Here I continue my translation with brief commentary of Pslams 42-72, the second book of Psalms according to the traditional division. I am omitting Psalm 53 as it is simply an edited version of Psalm 14, upon which I have already worked in emmock.com bible blog 15 Oct 2015.
To the Choir Leader. With stringed instruments. A Maskil for David, when the Ziphites went and told Sauk that Divid was hiding amongst them.
Rescue me, God, by your name;
Uphold my cause by your power.
Hear my prayer, Holy One,
And listen to the words of my mouth.
Lawless men have attacked me;
Fierce men want my life;
They have no interest in God.
But God is my helper;
The Lord sustains my soul,
returning harm to my enemies.
Yes, destroy them by your truth!
Wholeheartedly I will offer sacrifice to you;
I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.
For you have rescued me from all distress
and my eye has smiled at my enemy.
One commentary I read criticises this psalm as little more than a recital of cliches. That strikes me as a half truth. Yes, the phrases of the psalm can mostly be found elsewhere, but here they are used simply and with brevity to give a sort of classic instance of the prayer of complaint. There are no wasted words.
It deals with the common situation of the good and godly person who is being harshly treated by people who are “strangers to morality” that is, lawless people without conscience who have no interest in Israel’s God, literally, “they do not put God before them.” The oppressors know of no dimension of life beyond their own desire, and therefore see no reason for self-control or care of others.
What resources can the decent person bring to the struggle for her life?
The psalmist says simply that God is the resource because God sustains her soul, that is, her inmost life, even in the face of bullying. The way God manages the world means that those who do harm find themselves harmed. This is similar to the doctrine of karma in Hinduism/ Buddhism, but is attributed here to the action of God. The psalmist prays that the enemy will be destroyed by God’s truth, that is, by God’s faithfulness to his/her character. The enemy is exposed as an enemy also of God, who upholds the cause of the good person by standing up for divine truth.
The grateful person sings the praise of God because she can “see” her enemy. The Hebrew verb is often used to mean, “see with pleasure” and I have translated accordingly. The enemy can be seen with pleasure because he is exposed as God’s enemy also, and has forfeited God’s protection.
If we ask whether the oppressive person will be punished in ways that are visible to all, we are answered by a certainty that they will be held to account, whether or not this is evident to the public.
In a sense the critics are right: there’s nothing new here; but it’s said very well.