Metaphor in the Psalms

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Metaphor in the Psalms

Welcome to Christianity Oasis Purity Publications. This E-book is titled Metaphor in the Psalms written by Author Morris A. Inch. Christianity Oasis in association with Purity Publications proudly presents you with this Metaphor in the Psalms E-Book free of charge for your enjoyment.


Scripture employs 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.

"If I 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 lessons."

As a 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.

Initially, 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.

This was 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 commentary.

Shortly 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.

"Those of 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.

Now 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!

Two Ways

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).

The two 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.

More to 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 two ways."3

Moreover, 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."

My 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 course.

At our 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 life.

This is 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.

Seizing on the opportunity, he continued: "And which way are you going in life?"

"It doesn't matter," she responded, "since all roads lead to the same destination." She did not propose to elaborate.

"Not in 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 in prayer.

Since this 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.

In brief, 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.

Nor was 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."

Otherwise, 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.

"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 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.

In order 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.

"What is 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.

This, in 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.

"But his 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 instruct."5

In 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.

"He is 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).

Such 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. Incidentally, 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.

The term 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.

"Not so 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 will perish."

Such are 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.

After a 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).

"Well 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!"

"Master," the second observed, "you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more."

"Well 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!"

Then the 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."

"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 and bitterness.

This, 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.

However, 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 better.

Lewis 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.

He also 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.

All things 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.

King David

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 guest.

As another 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 destruction.

Now while 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 whenhe 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.

In particular, a messenger arrived with the announcement: "The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom" (2 Sam. 15:13).

"Come!" 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 general populace.

David took 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.

"Why 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 future.

"As surely 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.

"Go ahead," David responded to his pledge of allegiance, "march on." It was a moment to remember.

Even as 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's cause."8 David, however, had them return the ark to Jerusalem, thus foregoing any short-term advantage for the preservation of the monarchy.

The 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.

"O Lord, 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.

"Many are 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 consensus.

David 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.

"But you 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 inevitable.

While 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.

"To the Lord I cry aloud;" he continues, "and he answers me from his holy hill." There is another pause. He prays audibly, combining petition with confession.

His 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).

"I lie 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.

"Arise, O 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).

In more 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.

In 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

The 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.

One 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 Absalom.

David sent 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.

Second, it "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 other manner.

Now the 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.

Upon his 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.

Instead, 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?"

Uriah 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.

"Stay here 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.

In the 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.

When 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.

Now a 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.

David was 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."

"You are 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.

We are 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).

Have 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

"Against 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.

"Surely 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. 5:21-22).

While the 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.

"Cleanse 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.

"Create in 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.

In any 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.

"Then I 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.

This is 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.

In brief, deliver me. In addition, enable me. Under no circumstances, forsake me.In response, David pledges a contrite spirit.

"In your 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

Then, too, 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.

Mighty Fortress

The psalmist 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

Most 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.

I have 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.

The 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. 18:7).

Saul was 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."

"Saul was 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."

Saul 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.

There 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.

Whereupon, 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.

The text 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."

Psalm 31 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 sort.

"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.

The second 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

The final 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.

Psalm 71 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.

The Lord 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.

"For you 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.

Second, 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.

Third, 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).

As a 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 leave.

The 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).

"But 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.

"He who 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

He who 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 time.

"Not at all," he replied. Then, after a brief pause, he added: "I employed prayer before being admitted, and now I am exercising trust."

Deference 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.

The 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.

In greater 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."18In proverbial terms, "the truth is in the fine-print." Consequently, may the Lord deliver us from generalities!

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 you leap."

Psalm 144 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 under me."

The first 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."

This 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.

"After 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."

Roaring Lion

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.

On another 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.

The 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.

"O Lord. 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 nature.

The grim 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 hand.

"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.

The text apparently implies a hurt deeper than persecution as such, that of slander. Persons 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.

Although 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).

"Does Job 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 was initiated.

"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.

