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July 18, 2010
Psalm 52

Psalm 52 is an appropriate choice to sit alongside the reading from Amos 8:1-12 this week. The prophet speaks of those who through deception and trickery gain benefit over others, especially the poor. The psalmist speaks directly to such people and of their ultimate downfall, just as Amos does.

Psalm 52 sits in the shadow of its better known neighbours, Psalms 50 and 51. Those two psalms look into the relation between God and the faithful, defining sacrifice as primarily thanksgiving and seeing confession as praise. Now we return in Psalm 52 to hear the voice of the faithful addressing the one who boasts of ‘mischief’ (better ‘injustice’, cf. Ps. 50.19), loves ‘evil more than good and lying more than the truth’ (v. 3), and seeks refuge in things other than God (vv. 6-7). The righteous will witness the end of such a one. It is a reminder of the confidence the faithful one has in God ultimately overcoming all manner of injustice and deception and ensuring that those who live by such measures will not prevail. It is a confident assertion of trust in God in the midst of a world ruled by chaos and wickedness and in which trust in possessions and a human measure of wealth is all that seems secure to some.

The psalm fits the situation mentioned in its superscription. The episode referred to is recorded in 1 Samuel 21-22. There we hear of the betrayal of the priest Ahimelech by Doeg, a servant of Saul. Ahimelech had supported David as he fled Saul. We can imagine we hear the voice of David speaking against Doeg in vv. 1-7 of the psalm. The psalmist then ends Psalm 52 by comparing themself to an olive tree in the house of God, proclaiming the name of God (cf. Ps. 1:3; 23:6; 27:4). While Psalm 52 has some connections to Psalm 51, it provides general connection back to Psalms 49-50 and the matter of trust against the power of the wicked.

Suggestions for use of the psalm in worship

The direct address of the wicked in vv. 1-7 of the psalm is not easily incorporated into the liturgy in worship. The final two verses can, however, be adapted for the final blessing:

You are like a green olive tree in the house of God.
Trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
Thank God forever,
because of what God has done.
In the presence of the faithful proclaim God’s name,
for it is good.
And the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be with you forever and ever.
Old Testament reading: Amos 8:1-12

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