Monday, 2 May 2011

Psalm 17, judgment, testing, and awakening

It's hard to move away from the traditional translation of verse 8 in the Compline service with its long melismatic chant:
Keep me as the apple of an eye;
Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings.
This psalm begins with a plea, a recognition of where judgment comes from, and a prayer for the mouth - which today should include fingers, especially blog-fingers and tweets.

A prayer of David
Hear יְהוָה righteousness
Listen to my cry
Hearken to my prayer
not from lips of deceit
From your presence comes my judgment
Your eyes gaze on uprightness
You have tried my heart
You have visited me in the night
You have tested me till nothing is found
I intend that my mouth will not wander

Before verse 8 comes the prayer for others
Make wonderful your loving kindness
you who save those taking refuge
from those rising up
by your right hand
Then we read of a prayer for security from the wicked - and who are these wicked?
Arise יְהוָה
confront them to their face
let them bow down
Secure me 
from the wicked, your sword
Finally we read of awakening, that satisfaction that comes when the creation is completed in us (how about that for a long day). This verse about awakening is spoken on our behalf, anticipating the resurrection of the Anointed One, and the resurrection of all. How did the poet know to write this? Was it entirely outside experience and written as if in a trance? 
In a trance
not a chance
This poet knew the One to whom prayer is directed and from whose presence come sensible answers and further invitations to listen and be transformed
I in righteousness will gaze on your face
I will be satisfied to awaken in your likeness
This awaken is the same word as in psalm 3 and psalm 139. There is no need to mangle psalm 139 as if the poet was ignorant of the knowledge of the presence of God and the joy and hope that it creates in anyone who searches it out. And in that word satisfied, hear every promise of fullness, completeness, and peace - even Eliot's Journey of the Magi, - it was, you may say, satisfactory. Hear the full perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world (including ours). Hear Job's sated state at his death. And if you get this far and haven't succumbed to the need to scan 100s of blog posts, be filled with the same blessing.

How then should we behave towards others?

Other comments here on psalm 17, psalm 3, psalm 139. My translations here, here, and here. My comments re the belief of the psalmist in the resurrection are consistent if nothing else. If I had no intimation of such treasure, however imperfectly contained in this vessel of clay, I would not speak of it at all let alone keep my mouth from wandering.

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