#prayinglent – the seven penitential psalms 10/3/19

“Singing the Psalms …  becomes a means of learning what it is to inhabit the Body of Christ and to be caught up in Christ’s prayer.

Just as Christ makes his own our lament, our penitence and our fear by adopting the human condition in all its tragic fullness as the material of his Body, so we are inevitably identified with what he says to his Father as God (e.g. en.Ps. 30 (ii) 3–4; 74.4; 142.3).

Our relation to Christ is manifested as multi-layered: ‘[H]e prays for us as our priest, he prays in us as our Head, he is prayed to by us as our God’ (en.Ps. 85.1).

The meaning of our salvation is that we are included in his life, given the right to speak with his divine voice, reassured that what our human voices say out of darkness and suffering has been owned by him as his voice, so that it may in some way be opened to the life of God for healing or forgiveness.

Rowan Williams, On Augustine

 

The Penitential Psalms with Notes added Lent 2019

(Common Worship text and psalm-prayers, titles added from ESV)

Notes will be added throughout Lent.

10/3/19

Updated with notes on Psalm 51

-9/3/19

Notes added on Psalm 38. St Augustine Exposition of this psalm is remarkably lyrical, the whole sermon is well worth reading. The concluding section is especially powerful and I have quoted it all.

Augustine’s Ennarratione on Psalm 38 is available in an older translation here.

8/3/19

Notes added on Psalm 32.

7/3/19

Notes added to just Psalm 6, textual (not many textual difficulties with this psalm although Dahood, typically suggests some not mentioned here, he later admitted that he had been overly influenced bu the Ugaritic texts when he wrote volumes 1 and 2 of his Anchor Bible trilogy on the psalms) and some notes on the reception of the psalm. Polan wrongly, it seems to me, state that the psalmist calls on YHWH seven times, a sign of completeness, I can see 8 references to YHWH in the psalm (in H and E) and it is not that 7 of them are ‘calling’ on him, so I am not sure what he means or if he is just mistaken.

Over the next few days I will continue through the PS looking at the reception and textual issues before doing more reflective posts.

6/3/19

The 1966 Fontana edition of The Psalms: A New Translation, normally known as the Grail psalms, have delightful, humane and devotional paragraphs before each psalm. I have been using them for years and still find them helpful. I have added those for the penitential psalms. The exclusive language is left intact, I have slightly abbreviated a couple of the passages, they were written by Fr Alexander Jones and Fr Leonard Johnston.

The New Testament texts added after the psalm number for each psalm is that given in The Divine Office.

 

Psalm 6

Now my spirit is disturbed; Father, save me from this hour. (Jn 12:27)

To the leader: with stringed instruments;

According to the Sheminith.

A Psalm of David.

Refrain:    Turn again, O Lord, and deliver my soul.

O LORD, rebuke me not in your wrath;

neither chasten me in your fierce anger.

Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am weak;

Lord, heal me, for my bones are racked.

My soul also shakes with terror;

how long, O Lord, how long?

Turn again, O Lord, and deliver my soul;

save me for your loving mercy’s sake.

For in death no one remembers you;

and who can give you thanks in the grave?

I am weary with my groaning;

every night I drench my pillow

and flood my bed with my tears.

My eyes are wasted with grief

and worn away because of all my enemies. 

Depart from me, all you that do evil,

for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.

The Lord has heard my supplication;

the Lord will receive my prayer.

All my enemies shall be put to shame and confusion;

they shall suddenly turn back in their shame.

Refrain:    Turn again, O Lord, and deliver my soul.

Lord Jesus Christ,

may the tears shed in your earthly life

be balm for all who weep,

and may the prayers of your pilgrimage

give strength to all who suffer;

for your mercy’s sake.

Ian Stackhouse: “Prayer: Forgive me, Lord, for offering you dull and oftentimes dishonest prayers. Give me the courage to pray like the psalmist, even if it means shocking myself out of my piety. Amen.

Richard Atherton: “Words from this psalm were used by Jesus to describe the fate of those who cry “Lord” but fail to do the Father’s will (Mt 7:23) and may lie behind his anguished cry before the coming passion (“now my soul is troubled,” Jn 12:27). The Church in turn has adopted the whole psalm as the first of the seven Penitential Psalms: the sickness of sin is more to be feared than any bodily ailment. It tortures the conscience, prevents sleep, can even be fatal; but Jesus has assured us that if we turn to him with contrite heart the prayer will always be heard, the sin will always be forgiven.

Robert Alter: “10. The LORD hears my plea, / the LORD will take my prayer. This line is another neat illustration of how the two versets of a line are typically deployed. “My plea” (te  inati) and “my prayer” (tefilati) make a clear semantic parallelism, reinforced by the phonetic-morphological similarity of the two terms. The two verbs, on the other hand, form a miniature narrative sequence: first God “hears” (or “has heard”), in the perfective mode of the verb, the plea or supplication. Then, as a result of hearing it in all its desperate sincerity, He “will take” (or “accept”) it, in the imperfective mode of the verb that here has the force of a future tense.

Grail: This and the penitential psalm 37 (38) are very similar but there is not the same frank confession of guilt; indeed there is no mention of it and the term ‘penitential’ though traditional, seems scarcely to apply. The ‘anger’ and ‘rage’ of God, like his ‘forsaking’, may be conventional metaphor’s for the psalmist’s suffering. At this stage of revelation there is no hope of praising God beyond the grave: the conclusion should be clear: death would deprive God of one of his servants. The implication is almost impertinent, that God will be the loser of the psalmist dies. May we threaten God in our private prayers? I suppose not, but some of the inspired authors come very near to it. Anyway, let us not be too scrupulous: God knows how awkward we are, and that we mean well. He is a Father, not a literary critic.

Alter v8 From vexation my eyes become dim, / is worn out, because of all my foes. The syntax of this line is arranged in an elegant chasm: a (vexation) b (becomes dim) b’ (is worn out) a’ (because of all my foes). The tendency of the second verse to intensify an image or idea in the first verse is strikingly reflected in the move from “becomes dim” to the violent and hyperbolic “is worn out”, which more literally means “is torn out”.

V10 The Lord hears my plea / the Lord will take my prayer. This is another neat illustration of how the two verses of a line are typically deployed. My plea (tehinati) and my prayer (tefilati) make a clear semantic parallelism, reinforced by the phonetic-morphological similarity of the two terms. The two verbs, on the other hand, form a miniature narrative sequence: first God hears (or ‘has heard’) … Then, as. Dressily of hearing … he ‘will take’ or ‘accept’ it.

Eaton: v 8 may be better read as ‘The Lord will hear”

“Depart from me …” King suggests “this is quoted by Matthew at the end of the Sermon on the Mount (7:23) and by Luke (13:27). Oddly enough neither of them quotes this line precisely, but between them they get it all!”

The ‘eighth’ in the heading (H “sheminith”) could refer to an instrument or a ode of singing. Commentators have been drawn to this, Augustine in his Ennarratione on Psalm 6 speaks extensively about the eighth as representing the world to come and in Judaism the relationship to the future is speculated on. It is interesting to see how the tradition regards these headings as part of revelation in a way which modern scholarship has tended to discount.

