These commentaries will be simultaneously added to the “Page” titled “Commentary on the Psalms” found in the list of “Pages” in the sidebar to the right under the books. Not all psalm commentaries are published as a NEW POST before being added to the text on the “Page.” Please note that all the psalms to 28 are currently included.
Background. A lament. In Hebrew, alphabetical. V. 22 is an addition beyond the alphabet and changes the subject of the plea from an individual to the nation. Wisdom content, “teaching the right path,” is evident in more than one place.
Reflection. The psalmist, conscious of his failures, recommits himself to serve LIFE, and the sign of his commitment is his plea to Yahweh to teach him the right path. This “wisdom” instruction is similar to what is found in the Book of Proverbs. The prerequisite disposition, of course is humility: the willingness to be instructed in wisdom which includes obedience; for us that wisdom is LIFE’s creative moral energy mirrored in humankind’s commitment to justice, generosity, love and compassion. It is the identification with LIFE, manifest in remorse for past failures and willingness to surrender to LIFE’s creative project, that is the guarantee of security. “Waiting for Yahweh” means trusting that LIFE’s project is the true guarantee of security. And that trust is put on open display in a robust justice, generosity and compassion. The “enemies” are one’s own selfish disregard for LIFE. The “enemies” are hostile to this whole effort, so the mindfulness necessary to quiet their clamor and redirect their energies becomes integral to the process. It’s our quiet mindfulness in the present moment that is the vehicle for the “instruction” coming from LIFE.
1 To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
I am committed to serving LIFE’s project. I am not here to do my own will, for I am I not the source of LIFE. All too often I listened to my “enemies,” those inner voices that counsel me to take care of myself, to project, enhance and aggrandize myself … that LIFE cannot be trusted to fulfill the demands of the conatus. Now I know better. I don’t ever want to doubt LIFE again.
4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
I need to learn from LIFE how I should live. I am all too conscious of my failure to trust LIFE. LIFE’s project does not aggrandize the false self, and I often chose selfishly to serve my self and not wait for LIFE. But LIFE teaches me that selfishness doesn’t work. The joyless isolation that results from abandoning LIFE’s project, like a gifted teacher, opens my eyes to the right path. Pain makes one docile. In a state of present mindfulness LIFE’s quiet instructions can be heard.
13 They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
Once I began to embrace LIFE and its ways, the second and irrefutable lesson occurred: the joy of human community. I finally understood what I was meant to be, and how I should live. I knew where I belonged. I knew I was bound to LIFE. LIFE was my true self.
15 My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18 Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19 Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
I have to trust LIFE but I am afraid. My betrayals haunt me. I know I am capable of abandoning LIFE; I have done it before and I can do it again. These voices refuse to acknowledge LIFE to be my true self: they know it means the demise of the false self and they are violent in the effort to keep it alive. But I know there is no “self” other than LIFE. I have no recourse but to trust LIFE, the very LIFE I have embraced and which I am — my real self. LIFE is my power — exactly that power that overcomes the self. LIFE, my LIFE, I trust you.
The well-being of the whole community depends on it.
Background. Another individual lament by someone unjustly accused.
Reflection. The same metaphors apply here as in previous laments. The psalmist is ready to distance himself from all those who oppose LIFE. This can be threatening, especially if those people control one’s livelihood.
1 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
2 Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind.
3 For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.
I am committed to LIFE.
4 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites;
5 I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O LORD,
I refuse to be complicit in the undermining of LIFE. I will not cooperate in negating LIFE under the pretext of “earning a living.” LIFE takes precedence over everything, even my position in society or my level of remuneration.
That earning means owning is one of the great fictions that drives human activity. Work is for survival, it owns nothing. Earning pretends to create the “self” and to own LIFE. It’s a fantasy we refuse to let go of.
7 singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.
8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.
LIFE, I am the house where you dwell. I have to begin by loving myself as the mirror and agent of LIFE. With Whitman “I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself … For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Matter’s evolving LIFE is the same for all of us. Our whole human family is the house where LIFE dwells.
9 Do not sweep me away with sinners, nor my life with the bloodthirsty,
10 those in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 But as for me, I walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me.
12 My foot stands on level ground; in the great congregation I will bless the LORD.
Violence, lies, treachery, disdain, exclusion, in the service of some individual’s or tribe’s self-advancement — this is what destroys the human family. I take my stand with the universal family of LIFE, humankind, not with myself or my tribe. There is no self. There are no tribes. And there are no tribal gods. There are no identities besides LIFE. The whole human family, all of LIFE’s “selves,” is where LIFE resides.
