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Psalm 27

As with most literature (biblical and other), Psalm 27 offers the reader more than one entrance. In verse 11, the psalmist speaks of Yahweh’s “road,” or “path,” praying it may be a “level stretch” because of “those lying in wait for me” (all translations are the author’s). Noting the signposts placed within the text itself always is a wise move. Wise or not, we shall pretend we are, and follow the lead of this one.

Most of us have looked down from some height upon a length of highway. Scanning the length of our psalm, we notice both its first and its last feature is Yahweh: it begins and ends with the personal name of Israel’s God. Coming into view, Yahweh is the subject: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation” (v 1). Rounding the bend out of sight, Yahweh is the object: “Await Yahweh!” (v 14). This stretch of the road should be worth traversing.

Our vantage from the rise suggests many ways of seeing; we will note one. This psalm, the section of the highway visible from here, comprises four segments arranged chiastically:

A – Affirmation, verses 1-6

B – Supplication, verses 7-10

B’ – Supplication, verses 11-12

A’ – Affirmation, verses 13-14

Were the psalmist (David? in David’s style? dedicated to David, or to his memory?) a student, he would earn an “A” for the clarity and force of his thesis statement (v 1):

Yahweh is my light and my salvation; of whom shall I be afraid?

Yahweh is the refuge of my life; of whom shall I be in dread?

This is rhetorical affirmation with flair and with punch. Continuing, he dismisses the multiple dangers of “evildoers,” “foes,” and “enemies” (v 2), of an entire “encampment,” even of a “war” (v 3) staged just to get him. (David did survive several of those.)

Now we come to a rest area, and the psalmist wants to make it his permanent address. In just two verses (4-5), he refers to it as “the house (bayit) of Yahweh,” “his temple” (hechal), his “shelter” (sukkah), and his “tent” (’ohel). Still other terms are available in Hebrew, but we get the idea. This place is a sanctuary, a place of refuge and safety because here Yahweh “situates [the singer] high upon a rock.” No wonder it also is a place of celebration, where he can “offer [his] sacrifices of [and with] joyful shouting,” can “sing,” can “make music to Yahweh” (v 6). We, however, cannot linger here at present.

As we just have seen, within his first section of affirmation (vv 1-6) the psalmist included also his request for a green card, for permanent residence in God’s sanctuary (v 4). Permeating the supplications of verses 7-10, however, is daunting fear at the prospect of God’s anger. He does not mention any action or attitude of his, but something triggered this fear. (If the reader assumes David as the psalmist, offences will come to mind.) By itself, the psalmist’s piling up of verbs will convince the empathetic reader both of his repentance, and of his fear that Yahweh could refuse to accept his contrition as genuine: “Hear . . . my voice!” “Be gracious to me!” “Respond to me!” “Do not hide your face from me!” “Do not turn [me] away!” “Do not cast [me] off!” “Do not abandon me!”

Frantic, nearly paralyzed with fear, the psalmist is gifted with a wondrously reassuring thought. We paraphrase (slightly) and expand (a bit more), “Even if my father and my mother were to abandon me--it’s unthinkable, but I suppose it could happen--still, Yahweh would scoop me up and gather me close to God’s Father-Mother Self!” Reassurance enough, and just in time.

Calmed now, the psalmist (and we) can move on to the second segment of supplication (B’), verses 11-12. And here we shall linger a bit. It begins, “Instruct me, O Yahweh, in your path.” This is the first direct use in the psalm of the metaphor we have been employing, and of course its use is common throughout Scripture. To live without God is to wander aimlessly to no purpose. To walk God’s path in the light of God’s instruction is (ultimately) to arrive at home, to be welcomed into the family for which (for whom) we were created.

“Instruct” is from the same Hebrew root as the familiar noun, Torah. Of course, God’s instruction includes the Torah/Pentateuch which heads the corpus of Scripture. However, God’s path stretches across the millennia now, and at a minimum God’s torah/instruction in God’s path includes the whole of Christian Scripture. Many Wesleyans would add that we receive it appropriately through the Holy-Sprit-guided mediation of reason, tradition, and experience.

A most amazing line follows, the line with which we began, “Lead (or, “Guide”) me upon a long level stretch, because of those who lie in wait for me [to do me harm].” This is two requests in one. One request is for a long, level stretch of road or path in a land where almost nothing is horizontal. One would be hard-pressed there to plan even a short journey that did not feature continuous ups and downs in the terrain, and therefore in its traverse. (I have walked many miles of those ups and downs myself!)

Secondly, even along those segments where the path could be called more or less “level,” lay hillocks and swales where “those who lie in wait” could conceal themselves, and catch the traveler unaware. The psalmist knew as a solitary wayfarer he would be in grave and imminent danger, but with a guide who knows such places, a leader to go before, he did not need to fear “those who lie in wait.”

These consecutive lines are linked by the metaphor of the road; thus, it is reasonable to conclude that instruction in God’s path tends to level the road. To say it in a way that does not minimize life’s hardships for anyone: while the road of the believer is not always easy, it does tend to be more “level” because of the moral, ethical, relational, etc., consistencies of God’s instruction. Moreover, the traveler trusting in God as Leader and Guide will not be overcome by those who lie in wait.

Verses 13-14, the final, familiar lines of the second section of affirmation (A’), are a fitting climax to the psalm. As we round the bend and leave this stretch “behind,” as other vistas present themselves before us, what better admonition than the psalmist’s exuberant, “Await Yahweh! Be strong, and let your heart be courageous! Await Yahweh!” On the road again? With Yahweh as our Leader, guiding us homeward, nothing could be better.