Devotionals

Please find Phillips Theological Seminary's most recent devotionals below. Phillips provides devotionals to the public as an ongoing public outreach.

Advent 2019

Lenten Devotional

Introduction

These Lenten devotions will focus on some of the psalms included as readings for the season of Lent in the Revised Common Lectionary (Psalms 51, 91, 27, 32, 119, and 31). Before engaging the Psalms, a basic understanding of these ancient prayers is needed.

 

The name of this collection of prayers, “Psalms,” comes from the Septuagint’s (LXX) Greek title, psalmoi, suggesting songs sung with musical instruments for accompaniment. In the Hebrew Bible, the Hebrew title is tehillim, meaning “praises.” As we will see, this concept that all prayer was a way of praising God is key to understanding the Psalms. Even angry laments are a means of praising the Divine, but I will say more about that in another devotional.

 

The Psalter is often referred to as the “hymnbook of the second Temple,” reflecting the belief that the Book of Psalms got its final shape in the period of rebuilding the Temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel (circa 520-515 BCE). However, we are basically ignorant about the date of composition for most of these psalms (except maybe Psalm 137, which could not have been written prior to the Babylonian exile, circa 586 BCE). It is possible that some were actually composed in the pre-exilic period of David and Solomon (10th century) or even earlier. In fact, some of these prayers are probably very ancient.

 

The Psalter is unique among the books of the Hebrew Bible because it is the only one that contains nothing but prayers. While other books contain prayers, they are usually set within the context of a narrative. The Psalms is a collection of prayers that must stand on their own, without any supporting story. We see examples of psalms being reused (used for the first time) in other parts of the Hebrew Bible, as in the parallel between 2 Sam 22 and Psalm 18.

 

The Book of Psalms is the most frequently encountered biblical text among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls and fragments of scrolls reveal that the communities behind the texts knew of most of the 150 canonical psalms, but we also find other psalms that were not ultimately canonized. These are intermingled with the canonical psalms, and the order varies. This implies that the fixed order, editing, of the Psalter was still in flux as late as the 1st or 2nd centuries CE.

 

The Book of Psalms is of great importance for the church because of its influence on hymns, theology, worship, understandings of God, and prayer. Obviously, some shape of the Psalter was known and important for Jesus and his followers, as it was for the early Christian community. The Psalms also provides a rich resource of prayer and worship materials for today. It reflects the gamut of human emotions and experiences.

By  Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison
Johnnie Eargle Cadieux Professor of Hebrew Bible

Week 1

A Reflection on Psalm 51
By: Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison

There are 60 laments in the Psalter, prayers describing a world that seems to be spinning out of control. These prayers of “disorientation”[1] expressed the concerns and needs of an individual/community experiencing suffering and feeling that God could (should) do something to make the situation better. There are more laments in the Book of Psalms than any other identifiable form (even Hymns of Praise). Given the human experience, which is often filled with pain and uncertainty, this statistic is not surprising. What is intriguing is that the Hebrew title of this biblical book (tehillim) translates as “Praises.” Those who preserved this collection of ancient petitions gifted us with some very important wisdom: there is nothing we can’t say in conversation with God, and all types of prayer are acts of praising God, even if we are not sure that God is listening.

 

In Psalm 51, the psalmist has done something wrong and has experienced the “crush” (v 8b) of guilt and the pain of God’s disappointment (v 4b), and the request is for God’s “mercy” and forgiveness (v 1). This psalm follows the usual pattern for an “Individual Lament”: Address to God (v 1); Complaint/Confession (vv 3-5); Confession of Trust (v 6); Petition (vv 7-11); Words of Assurance (v 12); and Vow of Praise (vv 13-15). The only exception is the occurrence of a Petition in vv 1b-2. It is not unusual for laments to rearrange the different parts of the structure, and we might explain this aberration as being due to the effusive emotions of a person who is desperate for God’s forgiveness.