This psalm is the origin of the hymn “Not in anger mighty God”, translated by Catherine Winkworth from Johann Georg Albinus (1624-1679):

1 Not in anger, mighty God,

Not in anger smite us.

We must perish if Thy rod

Justly should requite us.

We are naught;

Sin hath brought,

Lord, Thy wrath upon us.

Yet have mercy on us!

2 Show me now a Father’s love

And His tender patience.

Heal my wounded soul; remove

These too sore temptations.

I am weak;

Father, speak

Thou of peace and gladness;

Comfort Thou my sadness.

3 Weary am I of my pain,

Weary with my sorrow,

Sighing still for help in vain,

Longing for the morrow.

Why wilt Thou

Tarry now!

Wilt Thou friendless leave me

And of hope bereave me?

4 Hence ye foes, He comes in grace;

God hath deigned to hear me.

I may come before His face,

He is inly near me.

He o’erthrows

All my foes,

Death and hell are vanquished

In whose bonds I languished.

5 Father, hymns to Thee we raise

Here and once in heaven,

And the Son and Spirit praise,

Who our bonds have riven.

Evermore

We adore

Thee whose love hath stirred us

And whose pity heard us.

Luther: “This psalm belongs to the First and Second Commandment because it commends the struggle of those who believe in God and pray against sin and death. It is in the First petition of the Lord’s Prayer, as are all the other psalms of prayer, because its prayer is that God’s name be called upon and blessed.”

Walford: 1. The Problem and the Solution As Mays has seen, the psalm is an “appeal to the grace of God against the wrath of God. It sees the Lord as the cause of death and as the giver of life.” 20 In Psalm 6, the Lord is both the problem and the solution. The identification of this psalm as a penitential psalm by the Western church is consistent with that basic insight. Such an identification comprehends correctly that the theological situation from which this psalm is prayed is one in which a petitioner recognizes that to be caught up in the human condition is to be caught up before God —to be caught up both in God’s grace and in God’s anger. The psalm thus shows that there is an indissoluble link between lament and faith. Lament is not the absence of faith or an expression of faith being tempted into despair. To lament is to speak precisely from the position of faith, from a position which recognizes that the Lord hears the cries of those who suffer and is not indifferent to them. To lament is to lay claim to God’s hesed with the faithful expectation that the Lord will vindicate the lowly. “Just as Israel as a nation received God’s love in covenant in, and after, the great deliverance from Egypt, so too each member of the covenant community could request the continuing experience of God’s lovingkindness in the act of divine deliverance.” 21 The reason that the psalmist cries out to God (vv. 2-3, 5-7) and the reason that the psalmist cries out in triumph to the enemies (vv. 9-10) are consistent. In the words of the psalmist: For the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping. The Lord has heard my request, the Lord accepts my prayer. 2. The Anger of God In the commentary above, the issue of how to understand God’s anger was raised. To be more specific, the question was raised as to whether to understand God’s anger as instrumental or causal. If one understands God’s anger as instrumental, then the notion is that the Lord is a teacher —by means of judgment, God instructs the sinners. If one understands God’s anger as causal, then the notion is that God is a judge —because of crimes, God judges human sinners. One suspects that the nicety of this theological distinction might be lost on the psalmist —swimming in a bath of tears, dissolving in a bed of weeping. When one is suffering, it is usually not the time to deploy such theological distinctions, as one hopes Job’s comrades learned. But such distinctions do matter for the life of faith in the long run. The concept of the anger of God is the necessary corollary to the love of God. Without God’s anger, God’s love is reduced to a sloppy sentimentalism. To be sure, God loves us. But because God also loves our neighbors, when our actions result in the suffering and death of our neighbors, God’s love becomes indivisible from God’s anger. But God’s anger is in service of God’s love. God’s anger is not a permanent state, but one that arises from time to time when human violence against other creatures whom also God loves sparks God’s anger. 22 God’s wrath is neither random nor inexplicable. It arises for specific reasons, which the prophets, in particular, spell out. And God’s wrath is certainly instrumental. That is, God is angry for the sake of the relationship God shares with the world and for the sake of the wellness of God’s creation.

*

Psalm 32

David says that a man is blessed if God considers him righteous, irrespective of good deeds. (Rom 4:6)

Of David. A Maskil.

Refrain:    Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord.

Happy the one whose transgression is forgiven,

and whose sin is covered.

Happy the one to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,

and in whose spirit there is no guile.

For I held my tongue;

my bones wasted away

through my groaning all the day long.

Your hand was heavy upon me day and night;

my moisture was dried up like the drought in summer. 

Then I acknowledged my sin to you

and my iniquity I did not hide.

I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all the faithful make their prayers to you

in time of trouble;

in the great water flood, it shall not reach them.

You are a place for me to hide in;

you preserve me from trouble;

you surround me with songs of deliverance. 

‘I will instruct you and teach you

in the way that you should go;

I will guide you with my eye.

‘Be not like horse and mule which have no understanding;

whose mouths must be held with bit and bridle,

or else they will not stay near you.’

Great tribulations remain for the wicked,

but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;

shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Refrain:    Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord.

Give us honest hearts, O God,

and send your kindly Spirit

to help us confess our sins

and bring us the peace of your forgiveness;

in Jesus Christ our Lord.

NOTES

Henry Wansborough: “This was St Augustine’s favourite psalm. As he lay dying, he had it written on the wall where he could see it and reflect upon it for encouragement. Like all psalms that begin with the promise ‘Blessed is…’, it has a Wisdom element, but the dominant characteristic is joy in the frank confession of sin.

Richard Atherton: “It is difficult to know whether the next two stanzas are spoken by the poet or by God himself, but in either case the meaning is clear. Here is my advice, he says, don’t be headstrong, needing to be forced back to God, like an untamed horse which can only be controlled by the use of bridle and bit. Remember, the wicked have many sorrows, but those who trust in the Lord are surrounded by his loving mercy. Such truths are an invitation to God’s people to raise their voices and make their joy resound in the sanctuary (sts. 5–7). This psalm might almost be a poetic version of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11–32): the lad turns his back on his father, deciding to live his own life. But in his heart there is an emptiness and a guilt, which surface when disaster strikes. It is the moment of truth: he must return and acknowledge his sin, even if it means being reduced to the status of a slave. But he is met with a tender embrace and a joyous celebration; he is arrayed in a splendid robe, with a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. No slave was ever dressed like this. How easy to share in the joy of the psalmist, when we have a Lord who welcomes sinners in such a way.

Grail: Perhaps it is unfair to call this a penitential psalm – or at least the mood is more one of joy than of penance. There may be a lesson here that the virus life is not a gloomy one. Suppression and self-deception, a the psalmist admits, never made for happiness: free acknowledgement to God and ourselves is a duty, but it is also a health medicine. This conclusion which the psalmist draws is followed by the voice of God confirming it: God is anxious to lead us along the way: we have only to be docile, he will do the rest.

