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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 31

Written by David Meara, posted on Saturday, May 2, 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

Person jumping with sunset in backgroundPSALM 18

Diligam te, Domine

  1. I WILL love thee, O Lord, my strength; the Lord is my stony rock, and my defence: my saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust, my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.
  2. I will call upon the Lord, which is worthy to be praised: so shall I be safe from mine enemies.
  3. The sorrows of death compassed me: and the overflowings of ungodliness made me afraid.
  4. The pains of hell came about me: the snares of death overtook me.
  5. In my trouble I will call upon the Lord: and complain unto my God.
  6. So shall he hear my voice out of his holy temple: and my complaint shall come before him, it shall enter even into his ears.
  7. The earth trembled and quaked: the very foundations also of the hills shook, and were removed, because he was wroth.
  8. There went a smoke out in his presence: and a consuming fire out of his mouth, so that coals were kindled at it.
  9. He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and it was dark under his feet.
  10. He rode upon the cherubins, and did fly: he came flying upon the wings of the wind.
  11. He made darkness his secret place: his pavilion round about him, with dark water and thick clouds to cover him.
  12. At the brightness of his presence his clouds removed: hail-stones, and coals of fire.
  13. The Lord also thundered out of heaven, and the Highest gave his thunder: hail-stones, and coals of fire.
  14. He sent out his arrows, and scattered them: he cast forth lightnings, and destroyed them.
  15. The springs of water were seen, and the foundations of the round world were discovered, at thy chiding, O Lord: at the blasting of the breath of thy displeasure.
  16. He shall send down from on high to fetch me: and shall take me out of many waters.
  17. He shall deliver me from my strongest enemy, and from them which hate me: for they are too mighty for me.
  18. They prevented me in the day of my trouble: but the Lord was my upholder.
  19. He brought me forth also into a place of liberty: he brought me forth, even because he had a favour unto me.
  20. The Lord shall reward me after my righteous dealing: according to the cleanness of my hands shall he recompense me.
  21. Because I have kept the ways of the Lord: and have not forsaken my God, as the wicked doth.
  22. For I have an eye unto all his laws: and will not cast out his commandments from me.
  23. I was also uncorrupt before him: and eschewed mine own wickedness.
  24. Therefore shall the Lord reward me after my righteous dealing: and according unto the cleanness of my hands in his eye-sight.
  25. With the holy thou shalt be holy: and with a perfect man thou shalt be perfect.
  26. With the clean thou shalt be clean: and with the froward thou shalt learn frowardness.
  27. For thou shalt save the people that are in adversity: and shalt bring down the high looks of the proud.
  28. Thou also shalt light my candle: the Lord my God shall make my darkness to be light.
  29. For in thee I shall discomfit an host of men: and with the help of my God I shall leap over the wall.
  30. The way of God is an undefiled way: the word of the Lord also is tried in the fire; he is the defender of all them that put their trust in him.
  31. For who is God, but the Lord: or who hath any strength, except our God?
  32. It is God, that girdeth me with strength of war: and maketh my way perfect.
  33. He maketh my feet like harts' feet: and setteth me up on high.
  34. He teacheth mine hands to fight: and mine arms shall break even a bow of steel.
  35. Thou hast given me the defence of thy salvation: thy right hand also shall hold me up, and thy loving correction shall make me great.
  36. Thou shalt make room enough under me for to go: that my footsteps shall not slide.
  37. I will follow upon mine enemies, and overtake them: neither will I turn again till I have destroyed them.
  38. I will smite them, that they shall not be able to stand: but fall under my feet.
  39. Thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle: thou shalt throw down mine enemies under me.
  40. Thou hast made mine enemies also to turn their backs upon me: and I shall destroy them that hate me.
  41. They shall cry, but there shall be none to help them: yea, even unto the Lord shall they cry, but he shall not hear them.
  42. I will beat them as small as the dust before the wind: I will cast them out as the clay in the streets.
  43. Thou shalt deliver me from the strivings of the people: and thou shalt make me the head of the heathen.
  44. A people whom I have not known: shall serve me.
  45. As soon as they hear of me, they shall obey me: but the strange children shall dissemble with me.
  46. The strange children shall fail: and be afraid out of their prisons.
  47. The Lord liveth, and blessed be my strong helper: and praised be the Lord of my salvation;
  48. Even the God that seeth that I be avenged: and subdueth the people unto me.
  49. It is he that delivereth me from my cruel enemies, and setteth me up above mine adversaries: thou shalt rid me from the wicked man.
  50. For this cause will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles: and sing praises unto thy Name.
  51. Great prosperity giveth he unto his King: and sheweth loving-kindness unto David his Anointed, and unto his seed for evermore.

The superscription of this psalm tells us that it was written when David has been delivered from Saul and his other enemies. It is therefore one of the psalms of thanksgiving.

David begins by celebrating the greatness of God (vv 1-4), then describes his plight and his deliverance from his enemies, when God appeared in an earthquake and thunderstorm and ‘sent his arrows and scattered them’ (vv 7-19). David boldly proclaims his own righteousness and faith, ‘For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and not wickedly departed from my God’ (v 20), a reminder that the Israelite ideal of kingship was always expressed in strongly ethical terms.

David concludes by celebrating the might of God, ‘For thou hast girded me with strength unto the battle’ (v39), and in thankfulness praises the living God, who ‘sheweth mercy to his anointed , to David and to his seed for evermore’ (v50).

This psalm is almost the same as the song sung by David at the end of his life, as recorded in 2 Samuel 22. It was therefore sung in two contexts, first when David became king of Israel, and later as a grateful retrospect as he looked back as an old man over his life.

This psalm expresses a full-blooded faith in God, ‘my rock and my fortress and my deliverer… my strength in whom I will trust’ (vv1-2); and also a firm belief in the power of righteous living, ‘with the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful’ (v 25). Such is David’s confidence in his relationship with God that he uses strong and vivid expressions, running through a troop, leaping over a wall, making my feet like hind’s feet, pursuing enemies until they are destroyed.

We may today find such aggressive confidence misplaced, but we cannot help being moved by David’s stirring and unequivocal declaration of faith and love, ‘I will love thee, O Lord, my strength’.

Revd David Meara