 

Psalm 51 seems to be an appropriate psalm for the 1st week of Lent, a season marked by many Christians as a time for self-examination and confession of transgressions. Psalm 51 offers the opportunity to reflect about the need to recognize and confess sins. However, the psalm also reminds us that God forgives, even before we recognize and name our wrongdoings. Laments, like Psalm 51, also provide a ritual way for us to move from “disorientation” to “reorientation”, even if nothing about our situation noticeably changes; it comes as a result of being “heard” by the Divine.

[1] The term, “disorientation”, is borrowed from Walter Brueggemann. He uses this as a category to classify the psalms, along with “orientation” and “new orientation,” in his book, The Message of the Psalms (Fortress, 1985).

Week 1 Scripture: Psalm 51

Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions. 
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.


3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me. 
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement. 
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.


6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.


10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me. 
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.


13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you. 
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.


15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise. 
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased. 
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.


18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, 
19 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Week 2

A Reflection on Psalm 27
By: Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison

Psalm 27 is a “mixed-type psalm.” It contains both a “Thanksgiving Psalm” (vv 1-6) and a “Lament” (vv 7-14). The first three verses of Psalm 27 are a powerful statement of confidence and trust. The key theme is “fear” and how the psalmist’s relationship with the LORD empowers her/him not to be afraid. These words could be spoken either in a public context as a “testimony” to the protection of the LORD, or they could be words that the psalmist says to her/himself as a mantra of assurance, before facing a challenge or before moving into the next phase of the prayer, which describes the psalmist’s desire to be in the “house of the LORD” (v 4b), which in this context refers to the Temple. In the Temple, the psalmist finds “shelter” and protection (v 5). From that high place, the psalmist can focus on worshiping the LORD (v 6).

 

Having established a sense of safety and proclaimed a desire to be in the LORD’s presence, the psalmist is ready to move into the lament portion of the psalm. Suddenly, the confidence and comfort of the psalmist turns into a sense of being abandoned by the LORD (vv 7-9). The worries about the psalmist’s “enemies” (v 11) have not really gone away, but seem to have been hovering in the shadows of her/his mind. Or, perhaps new “adversaries” (v 12a) have emerged, slandering the psalmist and carrying a threat of violence (v 12b). After a desperate plea for God’s protection, the psalm concludes with more words of assurance. The psalmist proclaims (either privately or to others) that there will be better days ahead (v 13). The LORD’s salvation will come, but it will arrive in God’s own time. “Courage” and patience are required in the meantime (v14).

 

Psalm 27 reads like an emotional roller coaster ride, with hills of confidence and drops of doubt all done at a confusing and chaotic speed. In this way, Psalm 27 is a microcosm of the entire Psalter. Within these 150 prayers, we find the full gamut of human experiences (e.g., joy, sadness, fear, trust, etc.). Just as scholars like it better when a biblical text fits into a predictable pattern, we want life to do the same. When the text or our life defy our desire for organization, we are forced to find new ways to interpret both the biblical material and our experiences. Fresh patterns emerge, and a fuller comprehension of the world develops. Yet, through it all, we can affirm the words of psalmist, “Wait for the LORD and be strong; let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” (v 14)

Week 2 Scripture: Psalm 27

Triumphant Song of Confidence

Of David.
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?


2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.


3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.


4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.


5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.


6 Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.


7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me! 
8 ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
Your face, Lord, do I seek. 
9   Do not hide your face from me.


Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation! 
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.


11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies. 
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.


13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. 
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Week 3

A Reflection on Psalm 32
By: Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison

This psalm is a “hymn of thanksgiving” that contains the responses of the psalmist to an experience of God’s salvation. Having endured a time of suffering, about which no specifics are given, this person understands that experience as a time of self-revelation. In the midst of “wasting away” and “groaning” (v 3), the psalmist identified some aspect of her/his life that was incongruent with God’s will and asked God for forgiveness. No longer burdened with a sense of guilt, the psalmist was able to acknowledge the healing grace of God.