Weiser “This favourite psalm of Augustine, which Luther has called one of the Pauline psalms (the others are Pss. 51, 130, 143) ….

Eaton: Header ‘a maskil’ Rashi believed that the maskil psalms were cases were David had uttered the basic idea and another had elaborated it.

Others (see Augustine below) take the word maskil to be related to H hiskil for to understand

The beginning (vv 1-2) and ending (vv 10-11) direct the lesson of tis experience to the gathering, while the heart of the psalm takes the form of address to God (vv 3-7) and God’s reply (vv 8-9, taken however by some as the Psalmist’s instruction to his disciples.)

Opening verses Happy … as in the opening of the psalter Ps1:1

Augustine En 1 on Ps 31 For David. For understanding, The psalm is so called because it enables us to understand that we are set free not because we earned it, but by God’s grace, as we confess our sins.

En 2 on Ps 31 “This is a psalm about God’s grace, and about our being justified by no merits whatever on our own part, but only by the mercy of the Lord our God, which forestalls anything we may do.

The apostle Paul bore witness to the fact that this psalm deals with the grace that makes us Christians; … Rom 4:1-2

If faith is devoid of the will to love, it will equally be devoid of good actions. But don’t spend too much time thinking about the works that proceed from faith: add hope and the will to love to your faith, and you will have no need to ask yourself what kind of works you should perform.

Pay close attention, brothers and sisters, because this is very important. The psalmist says, I will declare. He does not say I have declared; yet you, Lord, have already forgiven him. … My confession has not yet reached my lips … yet God heard the voice of my heart.

Alter: mask. This is clearly a category of song, but its precise nature remains unknown. From the word’s use in Amos 5:13, it would appear to be. Joyous song, though not all occurrences in psalms substantiate that connotation. In this particular psalm, there may also be a punning reference to a homonym that means “discerning person” or “giver of instruction”. The word translated as “let me teach you” in verse 8 employs the same root. Hermann Gunkel noted that this psalm contains distinct Wisdom elements, especially from verse 8 onwards. As to genre, though it has sometimes been described as a thanksgiving psalm, it is really more of. Confession in the perfect tense: the speaker admits he has transgressed, affirms that he has confessed his transgression, and that as a result God has granted him forgiveness.

Luther: our reason does not know what sin is and tries to make satisfaction for it with works.

Schmutzer: Whereas praise is implicit and sometimes explicit only at the endings of some of the Penitential Psalms … Psalm 32 elevates praise t a position of dominance.

Augustine read it frequently before he died, he had its words inscribed on the wall by his sickbed, to be both exercised and comforted by them.

Psalm 51 is the journey, Psalm 32 is the destination.

Dahood: v2 ‘adam is used pf an individual only here and in lxxxiv 6,13 in the Psalter [smoothed out in the CW translation to the ‘one’ for inclusive language reasons]

V4 Tr “For day and night, O Most High,

Your hand was oppressive;

I was ravaged, O Shaddai,

As by the drought of summer.”

Walford: 1-2 The prayer opens with dual beatitudes, Happy is the one. Happy is not an adequate definition in modern English, for “happiness” has been significantly diminished by our consumer-driven culture. The Hebrew root means “to go straight” or “march forward” and indicates not a condition, but a way of life. In other psalms, this happiness comes from life choices and training, but here we learn that is not the entire formula, for one’s “happiness” is also completely dependent on God’s forgiving grace. First, the passive voice of v. 1 makes it clear that this is God’s action and not human. God forgives and God covers. Second, God restores this one back to a state of grace, so this one is restored to full humanity (v. 2).

*

Psalm 38

All his friends stood at a distance. (Lk 23:49)

A Psalm of David, for the memorial offering.

Robert Alter: A David psalm, a call to mind.

Refrain:    Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation.

Rebuke me not, O Lord, in your anger,

neither chasten me in your heavy displeasure.

For your arrows have stuck fast in me

and your hand presses hard upon me.

There is no health in my flesh

because of your indignation;

there is no peace in my bones because of my sin.

For my iniquities have gone over my head;

their weight is a burden too heavy to bear. 

My wounds stink and fester

because of my foolishness.

I am utterly bowed down and brought very low;

I go about mourning all the day long.

My loins are filled with searing pain;

there is no health in my flesh.

I am feeble and utterly crushed;

I roar aloud because of the disquiet of my heart. 

O Lord, you know all my desires

and my sighing is not hidden from you.

My heart is pounding, my strength has failed me;

the light of my eyes is gone from me.

My friends and companions stand apart from my affliction;

my neighbours stand afar off.

Those who seek after my life lay snares for me;

and those who would harm me whisper evil

and mutter slander all the day long. 

But I am like one who is deaf and hears not,

like one that is dumb, who does not open his mouth.

I have become like one who does not hear

and from whose mouth comes no retort.

For in you, Lord, have I put my trust;

you will answer me, O Lord my God.

For I said, ‘Let them not triumph over me,

those who exult over me when my foot slips.’ 

Truly, I am on the verge of falling

and my pain is ever with me.

I will confess my iniquity

and be sorry for my sin.

Those that are my enemies without any cause are mighty,

and those who hate me wrongfully are many in number.

Those who repay evil for good are against me,

because the good is what I seek.

Forsake me not, O Lord;

be not far from me, O my God.

Make haste to help me,

O Lord of my salvation.

Refrain:    Make haste to help me, O Lord of my salvation.

Almighty Lord and Saviour,

behold with pity the wounds of your people;

do not forsake us, sinful as we are,

but for the sake of the passion of your

Beloved One, Jesus,

come quickly to our aid,

for his mercy’s sake.

NOTES

Henry Wansborough: “One matter deserves special attention: verse 12b gives us literally, ‘My nearest ones keep at a distance.’ This juxtaposition of exact opposites expresses utter betrayal by those most intimate and dear. The verse comes by allusion in the passion narrative (Mark 15: 40), where the women are watching ‘at a distance’. A number of the details of the passion of Jesus are carefully presented in such a way as to show the detailed fulfilment of scripture. Of course, the passion of Jesus fulfilled the whole of scripture and the will and intentions of the Father, but the authors of the sacred texts picked out individual texts to show how this was so. We may feel that the women are unfairly treated by this allusion. It was, after all, the betrayal by Judas, after sharing Jesus’ own dish, that was the ultimate desertion. The women did at least stick near him to the end, which is more than can be said of the men.

Richard Atherton: “it takes on fresh meaning on Friday as we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus. Here is one who carried a weight too heavy to bear ; not simply the weight of the Cross, but the weight of our sins. Though sinless, he was contaminated by our sinfulness to such a degree that he experienced our guilt, towering higher than his head. There is no health in the limbs of the Crucified one. His frame burns with fever , he is spent and utterly crushed and those closest to him stand afar off (as Luke 23:49 explains, using this text almost word for word), lying foes surround him and mock him, even as he lies dying. But his trust in his Father does not waver. He can indeed say that this is the result of my own folly , but it is the folly of divine Love.

