This blog continues my translation of Psalms 42-72, with comment.
For the choir leader. To “ Do not destroy” For David, a miktam, when he fled from Saul, in the cave.
Be good to me, God, be good to me,
for my soul seeks safety in you;
in the shade of your wings I will find safety
until destruction moves on.
I cry out to God, the High One,
to God who fulfils my need
He will send from the sky to rescue me;
he will pluck up those who stalk me;
he will send out his abiding love.
For I must lie down amongst lions
ravenous for human prey,
whose teeth are spears and arrows
whose tongue, a sharp sword.
May your greatness, O God, be over the skies
Your splendour over all the earth!
They stretched out a net for my footsteps;
they dug a pit in my path;
but they have fallen into it.
My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready:
I will sing psalms!
Waken up, my glory!
Waken up, my harp and lyre!
that I may awaken the dawn.
Among the peoples I will acknowledge you, Lord;
Among the nations I will sing your praise.
For your lovingkindness is lauded to the skies
your fidelity to the clouds.
May your greatness, O God be over the skies,
Your splendour over all the earth!
This is another “psalm of complaint” in which the author describes the threat of his enemies, but in this case, it would appear, the enemies are already defeated by their own faulty stratagems, and praise of God is as strong as petition.
The phrasing of the petition however is a fine mixture of traditional langauge and new invention:
In the shade of your wings I will find safety
until destruction moves on
The image of the chick hiding under its mother’s wings is made more vivid by the combination of abstract and concrete language – “until destruction moves on” If we ask what excatly this means, we realise that the psalmist, speaking for a person or for Israel, entrusts her life to God, that is, to God’s ways rather than the ways of the world. She will not imitate the violence of his enemies. This act of faith gives her confidence.
God’s response is given visual imagery but we are not to think of it as a supernatural intervention. It comes from the “sky” envisaged as a dimension beyond the earth, from which God sends out his abiding love, which is at the same time, the plucking up of the enemies. The one is parallel to the other: God’s love, as we Scots might say, “ca’s the feet” from the wrongdoers. In fact, as we will hear, they fall into whatever trap they have set for the speaker, but the credit is given to God who has “plucked them up.” God’s help is real, but it can only be seen by the eye of faith.
The image of the lions reminds us of the story of Daniel, where the lion’s den provides a picture of the danger to which Israel is always exposed. A peculiarity of such psalms is that the lying, scornful, or boastful words of the enemy are always mentioned as a special provocation because they come from people who for the moment anyway, have power over their victims. (It may be that the truly hurtful force of Boris Johnson’s jokes about burqas is his sense of entitlement and scorn.)
The motif of wrongdoers falling into their own trap is proverbial in many languages and appears a number of times in the Psalms. The fact that it is a traditional scenario may remind us that it happens more often than we think.
The psalmist then depicts herself performing a psalm of thanksgiving, trusting her own creativity to “summon the dawn” that is, to greet the new day, which is also the day of God’s goodness, and to praise God as the One who is greater than earth or sky, the One from beyond, who has come to her aid. God’s character of chesed (steadfast love) and emet (fidelity) is affirmed in the final statement of the psalm.