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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 27

Written by John Paton, posted on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

In these extraordinary times, as our nation and our world face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus epidemic, our first task is naturally to support and enable the efforts of frontline staff tackling the disease and supporting those who have fallen ill. As we engage in every way we can with their work, we as Christians turn for guidance to God, in whom we have our origin and our end.

Here at Christ Church the book of Psalms – the prayer book of the Bible, as it is sometimes called – sustains our daily worship, now as always. Public worship is no longer an option, but the cathedral clergy here are maintaining the daily round of prayer and warmly encourage you to share in the spiritual communion that prayer makes possible across all boundaries of time and space.

At the core of this work of prayer the psalms voice the cry of our hearts to God. With this in mind the ministry team here is sharing one psalm each day with an accompanying reflection. Recalling the University of Oxford’s motto, Dominus illuminatio mea – ‘The Lord is my light’ – we pray that, together, we may know God’s strength, encouragement and blessing in this time of need.

‘The Lord is my light, and my salvation; whom then shall I fear: the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?’ (Psalm 27:1)

Edmund Newey, Sub Dean


Psalm 109 

HOLD not thy tongue, O God of my praise: for the mouth of the ungodly, yea, the mouth of the deceitful is opened upon me. 

And they have spoken against me with false tongues: they compassed me about also with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause. 

For the love that I had unto them, lo, they take now my contrary part: but I give myself unto prayer. 

Thus have they rewarded me evil for good: and hatred for my good will. 

Set thou an ungodly man to be ruler over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. 

When sentence is given upon him, let him be condemned: and let his prayer be turned into sin. 

Let his days be few: and let another take his office. 

Let his children be fatherless: and his wife a widow. 

Let his children be vagabonds, and beg their bread: let them seek it also out of desolate places. 

Let the extortioner consume all that he hath: and let the stranger spoil his labour. 

Let there be no man to pity him: nor to have compassion upon his fatherless children. 

Let his posterity be destroyed: and in the next generation let his name be clean put out. 

Let the wickedness of his fathers be had in remembrance in the sight of the Lord: and let not the sin of his mother be done away. 

Let them alway be before the Lord: that he may root out the memorial of them from off the earth. 

And that, because his mind was not to do good: but persecuted the poor helpless man, that he might slay him that was vexed at the heart. 

His delight was in cursing, and it shall happen unto him: he loved not blessing, therefore shall it be far from him. 

He clothed himself with cursing, like as with a raiment: and it shall come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones. 

Let it be unto him as the cloke that he hath upon him: and as the girdle that he is alway girded withal. 

Let it thus happen from the Lord unto mine enemies: and to those that speak evil against my soul. 

But deal thou with me, O Lord God, according unto thy Name: for sweet is thy mercy. 

O deliver me, for I am helpless and poor: and my heart is wounded within me. 

I go hence like the shadow that departeth: and am driven away as the grasshopper. 

My knees are weak through fasting: my flesh is dried up for want of fatness. 

I became also a reproach unto them: they that looked upon me shaked their heads. 

Help me, O Lord my God: O save me according to thy mercy. 

And they shall know, how that this is thy hand: and that thou, Lord, hast done it. 

Though they curse, yet bless thou: and let them be confounded that rise up against me; but let thy servant rejoice. 

Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame: and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a cloke. 

As for me, I will give great thanks unto the Lord with my mouth: and praise him among the multitude. 

For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor: to save his soul from the unrighteous judges.

(BCP) 


Imagine yourself a ‘forty-niner’ laboriously panning soil and sand in the Klondike, until you’re rewarded with the glint of a nugget of pure gold. Nuggets are generally of little value by themselves; but they may indicate rich seams nearby. 

And so it is, perhaps, with this psalm. It’s rarely used in public worship. Getting things off your chest is one thing, but this concentrated stream of cursing and invective fits badly with Jesus’ command, ‘Love your enemies’. Who the deceitful and ungodly people are who’ve caused the psalmist such harm that he should want their children to be fatherless vagabonds, we’re given no clue. 

The psalm needs no commentary – it speaks for itself, and the vicious details of its imagined harm are best passed over. But there is one gleam of gold. ‘Though they curse, Lord, yet bless thou’, says verse 27. Balaam the prophet was asked by King Balak of Moab to curse the invading armies of Israel; but he refused, saying, ‘How can I curse whom God has not cursed?’, and he goes on to bless them instead. Perhaps Balaam’s wisdom may lead singers of this psalm to the limitless seam of grace that came through Jesus Christ.  

John Paton