Summary: Year C Sixth Sunday after Pentecost July 15th, 2001 Psalm 25:1-21 Title: “Overcoming the enemy within and without.”
Title: “Overcoming the enemy within and without.”
This is an alphabetic psalm, each verse begins with a succeeding letter of the alphabet. The psalm existed in written form long before it was adopted for common worship. The alphabetic structure, while making it easy to memorize, imposes rather rigid strictures. Thus there is little progression of thought. The letter with which a word begins determines where the word and following sentence falls within the structure. If you remember the old song, “Mother” where each letter stands for an idea – “M” is for the many things, “O” if for and when you put them all together “they spell MOTHER – you get the idea. In English we say from “A to Z;” the Hebrew would say from “Aleph to Tau.” God is all encompassing.
The psalm is impossible to date. It shares many ideas consonant with Jeremiah, so it could be from the late pre-exilic period. More likely, because it also has affinities with Wisdom Literature, it could be much later. The alphabetic structure also makes it difficult to classify this psalm. There are elements of “lament,” wherein the psalmist asks forgiveness for breaking the covenant and there are elements of “confidence” wherein he trusts in the Lord’s goodness. Mostly, this is a prayer. It is appropriate for most occasions. It can be prayed individually or communally. In fact, verse twenty-two, tacked on later and out of alphabetic sequence, makes it seem more communal than it really is.
The only structure one can see in this psalm is the variation of direct and indirect address to Yahweh. Verse one to seven, pray to Yahweh in the second person; verses eight to fifteen, speak about him in the third person; and verses sixteen to twenty-one, return to the second person.
In verse one, I wait for you, O Lord, this is a fundamental spiritual attitude. “Waiting” recognizes that God’s time and timing are different from that of humans. The spirit of patience and humility defers to God in all things. It never asks or tells God to “hurry up.” So, the psalmist prays with this caveat. Actually the verb is not in the text and must be supplied from the context and the demands of the alphabetic structure.
In verse two, do not let my enemies gloat over me, although he trusts, the waiting for the Lord does produce anxiety until the Lord responds. The “enemies” could refer to anything or anyone opposed to God first, and then him because he is God’s. Thus, it could refer to his own sinfulness, even though here it clearly means people. If God does not respond, his enemies – his and God’s – will gloat, claiming that God is either powerless or does not care what happens to him. His ego may tell him that God is powerless to help. His ego may even ask God to prove He, God, exists by performing some small miracle.
In verse three, no one is disgraced who waits for you, the psalmist’s enemies – and God’s – like to point to the “silence” of God as proof of either the ineffectiveness of trust and prayer or the powerlessness of God. The psalmist objects. It is his enemies who, in time, will be put to shame.