Lifting hearts to God in thanks and praise.

PoMo: Psalm 26

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

Of David.

Vindicate me, O Lord,
    for I have walked in my integrity,
    and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
    test my heart and my mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
    and I walk in your faithfulness.

I do not sit with men of falsehood,
    nor do I consort with hypocrites.
I hate the assembly of evildoers,
    and I will not sit with the wicked.

I wash my hands in innocence
    and go around your altar, O Lord,
proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,
    and telling all your wondrous deeds.

Lord, I love the habitation of your house
    and the place where your glory dwells.
Do not sweep my soul away with sinners,
    nor my life with bloodthirsty men,
10 in whose hands are evil devices,
    and whose right hands are full of bribes.

11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity;
    redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground;
    in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.

Let’s start with this video of My Soul Among Lions singing in a silo, and using the first verse as a refrain. Here’s Karl Kohlhase with a very nice musical version that’s closer to the text (with less rhyming), here’s Jamie Soles using the words from the Geneva Psalter (great rhymes!) and his own melody, and here’s a rock version by Nathan Hitchcock with Phil Keaggy on guitar which I think highlights the urgency of the psalm.

In turning to think of the content of this psalm, I watched a chapel talk from Wheaton College (it starts with a commercial) which you can access here. The commercial was a good choice, because it was an appeal for people to stop living disparate lives but join each other for a meal (in the apartment hallway) and I think David is proclaiming his integrity not in terms of being better than others but in doing what is right (to others) because he loves the Lord, lives as it were in the house of the Lord. Verse 10’s mention of evil devices in people’s hands immediately made me think of my iPhone: not that I use it as weapon for evil (which must have been David’s reference, right?) but that, as the commercial demonstrated, it distracts me from people who are present, and perhaps needy of my attention.

I am thankful for this psalm which asks God to vindicate (prove right) the godly who trust in him, refuse to be swept away but walk in his ways, seek the Lord’s place where glory dwells, and praise him in the assembly. I don’t have the courage to say all that David says about being steadfast and perfect in integrity, but I feel my reaction is a call to wash my hands in innocence (turn from what I am convicted is wrong) and reorder my affections.

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 25

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    let me not be put to shame;
    let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
    they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord,
    pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
13 His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
14 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
15 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

16 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.

19 Consider how many are my foes,
    and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
    Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
    for I wait for you.

22 Redeem Israel, O God,
    out of all his troubles.

We are back to a begging psalm with this one, and it’s a good one for content (again, couplets of content are the poetry of the Psalms). David starts with the statement that he lifts his soul to and trusts in God and follows with the request that God won’t let him be put to shame, triumphed over by enemies. He comes back to that in the last verses also, but in the middle he spends time detailing his relationship with God in a prayer that we can imitate: Lead me and teach me, God of my salvation, remember your mercy and steadfast love, not my sins or my transgressions. (now chiasm: coming back out to the former content) God instructs sinners because God is good; he leads the humble in what is right (God’s paths are righteousness and goodness). Then again, pardon my guilt, and back to God’s leading, verses 12-14, as friendship for those who fear him. Then verses 15-20 are more compelling about David’s state, needing rescue from many foes, lonely and afflicted, eyes toward the Lord taking refuge in him. Finally a plea for blessing for himself preservation and for Israel redeemed from all trouble.

Today I started with commentary but here’s Karl Kohlhase’s beautiful version, and here’s Graham Kendrick in concert and here’s Maddie Michaelson for the Psalms Project. They’re all beautiful, and I was dancing along to Graham Kendrick’s while making coffee. I hope your day is blessed by the example of David in Psalm 25.

All thanks and praise to God!

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a psalm a day. Join me?

A Psalm of David.

1 The earth is the Lord‘s and the fullness thereof,
    the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
    and established it upon the rivers.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
    And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not lift up his soul to what is false
    and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
    and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord, strong and mighty,
    the Lord, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
    And lift them up, O ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is this King of glory?
    The Lord of hosts,
    he is the King of glory! Selah

This was another psalm that I memorized in elementary school days. Its couplets (of meaning, not rhyme) are fun and its meter (I memorized in KJV but this ESV is similar) lends itself to being read (or recited) aloud. Try it?

I thought that I knew a tune to this psalm; that I had sung it in my memorizing days, but perhaps it only was the meter that carried me through because I found that all my searching was dissatisfying and I didn’t find what I thought I knew. However, there was one recording that was really lovely, paired with scenes from Jerusalem (I assume) and you can click here to watch it. I don’t know why even Karl Kohlhase’s recording was disappointing to me, so perhaps I should recite Psalm 24 all day and see if it morphs into music. Oh, it’s in the Messiah! (Yes, that explains why other versions just weren’t…Handel!)