Malcolm Guite (Reflections): “We, reading this psalm in the dark light of the cross, suddenly see it all: ‘I am … like one who is dumb, who does not open his mouth’ (v.13). Isaiah 53.7 echoes this, and both passages take us straight to Christ, standing with us, for us, in us, in the midst of this otherwise unanswerable suffering. No wonder the psalm ends with Christ’s title: ‘Lord of my salvation’.

Grail: One sometimes wonders if commentators are not too quick to take terms like those used here in their strictly literal sense. Is is really some specific sickness that troubles the psalmist? Or is it perhaps the graver sickness of the heart? In any case, it is the sense of sin that oppresses, the cure can only come from the Lord. The tone of distress is strongly comforting. We so often imagine that the sacred writers of Israel were innocent nd saintly, but behind these words there seems to be a consciousness of serious and repeated in. If so, the lesson for us is all the sharper: the greater the sin, the greater must be the confidence, not of course in ourselves but in God.

Atherton: Its general theme, therefore, is the plight of the sinner. He is suffering from an appalling disease which he, like his contemporaries, attributes to his own sinfulness. He humbly confesses that through my sin, there is no health in my limbs (sec. I, st. 2). But what makes the situation almost unbearable is the fact that his own friends avoid him like a leper , presumably because they too regard him as having brought the tragedy upon himself. To add to his troubles, wanton enemies take advantage of his plight to begin a smear campaign against him. While submitting in silence, like the deaf who cannot hear and the dumb who are unable to speak , he appeals earnestly to God as the only one he can count on and touchingly begs him do not stay afar off (secs. II and III). Whatever the circumstances which orginally produced this psalm (it may have been a “standard” psalm, available in the temple to any who found it suitable for their own plight), it takes on fresh meaning on Friday as we contemplate the sufferings of Jesus. Here is one who carried a weight too heavy to bear ; not simply the weight of the Cross, but the weight of our sins. Though sinless, he was contaminated by our sinfulness to such a degree that he experienced our guilt, towering higher than his head. There is no health in the limbs of the Crucified one. His frame burns with fever , he is spent and utterly crushed and those closest to him stand afar off (as Luke 23:49 explains, using this text almost word for word), lying foes surround him and mock him, even as he lies dying. But his trust in his Father does not waver. He can indeed say that this is the result of my own folly , but it is the folly of divine Love.

Alter: to call to mind. The Hebrew infinitive lehazkir is anomalous in the superscription of a psalm, appearing here and at the beginning of Psalm 70. It may simply refer to the speaker’s intention to bring to mind his suffering in his supplication to God. It might also have a connotation of confession: Compare the words of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer in Genesis 41: 9, “My offenses I recall [mazkir] today,” and those of the widow from Tsorfath to Elijah in 1 Kings 17: 18, “You have come to me to call to mind [lehazkir] my crime.”

my wanton enemies. The Masoretic text reads oyvay ayim, literally, “my enemies of life,” which some construe as “my mortal enemies,” though it is not a biblical idiom as it is worded here. A scroll of Psalms found at Qumran reads oyvay inam, “my wanton enemies” (that is, “enemies for no good reason”), which is nicely idiomatic and makes the parallelism in the two versets here exactly that of 35: 19 (where sheqer appears in the first verset and inam in the second, rather than the other way around as here).

Wansborough: This is a strange and touching psalm. The psalmist makes use of an extraordinarily rich and varied vocabulary, in both words and images, to describe his unenviable situation. The Lord’s arrows, his hand and his indignation are all against him. Sin reaches higher than his head. He endures stinking, festering wounds, deafness and dumbness, desertion by his friends and unprovoked opposition from those who hate him. Such a rich cornucopia of horrors simultaneously cannot be meant literally. Touchingly, the psalmist makes no secret of his own sin, mentioning it in verses 4 and 19 but without making a meal of it. So matter-of-fact is he about his sin that he makes no protestations of innocence (as we find so often in the psalms). The psalm is numbered among the traditional seven penitential psalms—the others being 6, 30[ 31], 50[ 51], 100[ 101], 128[ 129] and 141[ 142]—but there is no litany of repentance. The psalmist stands before the Lord guilty and unashamed. Certainly there is no whisper of exaggerated or hypocritical bewailing of sin. When this is combined with the two pleas with which the psalm begins and ends, there is something noble and very attractive about such realism. If we remember that Jesus did not go out to find those who were already repentant and had given up their evil ways, but went out to find sinners and ‘compel them to come in’ to the great banquet, we can imagine that this psalmist would have been quick to respond. If I had to place the psalm on the lips of any New Testament character, I would offer it to the woman taken in adultery. Was she praying it as she stood before Jesus? One matter deserves special attention: verse 12b gives us literally, ‘My nearest ones keep at a distance.’ This juxtaposition of exact opposites expresses utter betrayal by those most intimate and dear. The verse comes by allusion in the passion narrative (Mark 15: 40), where the women are watching ‘at a distance’. A number of the details of the passion of Jesus are carefully presented in such a way as to show the detailed fulfilment of scripture. Of course, the passion of Jesus fulfilled the whole of scripture and the will and intentions of the Father, but the authors of the sacred texts picked out individual texts to show how this was so. We may feel that the women are unfairly treated by this allusion. It was, after all, the betrayal by Judas, after sharing Jesus’ own dish, that was the ultimate desertion. The women did at least stick near him to the end, which is more than can be said of the men.

Weiser: title: “for the purpose of making a confession’ Luther translates: for a memorial (l hachir). Others relate the term to the ‘ackara, the offering of incense, which was part of the ‘meal offering’ mincha) and in the course of which the worship of late judaism is said to have used the psalm as a prayer.

Eaton: title: Some sugegst a link with offerings made for … ‘reminding’ (lev 2.2f).

v9 The Lord is invoked afresh, this time with the name ‘Adonay’.

v15 the plea is pressed with the name Yahweh (15a) … ‘Adonay my God’ will surely answer (15b).

v11 echo of the Passion story

Tehillim: four psalms 38 – 41 dealing with illness

Dahood: alphabetic structure, 22 verses, but not an acrostic

A well-ordered plan can be traced in the psalm.

2-11 describe the illness

12 – 17 detail the reaction of others

18 – 19 summarise vv 2-11

20-21 summarise 12-17

The final 2 verses form a conclusion

Westermann: In the course of Christian history the lament has completely, or almost completely, vanished from Christian prayer. Lament is seen as a negative way of speaking unfitted for a prayer to God. In private prayer and public liturgy only the penitential psalms … are picked out as being significant for Christian prayer: that is, those psalms of lament which explicitly lay stress on sin and its forgiveness.

King: LXX heading includes ‘For the Sabbath Day’.

Augustine: We meet here someone who is suffering, groaning, mourning, and remembering the Sabbath. The Sabbath is rest. The speaker was unquestionably in some kind of restless trouble, when with sighs he was remembering that rest.

“Who is speaking here?” [Footnote by Maria Boulding: The central question, to which Augustine’s entire work on the psalms is an ever-repeated answer.]

V 14 “all my desire”

This very desire is your prayer, and if your desire is continuous, your prayer is continuous too …

The apostle meant what he said ‘Pray without ceasing.’ (1 Thess 5:17)

an interior prayer that is desire … your continuous desire is your continuous voice. You will only fall silent if you stop loving.