"Psalms 9 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.

"I will 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 righteousness."

In this 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.

"Sing 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 the universe.

"Arise, O 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 all implicated.

"Why, O 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.

The 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 threatening.

To whom 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.

"Arise, 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.

Consequently, we 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 (17)."23

Psalm 17 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.

As typical 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

The lion 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.

As a 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.

Of course, 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 Mosaic tradition.

In any case, the psalmist closes on a confident note. "And I–in righteousnessI 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!

Psalm 22 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.

It also 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

"Many 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.

Psalms 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."

The triad 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."

In 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.

Psalm 91 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.

"'Because 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."

Psalm 104 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."

"The trees 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).

In similar 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).

In the Morning

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. 118:24).

His 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 mind.

Likewise 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 benevolent purposes.

The 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.

Then in 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

In this 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 prayer.

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.

"But let 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 faithful.

Psalm 30 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."

"Sing to 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.

This 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.

Providing, 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.

"You 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.

Psalm 46 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).

The 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.

In this 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 unfailing grace.

Psalm 49 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

Walter 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 deliver.'"31

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 rhetoric."32

Unless 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.

With Psalm 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."

"They 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 the rescue.

With Psalm 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

One can 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."

On the 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 respite.

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."

Psalm 88 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 grave."

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.

Psalm 90 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 the night."

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 as fleeting.

"Satisfy 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."

Psalm 92 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.

In this 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 his faithfulness.

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."

Psalm 101 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).

The 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.

Then, in 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

Psalm 130 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 mercy."

Then, upon 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.

"But with 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.

The Heavens

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.

It also 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.

In 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 Almighty. Why?

This 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 mentor.

We have 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.

According 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.

"In my 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 presence.

Then, too, "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.

In greater 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 circumstances.

"Therefore 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.

"Sing 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.

Life is 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.

In this 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 themselves."37

"May your 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 particulars.

Psalm 36 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 deity.

"O Lord, 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).

Psalm 50 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.

"Gather to 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!" (5:23-24).

As 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.

"Be 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.

Psalm 68 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. 7-9).

The 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 worst–because God proved to be faithful.

One is 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 purposes.

"Proclaim 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).

Psalm 89 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 doxology.

The 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.

Secondly, "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).

"Praise be to the Lord forever!" the psalmist pointedly concludes. Without equivocation or reconsideration, but with sincerity and resolve. "Amen and Amen."

Psalm 96 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 universal acclaim.

In 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.

Second, in 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" (Matt. 6:28-29).

Not only 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.

The 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.

Finally, 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 Almighty intended.

The Grave

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.

Some years 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 friend."41

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).

"My soul 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 manage.

A person 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?"

"Perhaps 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."

"Turn, O 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

The psalm 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.

As allowed 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.

"O Lord, 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.

"What gain 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.

Psalm 31 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.

As for 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.

"It does 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.

While the 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.

"Let me 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 their respects.

"Love the 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.

Psalm 49 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 willing compliance.

"For all 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."

The 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).

Psalm 88 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).

"There is 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.

"From the 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. Incidentally, 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.

This is 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)."

The 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.

In 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 servant."45

"O Lord 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. Ifhard 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.

"But you 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.

"Remember 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.

"Psalm 141 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).

"Let the 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.

"Yet my 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).

"They will 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).

"Let the 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.


The term Zion 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.

Three 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.

The Kidron 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.

The 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.

While 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.

Lest there 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.

Now while 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 revealed.

It was 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).

No people 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 truth.

"The Lord 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.

"Great is 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 rejoicing.

"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."

"Within 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.

"Walk 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 legacy.

Having 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.

Psalm 69 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.

There 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.

The text 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."

"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. 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.

Psalm 87 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.

The 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.

They will sing, "All my fountains are in you." You are the source of life and vitality. You satisfy our collective thirst. There is no substitute.

"With its 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."

The 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.

Two 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.

Second, "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.

