Saturday, 5 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
5 March 2022 (Psalms 10, 11, 12)

‘The helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan’ (Psalm 10: 14) … Frank Meisler’s bronze sculpture, ‘Children of the Kindertransport,’ at Liverpool Street Station, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Lent began this week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022). 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 10:

In the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate, Psalm 10 is not an individual psalm but effectively the second part of Psalm 9, Ut quid Domine recessisti. These two consecutive psalms form a single acrostic Hebrew poem in the original Hebrew text.

Some commentators speculate that the final word of Psalm 9, selah, possibly meaning ‘a pause,’ may serve to link Psalms 9 and 10 together.

Compared to Psalm 9, Psalm 10 is focused more on the individual than the collective human condition. Psalm 8 reflects on humanity’s special place in creation. In contrast, psalms 9 and 10 end with statements setting humanity in a more negative light in the final verses of each. Psalm 9 closes with the phase ‘Put them in fear, O Lord; let the nations know that they are only human. Selah’ (Psalm 9: 20) and Psalm 10 closes with ‘… so that those from earth may strike terror no more’ (Psalm 10: 18).

Psalm 11:

Psalm 11 is numbered as Psalm 10 in a slightly different numbering in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate. It is sometimes known by its opening Latin words, In Domino confide. It is traditionally attributed to King David, but most scholars now place its origin some time after the end of the Babylonian captivity.

The shape of this psalm differs from the usual scheme. Hermann Gunkel finally sees it as a ‘confidence Psalm in the form of conversation’ and the ‘subjective response of a single poet to an involuntary emergency.’

Others see it as psalm of lamentations or as a song of prayer.

Usually, the Psalm is organised as follows:

1, Verse 1a: trust in God
2, Verse 1b-3: Rejecting the advice of well-meaning friends
3, Verse 4-7: God as fair judge and helper of the persecuted

The psalm begins by putting a question to the writer’s soul: ‘how can you say to me, ‘Flee like a bird to the mountains?’ (Psalm 11: 1). Many commentaries see this fleeing as negative and running away rather than trusting in God.

But the Psalmist resolves to trust God. There is an irony in that King David fled from Saul to the mountains, but in the long run became King in Jerusalem (see I Samuel 21 to 23).

In additionally, there is a contrast with Psalm 7: the wicked shoot arrows at the righteous in Psalm 11, but in Psalm 7 God prepared his bow and arrows for the wicked. There is also a tension: God is felt to be far away and unresponsive, but he is not and that tension also appears in other Psalms, including Psalm 22.

Psalm 12:

Psalm 12 is known in the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate as Psalm 11 due to a difference in numbering. It is sometimes known by its opening words in Latin, Salvum me fac.

Psalm 12 is traditionally assigned to King David, and is a cry for help amidst evil men who speak lies to each other with flattering lips and ‘double hearts.’ An answer to the cry for help comes: God will arise and defend the poor.

Many writers have pointed out that it is not at all clear where else God said ‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up’ (verse 5). Some suggest some special revelation through David himself, as David claimed the spirit of God spoke through him (see II Samuel 23: 12). Other possibilities include Isaiah 33: 10 (‘I will arise’) in the context of a greater salvation for Israel, or arising for judgment as in Genesis 18: 20-21, where God got up and went down to Sodom because of cries of oppression.

Hope in God’s promise that to arise and defend the poor is bolstered by a reminder that God’s word is like silver that was purified over and over even seven times. That help will be apparently deferred in Psalm 13 with cries of ‘How long?’

David himself, in his final Psalm of blessing for Solomon, urges Solomon to emulate God in defending the poor (see Psalm 72: 4).

Humanity’s sinful state is a theme and like the two previous psalms, Psalm 12 ends with an uncomplimentary statement about the wicked in verse 8.

Psalm 10 (NRSVA):

1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord.
4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, ‘God will not seek it out’;
all their thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’

5 Their ways prosper at all times;
your judgements are on high, out of their sight;
as for their foes, they scoff at them.
6 They think in their heart, ‘We shall not be moved;
throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.’

7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding-places they murder the innocent.

Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.

10 They stoop, they crouch,
and the helpless fall by their might.
11 They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’

12 Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
do not forget the oppressed.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God,
and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account’?

14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
you have been the helper of the orphan.

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers;
seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The Lord is king for ever and ever;
the nations shall perish from his land.

17 O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 11 (NRSVA):

To the leader. Of David.

1 In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to me,
‘Flee like a bird to the mountains;
2 for look, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.
3 If the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do?’

4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord’s throne is in heaven.
His eyes behold, his gaze examines humankind.
5 The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates the lover of violence.
6 On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulphur;
a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
the upright shall behold his face.

Psalm 12 (NRSVA):

To the leader: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

1 Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
the faithful have disappeared from humankind.
2 They utter lies to each other;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, ‘With our tongues we will prevail;
our lips are our own—who is our master?’

5 ‘Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan,
I will now rise up,’ says the Lord;
‘I will place them in the safety for which they long.’
6 The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,
silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.

7 You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation for ever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (5 March 2022) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray for restorative and transformative justice around the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘Flee like a bird to the mountains’ (Psalm 11: 1) … a stained-glass window in the Church of the Annunciation in Clonard, Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

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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