V 22 Do not abandon me ..

Let us make this prayer in him, let us make it through him, for he intercedes for us. [Personam in se transfiguraverat primi hominis]

Contemplating God’s glory and seeing him face to face we shall be enabled to praise him for ever, without wearying, without any of the pain of iniquity, without any of the perversion of sin. We shall be in that city where God is our good, God is our light, God is our bread, God is our life. Whatever is good for us, whatever we miss as we trudge along our pilgrim way, we shall find in him. In him will be that quiet that we remember now, though the memory cannot but cause us pain: for we remember that Sabbath, and about its memory so much has been said, and we must still say so many things, and never cease to speak of it, though with our heart, not our lips; because our lips fall silent only that we may cry the more from our heart.

Augustine’s Ennarratione on Psalm 38 is available in an older translation here.

Walford: Psalm 38 has been traditionally understood as an individual prayer for help by someone who is ill. 1 Certainly this is possible, but it is not the only possibility. These authors assume that the wounds and pain here have a physical cause. But the psalms are poetry, and as such the images are just as likely to be metaphorical, describing in graphic physical terms what suffering and sorrow feel like in the soul and body of one who is in extreme emotional pain. If the problem is left more open to interpretation, then this may be an in-depth description of how guilt from sin can affect a person both mentally and physically. 2 Psalm 38 has also been traditionally known as one of the penitential psalms. This group of psalms (6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143) has been regarded by the church as a distinct genre, even though only two of them speak specifically of confession and forgiveness (Psalms 32 and 51). In his comprehensive study of penitential psalms, Nasuti observes that in the medieval period these seven psalms were closely associated with the popular penitential system of the time. 3 This designation then was a liturgical and not an academic or genre-related one. What is interesting, however, is that the church read and understood this psalm as one where sin, instead of sickness, is the central issue. The psalm can be divided into six unequal stanzas.

3-8 The next line may be the reason for the diagnosis of sickness here. The NIV uses the word “health” for meṯōm, but this word is from a root that means “completeness”; it also appears in Isa. 1: 6, where the context, like this one, is definitely sin and not health. This section speaks not of a physical ailment, but of how sin and guilt feel. Verse 4 begins this description; it is a heavy burden. Verses 5-8 continue to tell about the physical effects of sin. It is a festering wound because of this one’s folly, which in both Ps. 69: 5 and Prov. 24: 9 are directly equated with sin. This one feels low and dark (v. 6). The burden of sin burns inside, and the whole body feels the strain (v. 7). The insides feel faint, and spirit is crushed (v. 8); even if quiet on the outside, the mind roars over the torment in this one’s heart (v. 8). Gerstenberger notes, “Events that happened in the past are burdening the supplicant now.” 21

*

Psalm 51

You must be made new in mind and spirit, and put on the new nature. (Eph 4:23-24)

To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone to Bathsheba.

Robert Alter: For the lead player, a David psalm, upon Nathan the prophet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba.

Refrain:    The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness;

according to the abundance of your compassion blot out my offences.

Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I acknowledge my faults

and my sin is ever before me.

Against you only have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight,

So that you are justified in your sentence

and righteous in your judgement. 

I have been wicked even from my birth,

a sinner when my mother conceived me.

Behold, you desire truth deep within me

and shall make me understand wisdom

in the depths of my heart.

Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean;

wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.

Make me hear of joy and gladness,

that the bones you have broken may rejoice. 

Turn your face from my sins

and blot out all my misdeeds.

Make me a clean heart, O God,

and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from your presence

and take not your holy spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of your salvation

and sustain me with your gracious spirit;

Then shall I teach your ways to the wicked

and sinners shall return to you. 

Deliver me from my guilt, O God,

the God of my salvation,

and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips

and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it;

you take no delight in burnt offerings.

The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

O be favourable and gracious to Zion;

build up the walls of Jerusalem.

Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness,

the burnt offerings and oblations;

then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.

Refrain:    The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit.

Take away, good Lord, the sin that corrupts us;

give us the sorrow that heals

and the joy that praises

and restore by grace your own image within us,

that we may take our place among your people;

in Jesus Christ our Lord.

NOTES

Ian Stackhouse “holiness is not the ability to pretend a perfect life but rather the willingness to face the residual darkness in our hearts, to bring it all before God, and then experience the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit.

Henry Wansborough: “The main body of the psalm falls into two halves, each in a chiasmus or Chinese-box pattern. It would be tedious to follow this out in detail, but the first half is bracketed by ‘blot out… wash me… cleanse me’ (vv. 3–4) and ‘cleanse me… wash me… blot out’ (vv. 9–11). It centres on confession of sin and awareness of inexcusable guilt: ‘you are just in your sentence’ (v. 6). The second half is bracketed by ‘heart… spirit’ (v. 12) and ‘spirit… heart’ (v. 19). It centres on God’s salvation (vv. 14, 16) and the return of sinners. As the spirituality of the first half chimes in with the consciousness of sin and guilt in Jeremiah, so the second half is enriched by the teaching on a new heart and new spirit in the promises of Ezekiel. After the disastrous infidelities that led to the Babylonian exile, Israel will be endowed with a new heart—a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone—and the spirit or breath of life (Ezekiel 36: 26; 37: 5). This is the joy of salvation, or the saving joy, which the psalmist will announce to sinners.

John Paul II: “The first part of the Psalm appears to be an analysis of sin, taking place before God. Three Hebrew terms are used to define this sad reality, which comes from the evil use of human freedom. 

3. The first term, hattá, literally means “falling short of the target”:  sin is an aberration which leads us far from God, the fundamental goal of our relations, and, consequently, also from our neighbour. 
The second Hebrew term is “awôn, which takes us back to the image of “twisting” or of “curving”.

Sin is a tortuous deviation from the straight path; it is an inversion, a distortion, deformation of good and of evil; in the sense declared by Isaiah:  “Woe to those who call good evil and evil good, who change darkness into light and light into darkness” (Is 5,20). Certainly, for this reason in the Bible conversion is indicated as a “return” (in Hebrew shûb) to the right way, correcting one’s course. 

The third term the psalmist uses to speak of sin is peshá. It expresses the rebellion of the subject toward his sovereign and therefore an open challenge addressed to God and to his plan for human history. 

Robert Alter: “upon Nathan the prophet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba. The superscription incorporates a barbed pun. The Hebrew verb used for both Nathan and David is “to come to [or “into”],” but in the former instance it refers to the prophet’s entering the king’s chambers, whereas the latter instance reflects its sexual sense, to have intercourse with a woman (probably intercourse for the first time). The strong character of this poem as a confessional psalm led the editors to attribute it to David when he was stricken with remorse after Nathan rebuked him for sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband (2 Samuel 12). But in all likelihood, this psalm is a general penitential psalm composed centuries after David. If the reference to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the penultimate verse is an integral part of the original psalm and not an editorial addition, the text would have to date to sometime after 586 BCE. In any case, the idea of offering God a broken spirit instead of sacrifice looks as though it may have been influenced by the later prophetic literature. The eloquent confessional mode of this psalm has made it an important liturgical vehicle for both Christians and Jews. It is one of the seven penitential psalms in Church ritual. The wrenching plea of verse 13 is used in the introduction to the penitential prayer during the Jewish Days of Awe.

