PSALM 31 (0) For the leader. A psalm of David:
2 (1) In you, Adonai, I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
in your justice, save me!
3 (2) Turn your ear toward me,
come quickly to my rescue,
be for me a rock of strength,
a fortress to keep me safe.
4 (3) Since you are my rock and fortress,
lead me and guide me for your name’s sake.
5 (4) Free me from the net they have hidden to catch me,
because you are my strength.
6 (5) Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you will redeem me, Adonai, God of truth.
7 (6) I hate those who serve worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in Adonai.
8 (7) I will rejoice and be glad in your grace,
for you see my affliction,
you know how distressed I am.
9 (8) You did not hand me over to the enemy;
you set my feet where I can move freely.
10 (9) Show me favor, Adonai, for I am in trouble.
My eyes grow dim with anger,
my soul and body as well.
11 (10) For my life is worn out with sorrow
and my years with sighing;
my strength gives out under my guilt,
and my bones are wasting away.
12 (11) I am scorned by all my adversaries,
and even more by my neighbors;
even to acquaintances
I am an object of fear —
when they see me in the street,
they turn away from me.
13 (12) Like a dead man, I have passed from their minds;
I have become like a broken pot.
14 (13) All I hear is whispering,
terror is all around me;
they plot together against me,
scheming to take my life.
15 (14) But I, I trust in you, Adonai;
I say, “You are my God.”
16 (15) My times are in your hand;
rescue me from my enemies’ power,
from those who persecute me.
17 (16) Make your face shine on your servant;
in your grace, save me.
18 (17) Adonai, don’t let me be put to shame,
for I have called on you;
let the wicked be put to shame,
let them be silenced in Sh’ol.
19 (18) May lying lips be struck dumb,
that speak insolently against the righteous
with such pride and contempt.
20 (19) But oh, how great is your goodness,
which you have stored up for those who fear you,
which you do for those who take refuge in you,
before people’s very eyes!
21 (20) In the shelter of your presence
you hide them from human plots,
you conceal them in your shelter,
safe from contentious tongues.
22 (21) Blessed be Adonai!
For he has shown me his amazing grace
when I was in a city under siege.
23 (22) As for me, in my alarm I said,
“I have been cut off from your sight!”
Nevertheless, you heard my pleas
when I cried out to you.
24 (23) Love Adonai, you faithful of his.
Adonai preserves the loyal,
but the proud he repays in full.
25 (24) Be strong, and fill your hearts with courage,
all of you who hope in Adonai.
Lack of time pushed me to skip translating today’s psalm and to use the Complete Jewish Bible version, as above. It shows graphically the usage of the accepted text of the Hebrew Bible: namely that where the original text has YHWH, the holy name of God, it is given the vowel signs for ADONAI (my Lord) so that the holy name is not spoken.
I have to confess that I am not much attracted to this psalm as it seems to me a collection of all the phrases customarily used in Psalms of complaint: the Lord is asked to be a rock and fortress, to make his face shine on the speaker, who is cast down, worn out, and unjustly attacked, by people who are destroying his reputation by slanderous whispers. Shakespeare’s put-upon puritan character Malvolio comes to mind. At times you want to shake the speaker, tell him to face up to his gossiping enemies, and get a life.
Some features however lead me to moderate this coarse judgement.
Verse 6 is reported by Luke to have been the final words of Jesus on the cross, which shows that the psalm had impressed Luke, if not Jesus himself, as an image of the sufferings of God’s servant, reminding me that this psalm echoes the complaints of Jeremiah and the songs of God’s servant in Isaiah 40-55, which sum up the painful experience of prophetic unpopularity and national exile. Although the psalm itself is not vivid it points to a personal and communal experience of rejection that is well-known to anyone who has ever spoken up for God’s justice.
The help that Adonai gives is “The shelter of his presence”, meaning his presence in temple worship. The psalms were used in the worship of the second temple and one cannot overestimate the importance of the temple to those who wanted to be faithful to God. There, in the place to which God had given his name, where the holy tent was kept, where the sacrifices were offered, there the sorely tried servant of God found solace and reassurance. It may be that evil people will get their punishment from God, but meantime faithful people are sustained by the temple and its gatherings. The joy in God’s goodness expressed by the speaker comes from nothing more than the experience of regular communal worship.
In the psalms of complaint the prophetic and priestly traditions of Jewish faith come together: the one who lives and speaks God’s justice is nourished by the ordinary worship of God’s people.