Psalm 102 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."

"My days 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.

"You will 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

"For the 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. 28).

Psalm 126 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 all.

"Restore 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.

The 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.

In this 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.

Yet 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 jewels."53


Justicia was 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.

Justicia 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). Incidentally, 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.

We are 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

The ark 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.

This 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."

"Let the 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.

"Judge me, 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.

"O 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.

All things 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 High."

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.

We touched 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).

The Lord 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.

"The Lord 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 unacceptable behavior.

This is 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

The 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 his people.

The 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.

Now 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.

Love 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 confidence.

As noted 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

In greater 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).

"Be still 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.

"The mouth 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.

"The 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.

Psalm 72 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.

Along with 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

"Long may 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.

This, in 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."

Psalm 99 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

In greater 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.

Recall the 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.

"O Lord 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."

All things 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.

Psalm 101 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.

"I will 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).

Justice 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.

Psalm 111 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.

"The works 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.

"He 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."

The Shepherd

The 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 day's activity.

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.

On another 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, without retaliation.

Sizing up 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 cultures.

One 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. Incidentally, it is one of the first passages memorized by many.

"The Lord 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 text.

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 hand."59

Yet the 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."

This, in 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.

"He guides 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.

"Since you 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.

"Even 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.

The text 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.

The time 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.

The next 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.

The lamp 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 presence.

"You 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.

Meanwhile, 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.

The 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

The 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.

The 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.

Psalm 78 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 wilderness.

In like 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).

"And David 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 motif.

Psalm 80 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 (vv. 5-6)."63

The 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 blessing.

"O Lord 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.

It should 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 34)."64

"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."

Then, too, "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 followers.

"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.

"I have 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.

"The 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.

Now his Jewish audience was divided. Many of them concluded, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?"

But others 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.

As a 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" (Heb. 13:20-21).

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 considered commentary.

We employ 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.

"As the 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. The soul cannot survive without God."65

The psalmist recognizes what is lacking. As illustrated above, not all are so fortunate. As a result, they look elsewhere, only to come up short.

For 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.

"When can 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).

"Why are 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."

Psalm 34 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

"I will 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).

"The lions 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.

Psalm 50 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 Lord.

"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. 9-10, 12).

This, 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.

Early the 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 at all."

Then 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.

Psalm 63 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

The 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."

It bears 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

"And why 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

The 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.

Psalm 69 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.

"By the 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.

"They put 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 solace.

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 complaint.

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).

Psalm 104 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.

"He makes 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.

"He set 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.

In 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.

"The trees 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.

"How many 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.

"May the 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).

Psalm 107 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.

"They were 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 in him.

"He (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).

"Let them 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?" (2:15-16).

"He turned 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.

In greater 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

The term 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.

This is 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).

"In the 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 preferable alternative.

Zion was 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.

As alluded 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).

In this 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.

In 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.

Psalm 30 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).

Indicative 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.

As allowed 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).

The 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

"Evil will 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 such.

Psalm 46 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 else."75

We are 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.

As a 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.

As 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.

Creation 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 petition.

"Psalm 65 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).

Flanked by 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.

Psalm 80 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).

The 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.

Psalm 87 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."

Indeed, "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. Indeed!


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 counterpart.

We are 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."

Isaac 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.

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 community.

When 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.

"The 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 loved Jacob–for he was more of a companion.

Once when Jacob was cooking stew, Esau came in from the open country. "Quick," he exclaimed, "let me have some of the red stew! I am famished."

"First 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.

"Swear to 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 inheritance.

In 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.

Psalm 16 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.

In greater 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."

This 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.

"You have 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 inheritance."

"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

Worthy of 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.

Who, then, 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 squandered.

"Redeem 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."

Psalm 28 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.

Second, 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.

The chosen 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.

Psalm 33 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.

"Blessed 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 chosethe 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.

In any 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.

Psalm 37 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.

"But the 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

"The days 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 priority.

