Howard Wallace's home page

January 20, 2013
Psalm 36:5-10

This psalm is another individual lament. The first book of Psalms (Psalms 1-41) is dominated by this type of psalm. In this case the problem which the psalmist laments is one posed by a group of people the psalmist calls ‘the wicked’ (v. 1). These people converse with ‘transgression’ itself (v. 1). At the heart of their life is the assessment that they have no fear of God. That leads to self-deception over whether their activity can be detected (v. 2), to deceit and mischief as the subject of their conversation and a lack of wisdom and goodness in their activity (v. 3), to their obsession with plotting evil deeds, to their pursuit of a way that is not good (cf. Ps. 1:1), and to their inability to chose other than what is corrupt and evil (v. 4).

All this is background to the section of the psalm set for this week (vv. 5-10). Of course, this part of the psalm is partly selected for the reference to the light of God which enlightens human eyes (v. 9), a theme suitable for the season of Epiphany. However, the main theme of this section of the psalm is the ‘steadfast love’ (hesed) of God. This hesed is probably better translated as God’s ‘covenant loyalty’ or ‘unfailing love’ (REB) or ‘faithful love’ (NJB) or ‘faithfulness’ (Jewish Publication Society version). The emphasis is on the aspect of steadfastness or faithfulness. The psalmist pleads for a continuation of the Lord’s hesed which he praises in exuberant language. From the context of the psalm the Lord’s faithfulness is the psalmist’s greatest defence against the ‘wicked’. We do not hear in vv. 1-5 what the exact problem is for the psalmist. Are the wicked attacking the psalmist in some way or is the psalmist concerned about the pressure or temptation that accompanies the activities of the wicked? That only becomes clear in v. 11 where the psalmist expresses fear of some sort of oppression.

The Lord’s faithfulness fills the whole of creation (the heavens and the clouds, v. 5), his righteousness is as firm as the mountains, and the Lord’s judgments are grounded in a depth of wisdom (v. 6). We should note carefully that the Lord saves both humans and animals (v. 6c). This last statement challenges the anthropocentric attitude of many who see the humans as not just central in creation but all that is worthy of salvation. God’s faithfulness and salvation are for all creation, human animals and we might justly add all other aspects of what we call nature. Those who take refuge in the Lord ‘feast on the abundance of (the Lord’s) house’ and drink ‘from the river of (the Lord’s) delights’. With the Lord is the ‘fountain of life’ and light that enlightens all and enables sight for all creation (v. 9; cf. Ps. 23.5-6). In this beautiful set of metaphors the psalmist captures the essence of the life-giving presence of God with all creation. They also stress in the praise of God’s all embracing faithfulness, that such a gift of life is utterly dependable. Such delights of feasting and drinking not only pick up the theme of the Gospel for the day but are present in the celebration of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

The section of the psalm set for today would make a fine responsive prayer of adoration:

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens,
    your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O LORD.
    How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
    For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.
O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
    and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Verse 7 could also serve as part of the call to worship:
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Let us worship God.
Finally, vv. 8-9 could become part of the invitation to the table during the Lord’s Supper:
Come, feast on the abundance of the Lord’s house,
and drink from the river of God’s delights.
For with the Lord is the fountain of life.

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5

Return to OT Lectionary Readings contents page