It seems a lot of the behavior that disrupts our society today is based on fear—fear of not having enough, fear of people different from us, fear of being alone even in a crowd of people. Fear can make us react in a variety of ways- and one of the most pernicious is to make us forget how beloved we are.
Just like last Sunday’s psalm (psalm 40), this psalm expresses faith and trust in God. The selection we have from Psalm 27 has two separate moods: an expression of trust in God and longing to be with God in verses 1 and 5-9 in which God is spoken of in third person as “he;” and then a direct plea to God asking for protection, with God being addressed as “You” in the second person. It’s as if, in the first part, the psalmist is talking to himself; and then once he has reminded himself of the love God has for him, he will then be bold enough in the second part to ask God directly for protection and salvation.
If you read between the lines, however, it seems that the psalmist actually feels threatened and endangered, and is trying to build up his own confidence by giving himself a pep talk to remind himself that there is nothing to fear. Language about being endangered and afraid is implied in every verse. The psalmist seems to be screwing up his courage in the face of some sort of terror.
Unfortunately, the verses we have in this excised version of the psalm omits what the danger is. But here is what we see if verses 2-4 are restored:
2 When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me, *
yet my heart shall not be afraid;
4 And though war should rise up against me, *
yet will I put my trust in him.
Here we see descriptions of terrible calamities that nonetheless will not be enough to shake the psalmist’s faith in God’s abiding faithfulness.
Both the first and last verses we read praise God as being “my salvation.” Verse 1 also links God with light. In verse 5, we see that the psalmist feels secure because God is near. In verses 5-7, the psalmist refers to God’s “house,” “temple,” “shelter,” and “dwelling,” which of course are where people so often go to pray. The sense of sight is invoked in verse 6, when the psalmist anticipates seeing “the fair beauty of the Lord,” such a lovely phrase to describe God revealing Godself to us. Movement is then emphasized, and the direction in verses 7 and 8 is upward- “set high on a rock,” and “lifting up my head” to save the psalmist. In thanksgiving, the psalmist will offer an oblation, an offering of gratitude and worship.
Just as we hope when we ourselves pray, there is a pattern of asking and being answered: in verse 5, the psalmist asks to be allowed to live with God, making God’s dwelling also his own home, which would, of course, be the safest place anywhere. But the psalmist seeks even more closeness with God: to see God’s face, and to feel God’s touch.
Many of us need to be reminded that we can call upon God to help us when we are afraid, and this psalm reminds us in vivid imagery that God is always with us and loves us. Ultimately, this is a psalm meant to remind us to have faith in God, to be confident of God’s love and trust God’s love for us.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.