"The 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.

"Turn from 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 bountiful harvest.

"Wait for 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.

Psalm 47 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 darkness."

"He chose 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.

"God 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).

"May God 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

"When you 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.

"Proclaim 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.

Psalm 69 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).

Praise 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. Praise him!

The Fool

The fool is 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.

With the 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.

Of course, 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.

The 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.

On the 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.

The 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 purposes.

Having 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.

Of course, 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 things.

I then 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.

He then 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.

I have 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.

In greater 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).

While the 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.

The text, 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.

"How can you rejoice at a time like this?" his associates inquired of him.

"If the 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.

Psalm 39 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.

"But when 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.

"But now, 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).

"Hear my 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

Psalm 49 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 scriptures.

"For all 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.

In 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.

Second, 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.

Psalm 53 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 virtually identical.

One 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 offensive behavior.

Some 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.

Otherwise, "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.

Psalm 74 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

In greater 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.

In this 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.

"Rise up, 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).

Whether in 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. Exod. 20:5-6).

Psalm 107 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.

"Some sat 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.

"Some 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.

"Others 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.

The Needy

Needs are 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 the Psalter.

His 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.

"If the 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.

However, 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.

In 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.

"Even if 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.

Incidentally, 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.

Thus 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. 11-12).

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.

Then, too, 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 concerning oneself.

David is 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.

Fortunate 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.

"Because 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 emotional duress.

"O Lord, 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.

Psalm 35 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.

"Who is 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 relatively unavailable.

The 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.

The 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.

"Do not 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 agenda.

For 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.

"The 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.

It remains 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."

"I waited 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.

"May all 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

During her 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.

She 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!"

"Endow the 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).

Inasmuch 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."

"For he 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 shalom (well-being).

This is 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.

As cited 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.

"Do not 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.

"Rise up, 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.

Psalm 82 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.

Psalm 109 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."

There shortly follows a series of vindictive appeals (vv. 6-19). "First, in verses2-5 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 adversaries.

In any 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."

The Cup

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 memorable events.

One cup 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 lifetime.

Now having 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.

The cup 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 favorable.

The 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 Psalter.

As noted 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.

"Most 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.

Now it 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.

Where is 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).

His 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).

"Believe 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.

While both 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).

One's 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.

Psalm 16 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

Trust 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.

The 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).

Trust 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. 4).

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.

Finally, 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."

Then, too, 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 appreciation.

"The Lord 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 the flock.

The 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.

This then 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.

All things 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."

"Surely 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.

"But as 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 to undertake.

Such is 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 pleasure.

As a 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 oneself or to others.

Then to 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.

"A 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 counterparts.

"Boast no 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.

"No one 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 provisional."101

"In the 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."

"As for 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.

"Psalm 116 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 live."

"The cords 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 despair.

"Be at 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

The Tongue

The 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.

The 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.

Not 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.

Then, too, 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.

It was 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 future.

"You are 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.

"Lead me, 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 its opposite.

"Not a 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 true."

The sage 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 tongue.

As allowed 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).

In 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

"May the 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).

While a 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.

"O Lord, 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.

"Lord, who 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.

Initially, 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."

Then, too, 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.

In 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.

Along a 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 reputation.

Those also 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.

Likewise, one who keeps his oatheven 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.

As 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)."

The pathos 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 further.

In any 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 might suppose.

"Come, my 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 of the 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 corporate situation.

A reality 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."

The 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.

As allowed 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.

Some 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.

"Finally, 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).

While our 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

One would 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 Spiritwhich is the word of God. Then, too, pray in the Spirit on all occasions.

"My tongue 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.

We will 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 said, '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.

He opts 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 (v. 7).

"My heart 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 fluently."108

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, 137:6.

One's Face

The term face 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 to reality.

About 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.

Some are 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.

We also 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.

All things 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 and uninvolved.

Meanwhile, 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 approbation.

Such say 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 readily vulnerable.