Purify me with a hyssop. Hyssop was used in a ritual of purification. The priest dipped the hyssop branch in the blood of a sacrificial animal, then sprinkled it on the impure object or person to expunge the impurity (see Leviticus 14: 4, 7). (The fine hairs on hyssop leaves may have prevented the blood from congealing.) Alternately, hyssop was used to sprinkle water (Numbers 19: 18–22) to remove impurities. The claim made by some scholars that this psalm is therefore a liturgical text for a rite of purification is not altogether convincing because hyssop, familiar to the audience from such ceremonies, could easily have been invoked as a symbol of a process of purification that is spiritual, not ritual, in nature. Such a move from ritual to spiritual is strongly etched in verses 18 and 19. Wash me, that I be whiter than snow. The same image is used in Isaiah 1: 18.

Grail: Man stands before God guilty but unafraid; indeed, he sees his guilt as a title to mercy and an excuse for hope. A deep sense of sin is already a step towards the sanctity of God – it opens the door for his eager mercy . But our Lord takes us even further than the psalmist. He teaches us to cry nit ‘God’ but ‘Father’!. He bids us think of that father who ran to meet the son who had left him, the father who took the son in his arms and kissed him: ‘My son was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24). By so much does our trust exceed even that of the psalmist.

Dahood: v 20 rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, means no earlier than 6th C BC and no later than 444 BC

3 ‘my rebellious acts’ the traditional rendition of pesa’ay by ‘my transgressions’ (RSV) is, within the context of the psalm … altogether too pallid. The fundamental notion expressed by the verb pasa is “to rebel, revolt”.

V4 “rain down; wash me of my guilt “

Wash me … clean me. A fine example of chiasm and assonance.

v8 “Since you indeed prefer truth

To both cleverness and secret lore,

Teach me Wisdom!

Unsin me, I’ll indeed be purer than gushing water,

Wash me, and I’ll be much whiter than snow.”

v16 “Deliver me from the tears of death”

Eaton: The first word in the Hebrew, honneni, is the plea for grace; on nothing else can the prayer be founded but the gracious compassion of God.

Schmutzer: quotes CS Lewis “a man who admits no guilt can accept no forgiveness’

Contributing to the experience of praise in psalm 51 is the speaker’s movement progressively away from himself and increasingly towards a focus on God.

V13 key shift from repentance to teaching others

Brown: Of all the penitential psalms, so designated in Christian tradition, only Psalm 51 employs the language of washing

Polan: Psalm 51 employs several subtly distinct terms for doing wrong: transgression, sin, iniquity and guilt … The word we translate as transgression refers to the most serious of sins: it begins in the heart, is reflected upon, and comes to birth in one’s actions.

Reardon: It is not by accident nor without significance that Psalm 51 is the only psalm prescribed to be recited in its entirety during every celebration of the Eastern orthodox Divine Liturgy.

Westermann: vv1-2 hesed: steadfast love, rachamim, abundant mercy

Various expressions are employed to describe the speaker’s guilt:

Pesa: transgression or rebellion

Awon: iniquity

Chatta’t: sin

Originally they referred to precise and well-defined actions, clearly distinguished from one another … They have become expressions all of which mean sin against God …

The same applies to the verbs that describe the wiping out of sin:

In v 1 machah, blot out, also in v9

In v 2 kibbes, wash and its parallel tahar, cleanse, also v 7

All these verbs understand sin as something that defiles and besmirches a man, so forgiveness effects a cleansing.

Weiser reference to David when the prophet Nathan called him to account after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah ( 2 Sam 12) doesn’t match with the text

Wansbrough: The main body of the psalm falls into two halves, each in a chiasmus or Chinese-box pattern. It would be tedious to follow this out in detail, but the first half is bracketed by ‘blot out… wash me… cleanse me’ (vv. 3–4) and ‘cleanse me… wash me… blot out’ (vv. 9–11). It centres on confession of sin and awareness of inexcusable guilt: ‘you are just in your sentence’ (v. 6). The second half is bracketed by ‘heart… spirit’ (v. 12) and ‘spirit… heart’ (v. 19). It centres on God’s salvation (vv. 14, 16) and the return of sinners. As the spirituality of the first half chimes in with the consciousness of sin and guilt in Jeremiah, so the second half is enriched by the teaching on a new heart and new spirit in the promises of Ezekiel. After the disastrous infidelities that led to the Babylonian exile, Israel will be endowed with a new heart—a heart of flesh instead of a heart of stone—and the spirit or breath of life (Ezekiel 36: 26; 37: 5). This is the joy of salvation, or the saving joy, which the psalmist will announce to sinners. The real warmth of the psalm comes from the first three words. The opening word, translated ‘Have mercy on me’, is formed from the same word as for a mother’s womb. It is a plea for the unbreakable love of a mother, which can never be denied to her children, whatever they may do—the affinity engendered by the mother carrying her baby for nine loving and expectant months in the womb. The third word, translated ‘your merciful love’ (yes, all one word in the Hebrew), appeals to the inviolable loyalty between members of the same family: I may find my brother difficult and obstinate, but, when push comes to shove, I won’t let him down.

Stckhouse: Strange as it sounds, maybe Psalm 51 is one of the reasons why David is known as a man after God’s own heart. After all, holiness is not the ability to pretend a perfect life but rather the willingness to face the residual darkness in our hearts, to bring it all before God, and then experience the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit. In terms of sanctification it doesn’t seem very much; and in terms of penitence it doesn’t sound very impressive at all. More impressive, for us at least, would be a lavish sacrifice, with all the trimmings. More precious to God, however, and something he will never spurn, is the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart.

Prayer: It is hard for me to believe, but I will try to anyway, that just now it is my broken and penitent heart that draws you to me. Amen.

Alter: 2. upon Nathan the prophet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba. The superscription incorporates a barbed pun. The Hebrew verb used for both Nathan and David is “to come to [or “into”],” but in the former instance it refers to the prophet’s entering the king’s chambers, whereas the latter instance reflects its sexual sense, to have intercourse with a woman (probably intercourse for the first time). The strong character of this poem as a confessional psalm led the editors to attribute it to David when he was stricken with remorse after Nathan rebuked him for sleeping with Bathsheba and murdering her husband (2 Samuel 12). But in all likelihood, this psalm is a general penitential psalm composed centuries after David. If the reference to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem in the penultimate verse is an integral part of the original psalm and not an editorial addition, the text would have to date to sometime after 586 BCE. In any case, the idea of offering God a broken spirit instead of sacrifice looks as though it may have been influenced by the later prophetic literature. The eloquent confessional mode of this psalm has made it an important liturgical vehicle for both Christians and Jews. It is one of the seven penitential psalms in Church ritual. The wrenching plea of verse 13 is used in the introduction to the penitential prayer during the Jewish Days of Awe.

