Monday, July 27, 2020

Comment on a Lectionary Reading: Psalm 17

A PRAYER OF DAVID.

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

            3       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.
            4       With regard to the works of man, by the word of your lips
      I have avoided the ways of the violent.
            5       My steps have held fast to your paths;
      my feet have not slipped.

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

            8       Keep me as the apple of your eye;
      hide me in the shadow of your wings,
            9       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.

                                                 ****

There are different kinds of Psalms. Some are songs of praise. Others are expressions of sorrow. This Psalm is a prayer. David is in need, and he appeals to God.



I find it interesting that even before he makes his request, David explains to God why He should grant the request.

First, there is David's claim of innocence (verses 3-5). While it might look like it, David is not claiming to be perfect. Rather, he is saying that it is not his sin that has brought about the problem that is confronting him. It's important to note that this is not something that is based only on David's self-examination. His claim to innocence is based on God's examination of him (verse 3). This innocence is the first reason why God should grant his request.

Second, there is David's appeal to God's 'steadfast love' (verse 7). The Hebrew word behind this translation has quite a history. It has been rendered as 'lovingkindness', 'faithful love', 'great love' and even as 'mercy' as well as 'steadfast love', which the translation that I am using has. The Hebrew word focuses on loyalty based on promises made. So, what David is saying to God is, 'I'm making this request because of your promises to me'. David is appealing to God's pledged loyalty to him.

Having laid all of that out, David now refers to the problem that is confronting him. He is facing vicious attacks and the threat of death (verses 9-12). It may be that David offers this prayer when King Saul was hunting for him.

And now, the request.
Arise, O LORD! Confront him, subdue him! Deliver my soul from the wicked…(verse 13).
That sounds fine. But questions are raised when we finish the sentence.
…by your sword.
David wants God to protect him by defeating (killing?) his adversary. This sounds wrong. It sounds vindictive. But it's not. David desires justice.
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! (Verses 1,2)
There are times when (re-)establishing justice requires a very strong response from God. Remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).

David closes on a note of hope even though he is in a dark place.
As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness (verse 15).
In contrast with his persecutors, 'men of the world whose portion is in this life', David looks forward to when he will see God, in the life to come.

There are lessons here for us, lessons about our prayers, lessons about what to request of the Father and why we can expect Him to grant those requests. It is because of Jesus, David's High Priest and ours, that we can have large expectations when it comes to the prayers we offer to our God. And these expectations are to be framed within a lively hope of the resurrection.

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