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Psalm 25:1-10

Psalm 25 is a psalm of lament. The words of this psalm coming so soon after psalms of trust (Ps 23) and liturgies of entrance to the Lord’s house (Ps 24), show that those prayers are not enough in the short term to dispel times of danger and possible shame.

Psalm 25 begins and ends with prayer in the form of direct speech to the Lord (vv. 1-7; 16-22). Each of these prayers is divided into two. Verses 1-3 are concerned with enemies and potential shame while vv. 4-7 seek forgiveness and direction from the Lord. In vv. 16-22 the prayers are reversed with vv. 16-18 speaking of forgiveness and vv. 19-22 concerned with deliverance. The centre section is a meditation also in two parts, focusing on the Lord’s response to sinners (vv. 8-11) and then on the benefits of the Lord’s response for the sinner (vv. 12-15). The lectionary section for today breaks with the structure of the poem. We will treat the psalm as a whole.

The psalmist begins by declaring that they ‘lift their soul’, or better ‘their life’, to the Lord. The parallel line in v. 2a implies a statement of trust, but similar statements in Pss 86:4 and 143:8 suggest a context of flight seeking protection. The psalmist seeks not to be shamed (v. 2b-c). In v. 3, however, the singular subject is broadened to all those who wait for the Lord. The psalmist’s situation is related to the whole community of faithful. In the second half of the opening prayer the psalmist seeks to know and learn the ways and paths of the Lord, defined in vv. 4-5a as the Lord’s truth. Truth in this psalm is not an abstract quality but a relational one. But not only are the Lord’s ways and paths defined as ‘truth’ or ‘faithfulness’. The teaching and learning of them are salvation. ‘Waiting’ or hoping for such things is modeled by the psalmist.

The latter half of vv. 6-7 forms a small framed unit around the theme of memory. The verb ‘remember’ is mentioned three times (once in NRSV as ‘be mindful’). The psalmist asks the Lord to remember not the past, which is defined here by ‘sins’ and ‘transgressions’, but the Lord’s own compassion and ‘love’. These things are eternal and while the psalmist does not want to ignore the weight of their own sin (cf. v. 11), they put it in perspective by setting it alongside the things of the Lord – ‘love’ and ‘goodness’. It is little wonder that the psalmist is prepared to ‘wait’ for the Lord all day long (v. 5). Who the Lord is makes such waiting possible.

In vv. 8-11the psalmist explores the Lord’s nature further, particularly in relation to the people. Just as the psalmist has a desire to be taught (vv. 4-5), so the Lord’s own goodness and uprightness lead them to instruct sinners in the way, i.e. in ‘what is right’, ‘love’ and ‘faithfulness’. A mutual desire for instruction and learning, i.e. salvation, allows the life of the one who waits to reflect the qualities of the Lord. But we ought not to miss the brief proviso at the end of v. 10. All this is for those who keep the Lord’s covenant and decrees. While the Lord’s faithfulness etc. is the basis for dealing with sinners, the responsibility for loyalty and obedience on the part of the faithful is not negated.

The response of the psalmist, and all faithful ones, to the nature of the Lord is stressed in v. 11. Having stressed the Lord’s mercy and ‘love’ and desire to instruct the sinner in what is right, the psalmist proclaims their own need of forgiveness for their transgression is ‘great’. But we should not miss the way the verse is expressed. The ‘greatness’ of the psalmist’s transgression is not the focus. Emphasis is placed on ‘For your name’s sake, O Lord’. Psalm 25 expounds on Ps. 23:3 at this point.

The psalmist’s second meditation opens with a question in v. 12, but underlines similar points. Just as vv. 8-11 ended with the psalmist’s response to the nature of the Lord in v. 11, so the meditation on those who fear the Lord in vv. 12-15 ends with the psalmist’s attestation of their attention to the Lord and the assurance in that (v. 15).
The psalmist returns to the prayer of lament in vv.16-18. Their plea emerges from the confidence of vv. 12-15. The focus is again on sin and distress and the ‘troubles of (the) heart’ (v. 17).

In the final section the psalm comes full circle. The psalmist’s plea continues but it moves back to the subject of the start of the psalm. They have taken refuge in the Lord and seek for ‘integrity’ and ‘uprightness’ to keep them (v. 20).

In Psalm 25 the psalmist lifts up their life to the Lord even as they did not ‘lift (their) life’ to falsehood, but lifted a blessing from the Lord in Ps 24:5. Following the words of trust and praise in the previous psalms, the themes of waiting, and seeking forgiveness in this Psalm 25 stress that coming near to the Lord is not easily undertaken. Nor is taking ‘the way of the righteous’ as set out in Psalm 1. We are aware, as in earlier laments, of struggles along the way, both external in terms of enemies, and internal ‘troubles of the heart’. Deliverance from the things that would oppress the one who fears the Lord, or from even choosing ‘the way of the wicked’, requires discipline and instruction. The psalmist needs to be taught by the Lord. They are called to learn the ways of the Lord which themselves reflect goodness, uprightness, integrity, mercy, and ‘love’. But these are all the qualities of the Lord. They are not only set out before the psalmist to choose, but they also sustain the psalmist. Through them the psalmist is brought into the covenant community of God.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The words of Psalm 25 lend themselves best to the prayer of confession. Verses 4-7 would form an appropriate conclusion to the prayer of confession said by the whole congregation.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD,
and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness' sake, O LORD!

Alternatively v. 11 by itself could become a refrain dispersed through the prayer.

Following that vv. 8-11 would form a very suitable introduction to the declaration of forgiveness.

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
Therefore, hear the word of the Lord:
‘Your sins are forgiven!’
Thanks be to God!
Old Testament Reading: Genesis 9:8-17

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