13. Do not fling me from Your presence. As elsewhere, this Hebrew verb has a connotation of violent action for which the conventional translation of it as “cast” is too tame.

Walford: 1-2 The psalmist begins with a series of pleas in the imperative voice: have mercy, blot out, wash, make clean, introducing language about cleansing that will run throughout the psalm. The psalmist’s imperatival pleas are grounded in the essential character of God’s being: according to your hesed and the greatness of your compassion (raḥamîm) (v. 1). 6 The psalmist seeks cleansing from my transgressions (pešaʿ), my guilt (ʿāwōn), and my sin (ḥaṭṭāʾṯ). The three are the words used most often in the biblical text to describe acts against God and humanity, and they are often found in parallel construction in Hebrew poetry. In Psalm 51, the words occur in vv. 1, 2, 5, 7, 9, and 13. While each word has a basic root meaning —pāšaʿ means “go against, to rebel,” ʿāwâ means “bend, twist,” and ḥāṭāʾ means “miss a mark or goal,” attempting to define each as a particular kind of action or attitude is not productive. Psalm 51 opens, then, with a piling up of pleas for cleansing and of words describing the past action of the psalmist.

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Psalm 102

God comforts us in all our sorrows. (2 Cor 1:4)

A prayer of one afflicted, when faint and pleading before the LORD.

Robert Alter: A prayer for the lowly when he grows faint and pours out his plea before the LORD.

Refrain:    My help comes from the Lord.

O Lord, hear my prayer

and let my crying come before you.

Hide not your face from me

in the day of my distress.

Incline your ear to me;

when I call, make haste to answer me, 

For my days are consumed in smoke

and my bones burn away as in a furnace.

My heart is smitten down and withered like grass,

so that I forget to eat my bread.

From the sound of my groaning

my bones cleave fast to my skin.

I am become like a vulture in the wilderness,

like an owl that haunts the ruins.

I keep watch and am become like a sparrow

solitary upon the housetop.

My enemies revile me all the day long,

and those who rage at me have sworn together against me.

I have eaten ashes for bread

and mingled my drink with weeping,

Because of your indignation and wrath,

for you have taken me up and cast me down.

My days fade away like a shadow,

and I am withered like grass. 

But you, O Lord, shall endure for ever

and your name through all generations.

You will arise and have pity on Zion;

it is time to have mercy upon her;

surely the time has come.

For your servants love her very stones

and feel compassion for her dust.

Then shall the nations fear your name, O Lord,

and all the kings of the earth your glory,

When the Lord has built up Zion

and shown himself in glory;

When he has turned to the prayer of the destitute

and has not despised their plea. 

This shall be written for those that come after,

and a people yet unborn shall praise the Lord.

For he has looked down from his holy height;

from the heavens he beheld the earth,

That he might hear the sighings of the prisoner

and set free those condemned to die;

That the name of the Lord may be proclaimed in Zion

and his praises in Jerusalem,

When peoples are gathered together

and kingdoms also, to serve the Lord. 

He has brought down my strength in my journey

and has shortened my days.

I pray, ‘O my God, do not take me in the midst of my days;

your years endure throughout all generations.

‘In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,

and the heavens are the work of your hands;

‘They shall perish, but you will endure;

they all shall wear out like a garment.

‘You change them like clothing, and they shall be changed;

but you are the same, and your years will not fail.

‘The children of your servants shall continue,

and their descendants shall be established in your sight.’

Refrain:    My help comes from the Lord.

Have pity on our frailty, O God,

and in the hour of our death

cast us not away as clothing that is worn,

for you are our eternal refuge;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

NOTES

Henry Wansborough: “The logic and thrust of this psalm are not immediately clear. The early and late parts of the psalm (vv. 2–12 and 24–29) seem to be the lament or complaint of someone who is grievously sick and slipping towards death, while the central part (vv. 13–23) is a hymn of praise to the Lord in expectation of the re-establishment of the primacy of Jerusalem after the exile. So distinct are these two parts that they are often thought to be separate compositions, clumsily combined.

Richard Atherton: “Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this fifth penitential psalm has always been its portrayal of God as one who picks up his people only to cast them down again like a plaything. It is reminiscent of Gloucester’s “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods” ( King Lear ) or even the scene in Christopher Nolan’s Under the Eye of the Clock where the dumb paralyzed lad is wheeled into church and, in his anger with God, makes a defiant, obscene gesture at the large crucifix on which Jesus hangs. The psalms teach us that there are times in life when we have to wrestle with God, to let out the suppressed anger, tell him what we think of him—as the psalmists do—even if what we have to say sounds like blasphemy. Perhaps only then will we discover that being honest does not separate us from God, but brings us closer to him. In the Letter to the Hebrews (1:10–12) the final stanza of this psalm is addessed by God to his Son. In fact the whole psalm seems to have Messianic overtones. Section I refers to our Lord’s desolation and suffering as he was picked up and thrown down in his passion, section II to his confidence in the coming of the kingdom and his own return in all his glory , and section III both to his natural shrinking from death when he had reached only midcourse (a mere thirty-odd years instead of three score years and ten) and the Father’s affrmation of his Son’s divine nature and promise that what he has accomplished will outlast the earth and the heavens.

Robert Alter: “For my days are consumed in smoke, / and my bones are scorched like a hearth. This haunting image focuses two ideas, ephemerality and suffering. The supplicant’s days burn away to mere smoke, like any rapidly combustible substance set on fire, and the result of the blaze of torment within him is bones charred like a hearth after the fire has burned out. This poem is distinctive among the psalms of supplication in its powerful emphasis on the transience and insubstantiality of human life, an emphasis at certain points reminiscent of Job.

Angela Tilby (Reflections): “Scholars think that this psalm may have been voiced by a single person, perhaps the king or a representative leader, at times of national mourning. The solo voice spoke for the many. This insight may help us to pray with this psalm by making us aware that even the most intimate prayers represent more than our private desires and longings. The reverse it also true: our most heartfelt and private prayers are taken up into the prayer of the whole Christian Church. There is a solidarity in our faith between person and community that is countercultural in our individualistic age. The most heartfelt personal sorrow brings us into contact with universal suffering. Even our deepest griefs can be offered up to God and are taken to his heart. What counts in the end is not our faithfulness but God’s.

Grail: This pathetic expression of grief suddenly changes (c13) into a confident prayer for God’s protection of Zion, his holy city. So we suffer with all who suffer in the Church – while being certain that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

*

Psalm 130

He will save his people from their sins. (Mt 1:21)

A Song of Ascents

Refrain:    My soul waits for the Lord.

Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord;

Lord, hear my voice;

let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand?

But there is forgiveness with you,

so that you shall be feared. 

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;

in his word is my hope.

My soul waits for the Lord,

more than the night watch for the morning,

more than the night watch for the morning. 

O Israel, wait for the Lord,

for with the Lord there is mercy;

With him is plenteous redemption

and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

Refrain:    My soul waits for the Lord.