 

A “hymn of thanksgiving,” like Psalm 32, may have been preceded by a “lament.” This earlier prayer cried out to God in hopes of being healed or saved. An important part of a lament is a promise made by the one praying that, if God answers the person’s prayer, they will sing God’s praises to all who will listen. In Psalm 32, the psalmist perhaps is keeping just such a promise by encouraging all who find themselves in times of trouble to “offer prayer” to God, with the assurance that God will answer their prayers as well. All who call upon the name of the LORD will find a “hiding place” and will enjoy protection from whatever threatens them.

 

A change of speaker occurs in vv 8-9; now God makes assurances to the psalmist (and all the faithful). Among the chaos of life, God promises to “instruct”, “teach”, and provide individualized “counsel” for those who will take advantage of such opportunities. The Divine also offers a warning about the kind of behavior that leads to right relationship with God, but this is provided in the negative: “Do not be like a horse or a mule.” These two animals are used to represent stupidity and stubbornness, obstacles that may prevent a person from receiving the Divine’s education.

 

In the concluding verses, the psalmist again speaks, but this time the message is less personal and more of a general statement about the nature of the Divine. The psalmist declares that the lives of the faithful are easier than the lives of the wicked; one enjoys the LORD’s “steadfast love” and the other knows only “torment.”

 

The claims of Psalm 32 have to be handled with great care. The assertion that one’s suffering is caused by unrecognized sin is theologically troubling and dangerous. However, there may be a possibility to discuss how difficult experiences sometimes provide an opportunity for self-reflection and the recognition of aspects of one’s life that could be changed. In fact, the temptation to see illness, or other problems, as a divine punishment can be very harmful, but if we accept ourselves for who God created us to be, it is possible to know wholeness, regardless of how the current situation is resolved. That is a reason to tell others about the “steadfast love” of God. How do our words and actions proclaim the “steadfast love” of the Divine?

Week 3 Scripture: Psalm 32

The Joy of Forgiveness

Of David. A Maskil.
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered. 
2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.


3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Selah


5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
Selah


6 Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them. 
7 You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.
Selah


8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.


10 Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Week 4

A Reflection on Psalm 119
By: Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison

The longest psalm of the Psalter, Psalm 119 often gets overlooked by those seeking a resource either for their own devotions or for public worship. At 176 verses, this prayer is a bit daunting and certainly does not lend itself to a call to worship or other liturgical use, amidst the other parts of a typical worship service. Yet, Psalm 119 is an incredible testament to poetic skill and dedication. What is lost in most English translations is the fact that it is an alphabetic acrostic poem with 22 stanzas of eight lines, within each stanza all eight lines begin with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In English, this would be the equivalent of eight lines beginning with “A,” eight lines beginning with “B,” and so forth. The visual effect of the original Hebrew text is impressive, but the intricacies of Psalm 119 do not end there. All but two verses of the psalm contain either the word, “torah” (teaching), or one of seven synonyms for that word (e.g., ordinance, statute, etc.). Based on the acrostic form, most scholars have identified Psalm 119 as a “Wisdom Psalm.” In my opinion, this psalm defies any typical “type” or label; it is a psalm of a different type.

 

The beauty of Psalm 119 is how the psalmist has skillfully utilized the alphabet and the synonyms to create a prayer that celebrates God as the one who teaches humanity the way to live a righteous life. The opening eight verses are a good example of the poetic artistry of Psalm 119. The stanza opens with a declaration that happiness comes to those who follow God’s “torah”, a word that is often translated as “law” in English (especially Christian) bibles, but this is a very biased rendering. In Hebrew, the word “torah” has the broader sense of “teaching,” which at times includes the legal materials of the Hebrew Bible.

 

Today, Psalm 119 might be seen as a rigid and legalistic text with no contemporary application. Christians could see its focus on, and celebration of, the “law” as being irrelevant to their faith. However, with some corrective translation, broadening the definition of “torah” to include “teaching,” readers should be able to better appreciate the psalm. We still need God to “teach” us the right way to live, to guide us in making good choices and caring for our neighbors. Perhaps in our chaotic world, full of technological and medical advances moving faster than our comprehension, the orderliness of Psalm 119 can provide a welcome stability. Its structure resembles a routine (e.g., diet, exercise, spiritual discipline, etc.) that can help us find our center (God?) and live in ways that are consistent with God’s teaching.

