More on Psalm 17

We pray for God to draw forth his sword
and God hears the call to redeem the earth.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
     hide me in the shadow of your wings

It doesn’t say apple.  Not really.  It’s an attempt to translate a Hebrew word that is, apparently, a diminutive form of the word for a man.  It refers to that tiny reflection of yourself you can see in the pupil of another person when you look into their eyes.

Keep me there, O God.  Keep me there in the center of your vision.  Keep me there in your eyes radiant with affection.  May your face ever shine on me.

And hide me – cover me beneath your wings.  It’s not that God has wings, but there are creatures around him with great and majestic wings.  Creatures whose wings spread over the ark of the covenant.  Creatures who “travel to and fro over the earth.”  Creatures who cry “Glory.”

Hide me there, O God, in your presence, at our feet, under the shadow of your holy angels.  Cover me with your protection:

 9 from the wicked who assail me,
     from my mortal enemies who surround me.
10 They close up their callous hearts,
     and their mouths speak with arrogance.
11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me,
     with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion hungry for prey,
     like a great lion crouching in cover.

Callous hearts.  Arrogant mouths.  Those who wait to bring us down.  The lion stalking in the bush.  Ah, the joys of the royal court.  The joys of Pennsylvania Avenue.  The joys of the corporate ladder.  The joys of 5th grade after school when the bully vows to carry out his threats.  The joys of every little club and congregation.  These are the joys also, I assume, of life near those teenage girls who can be ruthless in their own way, but of this I have no experience – though I have seen some hard to explain tears in my daughters.

Callous hearts.  Arrogant mouths.  Those who wait to bring us down.  They are the wicked.  They are those who rob life of its goodness.   Who stand against the world of God’s creating.  They make themselves the enemies of God and man.

13 Rise up, O Lord, confront them, bring them down;
     rescue me from the wicked by your sword.
14 O Lord, by your hand save me from such men,
     from men of this world whose reward is in this life.

Rise up, O Lord.  Draw your sword.  Go forth to battle against those “whose reward is in this life.”

There is no horizon to the lives of such “wicked”.  They do not see themselves measured by eternity.  They amass wealth, power or fame rather than honor and goodness, even if it is only the petty power of the playground or the petty tyranny within a home.

Rise up, O Lord.  Go forth to battle against the hungry lion: that strange brokenness of the human heart that takes satisfaction in wounding rather than healing, dividing rather than uniting, tearing down rather than building up.  That steps so easily on others for it’s own advantage.  That speaks a cruel word for the pleasure of the moment without regard for the long-term damage to a relationship, without regard for its effect on the quality of life, without regard for eternity.

Draw your sword, O God.

…confront them, bring them down;
      rescue me…

In the face of the lion, our prayer is often confused.  Are we looking for defense or revenge?  Deliverance or payback?  Are we asking God for an intervention that saves the wicked too?

Such nobility is usually absent in our prayer.  Fortunately it is not absent in God.

This strange God of Israel and of Jesus, who gave pharaoh ten opportunities to save himself from the evils of slavery, this strange God who cast down his own people in order to raise them up, this strange God who sends rain on the just and the unjust and regards enemies as members of his own household, this God brings down in order to raise up, wounds in order to heal.  He is not in this game for the deliverance of a “righteous” few, but the redemption of all.

So we pray for vengeance and God hears reconciliation.  We pray for God to draw forth his sword and God hears the call to redeem the earth.  He rises up, as we have asked, and plants his strange sword into the earth at Calvary.


About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Psalms, Reflections on the Scriptures and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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