Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

Saturday Psalm: 31

I missed the daily Psalm reflection I did in April, so this morning I thought I would alliterate and look at another.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me!
Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily!
Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me!

For you are my rock and my fortress;
    and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;
you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
    but I trust in the Lord.
I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
    because you have seen my affliction;
    you have known the distress of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
    you have set my feet in a broad place.

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
    my eye is wasted from grief;
    my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
    and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
    and my bones waste away.

11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
    especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
    those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
    I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
    terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
    as they plot to take my life.

14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
    I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
    rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love!
17 Lord, let me not be put to shame,
    for I call upon you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
    let them go silently to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be mute,
    which speak insolently against the righteous
    in pride and contempt.

19 Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
    which you have stored up for those who fear you
and worked for those who take refuge in you,
    in the sight of the children of mankind!
20 In the cover of your presence you hide them
    from the plots of men;
you store them in your shelter
    from the strife of tongues.

21 Blessed be the Lord,
    for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
    when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm,
    “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
    when I cried to you for help.

23 Love the Lord, all you his saints!
    The Lord preserves the faithful
    but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord!

It’s good to hear the Psalms sung. When I read them, they are often just words that I have to read aloud or think hard about, but somehow singing them (even if translated or condensed) opens up the meaning in a new way. Here’s a very much abbreviated version by John Michael Talbot and here’s Karl Kohlhase with a more lengthy version. I like how the former is a worship song that many can sing, and I like how the latter is more true to the psalm but makes it even more immediate.

A note about verse 6: I like how Karl Kohlhase translates it, “I hate the worship of idols” rather than hating those who worship idols. It’s hard for us to read the hatred of enemies when Jesus taught that God wants us to love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. But that’s a sort of better than perfect goal, right? Who can do that? On the other hand we look at David here and elsewhere saying he hates those who don’t fear God. I have come to wonder if the word hate has changed meaning over time. In reading the word in the Old Testament it sounds more like avoid, stay away from, don’t imitate, ignore (which can also be harsh, but not as active as angry hate that means harm).

I’m not really sure if this psalm is working on chiasm principles (movement in and then paralleling back out again) but there’s a definite change in verses 9-13. David starts out affirming God as his refuge and asking for that safety. The refuge even delivers him from a net he is caught in, and verse 5 affirms God’s redemption so that when verse 6 comes along to the hating of idols and ends with trust in the Lord, it is in contrast: the Lord is a mighty refuge who saves even those caught in a net, whereas other idols are worthless. Then verses 7&8 rejoice in the steadfast love of the Lord who has known his distress and delivered him.

Now, in verse 9 after all the rehearsing and rejoicing in the past work of his refuge, David moves to the plea for grace because he is in distress again. What distress! Eye wasted from grief, soul and body also; life spent in sorrow and sighing, strength fails because of iniquity (wrongdoing, sin)—that’s the personal side of things. Enemies reproach him, especially the neighbors, and acquaintances dread him; even people in the street flee! He hears how they plot to take his life. This is really low. He feels he has done wrong and he regrets it, others know what’s wrong and they avoid him (just like he avoids those who worship worthless idols?) and life is miserable. But then:

The change (if this is a chiasm, it’s the turning back out again) comes in verse 14: “But I trust in you, O Lord…” Don’t let me be put to shame, but stop the lying lips, he requests, and then verse 19 returns to praising God for his works of goodness and deliverance in the past. He ends the psalm with a turning outward to many people: “Love the Lord, all you his saints! … Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” That’s what I needed to hear today.

All thanks and praise to God!

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