A Reflection on Psalm 70 by Canon Rob,
November 12th, Remembrance Sunday
If you watch any of Sir David Attenborough’s programmes you will see how brutal life can be for those who are vulnerable. A big cat, for example, killing a young impala or zebra. A great white shark catching a seal pup. We watch such events and a natural reaction is often to think they are cruel until we are told that the big cat kills to feed her young and the shark will only kill enough to satisfy its hunger and we have some sympathy and understanding.
Psalm 70 is an urgent plea for help by someone who is vulnerable, whose life is in danger. The opening words, also used during Mattins and Evensong in the 1662 Prayer Book, show how terrifying the situation is: “O God, make speed to save me; O Lord, make haste to help me.” The author’s life is in danger from those who seek his life. [See verse 2] He is terrified and the only thing left is to turn to God for help. On this Remembrance Sunday, I recall that my father once told me how, during World War II, fellow soldiers who seldom thought of God, prayed to Him to spare their lives, just as the psalmist did. Also, one of my commentaries on this psalm refers to bullying and reading it I recall the many times I was bullied at school. Being physically small I was vulnerable: an easy prey to those boys who were much bigger than me. So, reflecting upon Psalm 70, I have a lot of sympathy with the author. You may find yourself doing the same. Wars and bullying are repugnant and their roots are similar: fear and the need to intimidate and control “the other.” As you reflect on today’s psalm can I encourage to pray for peace, for those who are vulnerable and bullied and for those who perpetrate acts of violence wherever they take place?
The author of Psalm 70 has faith in God and believes He will save him. After he has asked God to “shame and confuse” and “turn back” those who seek his life [See verses 2 and 3] he rejoices in God’s salvation and calls upon others to join him in doing so. “…let those who love your salvation say always, ‘Great is the Lord!’” [Verse 4] Here is confidence and trust in the One who has the power to free the writer from his fears. Again, as you reflect on this psalm, you can make it your own by praying that God will likewise free you from any fears you may cling to. When the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, mentioned above, was first published, the greatest fear of worshippers would probably have been the “fear of the Lord.” The word fear was used to mean “dread,” or “scared of, ” not “love for” or “faith in” as we might rightly understand it. However, God’s holiness reveals our sinfulness and in the words of St Paul, in his Letter to the Christians in Philippi, “You must work out your own salvation in fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you,….” [Philippians 2.12]
Having encouraged others to rejoice in the power of the Lord, the author returns to his own immediate needs and the urgency of his request is repeated: “As for me, I am poor and needy; come to me quickly, O God.” [See verse 5] In the final verse he recalls that God is his help and deliverer but his plea is urgent again: “O Lord, do not delay.” It is as if he is going round in circles, something which many experience when they are weighed down with anxiety. Being afraid sometimes is an experience most, if not all, of us will experience. It is a theme which occurs in several psalms, and if you look at Psalm 40, verses 14 to the end, you will find the words are almost identical to those of Psalm 70. However, for those with faith, there is something which overcomes fear: love! The love which God has for us, and the love we have for Him. As St John reminds us in the New Testament, “There is no fear in love, but love casts out fear.” [1 John 4.18.] As you reflect upon today’s psalm, may you be reassured that the God of Love is with you.
Lord, give us that love always. Amen.