Psalms 17-20

Good morning! We continue today in the section of the psalms attributed to King David. With chapters 17-20, we again encounter all the emotions of human beings, including joyful victory, awe in the presence of creation, and desire for unholy vindication. The Psalms truly do capture the worst and the best of human sentiment.

The worst is on display in Psalm 17. Much of the psalm is a generally benign prayer for divine help in a tough time, but at the end we glimpse what brutal things can be said in the psalms. David pleads for protection against his adversaries and calls down the wrath of God against them. Going further, he essentially curses his adversaries (including their children) with a rhetorical poison from God, wishing that there be so much death and destruction from God that “they leave something over to their little ones.” Modern examples abound for how such hateful rhetoric leads to violence in the name of God. The psalms channel the ferocity of human emotion, but the “us”/”them” dichotomy is exceptionally problematic in the Bible and in our world.

The other thing to note in these psalms—on a more positive note—are the resonances with awe at the very creation that can also be woefully destructive. Psalm 18 records the psalmist’s praise for being rescued from the pursuit of Saul (according to one Bible translation). In the midst of the massive “whew!” at having survived, the writer goes on to describe what sounds like a volcanic eruption. Seismic and meteorological excitement are captured in words, with awe for the ways that the divine is present in such extraordinary natural features. This same instinct and assumptions regarding an earthly cosmology carries forward into chapter 19. The only other thing of note here is also in chapter 19, a verse with which untold thousands of preachers invoke wisdom before preaching: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Happy reading!

Read Psalms 17-20.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 21-26. Thanks for reading!

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