PSALM 41 To the leaders, a psalm for David
Good fortune to the one who protects the helpless!
The Lord saves him in the day when trouble strikes.
The Lord guards him and keeps him alive
And gives him good fortune in the land.
He does not give him up to the desire of his enemies.
The Lord will nurse him on his sickbed
Overthrowing the weakness of disease.
I had said, “Take pity on me Lord;
Heal me for I have sinned against you.
My enemies say, ‘He’s in bad trouble!
When will he die and his name vanish?’
If one of them comes to see me,
He speaks empty words;
His heart gathers lies to itself
To tell others when he goes out.
All those who hate me whisper together against me;
They attribute the harm to me!
‘ Rottenness sticks to him;
He’s down and will never get up!’
Yes, my bosom friend, whom I trusted, who ate my bread,
Has turned his back on me.
But you, Lord, you be good to me,
Raise me up and I will reward them!
This is how I will know that you are good to me:
My enemy will not make his victory shout over me!”
And now you support me in my innocence
And keep me in your presence forever.
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel
Forever and Forever, Amen and Amen!
(Translated emmock 2015)
This is the last psalm in the first book of Psalms as determined by the ancient Jewish editors. It begins in the same way as Psalm 1 (Good fortune etc) and ends with a blessing and amens.
The first part of the psalm sets out the claim that God looks after the person who looks after the poor and helpless. This is made in very general terms, but the psalm quickly turns personal, giving the witness of someone who has been struck down with illness which his enemies interpret as evidence that he is being punished for his sins. In this state of helplessness the speaker pleads with God for vindication. And the God who helps, and blesses those who help the helpless, helps him in his time of need.
This brief psalm picks up the main themes of the first book:
- The distinction between the wise (who reverence God and his Law) and the foolish people (who do not)
- The opposition of God to the arrogant rich people and his favour to the modest poor people,
- The question of suffering: does it always come because of sin and if not, why do good people suffer and evil people prosper? This book of psalms insists that God’s rewards and punishments may be slow but they always cone eventually.
- The question of the speaker’s identity: of course there are individual speakers imagined by the authors, but because of the Davidic attribution, there is also the suggestion that they may be spoken on behalf of Israel by its anointed ruler. And indeed Christian believers have often thought of them as spoken on behalf of all believers by Jesus their anointed ruler.
These themes are however treated sometimes with great originality and always with a sense of intimacy with God. God always remains God, the source of wisdom and justice, who must be reverenced; but that does not keep the faithful person at arms length: majesty does not exclude intimacy but rather invites it. The speakers know their God well and are used to dealing with his/her unpredictable loving-kindness and his/her rages. They invent and re-invent a divine partner of their personal and communal lives, a gracious friend and implacable enemy, lover, monster and mystery, a living image which points beyond itself towards what cannot be expressed.