-134.
62. Ibid., p. 254.
63. Ibid., p. 330.
64. Craig Keener,
New Testament, p. 290.
65. Mays, op.
cit., p. 173.
66. Evans, op.
cit., p. 98.
67. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 223.
68. Bel and the
69. Laney, op.
cit., pp. 122-123.
70. Ignatius, To
the Romans, 6.
71. Ignatius, To
the Smyrnaens, 4.
Psalsm 73-150, p. 369.
Whispers of Heaven, pp. 11-12.
74. Alexander Pope,
Essays on Man, II, v, 1-4.
Psalms 1-72, p. 174.
76. Ibid., p. 186.
77. Mays, op.
cit., p. 219.
Psalms 1-72, p. 238.
Psalms 73-150, p. 314.
80. John Hartley,
Genesis, p. 235.
81. Ibid., p. 237.
82. Mays, op.
cit., pp. 124-125.
83. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 178.
84. Robert Mounce,
Matthew, p. 39.
85. Mays, op.
cit., p. 225.
Psalms 1-72, p. 78.
87. The Letter
to Diognetus, v.
88. Morris Inch,
The High God, p. 8.
89. Mays, op.
cit., pp. 205-206.
90. Broyles, op.
cit., pp. 308-309.
91. Abraham Maslow,
Motivation and Personality, p. 39.
92. Ibid., p. 45.
93. Ibid., p. 46.
94. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 191.
95. Brown and
Norton op. cit., June 22.
96. Broyles, op.
cit., p. 191.
97. Ibid., p. 412.
98. Mays, op.
cit., p. 86.
99. Brown and
Norton. op. cit., September 20.
100. Mays, op.
cit., p. 248.
Psalms 73-150, p. 272.
102. Mays, op.
cit., p. 368.
103. Ibid., p. 372.
104. Iain Proven,
1 and 2 Kings, p. 147.
105. Mays, op.
cit., p. 152.
106. Arthur Patzia,
Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, p. 286.
op. cit., p. 188.
Psalms 1-72, p. 171.
109. Ibid., p. 74.
Psalms 73-150, p. 329.
111. Mays, op.
cit., p. 130.
op. cit., p. 155.
Psalms 1-72, p. 141.
Hillyer, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, p. 180.
115. Morris Inch,
12 Who Changed the World, p. iii.
116. Mays, op.
cit., p. 381.
117. P. M. Forni,
Choosing Civility, p. 9.
Goldingay, Isaiah, p. 307.
Psalms 73-150, p. 424.
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