12 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
12 March 2022 (Psalms 31, 32, 33)

‘Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings’ (Psalm 33: 2) … lyres in a shop front on a street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

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.

‘Take me out of the net that they have laid secretly for me, for you are my strength’ (Psalm 31: 4) … a maze of fences at Lëkurësi Castle near Sarandë, Albania (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 31:

Psalm 31 was often known in English by its first verse in the Book of Common Prayer ‘In thee, O Lord, have I put my trust.’ There, it was headed with the Latin opening words, In te, Domine, speravi, and it was one of the two psalms appointed for Morning Prayer on Day 6. The first line in Latin, In te, Domine, speravi, is also the final line of the canticle, Te Deum, ‘In you, Lord, is our hope, let us never be put to shame.’

This psalm has been set to music often, both completely and using specific sections such as Illumina faciem tuam (‘Let your face shine’). Johann Crüger, Heinrich Schütz, Joseph Haydn, Felix Mendelssohn, and others, have written choral settings.

In Jewish tradition, verse 5 is part of Baruch Adonai L’Olam in the evening prayer, part of the bedtime Shema, and it starts the last verse of the traditional hymn Adon Olam:

Into his hand my soul I place,
when I awake and when I sleep.
God with me, I shall not fear;
body and soul from harm will he keep.

In addition, verses 15 and 17 are part of the preliminary morning prayers.

The four evangelists each cite the last words of Christ on the Cross, which have traditionally counted as the ‘Seven Last Words.’ Saint Luke is alone in telling us that Christ cried out a second time: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23: 46), quoting Psalm 31: 5, which says in full: ‘Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.’ Tradition also says that these were the last words of Saint Polycarp, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Hussite martyr Jerome of Prague, Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon.

The Hebrew incipit at the opening of the text of this psalm indicates it was composed by David: ‘To the leader. A Psalm of David.’ Perhaps it was written by David when he was fleeing from Saul. Other commentaries suggest the author knew Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and many psalms of the Persian period. This would mean it was written at or after the reforms of Nehemiah ca 445 BC.

In this psalm, David calls God his ‘rock,’ his ‘fortress’ and his ‘refuge,’ guarding and protecting him on all sides, even when he feels as though a ‘net’ waits to ensnare him – either death or his enemies.

He knows his destiny depends on God, and he prays for God’s blessing:

Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love (Psalm 31: 16).

‘Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle’ (Psalm 32: 9) … ‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ by Maurice Harron off the N4, near Boyle, Co Roscommon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 32:

Psalm 32 tells us that happiness is found in knowing that God has forgiven us, leaving us without guilt.

The psalmist was seriously ill and in pain, which were signs of being alienated from God, ‘day and night.’ But when he acknowledged his sin, acknowledged his transgressions, confessed to God, and God forgave him.

Now he is now protected by God, and God promises to lead him, guide him and teach him, showing him mercy. For this, the psalmist is glad and rejoices, and his shouts of joy should be echoed by all who worship God.

‘The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save (Psalm 33: 17) … horsemen on the Parthenon frieze in the Acropolis Museum in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 33:

Psalm 33 praises the Sovereignty of God in creation and in history and a song of praise.

Psalm 33 does not contain an ascription to any particular author in the Hebrew text, although the Septuagint ascribes it to David. Some manuscripts join this psalm with Psalm 32. Some commentators even suggest Psalm 33 dates from the time of the Maccabees.

We may divide this psalm in this way:

1, A call to worship in the temple with song, music, and shouting (verses 1-3), because of God’s righteousness and kindness (verses 4-5).

2, All humanity is called to fear God, the creator of all things, and disposer of all nations (verses 6-10).

3, God inspects all humanity from his heavenly throne inspects all mankind (verses 13-15); and victory is not due to armies or warriors (verses 16-17).

4, God delivers those who fear him (verse 18-19); therefore his people long for him, are glad in him, and trust in his name for victory (verses 20-22).

In addition, a gloss praises God’s plans as everlastingly secure, and also the happiness of his people (verses 11-12).

Psalm 31 (NRSVA):

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.

Psalm 32 (NRSVA):

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.

Psalm 33 (NRSVA):

1 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright.
2 Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
4 For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
10 The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.
12 Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
13 The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees all humankind.
14 From where he sits enthroned he watches all the inhabitants of the earth—
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all, and observes all their deeds.
16 A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save.
18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
20 Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.
21 Our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (12 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the Church of the Province of Central Africa and its churches across Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Sing to him a new song; play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts’ (Psalm 33: 3) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, 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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