Monday, 7 March 2022

Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
7 March 2022 (Psalms 16, 17, 18)

‘The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places …’ (Psalm 16: 6) … the former Cold War border separating Italy and Slovenia and dividing the town of Gorizia or Gorica (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022), and yesterday was 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 16:

Psalm 16 is described as ‘a mitkam of David’ or ‘a song of trust and security in God.’ This psalm may have been written the Persian period, after 539 BCE, and for phrases and concepts the author may have drawn on Jeremiah 23: 6, 33: 16; Deuteronomy 33: 12; and the Book of Ezra.

This is the psalm that is quoted throughout Saint Peter’s speech in the Acts of the Apostles. However, the verses in the NRSV and NRSVA translations of this psalm are significantly different from Saint Peter’s quotations from it in the Acts of the Apostles.

Why is this so?

Saint Peter is quoting from the Septuagint (LXX) or Greek translation of the Bible, which was then used throughout Greek-speaking Jewish communities in the Mediterranean world. This translation could be said to take liberties with the original Hebrew text.

In addition, we can imagine Saint Peter citing the psalm loosely, quoting it from memory when it would not be possible to read from a standard, printed version.

Verses 1-2 summarise the psalm, as the speaker seeks refuge in worship in the Temple, where he sees God as the supreme good.

He sees the members of the faithful community, ‘the holy ones,’ as models for living, and refuses to worship with those who choose pagan gods, and will not even associate with them. His fate and his future are in God’s hands.

The author compares his lot to that of a Levite. For the other 11 tribes, there were boundary lines between the tribal territories in Israel, but the Levites received no land. In a similar way, the psalmist’s chosen portion is God himself.

God gives him counsel, teaches him, guides him and gladdens his heart. Because God guides him, he will stray, but continue to follow godly ways. For these reasons, he does not fear death but can be filled with joy for evermore.

Psalm 17:

Psalm 17 is described as ‘a prayer of David.’ Verses 1-7 can be described as a prayer for God’s intervention on behalf of the righteous, and the concluding verse, verse 16, as a response of faith and hope.

The psalmist prays for deliverance from his accusers who behave deceitfully. May God show them that I am innocent. ‘Visit me by night,’ when I am asleep and defenceless. You will find me godly in action and word. I keep the Law and I have always been peaceful, unlike others. I have kept to God’s ways and never slipped. I am sure that God will hear me, and hear me now.

He asks God to show his love and mercy, already made known in God’s covenant with the people. Through his power, or with his right hand, God has saved those who seek refuge in God. The God who is asked to use his eyes to behold what is right (verse 2) is the God who will keep me as the apple of his eye (verse 8).

And so the psalmist is confident that he will see God’s face and find himself in the presence of God.

Psalm 18:

Psalm 18 is numbered as Psalm 17 in the slightly different numbering system used in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translations of the Bible. With 50 verses, this is the longest psalm in Book 1 of the Book of Psalms (Psalms 1-41).

This psalm is one of a number of psalms which refer to God as a ‘rock’ and a ‘fortress’. The Jerusalem Bible describes this psalm as ‘a triumphal ode combining a thanksgiving prayer … with a royal victory song, ending on a messianic note.’

Psalm 18 is almost identical to II Samuel 22, although verse 1 of the psalm, ‘I love you, O Lord, my strength,’ is not included in the version in II Samuel. Many commentators point out how this psalm borrows material from II Samuel 22, which may have been written by King David himself, with later additions by multiple editors adapting it for use in public worship.

Psalm 16 (NRSVA):

A Miktam of David.

1 Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.’

3 As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

4 Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink-offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6 The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8 I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

‘Guard me as the apple of the eye’ (Psalm 17: 8) … apples in the Orachard in Grantchester, near Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 17 (NRSVA):

A Prayer of David.

1 Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.

3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.
4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.
7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O saviour of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

8 Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
9 from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.
10 They close their hearts to pity;
with their mouths they speak arrogantly.
11 They track me down; now they surround me;
they set their eyes to cast me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion eager to tear,
like a young lion lurking in ambush.

13 Rise up, O Lord, confront them, overthrow them!
By your sword deliver my life from the wicked,
14 from mortals—by your hand, O Lord—
from mortals whose portion in life is in this world.
May their bellies be filled with what you have stored up for them;
may their children have more than enough;
may they leave something over to their little ones.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

‘By my God I can leap over a wall’ (Psalm 18: 29) … the walls of the Jewish Cemetery at Woodtown, Rathfarnham, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 18 (NRSVA):

To the leader. A Psalm of David the servant of the Lord, who addressed the words of this song to the Lord on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said:

1 I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised;
so I shall be saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of perdition assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice,
and my cry to him reached his ears.

7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils,
and devouring fire from his mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens, and came down;
thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub, and flew;
he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering around him,
his canopy thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him
there broke through his clouds
hailstones and coals of fire.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered his voice.
14 And he sent out his arrows, and scattered them;
he flashed forth lightnings, and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.

16 He reached down from on high, he took me;
he drew me out of mighty waters.
17 He delivered me from my strong enemy,
and from those who hated me;
for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity;
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place;
he delivered me, because he delighted in me.

20 The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his ordinances were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from guilt.
24 Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

25 With the loyal you show yourself loyal;
with the blameless you show yourself blameless;
26 with the pure you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you show yourself perverse.
27 For you deliver a humble people,
but the haughty eyes you bring down.
28 It is you who light my lamp;
the Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
29 By you I can crush a troop,
and by my God I can leap over a wall.
30 This God – his way is perfect;
the promise of the Lord proves true;
he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

31 For who is God except the Lord?
And who is a rock besides our God?—
32 the God who girded me with strength,
and made my way safe.
33 He made my feet like the feet of a deer,
and set me secure on the heights.
34 He trains my hands for war,
so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You have given me the shield of your salvation,
and your right hand has supported me;
your help has made me great.
36 You gave me a wide place for my steps under me,
and my feet did not slip.
37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
and did not turn back until they were consumed.
38 I struck them down, so that they were not able to rise;
they fell under my feet.
39 For you girded me with strength for the battle;
you made my assailants sink under me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs to me,
and those who hated me I destroyed.
41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them;
they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
42 I beat them fine, like dust before the wind;
I cast them out like the mire of the streets.

43 You delivered me from strife with the peoples;
you made me head of the nations;
people whom I had not known served me.
44 As soon as they heard of me they obeyed me;
foreigners came cringing to me.
45 Foreigners lost heart,
and came trembling out of their strongholds.

46 The Lord lives! Blessed be my rock,
and exalted be the God of my salvation,
47 the God who gave me vengeance
and subdued peoples under me;
48 who delivered me from my enemies;
indeed, you exalted me above my adversaries;
you delivered me from the violent.

49 For this I will extol you, O Lord, among the nations,
and sing praises to your name.
50 Great triumphs he gives to his king,
and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
to David and his descendants for ever.

Today’s Prayer:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (7 March 2022, Commonwealth Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ across the Commonwealth, a political association of 54 free and equal states across the world.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘My footsteps hold fast in the ways of your commandments’ (Psalm 17: 5) … footsteps in the sand at Ballybunion (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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