Week 4 Scripture: Psalm 119

The Glories of God’s Law


1 Happy are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord
2 Happy are those who keep his decrees,
who seek him with their whole heart, 
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways. 
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently. 
5 O that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes! 
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous ordinances. 
8 I will observe your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me.


9 How can young people keep their way pure?
By guarding it according to your word. 
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments. 
11 I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you. 
12 Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes. 
13 With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth. 
14 I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches. 
15 I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways. 
16 I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.


17 Deal bountifully with your servant,
so that I may live and observe your word. 
18 Open my eyes, so that I may behold
wondrous things out of your law. 
19 I live as an alien in the land;
do not hide your commandments from me. 
20 My soul is consumed with longing
for your ordinances at all times. 
21 You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones,
who wander from your commandments; 
22 take away from me their scorn and contempt,
for I have kept your decrees. 
23 Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes. 
24 Your decrees are my delight,
they are my counsellors.


25 My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word. 
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes. 
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works. 
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word. 
29 Put false ways far from me;
and graciously teach me your law. 
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me. 
31 I cling to your decrees, O Lord;
let me not be put to shame. 
32 I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.


33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,
and I will observe it to the end. 
34 Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart. 
35 Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it. 
36 Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain. 
37 Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways. 
38 Confirm to your servant your promise,
which is for those who fear you. 
39 Turn away the disgrace that I dread,
for your ordinances are good. 
40 See, I have longed for your precepts;
in your righteousness give me life.


41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise. 
42 Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me,
for I trust in your word. 
43 Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your ordinances. 
44 I will keep your law continually,
for ever and ever. 
45 I shall walk at liberty,
for I have sought your precepts. 
46 I will also speak of your decrees before kings,
and shall not be put to shame; 
47 I find my delight in your commandments,
because I love them. 
48 I revere your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.


49 Remember your word to your servant,
in which you have made me hope. 
50 This is my comfort in my distress,
that your promise gives me life. 
51 The arrogant utterly deride me,
but I do not turn away from your law. 
52 When I think of your ordinances from of old,
I take comfort, O Lord
53 Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,
those who forsake your law. 
54 Your statutes have been my songs
wherever I make my home. 
55 I remember your name in the night, O Lord,
and keep your law. 
56 This blessing has fallen to me,
for I have kept your precepts.


57 The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words. 
58 I implore your favour with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise. 
59 When I think of your ways,
I turn my feet to your decrees; 
60 I hurry and do not delay
to keep your commandments. 
61 Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
I do not forget your law. 
62 At midnight I rise to praise you,
because of your righteous ordinances. 
63 I am a companion of all who fear you,
of those who keep your precepts. 
64 The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes.


65 You have dealt well with your servant,
Lord, according to your word. 
66 Teach me good judgement and knowledge,
for I believe in your commandments. 
67 Before I was humbled I went astray,
but now I keep your word. 
68 You are good and do good;
teach me your statutes. 
69 The arrogant smear me with lies,
but with my whole heart I keep your precepts. 
70 Their hearts are fat and gross,
but I delight in your law. 
71 It is good for me that I was humbled,
so that I might learn your statutes. 
72 The law of your mouth is better to me
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.


73 Your hands have made and fashioned me;
give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. 
74 Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word. 
75 I know, O Lord, that your judgements are right,
and that in faithfulness you have humbled me. 
76 Let your steadfast love become my comfort
according to your promise to your servant. 
77 Let your mercy come to me, that I may live;
for your law is my delight. 
78 Let the arrogant be put to shame,
because they have subverted me with guile;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. 
79 Let those who fear you turn to me,
so that they may know your decrees. 
80 May my heart be blameless in your statutes,
so that I may not be put to shame.


81 My soul languishes for your salvation;
I hope in your word. 
82 My eyes fail with watching for your promise;
I ask, ‘When will you comfort me?’ 
83 For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke,
yet I have not forgotten your statutes. 
84 How long must your servant endure?
When will you judge those who persecute me? 
85 The arrogant have dug pitfalls for me;
they flout your law. 
86 All your commandments are enduring;
I am persecuted without cause; help me! 
87 They have almost made an end of me on earth;
but I have not forsaken your precepts. 
88 In your steadfast love spare my life,
so that I may keep the decrees of your mouth.


89 The Lord exists for ever;
your word is firmly fixed in heaven. 
90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 
91 By your appointment they stand today,
for all things are your servants. 
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my misery. 
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life. 
94 I am yours; save me,
for I have sought your precepts. 
95 The wicked lie in wait to destroy me,
but I consider your decrees. 
96 I have seen a limit to all perfection,
but your commandment is exceedingly broad.


97 Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long. 
98 Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is always with me. 
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your decrees are my meditation. 
100 I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts. 
101 I hold back my feet from every evil way,
in order to keep your word. 
102 I do not turn away from your ordinances,
for you have taught me. 
103 How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth! 
104 Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.


105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path. 
106 I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances. 
107 I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word. 
108 Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your ordinances. 
109 I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law. 
110 The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts. 
111 Your decrees are my heritage for ever;
they are the joy of my heart. 
112 I incline my heart to perform your statutes
for ever, to the end.


113 I hate the double-minded,
but I love your law. 
114 You are my hiding-place and my shield;
I hope in your word. 
115 Go away from me, you evildoers,
that I may keep the commandments of my God. 
116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live,
and let me not be put to shame in my hope. 
117 Hold me up, that I may be safe
and have regard for your statutes continually. 
118 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes;
for their cunning is in vain. 
119 All the wicked of the earth you count as dross;
therefore I love your decrees. 
120 My flesh trembles for fear of you,
and I am afraid of your judgements.


121 I have done what is just and right;
do not leave me to my oppressors. 
122 Guarantee your servant’s well-being;
do not let the godless oppress me. 
123 My eyes fail from watching for your salvation,
and for the fulfilment of your righteous promise. 
124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love,
and teach me your statutes. 
125 I am your servant; give me understanding,
so that I may know your decrees. 
126 It is time for the Lord to act,
for your law has been broken. 
127 Truly I love your commandments
more than gold, more than fine gold. 
128 Truly I direct my steps by all your precepts;
I hate every false way.


129 Your decrees are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them. 
130 The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple. 
131 With open mouth I pant,
because I long for your commandments. 
132 Turn to me and be gracious to me,
as is your custom towards those who love your name. 
133 Keep my steps steady according to your promise,
and never let iniquity have dominion over me. 
134 Redeem me from human oppression,
that I may keep your precepts. 
135 Make your face shine upon your servant,
and teach me your statutes. 
136 My eyes shed streams of tears
because your law is not kept.


137 You are righteous, O Lord,
and your judgements are right. 
138 You have appointed your decrees in righteousness
and in all faithfulness. 
139 My zeal consumes me
because my foes forget your words. 
140 Your promise is well tried,
and your servant loves it. 
141 I am small and despised,
yet I do not forget your precepts. 
142 Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness,
and your law is the truth. 
143 Trouble and anguish have come upon me,
but your commandments are my delight. 
144 Your decrees are righteous for ever;
give me understanding that I may live.


145 With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord.
I will keep your statutes. 
146 I cry to you; save me,
that I may observe your decrees. 
147 I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I put my hope in your words. 
148 My eyes are awake before each watch of the night,
that I may meditate on your promise. 
149 In your steadfast love hear my voice;
Lord, in your justice preserve my life. 
150 Those who persecute me with evil purpose draw near;
they are far from your law. 
151 Yet you are near, O Lord,
and all your commandments are true. 
152 Long ago I learned from your decrees
that you have established them for ever.


