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June 13, 2010
Psalm 5:1-8

Psalm 5, an individual lament, is an appropriate choice to go with the reading from 1 Kings 21 today. It speaks of those who tell lies and alludes to the bloodthirsty and deceitful (v. 6). Moreover, in the psalm we hear the voice of one who suffers at the hands of such people. This could be the prayer of a Naboth struggling against the power of a Jezebel and the complicity of desiring Ahab.

The psalmist moans and pleads to God for attention and hope (vv. 1-2) and trusts that in the morning Yahweh?will hear their plea (v. 3). Such cries have already been heard in the Book of Psalms if we have been reading the psalms sequentially (cf. Pss. 3.5; 4.4, 8). Yahweh does not delight in wickedness, and the boastful do not stand before the Lord, says the psalmist. Such people will perish (vv. 5-6; cf. Pss. 1:6 and 2:11). The psalmist asks Yahweh to make their way straight before them, consonant with the way of the upright in Psalm 1. As in the earlier Psalm 3, the attack born by the psalmist is verbal and they seek an appropriate punishment for the mouths etc. of the wicked (v. 10).

The psalm ends with the hope that all who love Yahweh’s name, who take refuge in Yahweh, may rejoice, sing and find protection, confident of the Lord’s blessing (cf. Pss. 1:1; 2:12). This note of hope is not heard today if we stay with the shortened selection from the psalm designated by the lectionary, i.e. vv. 1-8. Maybe the lectionary compilers are cautious about reading the seeming vindictiveness of v. 9 and the vengeance expressed in v. 10 in a public context such as worship. But we ought to be cautious in not reading such verses from Scripture, although they should be accompanied by some discussion in the sermon or other context. Such words are as much the word of God for us as the more positive words of say vv. 11-12. Do we run the risk of not hearing the kind of words that are often spoken by victims of violence, either in vindictiveness or vengeance, when we stifle such words from the psalmist as we find in vv. 9-10? Is not the psalmist just uttering the kinds of things that those who suffer, including us sometimes, utter when greatly oppressed? And if such words cannot be spoken to and in the presence of God, where can they be uttered? The inclusion of such words in the psalms gives us permission to speak what might really be deep within us at times when we suffer greatly, or are within the Naboths around the world who suffer at the hands of various Jezebels and Ahabs in ways we can only imagine. It also gives us permission to pray on behalf of such people who may even express things from which we recoil. In any case, the psalmist surely guides us in that such deep feelings and responses are best uttered before God, who both knows us deeply and judges all, especially the oppressors, in righteousness and with fairness and understanding.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Portions from the beginning of the psalm can be adapted in the prayer of confession and the declaration of forgiveness:

Give ear to our words, O LORD;
give heed to our sighing.
Listen to the sound of our cry,
our King and our God,
for to you we pray.
O LORD, in the morning you hear our voice;
in the morning we plead our case to you, and watch.

(the prayer continues)

You are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil will not sojourn with you.
Boasting will not stand,
nor will lies prevail.
But through the abundance of your love,
we enter your house
and bow before you.
In Jesus’ death and resurrection,
all such evil is destroyed
and we hear your words:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
    Thanks be to God.

Verse 11 can also be adapted for a final blessing:
Let all who take refuge in God rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy.
The Lord spreads protection over them,
so that those who love God’s name may exult.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be upon you now and forever.
Old Testament reading: 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a

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