This psalm is basically saying two things: God owns everything and everyone because he made it and you approach God in cleanness and purity. (how? well, that’s why we start every worship service with confession and forgiveness, why Jesus said to forgive others before you pray so that God will forgive you and hear you: it’s not that we are always clean and pure but that we are always washing our hearts before God)

That’s the first half of the psalm, and the second is a joyous command to celebrate the Lord of Glory. Lift up the heads of gates and doors? Is that like the portcullis being lifted? Or is it like my own head being lifted in hope, in joy? As a child, I thought David was personifying the gates: imagine gates with faces lifted up to welcome the King arriving. Then I thought it was about the people at the gate who cheer. Now I think it is my own heart, the gates to my heart being clear and clean and welcoming God at work in me.

All thanks and praise to God!

 

PoMo: Psalm 23

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Join me?

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.[a]
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness[b]
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,[c]
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely[d] goodness and mercy[e] shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell[f] in the house of the Lord
    forever.[g]

Musical renditions for Psalm 23 abound! Did you attend a church that sang some yesterday? Ours did, and the choral anthem and instrumental offertory are here. We also sang The King of Love my Shepherd Is, and The Lord’s My Shepherd, and ended with Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us, so we enjoyed Psalm 23 quite a bit. Here’s some more for your listening options: Karl Kohlhase’s Psalm 23 new musical setting, My Soul Among Lions here, and here’s a straightforward version sung by Shane and Shane. Great explanation of the green pastures here (it’s short but powerful).

Today is also the Feast of St. George, which I know because I led a class reading the first book of Edmund Spenser’s Faierie Queene (which is distractingly beautiful poetry). The knight who turns out to be St. George doesn’t know who he is at the beginning and he is tempted away from truth and makes mistakes and is rescued by Knight (to be king) Arthur and even when he fights the dragon he falls, twice, at night, into some balm by the grace of God and rises to conquer the dragon just as it opens its mouth to eat him! It occurred to me providentially that this day of St. George and Psalm 23 is worth juxtaposing. When I look again at Psalm 23 from George’s story, I realize that the praise of God’s restoration assumes but doesn’t mention that the soul needs restoring, the confused need guiding in right paths, the valley is frightening and the enemies are all around.

Why do we love this psalm so? It takes for granted that we are needy and it reminds us of the shepherd’s constant care, even luxurious care in the face of enemies. The shepherd’s rod and staff (the rod of correction and the staff of restoration) comfort me because they keep me going the right way, and the correction is not punishment but training, helpful for my good. A table set for me to eat although enemies surround me is marvelous: who experiences this? Shepherds anoint their sheep with oil so that bugs do not enter their noses, so the anointing oil is protective. But the psalm culminates in a future promise: I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Safety and help now, and a future dwelling in goodness.

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 22

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Join me?

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
    and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
    enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
    they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
    let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
    for trouble is near,
    and there is none to help.

12 Many bulls encompass me;
    strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
    like a ravening and roaring lion.

14 I am poured out like water,
    and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
    it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
    and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
    you lay me in the dust of death.

16 For dogs encompass me;
    a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 they divide my garments among them,
    and for my clothing they cast lots.

19 But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
    O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
    my precious life from the power of the dog!
21 Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

22 I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
26 The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth shall remember
    and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    shall worship before you.
28 For kingship belongs to the Lord,
    and he rules over the nations.

29 All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
    before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
    even the one who could not keep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
    it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
31 they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
    that he has done it.

Here’s  a recording from the Psalm Project with a musical setting from the Geneva psalter. This one from My Soul Among Lions is a poetic musical setting that I think follows the text quite well and here’s Karl Kohlhase.

Churches that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will be reading Psalm 23 (which I’ll post on Monday), but it’s interesting to see this psalm first and know that 23 follows.

Several verses in this psalm are famous, the first from when Jesus cried out on the cross, and it’s pretty impressive to think that people who heard him would have known the whole psalm. Verses 7 & 8 are in the Messiah, of course, so if you are familiar with them, the tune will be in your head when you read the text. Also verse 8 and 18 are in the passion story, quoted in the gospels (Matthew 27:43 and John 19:24).

But famous verses aside, we are back to a psalm that cries out for God in the midst of suffering, both describing the pain David faces and the faithfulness of God. I love verse 26: The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever!

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 21

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Join me?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
    and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
    and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
For you meet him with rich blessings;
    you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
    length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
    splendor and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed forever;
    you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
    and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
    when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
    and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
    though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
    you will aim at their faces with your bows.

