06 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
6 March 2022 (Psalms 13, 14, 15)

‘Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death’ (Psalm 13: 3) … a funeral stele in Kerameikos Cemetery in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022), and today is the First Sunday in Lent. Before today begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During Lent this year, in this Prayer Diary on my blog each morning, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 13:

Psalm 13 is often known in English by its opening words in the King James Version, ‘How long, O Lord.’ The words ‘How long?’ – repeated four times in this psalm – resemble cries.

Early Patristic sources suggest Psalm 13 was composed by King David when his son Absalom conspired against him. The entire psalm is an appropriate prayer for the well-being of a sick person, according to the Chatam Sofer, one of the great rabbis of central Europe in the early 19th century. The Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon described this as the ‘How Long Psalm’ – or the ‘Howling Psalm.’ Certainly, this psalm gives voice to feelings that arise in any of the many trials we may experience in life.

Both Jewish and Christian commentators note the three-part structure of Psalm 13, with verses 2-3 in the Hebrew (1-2 in the KJV) relating to David’s complaint, verses 4-5 in the Hebrew (3-4 in the KJV) expressing David’s prayer, and verse 6 in the Hebrew (5-6 in the KJV) describing David’s salvation.

The psalmist appears to be frustrated by waiting for God: four times he asks ‘how long …?’ When, he asks, will God care for him again and return to taking an interest in him? How long must his soul feel alienated from God? How long will his those who ignores God’s ways continue to insist that his trust in God is foolishness?

He prays for God’s help. He asks God to strengthen him and give him the will to continue living. The psalmist has trusted in God’s steadfast love and generosity. He hopes to thank God for saving him by singing God’s praises.

‘The evildoers … eat up my people as they eat bread (Psalm 14: 4) … bread in a shop window in St Ives in Cornwall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 14:

Psalm 14 laments the breakdown of the moral order. For the psalmist, the world is full of ‘fools’ who deny that God is concerned with human behaviour, people who are corrupt and do terrible things. God sees no one who seeks to follow God’s ways, so do these wicked people not understand God at all?

But God is in the community of those who follow his ways, and God will protect them and deliver the oppressed from the ungodly. When he does, all Israel, Jacob’s descendants, will rejoice.

Psalm 15:

Psalm 15 may have been written for a liturgy of admission to the Temple. The pilgrim asks God: who may come to holy mountain to worship God in the Temple?

The reply in verses 2-5a says those who truly worship God are those who do what it right, who speak truth, who do not lie, who do no evil to friends or neighbours, and who refuse to honour the wicked.

In addition, they do not exploit the poor financially through money-lending or usury, and they do not accept bribes.

Psalm 13 (NRSVA):

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

1 How long, O Lord? Will you forget me for ever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 14 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of David.

1 Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is no one who does good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.

3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.

4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon the Lord?

5 There they shall be in great terror,
for God is with the company of the righteous.
6 You would confound the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is their refuge.

7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Psalm 15 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of David.

1 O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbours;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honour those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (6 March 2022, Lent I) invites us to pray:

Loving God,
help us to reject earthly temptations
and focus on serving you.
May we trust in you
to provide for us.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven’ … part of the Beatitudes in the reredos in the Unitarian Church, Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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