Saturday, January 11, 2014

For the choirmaster…

The psalms appointed for the eleventh day, as I read, prayed, learned from, and was strengthened by them—praying the psalms takes away every base desire, and fills the soul with grace!—as I offered them, and as the Lord offered them to me, the unworthy, I found many savory verses that have fed and still sustain me in my earthly pilgrimage,

Take pity on me, God, as they harry me,
pressing their attacks home all day.

Yes, today as always, I am like the timid hare, who has no help, except for the God who pities me and gives me strength to run, for my enemies—the world, the flesh, and the devil—press their attacks home all day. One verse that I love so much because for me it has proven so true, is this,

Raise me up when I am most afraid,
I put my trust in You;
in God, whose Word I praise,
in God I put my trust, fearing nothing;
what can men do to me?

Yes, the Lord does in fact raise me up when I am most afraid, and though in myself I have no courage, He lifts me up into His certainty, where there is nothing to fear. The fifty-sixth psalm recounts the ways that our enemies attack us,

All day long they twist what I say,
all they think of is how to harm me,
they conspire, lurk, spy on my movements,
determined to take my life.

Yes, even though we are beset—all of us, whether we believe and desire God or not—by dangerous enemies on every side, the Lord is faithful to rescue us, seeing what we need before we ask, ‘You have noted my agitation, now collect my tears in Your wineskin!’ and He is ready, always and forever, to push back those fierce, merciless forces that attack us, ‘my enemies will have to fall back as soon as I call for help.’

In the fifty-seventh psalm is a wonderful verse that, whenever I hear it, reminds me that every adversity, like a storm, will pass, and that the best way to endure is to trust in God, and lie low,

Take pity on me, God, take pity on me,
in You my soul takes shelter;
I take shelter in the shadow of Your wings
until the destroying storm is over.

Yes, and I hear the truth that fills my whole being with gratitude whenever I remember it, that it is not by anything that I have done, or can do, that I am saved from my enemies,

I call on God the Most High,
on God who has done everything for me:
to send from heaven and save me,

But that by their own operations, those who seek our destruction are themselves destroyed,

They laid a net where I was walking
when I was bowed with care;
they dug a pitfall for me
but fell into it themselves,

Yes, how faithful, and merciful, is the Lord, both to us, and to our enemies! Merciful to us in that He saves us from them, and merciful to them because He permits their bent will to destroy others to check themselves. The focus of the psalms appointed for the eleventh day seems to be on the struggle between those who seek and serve God, the virtuous, in Hebrew, tzaddiqim, and those who seek and serve themselves, in Hebrew, resha’im. They start with the struggle from a single soul’s angle, and proceed to a social one—in society operate the same forces that attack and seek to exterminate us one by one,

Gods you may be,
but do you give the sentences you should,
and dispense impartial justice to mankind?

On the contrary, in your hearts you meditate oppression,
with your hands you dole out tyranny on earth.
Right from the womb these wicked men have gone astray,
these double talkers have been in error since their birth,

Yes, we have this to deal with too, as all of us know, who live in these declining years of mankind’s imperial systems, both in the State, and in the Church: there are those who believe themselves to be higher than the rest of us, so high that they can assert themselves to rule over us, not in righteousness, which is the way of the King (blessed be He!), but according to their corruption. The psalmist spares no words in his poetic prayer that these miscreants be removed,

God, break their teeth in their mouths,
Yahweh, wrench out the fangs of these savage lions!

May they drain away like water running to waste,
may they wither like trodden grass,
like a slug that melts as it moves,
like an abortion, denied the light of day!

Before they sprout thorns like the bramble,
green or scorched, may the wrath whirl them away!
What joy for the virtuous, seeing this vengeance,
bathing their feet in the blood of the wicked!

‘So,’ people will say, ‘the virtuous do have their harvest;
so there is a God who dispenses justice on earth!’

In the fifty-ninth psalm the focus returns to the individual in a most poignant way, and reminds me of the time of my own youth, when I had just such an enemy as the psalmist described, ‘lurking to ambush me,’

Back they come at nightfall,
snarling like curs,
prowling through the town.
See how they slaver at the mouth,
with swords between their teeth,
‘There is no one listening.’

Yes, as the psalmist testifies, I was delivered from my enemy just as he was, and without really doing anything on my own, but by waiting for the Lord to act, for He does, and without fail, never too early, never too late,

Yahweh, You laugh at them,
You make fun of these pagans.
My Strength, I look to You.
My citadel is God Himself,
the God who loves me is coming,
God will show me my enemies defeated.

Do people who know me wonder why I so often sing, especially while I work? The answer is in this psalm,

I, for my part, celebrate Your strength,
I sing of Your love morning by morning;
You have always been my citadel,
a shelter when I am in trouble.
My Strength, I play for You,
my citadel is God Himself,
the God who loves me.

Again, the struggle, now at the level of the nation, as the larger unit of human society, when I come to the sixtieth psalm I cannot but think of, and pray for, my own country and people. Its verses also memorialize for me the disaster and tragedy of ‘Nine Eleven,’ which has changed our world forever,

God, You have rejected us, broken us;
You have been angry, come back to us!

You have made the earth tremble, torn it apart;
now mend the rifts, it is tottering still!
You have allowed Your people to suffer,
to drink a wine that makes us reel.

Hoist the standard to rally those who fear You,
to put them out of range of bow and arrow, selah.
To bring rescue to those You love,
save with Your right hand and answer us!

Though the psalm calls on God to answer us, we know what the answer is, it is repentance, for the nation, just as it is for the individual. It is only this, real repentance, not official displays of it to ‘keep up appearances’ and to ‘save face,’ because only when we humble ourselves, can the Most High reign among us,

Help us in this hour of crisis,
the help that man can give is worthless.
With God among us we shall fight like heroes,
He will trample on our enemies.

Yes, He will trample on our enemies—no, He has trampled on them, ‘by death trampling down death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life.’

The final psalm appointed for the eleventh day, the sixty-first, is my plea, yes, mine, not just the psalmist’s, but mine, and every man’s,

God, hear my cry for help,
listen to my prayer!

From the end of the earth I call to You,
with sinking heart.
To the rock too high for me,
lead me!

For You are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me stay in Your tent forever,
taking refuge in the shadow of Your wings, selah.

You, God, accept my vows,
You grant me the heritage of those who fear Your name.
Let the king live on and on,
prolong his years, generation on generation.

May he sit enthroned in God's presence for ever!
Assign Your love and faithfulness to guard him!
So I shall always sing of Your name,
fulfilling the vows I have taken, day after day.

Yes, ‘for the choirmaster, for strings, of David.’

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