13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power.

Here’s the choir at Yorkminster, of York, England singing this psalm; it sounds so stately, but I think the recording doesn’t do it justice. Here’s Karl Kohlhase again and here’s Jeff Deyo with the Psalms Project recording. My Soul Among Lions is working on their next album, so I don’t think they have Psalm 21 for us, but if you’re interested, they have a kickstarter fund you can donate to: click here (disclosure: I’m not receiving any compensation from anyone for my posts or links).

The first seven verses of this psalm have David talking about himself in third person and pointing out how God has made him what he is: God’s strength and salvation make the king rejoice, God gives the king what he asks for (rich blessings, crown, long life (“O King, live forever” is never said to Israel’s kings, and yet here David says he will!)) for the king trusts in the Lord. I remember a time, much like now, where the future was very much unknown and dependent upon others, so I looked to God instead (“Lord, you are above all others and I trust in you. Please work this out”). Through the steadfast love of the Most High we shall not be moved!

Verses 8-12 proclaim what God will do as most high king to his enemies. Oddly, it sounds just like what kings on this earth do and that’s troubling, but then I remember watching Marvel movies and am not bothered by the fight to stop the bad guys nor their eventual deaths. I do appreciate how Spiderman saved his opponent from death and even at the end in jail the man honored him by not giving away his identity. I think of Spiderman as Italian and therefore Catholic with a higher morality of love for the enemy. If that’s so, isn’t my picture of God here not only stopping his enemies but offering them change? Isn’t there a way that justice (jail for Vulture) is a chance for wrongdoers to repent and reform?

These are my thoughts, and I will end with the last verse because God is trustworthy and true: “Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.”

All thanks and praise to God!

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Sometime I might post a poem of my own. Join me?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
    May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
    and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
    and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah

May he grant you your heart’s desire
    and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
    and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
    he will answer him from his holy heaven
    with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
    but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
    but we rise and stand upright.

Lord, save the king!
    May he answer us when we call.

This morning I woke early (thanks to my dog who went back to sleep after going out) and I worried so much that I had to get up and pray. I can’t even begin to write about what I am struggling with. What a gift this psalm is in light of my need! It is a psalm to pray blessing over another (maybe a graduate? what perfect timing!) or to read as a blessing when you need it.

Here’s Karl Kohlhase singing a new musical setting, and here’s My Soul Among Lions, and here’s Aubrey Dale with the Psalms Project.

May I go on record again as being grateful for YouTube? Today’s searches were weird though; I do not know how it works, but with a second search the things I was looking for came up. Also I am very grateful for the idea of looking through psalms for poetry month. That must have been inspired by God who is helping me. They say everyone is going through something; is that true? If so, may you hear the words of this psalm as a blessing for you, may God indeed answer you in the day of trouble; may his love cast out your fear.

All thanks and praise to God!

(Apologies: I thought I published early this morning, and now I find I never hit the publish button! It’s been a rollercoaster day, emotionally, so I am very thankful it started with this Psalm. God bless you.)

PoMo: Psalm 19

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Sometime I might post a poem of my own. Join me?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lord are true,
    and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

12 Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Here’s Karl Kohlhase again with a beautiful musical setting to this psalm. He gives the lyrics on the picture, and his translation is more clear in the first verses than the ESV translation I’ve printed here, where you’re not quite sure what verse 2 and 3 are referring to, since the subject is unclear, but verses 1-6 are all looking at the heavens, the sky, the lights that shine on us. Then verses 7-11 turn from nature’s witness of God as creator to his special revelation to his people in the law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandment, the fear of the Lord, the rules: all aspects of relationship with God.

I grew up with a sung version of this portion of Psalm 19:7-11 (click here) that I loved to sing, mostly because of the refrain about gold and honey! But let’s look further: Why the Law converts the soul is well explained here. First the law has to tell us what we’ve done wrong before the good news of forgiveness is the power to change us. It’s actually helpful to know what I’ve done wrong before someone slams into me with their anger and I’m feeling abused and misjudged (which might be the case). The other help of the law is to show us what good is; how best to relate to others, as well as what not to do. There was a time when I was struggling with house envy, really wishing I had someone else’s house, and then the commandment about not coveting a neighbor’s house came to mind as a reminder and I literally felt revival of soul as I submitted to the urging not to covet, and the temptation to envy other people’s houses left me and has never returned.

“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” I once heard that memorizing scripture helps restore brain function, so I tried it by memorizing 1 John. It was not a scientific study to confirm what I’d heard but a return to the practice of scripture memory that started in those childhood years in Christian school where we not only learned the song above but also many scriptures (whole psalms and scattered other verses were chosen for us all to learn together).  Apart from brain restoration, I think the point here is that where wisdom usually comes from knowledge and then understanding and then life practice that makes one wise, the simple who don’t know much can, by knowing God’s word, be wise without much knowledge (as in schooling). It follows the same way with the precepts of the Lord, and the commandments: they rejoice the heart that is tired and uncertain and lighten the eyes that see no good thing around them.

“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.” There’s such a funny thing about fear: we almost always are told not to fear. Angels appear and always the first words they have to say are “fear not.” So we think of fear as a bad thing. Misplaced fear always is, and I cling to a verse in 1 John (memory work is good for us!) when I feel fear coming at me to overwhelm me: “There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (4:18) But if I remember two verses earlier in 1 John, that God is love, and read Psalm 19:9 as the fear of God who is love is clean, then I begin to see a right fear, not based on punishment but more a respectful right response to the powerful one who rightly loves and forgives and restores his erring children. C.S. Lewis describes Aslan: “People who have not been in Narnia sometimes think that a thing cannot be good and terrible at the same time.” Terrible because we are not yet fully cured! (Remember Psalm 18’s “to the — he shows himself —?” Lewis has a section when the kids first hear the name Aslan: “Edmund felt a sensation of mysterious horror. Peter felt suddenly brave and adventurous. Susan felt as if some delicious smell or some delightful strain of music had just floated by her. And Lucy got the feeling you have when you wake up in the morning and realize that it is the beginning of the holidays or the beginning of summer.”)

Back to Psalm 19: after verses 1-6 telling how all creation points to God, and verses 7-11 rejoicing in how God’s revelation to his people restores their full humanity, the psalm turns to supplication. Who can know hidden faults? Forgive me. Keep me from presumption, and then I will be blameless of great sin (pride). Instead let the thoughts I think and the words I say be ones that please God who is my rock and my redeemer!

Studying the full psalm reminds me of another song I loved in my youth, this by the Imperials. The stars proclaim his handiwork, the Bible tells his story, but until I pray, until I meet him face to face as it were, what is that to me? When I have met him, seen the Good and Terrible Lion of Judah (nod to Lewis) then he becomes my refuge and my treasure, my counselor, my king, my strength and my song.

All thanks and praise to God!

PoMo: Psalm 18

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Sometime I might post a poem of my own. Join me?

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
    and I am saved from my enemies.

The cords of death encompassed me;
    the torrents of destruction assailed me;
the cords of Sheol entangled me;
    the snares of death confronted me.

In my distress I called upon the Lord;
    to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
    and my cry to him reached his ears.

Then the earth reeled and rocked;
    the foundations also of the mountains trembled
    and quaked, because he was angry.
Smoke went up from his nostrils,
    and devouring fire from his mouth;
    glowing coals flamed forth from him.
He bowed the heavens and came down;
    thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
    he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him,
    thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
    hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
    and the Most High uttered his voice,
    hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them;
    he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
    and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
    at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

16 He sent from on high, he took me;
    he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy
    and from those who hated me,
    for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity,
    but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place;
    he rescued me, because he delighted in me.

20 The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
    and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his rules were before me,
    and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him,
    and I kept myself from my guilt.
24 So the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
    with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
26 with the purified you show yourself pure;
    and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.
27 For you save a humble people,
    but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 For it is you who light my lamp;
    the Lord my God lightens my darkness.
29 For by you I can run against a troop,
    and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God—his way is perfect;
    the word of the Lord proves true;
    he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?—
32 the God who equipped me with strength
    and made my way blameless.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your right hand supported me,
    and your gentleness made me great.
36 You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
    and did not turn back till they were consumed.
38 I thrust them through, so that they were not able to rise;
    they fell under my feet.
39 For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me,
    and those who hated me I destroyed.
41 They cried for help, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
42 I beat them fine as dust before the wind;
    I cast them out like the mire of the streets.

43 You delivered me from strife with the people;
    you made me the head of the nations;
    people whom I had not known served me.
44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
    foreigners came cringing to me.
45 Foreigners lost heart
    and came trembling out of their fortresses.

46 The Lord lives, and blessed be my rock,
    and exalted be the God of my salvation—
47 the God who gave me vengeance
    and subdued peoples under me,
48 who rescued me from my enemies;
    yes, you exalted me above those who rose against me;
    you delivered me from the man of violence.

49 For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations,
    and sing to your name.
50 Great salvation he brings to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his offspring forever.