Father, we commend to your faithful love

those who are crying from the depths;

help them to watch and pray

through their time of darkness,

in sure hope of the dawn of your

forgiveness and redemption;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

NOTES

Richard Atherton: “It is unfortunate that in Catholic practice the De Profundis (or Out of the Depths ) is associated almost exclusively with prayer for the dead. Though a most appropriate prayer in that context, it has a much wider application. It can be used whenever we find ourselves waiting in the dark in anxious vigil for the intervention of the Lord. In the Middle Ages it was included among the seven Penitential Psalms as an appeal for deliverance from sin. It played a significant role in the conversion of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, when he heard it being sung in St. Paul’s and found his heart “strangely warmed.” Perhaps our hearts will experience a similar awakening as we make this psalm our own in prayer.

Robert Alter: “6. My being for the Master—/ more than the dawn-watchers watch for the dawn. Previous translators have all supplied a predicate here (“ is eager,” “is turned to,” or the King James Version’s “waiteth,” duly italicized to show that it is merely implied in the Hebrew). But the power of the line in the original is precisely that the anticipated verb (“ wait” having appeared twice in the preceding line) is choked off: my inner being, my utmost self—for God more than watchmen watch for the dawn. (The Hebrew noun boqer also has the more general sense of “morning,” but in this context of watchmen through the night awaiting the first light, “dawn” is strongly indicated.) Previous translators render the four Hebrew words mishomrim laboqer shomrim laboqer as a simple repetition (for example, the New Jewish Publication Society, “than watchmen for the morning, watchmen for the morning.” But shomrim can be either a verbal noun (“ watchmen”) or a plural verb (“ watch”). The line becomes more vivid and energetic if the second occurrence is understood as a verb: more than the watchmen watch for the dawn, I watch—elliptically implied—for the LORD. The force of the image is evident: The watchmen sitting through the last of the three watches of the night, peering into the darkness for the first sign of dawn, cannot equal my intense expectancy for God’s redeeming word to come to me in my dark night of the soul.

Grail: Waiting for the dawn of Israel’s great deliverance. The psalmist, aware of his people’s faithlessness, is equally sure of God’s answer to repentance (cf. New. 1:7-9). The return from exile was not yet ‘full redemption’. Israel waited and prayed. She was still waiting when Symeon took a child in his arms and said: “my eyes have seen thy salvation’ (Lk 2:30). He held the infant Son of Man who came to give his life for the redemption of many (Mk 10:45) – ‘with the Lord, there is fullness of redemption’. But since this has come,, how can we Christians still await it? How can we sing the psalm? Because though called we are not yet chosen, though heirs we do not yet enjoy the inheritance. Out of these depths our call must be constant and if it is constant, it may be confident also. And there are some whose waiting is a purifying fire. This, more than any other, is their psalm

*

Psalm 143

A person is made righteous not by obedience to the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal 2:16)

A Psalm of David.

Refrain:    Show me, O Lord, the way that I should walk in.

Hear my prayer, O Lord,

and in your faithfulness give ear to my supplications;

answer me in your righteousness.

Enter not into judgement with your servant,

for in your sight shall no one living be justified.

For the enemy has pursued me,

crushing my life to the ground,

making me sit in darkness like those long dead.

My spirit faints within me;

my heart within me is desolate. 

I remember the time past; I muse upon all your deeds;

I consider the works of your hands.

I stretch out my hands to you;

my soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.

O Lord, make haste to answer me; my spirit fails me;

hide not your face from me

lest I be like those who go down to the Pit.

Let me hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

for in you I put my trust;

show me the way I should walk in,

for I lift up my soul to you. 

Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies,

for I flee to you for refuge.

Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God;

let your kindly spirit lead me on a level path.

Revive me, O Lord, for your name’s sake;

for your righteousness’ sake, bring me out of trouble.

In your faithfulness, slay my enemies,

and destroy all the adversaries of my soul,

for truly I am your servant.

Refrain:    Show me, O Lord, the way that I should walk in.

Jesus, our companion,

when we are driven to despair,

help us, through the friends and strangers

we encounter on our path,

to know you as our refuge,

our way, our truth and our life.

NOTES

John Paul II: “Turning the gaze to the light of the morning of grace (cf. v. 8), St Gregory the Great, in his commentary of the seven Penitential Psalms, described this dawn of hope and of joy thus: “It is the day illuminated by that only truth which does not set, which the clouds do not darken and the rain does not obscure…. When Christ, our life, appears, and we begin to see God with open eyes, then every haze of darkness will flee, every puff of ignorance will dissolve, every cloud of temptation will be dissipated…. That will be the glorious and splendid day, prepared for all the elect by the One who has freed us from the power of darkness and has transferred us into the reign of his beloved Son. 

“The morning of that day is the future resurrection…. On that morning, the faithfulness of the just will be brilliant, the glory will appear, the exaltation will be seen, when God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of the saints, when death will finally be destroyed, when the just will shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of the Father. 

“On that day, the Lord will use his mercy, saying: “Come, blessed of my Father’ (Mt 25: 34). Then, the mercy of God will be made manifest, which in the present life the human mind cannot conceive. The Lord has in fact prepared, for those who love him, that which eye has not seen, nor ear has heard, nor has entered the heart of man” (PL 79, coll. 649-650).

Robert Alter: “2. for no living thing is acquitted before You. The idea here is in accord with a theme in Job—that no creature (not even the angels, according to Job) can hope to be blameless before God’s inexorable judgment. The Hebrew phrase kol  ay is not restricted to humankind, as many translations suggest, but embraces all living creatures.

Grail: We do not always find it possible to connect a particular suffering with a specific sin, but it is true that human suffering is the mark of our estrangement from God; and in our sorrow we become aware of that gulf, and aware therefore of our desperate need of him.

***

SOURCES

Robert Alter, The Book Of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary

Henry Wansborough, The Psalms: A Commentary for Prayer and Reflection

John Paul II / Benedictine XVI: Commentaries on the Psalms and Canticles of the Divine Office Lauds and Vespers, given in Papal audiences, available online here.

The Psalms: A New Translation, Singing Version, Fontana 1966 [Grail]

Gregory Polan, The Psalms: Songs of Faith and Praise, Paulist, 2010

John Eaton, The Psalms, Continuum 2005

Nicholas King, The Psalms, Mayhew 2008

Reading the Psalms With Luther, Concordia, 1993

Artur Weiser, The Psalms, SCM 1962

Augustine, tr Maria Boulding, Expositions of the Psalms, New City 2000 (6 volumes)

Mitchell Dahood, Psalms (3 Volumes), Anchor Bible, Doubleday 1965

Claus Westermann, The Living Psalms, Eerdmans, 1989

Tehillim: Psalms / A New Translation with a commentary anthologised from Talmudic, Midrashic, and Rabbinic Sources, Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, eds., Mesorah 2007 (1977) 2 volumes

William P. Brown, Seeing the Psalms – A Theology of Metaphor, John Knox 2002

Patrick Henry Reardon, Christ in the Psalms, Conciliar Press, 2000

Nancy L Declaisse-Walford, The Book of Psalms – New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Eerdmans, 2014

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