153 Look on my misery and rescue me,
for I do not forget your law. 
154 Plead my cause and redeem me;
give me life according to your promise. 
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes. 
156 Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your justice. 
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
yet I do not swerve from your decrees. 
158 I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands. 
159 Consider how I love your precepts;
preserve my life according to your steadfast love. 
160 The sum of your word is truth;
and every one of your righteous ordinances endures for ever.


161 Princes persecute me without cause,
but my heart stands in awe of your words. 
162 I rejoice at your word
like one who finds great spoil. 
163 I hate and abhor falsehood,
but I love your law. 
164 Seven times a day I praise you
for your righteous ordinances. 
165 Great peace have those who love your law;
nothing can make them stumble. 
166 I hope for your salvation, O Lord,
and I fulfil your commandments. 
167 My soul keeps your decrees;
I love them exceedingly. 
168 I keep your precepts and decrees,
for all my ways are before you.


169 Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word. 
170 Let my supplication come before you;
deliver me according to your promise. 
171 My lips will pour forth praise,
because you teach me your statutes. 
172 My tongue will sing of your promise,
for all your commandments are right. 
173 Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts. 
174 I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight. 
175 Let me live that I may praise you,
and let your ordinances help me. 
176 I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek out your servant,
for I do not forget your commandments.

Week 5

A Reflection on Psalm 31
By: Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison

Psalm 31 is a fairly long individual lament, and like most laments, Psalm 31 opens with a call for God’s attention and action, interwoven with assertions of trust (vv 1-2). The psalmist describes God with powerful images of strength and security (vv 3-4): “rock,” “fortress,” and “refuge.” Expressing a sense of being hunted and trapped, the psalmist prays to be delivered from the “net” lying in wait for her/him (v 4). With no other options, this sufferer places her/his life in God’s “hand” (v 5). This ultimate expression of trust may also be understood as a sign of resignation. Having no power to overcome the current situation, the psalmist desperately hopes that God can. The psalmist professes that their entire being is reliant on God.

 

After describing the situation that predicates the prayer of lament (vv 6-18), the closing section of Psalm 31 (vv 19-24) returns to the strong statements of trust in God and in God’s ability to make things right, to tame the “chaos” of the psalmist’s experience. The imagery found in vv 1-5 appears once again. Those who “take refuge” in God will benefit from God’s abundant grace (v 19). Divine “shelter” is provided for the faithful and keeps them safe from those who would do them harm (v 20). A testimony to God’s “steadfast love” is provided in vv 21-22.

 

We are left to wonder if this last section was added later, after the psalmist experienced rescue from her/his suffering (v 22). The psalm concludes with words of encouragement to the faithful congregation; “love the LORD… Be strong… take courage… all you who wait for the LORD” (vv 23-24). These verses also seem like a late addition, perhaps when this individual lament was adapted for liturgical use. This person’s experience of God’s “salvation” could be used as a lesson about faith and an encouragement for the gathered community in a time of distress. How do we name the chaos of our lives paired with an assurance of Divine presence in all situations?

Week 5 Scripture: Psalm 31

Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies

To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me. 
2 Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.


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


6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
but I trust in the Lord
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
because you have seen my affliction;
you have taken heed of my adversities, 
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.


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


11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me. 
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel. 
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
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;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. 
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love. 
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O Lord,
for I call on you;
let the wicked be put to shame;
let them go dumbfounded to Sheol. 
18 Let the lying lips be stilled
that speak insolently against the righteous
with pride and contempt.


19 O how abundant is your goodness
that you have laid up for those who fear you,
and accomplished for those who take refuge in you,
in the sight of everyone! 
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them
from human plots;
you hold them safe under your shelter
from contentious tongues.


21 Blessed be the Lord,
for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
when I was beset as a city under siege. 
22 I had said in my alarm,
‘I am driven far from your sight.’
But you heard my supplications
when I cried out to you for help.


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

Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.