08 March 2022
Praying with the Psalms in Lent:
8 March 2022 (Psalms 19, 20, 21)
Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday (2 March 2022), and Sunday 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.
Many of us are familiar with this Psalm because the concluding verse (14) has traditionally been used in the Church of Ireland to introduce sermons: ‘Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.’
This psalm is a hymn of glory to the universe as God’s work and to God’s precepts in word of God.
In Psalm 19, the heavens and the earth proclaim God’s glory and power (verses 1-6), the covenant is an expression of God’s will for Israel (verses 7-9), and we are reminded that the ‘fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever’ (verse 9). This Psalm also links God’s judgement with God’s forgiveness. Note too, the description of the psalmist as God’s ‘servant’ (verses 11, 13).
In the first half of the poem, the Psalmist speaks metaphorically of creation singing a song of praise to its Creator. The former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sachs, describes this as ‘a silent song yet one that can be heard by those whose ears are attuned to wonder.’
‘Yet their sound’ or ‘Yet their music’ (verse 4) – literally ‘their line’ – may refer to the reverberating string of a musical instrument; but it may mean the line marking a boundary – a reference to the order and ‘fearful symmetry’ of the universe.
But God’s word not only gives life to the natural universe: it instructs the human universe, the world we make by our actions and reactions. The Psalmist pours out his praise to God’s creation of the world-that-is, and God’s revelation of the world-that-ought-to-be.
There are many words and phrases in this psalm that at first glance suggest a great conviction that the Lord will grant whatever we wish, as long as we have enough faith. But this is, at the very least, an over-simplification.
Several of the verses in Psalm 20 start with the word ‘may’ (see verses 2, 3, 4, 5a, 5b in the NRSV and NRSVA translations; verses 1, 5a and 5b in the Book of Common Prayer Psalter, pp 612-613).
This may suggest that what follows is not guaranteed to come to pass, but we are also asked to consider whether what we desire is the same as what God desires. God knows better than us what we need and what we want.
At the same time, God is our loving father we should not be afraid to ask for things. Verses 6, 7 and 8 are perhaps a good illustration of this point: if the Lord will help or save his anointed (verse 6), then as God’s children we can be sure God will help us.
Psalm 21 is accredited to David. It is numbered Psalm 20 in the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate translations of the Bible.
This royal psalm and the previous psalm, Psalm 20, are closely related: they are both liturgical psalms; in both, the king is the prominent figure. This psalm may have been written before a battle, after a victory, at the king’s coronation, or at an annual celebration of the king’s accession.
Psalm 21 is characterised as a psalm of thanksgiving. It focuses on the imagery of a king. In the Bible, the king is often credited with being an example of the moral state of a kingdom.
The New Revised Standard Version describes Psalm 21 as a psalm of ‘thanksgiving for victory.’ The Jerusalem Bible identifies both messianic and eschatological themes in Psalm 21 (20), and associates this psalm with the idea of ‘Christ the King.’
The King James or Authorised Version, in its translation of verse 9, gives us the phrase in English ‘the time of thine anger.’ This is translated in the Jerusalem Bible as ‘the day that you appear.’
Psalm 19 (NRSVA):
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 20 (NRSVA):
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
The name of the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary,
and give you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your offerings,
and regard with favour your burnt sacrifices.
4 May he grant you your heart’s desire,
and fulfil all your plans.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory,
and in the name of our God set up our banners.
May the Lord fulfil all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with mighty victories by his right hand.
7 Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright.
9 Give victory to the king, O Lord;
answer us when we call.
Psalm 21 (NRSVA):
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord,
and in your help how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart’s desire,
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
3 For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold on his head.
4 He asked you for life; you gave it to him—
length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your help;
splendour and majesty you bestow on him.
6 You bestow on him blessings for ever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them like a fiery furnace
when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their offspring from the earth,
and their children from among humankind.
11 If they plan evil against you,
if they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.
13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power.
The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary this morning (8 March 2022, International Women’s Day) invites us to pray:
Today we pray for women across the world. May we celebrate women’s achievements and continue to demand gender justice and equality.
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