This psalm is the only one ascribed to David in Book III of the Psalms. Familiar Davidic themes run through it. We may wonder, How many times does David need to cry out to God? How often is his life threatened? And how does he manage to get himself in such messes? Some scholars believe that the Hebrew people found this psalm particularly signi cant when they were in exile; for centu- ries it has found its way onto the lips of the faithful.
Whether in times of war or dif cult circumstance, personal trouble or ill health, this psalm captures the depth of feeling that accompanies the person whose back is against the wall, that moment when only God can make a difference. I nd it inter- esting to explore the form of the psalm. The petitioner begins by crying out to God, begging God to come near and hear, reminding God of her/his devotion and absolute faith and trust in God’s goodness. In this sense, it has the feel of coming into a royal court, showing absolute respect to the Lord who alone can help. Only God’s power can save.
The psalm serves as a timely reminder of the respect God deserves. Though we often speak of our relationship with God like we are intimate friends, in times of trouble we become painfully aware of our smallness and the need for God to be God—great, majestic, omnipotent. God is creator and we are creature; though we sometimes like to think otherwise, it is good to remember that reality. I don’t mean to imply that God is aloof and disinterested and needs our groveling adoration. God remains as near as the breath we breathe and more willing to be with us than we can imagine. “For you, O LOrD, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.” No matter the circumstance, we can turn to and trust in God.
Teach me your ways and hear me when I call, God of grace and mercy. Amen.
Implicit in the story of Hagar and Ishmael is the threat to Isaac and to God’s promises to Abraham and Sarah. The psalmist captures the terror by unnamed forms of destruction that may threaten an individual or people. Paul raises the specter of that most universal threat—death—but does so within the context of the new life won by Christ’s resurrection. Matthew describes various ways in which the enemies of Jesus threaten his disciples because of their association with him.
• Read Genesis 21:8-21. When have you felt burdened and outcast? What was your experience of God’s hearing you where you were?
• Read Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17. Do you pray in the confidence that God hears and will answer your pleas? If not, how could you learn to pray in that manner?
• Read Romans 6:1b-11. Paul speaks of dying to self and rising with Christ. How has your Christian faith given you a sense of freedom from sin?
• Read Matthew 10:24-39. What makes God’s presence real to you? How does God’s intimate knowledge of you—the number of hairs on your head—make you feel?
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