A long psalm, 50 verses! Here’s Karl Kohlhase with a new musical setting, and here’s Shane Heilman with the Psalms Project, and this, by Jason Silver, might be my favorite.
This is a narrative poem, one that tells a story. But it isn’t without figurative language, as we see from the very beginning, verse 2 using metaphor to describe God as rock, fortress, shield, horn of salvation, stronghold. Therefore in verse 7-16 I see the description not as literal but exaggerated description to signify the indescribable relief and awe David feels as he is being delivered.
There’s another interesting trope in verses 25-26; God shows himself like people: the merciful see God’s mercy; the blameless see God as blameless; the purified see God’s purity, but the crooked see God as tortuous. Is he a mirror? Isn’t it more appropriate to talk of God as the originator of character, though? The merciful have seen God’s mercy to them and turn to show mercy to others; the blameless are blameless because they see what blamelessness is in God; the purified are so because they see the purity of God; but the crooked see God as difficult, impossible to please, harsh.
There is another favorite couplet in verse 33 about security, where David talks about the feet of a deer who is secure on the heights, and pairs it with verse 34 about strength, in training for war so that he can bend a bow of bronze. This balances David’s talk of God as his refuge and stronghold: it’s not just that God works for him against his enemies by earthquakes and lightning and fire, but also that he makes David’s feet secure and arm strong for war. To relate to that myself, it is not only that I cry to God for help when my perspective is negative and my hope fades, but also that he gives me security in his provision time and again, and the right words or supplies for the work I daily do.
All praise and thanks to God!

PoMo: Psalm 17

April is poetry month. I’m celebrating by reflecting on a Psalm a day. Sometime I might post a poem of my own. Join me?

A Prayer of David.

Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry!
    Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!
From your presence let my vindication come!
    Let your eyes behold the right!

You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night,
    you have tested me, and you will find nothing;
    I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.
With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
    I have avoided the ways of the violent.
My steps have held fast to your paths;
    my feet have not slipped.

I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
    incline your ear to me; hear my words.
Wondrously show your steadfast love,
    O Savior of those who seek refuge
    from their adversaries at your right hand.

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings,
from the wicked who do me violence,
    my deadly enemies who surround me.

10 They close their hearts to pity;
    with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They have now surrounded our steps;
    they set their eyes to cast us to the ground.
12 He is like a lion eager to tear,
    as a young lion lurking in ambush.

13 Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!
    Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword,
14 from men by your hand, O Lord,
    from men of the world whose portion is in this life.
You fill their womb with treasure;
    they are satisfied with children,
    and they leave their abundance to their infants.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
    when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

Karl Kohlhase picks the center verse of the psalm for a refrain; click here to listen. It’s appropriate because the psalm comes to a turning point with this verse. Instead of a paralleling chiasm, this psalm works into the point of verse 8 by first detailing David’s relationship with God, claims of his own righteousness tested by God in terms of what he says, what his heart loves, what violence he avoids by God’s word, what paths of the Lord he walks, and through it all he relates not only the testing of God but the aid of God by which he passes the tests. So he cries out to God to keep him as the apple of God’s eye: the beloved, the center of his care. I had no idea the image was so ancient, and the secondary, parallel image of hiding in the wings bespeaks not only care but also closeness. (I often think of under his wings as a side hug from someone with a blanket over his shoulders.)

Then the second half of the psalm details the wicked: they do violence, they do not pity, they speak arrogantly and they surround him (instead of walking God’s path) to ambush his righteousness. That is why David cries out to God to keep him in the right way: it is impossible otherwise. I can relate to this! How many times I have fallen by doing what those around me do? But, having confessed that, I also have been kept by God, pulled back onto his right way and hidden in his wings, reassured that I am beloved by him!

Verse 14 deserves a moment of reflection. Does it really mean that the men of the world from whom David seeks deliverance are characterized by receiving all good things from God? He fills their womb with children, and they leave their abundance to their babies… that’s spoken of in the Bible as a gift of God, the reward of the righteous: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22) So at first I couldn’t imagine why the blessing was given to the wicked, but then I realized that he characterized them, “whose portion is in this life.” David also had children and wealth to leave them, but it’s the limited perspective of living only for this world that is the difference.

That’s why David turns again in the final couplet, “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;/when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”  More than the joy of children and wealth, David looks to the joy of beholding the face of God. When he talks of awakening, I believe he means after the sleep of death, and “satisfied with your likeness” is contrasted to the previous verse’s “satisfied with children.” Not only is David asking God to keep him as the apple of his eye, David here is showing that God is the apple of David’s eye: the best and most longed for, most loved and right relationship. That’s worth imitating, with the help of the Lord. 

All thanks and praise to God!