Thursday, December 16, 2010

Psalms 16-18

16. I am ever mindful of the Lord's presence;
He is at my right hand; I shall never be shaken.
So my heart rejoices,
my whole being exults,
and my body rests secure.
In typical Jewish fashion this is one of the psalms read at a funeral.  The opening can be alternatively translated: "I have set the Lord before me--always.  Because He is at my right, I shall not falter.  Therefore my heart celebrates, and my being sings, and my flesh rests--assuredly."  Why read these verses at a funeral?  It is of course a statement of faith. Hold God close. Draw Adonai near.  Then you will not fall.  You may very well feel like you are faltering, but say a blessing and a prayer.  Baruch dayan ha-emet.  
For You will not abandon me to Sheol,
or let Your faithful one see the Pit.
You will teach me the path of life.
In Your presence is perfect joy;
delights are ever in Your right hand.
With God at your side you might feel like there are only simchas.  These celebrations are more indicative of the path of life than any of the many tragedies, pains and difficulties we face.  We are commanded to say a blessing in the face of death.  We are also commanded to dance at parties.  Blessings and whirling about in song and dance these are the defining Jewish postures.

17. A prayer of David.
Only five psalms open with this superscription: 17, 86, 90, 102 and 142.  Many times the psalms refer to the prayers of David, but only these five open with this description.  17, 86 and 142 are called prayers of David, although 142 is not just a prayer of David but a maskil: a prayer composed when he was in the cave, 90 a prayer of Moses, and 102 a prayer of a poor man.  What distinguishes a prayer from a psalm?  For the Bible a prayer appears to be akin to a plea.  Please hear my words, listen to the outpourings of my heart.
Hear, O Lord, what is just:
heed my cry, give ear to my prayer, 
uttered without guile....
You have visited me at night, probed my mind,
You have tested me and found nothing amiss...
I call on You;
You will answer me, God;
turn Your ear to me,
hear what I say.
Is it positive to be visited at night?  Is it comforting?  The idea that God sees and knows all is comforting to the saint.  But who is so perfect?  Who is without blame?  Even David sinned.  And what a mighty list of sins he committed!  Nonetheless here the person offering this prayer, if it is in fact David, has the confidence, and perhaps audacity, to say that he has passed all tests.  He says, I have examined my ways and found them to be blameless, so answer me.  Listen to my prayers!  There is a confidence here, even a chutzpah, that evades me.  I find comfort in the closing lines.
Guard me as carefully as the pupil of Your eye.
Hide me in the shadow of Your wings...
Then, I justified, will behold Your face;
awake, I am filled with the vision of You.

Each morning I awake to sing blessings and prayers, to give thanks for the morning. Baruch...yotzer ha-m'orot.

18. According to the superscription this psalm was composed by David when he was hiding from Saul in the caves of Ein Gedi.  It is remarkable in its imagery.
I adore You, O Lord, my strength,
O Lord, my crag, my fortress, my rescuer,
my God, my rock in whom I seek refuge,
my shield, my mighty champion, my haven.
All praise!  I called on the Lord
and was delivered from my enemies.
Many are the nooks and crannies of Ein Gedi.  In these David hides and in these God is found.  God is a rock.  God is, as the prayer recounts, the Rock of Israel.  A rock is of course immovable.  While unfeeling a rock can be felt and seen.  It is dependable and sturdy.  Perhaps this is why the ancients felt God's nearness in the hills of the Judean desert. 
In my distress I called on the Lord,
cried out to my God;
in His temple He heard my voice;
my cry to Him reached His ears.
Our cries reach to the highest heavens and find their way to the loftiest of abodes.  Imagine the trickles of water that make their way through the rocks of this desert oasis.
The ocean bed was exposed;
the foundations of the world were laid bare
by Your mighty roaring, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
But during the winter rainy season flash floods can topple boulders and wash away desert roads.  Our prayers can be faint cries and mighty torrents of sobbing and pleading.
He rescued me because He was pleased with me.
David can sin.  He can murder. He can commit adultery.  God always forgives David because God loves David.  He was rescued not because of his merit but instead because of God's love and affection.  Is this the meaning of hesed, a love that is undeservedIs David the measure of divine hesed?

The Lord lives!  Blessed is my rock!
Exalted be God, my deliverer...
Hold a rock in your hand.  Keep a blessing on your lips.

To read the psalms online, in both English and Hebrew, follow this link.

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