This is an alphabetic acrostich poem, meaning that the main poetical units, in most cases couplets, begin with Hebrew letters in alphabetical order. Unfortunately, this acrostich is broken, not perfect. Fortunately, its breaks allow the reader to look into its meaning.
Translating a Hebrew acrostich into a non-Semitic lanuguage is a difficult task. This is my second atempt of this type, after proposing a new Romanian rendering of the poem of the wise woman in Proverbs 31. Finding the proper word that starts with the letter required by the alphabetical sequence is toiling. You will be the judge of this enterprise.
1 Ascends to you, O LORD, my soul.
2 But in you I trust, O my God,
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Care for those who wait for you;
put to shame those who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Detail to me about your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5 Explain to me your truth, and lead me in it,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
[F]6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Gracefully forgive the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
8 Honestly good is the LORD;
therefore, he instructs sinners in the way.
9 In what is right He leads the humble,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 Key to the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 Lord, for your name’s sake,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Mind you, who are those who fear the LORD?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13 Nobody will lack anything,
and their children shall possess the land.
14 Only for those who fear him is LORD’s friendship,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
15 Permanently my eyes are towards the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Return to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Still the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
[T]18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
19 Ultimately, consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Ward my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 Zeal for wholeness and uprightness may preserve me,
for I wait for you.
[*]22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
(verse 1) The opening verse functions as a muse invocation in classic poetry. In this particular case, the author invokes the Lord, the God of Israel.
(vv. 2-6) Three main themes appear to be the main concern of the poet in this first strophe of the poem: experiencing shame at the hand of his enemies, getting to know God’s law, and God’s inner qualities. There is nothing within himself to win God’s favor towards him. Such unprecedented situation for worshippers of other deities, is overcome only by overflowing divine mercy.
In other words, in these six introductory verses of the poem we have a close connection between three realities. One refers to the general context or the relationship between the God’s worshipper and God’s detractors that is persecution. Another encapsulates the predisposition of the believer that is passion for God’s Law. Finally, another bespeaks of God’s own character that is mercy towards His people. How do these three realities connect to each other?
How do we deal with persecution, let’s say unfair treatment or discrimination, on religious grounds? Of course, the discomfort that people can inflict upon others on ideological grounds causes a lot of mental pain, even anger. Experiencing injustice is indeed very painful, but having to live with it is dreadful. What do you do with all your mental pain? Prisons used to inflict this kind of pain on prisoners, but not any more. Their well-being is nowadays as important as any other citizen’s.
Let us imagine several scenarios where such an experience can be real. Imagine a different type of society where you cannot complain and nobody is paid to listen to your worries. Imagine that you are at the top of the authority ladder and there is no other superior authority whom you can tell your needs. This was probably the case with David. What will you do? No wonder that the Bible teaches us to pray for the authorities. Imagine a society completely turned off by ideologies, especially religious. To whom will you go to protest against religious discrimination?
The solution offered by this psalm is simple, pray to God. Let him know your pain, your fears, your anger and then let him work out your release. In the meantime fill your mind and get is busy with God’s Law.
(vv. 7-12) Two of the previous themes are picked up and given more thought in the second strophe. This time, the poet’s meditation on his personal sin replaces the pain inflicted upon him by his enemies. Looking closely at this strophe, one can notice an envelope structure, by which the extremities correspond to each other (human sinfulness and God’s mercy), envelop the material in the middle (learning the Law). Again, at the core of this strophe lays the relation the believer has with God’s standard.
How do they relate to each other? The reference to ‘the sin of my youth’ can lead one to believe that maturity brought with it not only natural wisdom but also a deeper knowledge of God’s Law and a more steady character. For that reason, in the case of a growing in the faith believer, the sins of older age should be different from those of younger age, and not only in terms of quantity.
This meditation can easily prompt a discussion on the relation between knowledge and morality. By no means, an educated person is a moral one too. By definition, morality assumes the existence of a code, a law. In the postindustrial society, education is no longer the guarantee for moral citizens. To the contrary, an educated person is one who knows what codes apply to various contexts. This is precisely why we need contracts. By signing a contract or a membership code, one gets aware of the binding regulations and the behaviour expected in particular places.
Arguably, religious education has become less influential because the law-makers in the parliament do not believe anymore in morality, but promote the separation between private and public life instead. This dichotomy goes against the wholistic personality God created us to be and can result only in an increasingly schizophrenic and God alienated society. Promoting a divinely inspired moral standard implies a rediscovery of a wholistic development of personality and constricts one to change behaviours and reconsider life-styles.
(vv. 12-22) Each of the last three strophes has a distinct theme, all of which being already known to us: getting to know God’s law, relief from personal sin, and relief from enemies. Although they are old themes, we can glean few new ideas. For those who delight in God’s Law/path or fear the Lord there is more in store, because God reserves to them his guidance, his care, and his friendship. Personal sin functions like a net in which the feet of the one who had walked astray were caught. At the same time, a sinful life produces loneliness and anxiety. Forgiveness brings a new beginning and real relief from all the effects of sin.
There are some who propose a different solution, namely desconsidering sin altogether. That can only be done efficiently by proclaming the death of God or promoting a God morally indifferent. We should not be surprised, then, when libertines mock publicly those defending the idea of the existence of a moral God. Nothing can be more dangerous to atheists or libertines than a vocal believer.
Few years ago, Luigi Cascioli an Italian ex-priest turned popular atheist book-writer, who authored the book The Fable of Christ, almost succeeded in bringing to court a Catholic priest for fraud. Affirming in a parish bulletin that Jesus existed and was born to Mary, the atheist accused the priest to have been violated two Italian laws, by abusing of popular belief and impersonating Jesus. The judge turned down the case for lack of substance in relation to the main accusation that of fraud. Cascioli and his attorney were not disuaded by this rather expected conclusion. Their strategy is to go through the necessary legal stepts that will allow them to bring their case before the European Court of Human Rights, and accuse the church of “religious racism”. Apparently, the two gentlemen were friends in childhood.
By all means, this situation is not new in America, because America experiences an open war against Christianity. There are chances for it to start in Europe too. When it’ll start are we going to be ready? How relevant the final words of this poem have become! As always, the only resources the believer have rest with God (v. 21).
Unfortunately, this psalm does not teach us any means of democratic appraisal against segregation, discrimination or persecution. But even Lord Jesus has proposed a similar solution.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat. 5:10-12, NIV)
Apostle Paul warns his disciple Timothy to mind his duties and avoid the bad example set by some false apostles. Instead, Paul urges Timothy the following:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings– what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:10-13, NIV)
We have learned today another use for prayer, whereby we are taught to give away our worries to God, especially when our own well-being is endangered by others on religious grounds. Trusting God for things one cannot do is probably one of the greatest lessons of Christian life, but trusting Him for things bad things that happen to us and we do not deserve is greater still.