The Psalms are numbered amongst the wisdom literature in that they stand outside of the biblical narrative of salvation. Like other wisdom literature they sometimes speak in generalisations. They tend to be personal in that they reflect the fears, failings and feelings of the individuals who have penned them. They reflect the emotions of praise and the passions of love and hate. They often express the way we feel and amongst them there seems always to be at least one that mirrors are situation at any given time.
As you might expect (given that many were written by the warrior king, David), there is a predominance of prayers for deliverance from one’s enemies, often starting with despondency and finishing with trust in God after bringing to mind all that he has done and reflecting on his power and mercy.
The following are a few verses that stood out for me as I have read them through on this occasion:-
It starts with “Blessed is the one,” (singular) who stands in contrast with “sinners” (plural). The people of God have always been encouraged to pursue godliness even when they may have to stand alone. They are the ones who are well grounded and they prosper in God’s sight. They recall the sentiments of Psalm 18:29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
The other day I watched a TV program on the Cosmos. It ended with the camera on a virtual spacecraft zooming out from earth. As it travelled the voice-over commented on all the conflicts, hopes and aspirations that had taken place, bound on an ever-diminishing blue dot that eventually became invisible. It powerfully put our greatest fears and triumphs into perspective! In the past I have looked into the night sky, while taking the garbage out along the track from our rectory. All the things I worried about and hassled over receded when I realised with the author of this Psalm, “…what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” And yet…
And yet, we do not simply curl up and die from insignificance, for God has crowned us with glory and honour. In parts of our western world, which is rejecting God and condemning itself to irrelevancy, the Biblical message offers meaning and hope.
I wonder if the phrase, “LORD, our Lord” at the beginning and end is meant to reflect and contrast the immeasurably powerful transcendence of Yahweh (LORD, The One who Is) with our Adonai (Lord), who draws close to us and offers a relationship with him, through his Son, Jesus Christ? LORD, our Lord, shows us the one who is well able to help us and the one who already helps us.
7 You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind. (NRSV)
I have watched the world change over my 66 years. Things which were deemed shameful in my youth are now celebrated. People who would have been shunned, are now regarded as celebrities. We tend to reward and honour the talented, the beautiful, the wealthy and the intelligent – the things we mostly inherit rather than work for. As someone commented, “It can be like looking into a shop window, where someone has mixed up all the price tags.” It’s not all bad of course. We often do show more love and consideration to those who might once have been ostracised without help or mercy (at least superficially). But sometimes I think we may have abandoned standards which have fallen like dominoes in an effort to justify our fallen race (Psalm 14:3). Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of Psalm 1 and also address the balance between justice and mercy.
There are similarities with Psalm 8 here, and the sentiments are reflected later in Romans chapter one. Psalm 14 reads that “The fool says in his heart. There is no God.” Romans states that people are without excuse. The writer of Psalm 19 confirms that God can be seen in the things that he has created, “their voice goes out into all the earth…”
So many have tried to reduce the creative activity of God to the happenings of chance. The odds against life occurring as it does, by chance, are stupendously large, as science keeps reminding us. And yet it has become easier to accept the idea of an amazingly complex world, with even more amazingly complex human life occurring this way, and without any purpose, than to accommodate a Creator, who gives us a reason to live and thrive.
To do the latter makes sense of God’s law (not just a set of rules but a way of relating to our Creator). The Psalmist says that it is refreshing, trustworthy, making wise, giving joy, giving light, enduring and righteous (and more). He finishes with the prayer that could well form on all our lips,
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer