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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 30

Written by David Meara, posted on Friday, May 1, 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

apples on treePSALM 17

  1. HEAR the right, O Lord, consider my complaint: and hearken unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
  2. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence: and let thine eyes look upon the thing that is equal.
  3. Thou hast proved and visited mine heart in the night-season; thou hast tried me, and shalt find no wickedness in me; for I am utterly purposed that my mouth shall not offend.
  4. Because of men's works, that are done against the words of thy lips: I have kept me from the ways of the destroyer.
  5. O hold thou up my goings in thy paths: that my footsteps slip not.
  6. I have called upon thee, O God, for thou shalt hear me: incline thine ear to me, and hearken unto my words.
  7. Shew thy marvellous loving-kindness, thou that art the Saviour of them which put their trust in thee: from such as resist thy right hand.
  8. Keep me as the apple of an eye: hide me under the shadow of thy wings.
  9. From the ungodly that trouble me: mine enemies compass me round about to take away my soul.
  10. They are inclosed in their own fat: and their mouth speaketh proud things.
  11. They lie waiting in our way on every side: turning their eyes down to the ground.
  12. Like as a lion that is greedy of his prey: and as it were a lion's whelp, lurking in secret places.
  13. Up, Lord, disappoint him, and cast him down: deliver my soul from the ungodly, which is a sword of thine;
  14. From the men of thy hand, O Lord, from the men, I say, and from the evil world: which have their portion in this life, whose bellies thou fillest with thy hid treasure.
  15. They have children at their desire: and leave the rest of their substance for their babes.
  16. But as for me, I will behold thy presence in righteousness: and when I awake up after thy likeness, I shall be satisfied with it.

This is one of the psalms of lament, a prayer that God will intervene on behalf of the righteous person. The psalmist protests his innocence (vv 3-5), he then renews his appeal for help (vv 6-9), and goes on to describe the actions of those who prey upon him (vv 10-12). He prays again for divine intervention, and ends by contrasting the lot of those who have their fill of good things in this world with his own spiritual poverty in God’s presence.

The superscription calls this a psalm of David, and perhaps in origin it was a prayer of his for deliverance from his enemies, when he was being persecuted and pursued by Saul. Throughout this period of testing David believes that he is innocent of wrongdoing, and that God will acknowledge this.

He urges God to reveal to him His lovingkindness, and utters the beautiful request in verse 8, ‘Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings’, a verse that was later incorporated into the monastic office of Compline. The phrase ‘apple of the eye’ was used to describe something precious, easily injured and demanding protection. It is a figure of speech that is also found in the Book of Deuteronomy (32:10), and in Proverbs (7:2). Taken with the phrase ‘Hide me under the shadow of thy wings’, these two phrases paint a powerful picture of God’s love and care for His people, which leads David in the final verse of the psalm to express his confidence that whatever happens to him he would one day see the face of God.

David Meara