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 do evil.

The 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.

Then, too, 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 compromised.

Then, 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 companion.

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."

Real or imagined threats appear on every hand. Even friendly overtures are thought suspect. All too often, what one fears will eventually come to pass.

Be assured, the wicked will get their just deserts. Be also assured, the righteouswill 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

To see 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 reason.

"How long, 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.

Of course, 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 timing."110

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.

"But I 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.

"Hear, O 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.

"Rise up, 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.

"You still 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.

"And I–in 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.

"For he 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 another.

It bears 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 17:26-27).

This was 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 others.

It also 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.

I subsequently overhead two village elders, one of whom described a certain missionary as being tommytitcombish. 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.

"Psalm 27 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.

"The Lord 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.

Even so, 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 progress.

Misgivings 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.

Psalm 30 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

The Lord 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.

"What gain 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 faithfulness.

Psalm 31 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.

"His 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.

As noted 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."

Seeing sin 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.

"Cleanse 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 it.

All things 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.

Your Word

Your word 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).

"When the 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

It is 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).

The 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 us.

The focus 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 (vv. 9-16)."116

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).

Although a 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 calculated concern.

The rabbi 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 accountable.

The rabbi 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.

In 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.

Life, 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 limited.

The threat is of a different sort in industrial society. Should the market economy fail, one's savings can quickly vanish. Public initiatives provide no adequate alternative. Recession can eventuate in devaluation.

Chaos can 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).

We should 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.

This 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 the same.

We must 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 appropriate.

Then, 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.

The 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).

A 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 benefactor.

The 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 the situation.

In greater 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.

The 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

"You know 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.

When he 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.

The 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 liberating.

As a 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.

Moses 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.

"I have 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 righteousness.

"Your word 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

We are 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 learning.

Then, too, 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.

We should also choose our mentors carefully. Many a student has been shipwrecked by sailing with the wrong captain.

A good 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.

A good 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.

A good 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!

Even with 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.

Upon 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.

The sage 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., p.41.
6. Inch, Devotions with David, p. 5.
7. Mays, op. cit., p. 13.
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.
19. Dietrich 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.
31. Walter Brueggemann, Living Toward a Vision, p. 28.
32. Ibid., p. 31.
33. The One Year Books of Hymns, June 10.
34. Yechiel Eckstein, How Firm a Foundation, p. 62.
35. Broyles, op. cit., p. 338.
36. Inch, 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.), p. 14.
42. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 61.
43. Inch, Devotions with David, p. 99.
44. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 318.
45. Morris Inch, Exhortations of Jesus According to Matthew and Up From the Depths, p. 9.
46. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 324.
47. Carl Laney, Baker's Concise Bible Atlas, p. 271.
48. Mays, op. cit., p. 188.
49. Kidner, 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.
55. Inch, Scripture As Story, p. 35.
56. Broyles, op. cit., pp. 178-179.
57. Ibid., pp. 297-298.
58. Mays, op. cit., p. 315.
59. Inch, Psychology in the Psalms, p. 75.
60. Ibid.
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 Dragon, 6.
69. Laney, op. cit., pp. 122-123.
70. Ignatius, To the Romans, 6.
71. Ignatius, To the Smyrnaens, 4.
72. Kidner, Psalsm 73-150, p. 369.
73. Inch, Whispers of Heaven, pp. 11-12.
74. Alexander Pope, Essays on Man, II, v, 1-4.
75. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 174.
76. Ibid., p. 186.
77. Mays, op. cit., p. 219.
78. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 238.
79. Kidner, 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.
86. Kidner, 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.
101. Kidner, 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.
107. Broyles, op. cit., p. 188.
108. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 171.
109. Ibid., p. 74.
110. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 329.
111. Mays, op. cit., p. 130.
112. Broyles, op. cit., p. 155.
113. Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 141.
114. Norman 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.
118. John Goldingay, Isaiah, p. 307.
119. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 424.


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