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The Lord our Light: Praying Together with the Psalms 44

Written by Philippa White, posted on Wednesday, May 20, 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

River bankPsalm 89 

My song shall be alway of the loving-kindness of the Lord : with my mouth will I ever be shewing thy truth from one generation to another. 

2. For I have said, Mercy shall be set up for ever : thy truth shalt thou stablish in the heavens. 
3. I have made a covenant with my chosen : I have sworn unto David my servant; 
4. Thy seed will I stablish for ever : and set up thy throne from one generation to another. 
5. O Lord, the very heavens shall praise thy wondrous works : and thy truth in the congregation of the saints. 
6. For who is he among the clouds : that shall be compared unto the Lord? 
7. And what is he among the gods : that shall be like unto the Lord? 
8. God is very greatly to be feared in the council of the saints : and to be had in reverence of all them that are round about him. 
9. O Lord God of hosts, who is like unto thee : thy truth, most mighty Lord, is on every side. 
10. Thou rulest the raging of the sea : thou stillest the waves thereof when they arise. 
11. Thou hast subdued Egypt, and destroyed it : thou hast scattered thine enemies abroad with thy mighty arm. 
12. The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine : thou hast laid the foundation of the round world, and all that therein is. 
13. Thou hast made the north and the south : Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in thy Name. 
14. Thou hast a mighty arm : strong is thy hand, and high is thy right hand. 
15. Righteousness and equity are the habitation of thy seat : mercy and truth shall go before thy face. 
16. Blessed is the people, O Lord, that can rejoice in thee : they shall walk in the light of thy countenance. 
17. Their delight shall be daily in thy Name : and in thy righteousness shall they make their boast. 
18. For thou art the glory of their strength : and in thy loving-kindness thou shalt lift up our horns. 
19. For the Lord is our defence : the Holy One of Israel is our King. 
20. Thou spakest sometime in visions unto thy saints, and saidst : I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. 
21. I have found David my servant : with my holy oil have I anointed him. 
22. My hand shall hold him fast : and my arm shall strengthen him. 
23. The enemy shall not be able to do him violence : the son of wickedness shall not hurt him. 
24. I will smite down his foes before his face : and plague them that hate him. 
25. My truth also and my mercy shall be with him : and in my Name shall his horn be exalted. 
26. I will set his dominion also in the sea : and his right hand in the floods. 
27. He shall call me, Thou art my Father : my God, and my strong salvation. 
28. And I will make him my first-born : higher than the kings of the earth. 
29. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore : and my covenant shall stand fast with him. 
30. His seed also will I make to endure for ever : and his throne as the days of heaven. 
31. But if his children forsake my law : and walk not in my judgements; 
32. If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments : I will visit their offences with the rod, and their sin with scourges. 
33. Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him : nor suffer my truth to fail. 
34. My covenant I will not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips : I have sworn once by my holiness, that I will not fail David. 
35. His seed shall endure for ever : and his seat is like as the sun before me. 
36. He shall stand fast for evermore as the moon : and as the faithful witness in heaven. 
37. But thou hast abhorred and forsaken thine Anointed : and art displeased at him. 
38. Thou hast broken the covenant of thy servant : and cast his crown to the ground. 
39. Thou hast overthrown all his hedges : and broken down his strong holds. 
40. All they that go by spoil him : and he is become a reproach to his neighbours. 
41. Thou hast set up the right hand of his enemies : and made all his adversaries to rejoice. 
42. Thou hast taken away the edge of his sword : and givest him not victory in the battle. 
43. Thou hast put out his glory : and cast his throne down to the ground. 
44. The days of his youth hast thou shortened : and covered him with dishonour. 
45. Lord, how long wilt thou hide thyself, for ever : and shall thy wrath burn like fire? 
46. O remember how short my time is : wherefore hast thou made all men for nought? 
47. What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death : and shall he deliver his soul from the hand of hell? 
48. Lord, where are thy old loving-kindnesses : which thou swarest unto David in thy truth? 
49. Remember, Lord, the rebuke that thy servants have : and how I do bear in my bosom the rebukes of many people. 
50. Wherewith thine enemies have blasphemed thee, and slandered the footsteps of thine Anointed : Praised be the Lord for evermore. Amen, and Amen. 

This very long psalm moves through several moods: a hymn praising God; a poem about God’s promise of kingship to David and David’s descendants; a lament for the way that the relationship between God and God’s people has broken down; and a final sentence of praise.  

Different sections might be meaningful at different times, but I think the praise with which the psalm starts and ends is key; it puts both God’s promise and the writer’s lament into their context. In this hymn we are invited to praise God as creator; as holy; as the home of all virtues and as the glory of God’s people. 

As we pray this psalm, we remember incidents from the story of God’s people Israel, like the escape from Egypt (verse 11) and the giving of a king (verse 3); we remember too that God is creator, not just of Israel’s story, but of all that is: the heavens and earth (verse 12), the north and the south (verse 13). We praise God because of his power (verse 11); we praise God because his power is used to bring good things to people (verse 18); and we praise God because he is not just powerful, but also righteous, just, merciful and truthful (verse 15) and, above all of these, loving (verse 1). 

This praise draws those who praise God into the right kind of relationship with God. We are invited to become the blessed people who rejoice in God, walking in God’s light, delighting in God’s name (verses 16-17). The lament of verses 31-2 and 37-50 remind us that there is another option: of rejecting a relationship with God, and therefore forfeiting blessing and cutting ourselves off from God’s love. But the psalm ends where it began: ‘praised be the Lord for evermore. Amen and Amen.’ (verse 50). Even for those who turn away from God, there is always the option to turn back and to turn disobedience into praise.  

Philippa White