Background. Another individual lament.
Reflection. The psalmist, aware of his own selfish inclinations, seeks the face of LIFE itself as if it were outside of himself, a source of integrity and commitment that transcends his own failures. But in his search he discovers that LIFE has his face; he is astonished and ultimately joyful as he learns to sit in the quiet presence of LIFE, which has not abandoned him despite his betrayals.
1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh — my adversaries and foes — they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
LIFE is my protection and my defense. My enemies seek to undermine LIFE. They are terrifying because they come from within. They arise from myself and others who think we have to sustain ourselves by our own acquisitions and ascendency over others. But I am not afraid. LIFE working in my own mindfulness will ultimately overcome my grasping self … and those of others … no matter how fiercely these “enemies” assail us.
4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.
I not only have LIFE, I am LIFE. Being myself in this body, I am where I belong, I have all I need. I sit in the quiet presence of this astonishing reality. I have nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing to get. LIFE is my own. My LIFE, I love you!
5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD.
7 Hear, O LORD, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
This presence of LIFE in me, as me, is the source of my protection and security. As LIFE takes over my self more and more, I have less and less to fear from the false self that I let grow like a cancer all those years. My quiet astonishment turns into joy. How can I keep from singing?
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, LORD, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.
I seek the face of LIFE itself as if it were other than mine, I can’t help it. It’s dumbfounding to think that I myself am LIFE, I have done so little to make it a reality in my attitudes and behavior. I get angry at myself for this and I want to abandon the project as quixotic. But that’s the old, false, self-idolizing self talking, cleverly putting even the struggle for transformation at the service of the ego. But even when I have turned my back on LIFE or treacherously used LIFE to enhance myself, it has never abandoned me. LIFE is stronger than my betrayals, my worst enemies. Even if my parents abandoned me, I still have LIFE.
11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
I sit like a beggar at the feet of LIFE. I am LIFE but I can betray it in order to give life to an imaginary self that doesn’t exist. Imaginary or not, that false self is fiercely tenacious and is quite capable of a suicidal attempt at becoming a god. But I trust LIFE. There are no gods. It was all a figment of the imagination, especially the fiction that by working hard and being clever I could make myself a god and live as my “self” forever. It was just another lie in the service of the ego. I trust LIFE. As my self recedes LIFE comes forward. Whatever LIFE has in store for me is what I want. I will not cave in to that feeling of isolation. Only an individual “self” could be isolated. But there is no such “self.” … I AM LIFE.
Background. An individual lament, probably prayed by a priest in the temple for someone sick or being sued. The “anointed” in v. 8 is not a king, but refers to the all people of Israel and therefore to the supplicant.
Reflection. The community dimension is highlighted in this psalm. Try as you might, you cannot avoid being like the people you travel with. If your whole society somehow has come to the collective conclusion that deception, competition and destruction of the “losers” by those on the path to “the top” is the meaning of life and the measure of your humanity, you are in deep trouble indeed. Your only hope is to somehow get away from them. The psalmist knows that such separation — physically or psychologically — is a sine qua non condition for commitment to LIFE, and he doesn’t flinch. He knows that LIFE itself is in the balance. To continue on that false path is to court disaster — the pit of destruction — for yourself and the community, and he wants no part of it.
1 To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, do not refuse to hear me, for if you are silent to me, I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
2 Hear the voice of my supplication, as I cry to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who are workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors, while mischief is in their hearts.
4 Repay them according to their work, and according to the evil of their deeds; repay them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD, or the work of his hands, he will break them down and build them up no more.
To live without generosity and compassion, to be a “worker of evil,” to be charming but to harbor disdain, plan violence and be ready to abandon the “losers,” is to court disaster. And a sure sign of disaster is that the cycles of reflection, remorse and renewal no longer occur. Mindfulness has ceased and the ego rolls on mercilessly and painlessly … oblivious to the pain of others.
6 Blessed be the LORD, for he has heard the sound of my pleadings.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.
We are the community of the agents and mirrors of LIFE. We were born for this, our organisms are designed for this. We are LIFE in human form. It’s not what everyone says we should want but rather what LIFE wants. We are LIFE’s anointed. It’s time we allowed it to guide our desires and our aspirations.