A Prayer for Guidance

A Reflection on Psalm 86.11-end by Canon Rob,
23rd July, The Seventh Sunday after Trinity

A month ago we had the opportunity to reflect on verses 1-10 of Psalm 86, verses which expressed the author’s anxiety, if not depression. Today, our focus is on the later verses of that psalm which are set for this morning’s Eucharist. If you read it in its entirety, you will find that it is almost like reading two very different psalms. Last month the heading was “A cry in the darkness.” Today, it is as if the psalmist has moved on. Having given thanks for all that God has done for him, he asks that God will guide him to do what is right. “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth: knit my heart to you, that I may fear your name.” [Verse 11.] Here we see an act of re-dedication. The cloud of depression is lifting and he knows that God is with him. Indeed he can now thank God for all that God has done for him. In verse 11, as we have seen, he wants to “fear” the Lord. That doesn’t mean to be scared of God. On the contrary in verse 12 we have a clearer idea of what he means: “I will thank you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and glorify your name for evermore.” To fear God is to love God, to trust Him, and that, in turn, leads the believer to glorify – or praise, even thank – God. In verse 13 we find the reason. “For great is your steadfast love towards me, for you have delivered my soul from the depths of the grave.” Before we move on though, reflect upon the words “your truth” again in verse 11. Truth is critical throughout the Bible and when applied to God, it means that God can be relied on completely. He is “a fortress” and “a rock,” analogies which we have come across in several psalms before.

That is important to the author of today’s psalm. He finds himself under attack, presumably from evil men. [See verse 14.] He describes them as a “ruthless horde” who “seek after [his] life.” We have seen this kind of language in several psalms too. This “ruthless horde” are described as “the proud” who “rise up against” him. Whoever they are, and they are not identified, they are arrogant and cause terror to those who are faithful to the One, True, God: the Lord who made a covenant with those who would become His People: especially with Noah in Genesis 9; with Abram (Abraham) in Genesis 17; and with Moses in Exodus – see especially Chapter 24. This covenant, renewed as it was, was a huge privilege for God’s People, but it also laid upon them a huge responsibility, to obey God’s Commandments and to be faithful to Him and Him alone. No wonder then that the People of Israel, God’s own people, had many enemies who did not “set you (God) before their eyes.” [Verse 14.]

The author of Psalm 86 knows God though. Having come through his period of depression, in the earlier verses, he is now certain that God is with him and can be trusted to stand up against the enemy. Those, like him, who trust in the Lord experience Him as, “gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of kindness and truth.” [Verse 15.] These words are reminiscent of those we read in the Book Exodus, Chapter 34, verse 6, when Moses is given the Ten Commandments for the second time. “The Lord then passed in front of him [Moses] and called out, ‘I, the Lord, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness’.” In the last two verses of today’s psalm, the author prays for strength to keep following God and also that others may see who God really is. “Show me a token of your favour, that those who hate me may see it and be ashamed; because you, O Lord, have helped and comforted me.

God of mercy, who in your great love drew your Son from the depths of the Pit,
bring your people from death to life, that we may rejoice in your compassion
and praise you now and for ever.

[Prayer at the end of Psalm 86 in Common Worship, Daily Prayer]

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A King Prepares for his wedding

A Reflection on Psalm 45.10-end by Canon Rob,
9th July, The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

What a contrast today’s psalm is to the one we reflected upon two week’s ago: [Psalm 86.1-10.] Then the author was in a really bad place, suffering with depression and anxiety. Today though, there is much praise for the King who is soon to be married to a most beautiful woman. In one of my commentaries, the psalm we are reflecting upon is called “An anthem for a royal wedding” and although the verses set for today are 10 – 17, it is clear from verse 1 that the author – who may have been the court poet – is eager to write his hymn. The news is wonderful and he can’t wait to share it! “My heart is astir with gracious words; as I make my song for the king, my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” It isn’t every day that the King will marry and his bride become a new Queen!

We know from verse 12 that the bride comes from Tyre, a city in Phoenicia, north of Palestine, but she is expected to leave that behind. “Hear, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people and your father’s house.” [Verse 10.] We can presume from verse 13 that she is a princess for she is referred to as “The King’s daughter.” Soon though, she will become a wife and Queen and any children she will give birth to will be princes and princesses in her new country and home. Probably it is an arranged marriage and we don’t know how this princess really feels about leaving her father, family and all that is familiar to her. Hopefully though she and her husband will find love, if they do not already share it. What is clear, again from verse 12, is that the rich and famous from Tyre will be attending the wedding and bringing gifts, or tributes, seeking her favour.

Reading through my commentaries on the psalms, some suggest that the wedding is an allegory about the love of God for His Chosen People. The same is suggested about “The Song of Songs,” an erotic love poem, also in the Old Testament. The Church has often been called the Bride of Christ and, again, some reading the psalm may want to draw a similar conclusion. However, as always, we should beware of reading into a Biblical text something which isn’t there or even intended. Can we not simply take Psalm 45 for what it is: a celebration of the coming wedding of a King? If so, we can reflect on the significance of this great occasion.

Whether or not the marriage was arranged, as I have suggested, it would be important in ensuring the endurance of the King’s dynasty. Male heirs were critical as they were in our own country until comparatively recently. It wasn’t just a case of continuing the family name! Any sons born of this royal marriage will be given a position of responsibility and carry out duties on behalf of the King, just as we see with Prince William representing King Charles. “Instead of your fathers you shall have sons, whom you shall make princes over the land.” [verse 16.] All this is reinforced in the last verse: “I will make your name to be remembered through all generations; therefore shall the peoples praise you for ever and ever.” Once again, as you reflect upon the verses of this psalm, you may find it helpful to read the 2nd Book of Samuel, Chapter 7 which is part of the covenant made between God and King David. There we read, in verse 16,the Lord speaking to King David about the future of his kingdom: “Your family shall be established and your kingdom shall stand for all time in my sight, and your throne shall be established for ever.” Perhaps the King referred to in today’s psalm was David himself! Whoever it was, we can give thanks for the love which God gives to all those in close relationships and hope that the King, in the psalm, and his new Bride and Queen found that same love with each other, as have King Charles and Queen Camilla.

Keep me steadfast and honourable, O God,
in my relationships with those I love. Amen. [Marshall D. Johnson]

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