Psalm 138: Settling and Unsettling

Psa. 138     Of David.

1    I will praise you, LORD, with all my heart;
before the “gods” I will sing your praise.
2          I will bow down toward your holy temple
and will praise your name
for your unfailing love and your faithfulness,
for you have so exalted your solemn decree
that it surpasses your fame.
3          When I called, you answered me;
you greatly emboldened me.
4          May all the kings of the earth praise you, LORD,
when they hear what you have decreed.
5          May they sing of the ways of the LORD,
for the glory of the LORD is great.
6          Though the LORD is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
though lofty, he sees them from afar.
7          Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
with your right hand you save me.
8          The LORD will vindicate me;
your love, LORD, endures forever—

                        do not abandon the works of your hands.

There is a curious mix here in this psalm. There is certainty and confidence. The poet writes of the unfailing love of God. Of how when he called, the Lord answered. In an echo of the 23rd Psalm there is the conviction that even through troubled times God preserves his life and vindicates him against his enemies.

But then there is that explosive last line. The certainty and confidence exists alongside doubt and fear. I can’t claim to have been exhaustive about it, but none of the commentaries I’ve looked at answer the problem of this line. If the writer is so certain of God why is this line needed?

The writer seems to trust and not trust all at the same time.

Like all of us I guess.

Existing on this precipice. On this edge.

Who is this last line for?

At the last, does the psalmist fear that maybe this time God will be unable to act? Or will God somehow go against character this one time? Is the writer trying desperately to stiffen his back against the challenge?

Or is it determination on the part of the writer, to hold God accountable this time? To remind God again of his consistent pattern of action in spite of circumstances? To keep watch and ensure God does the right thing?

I like that this ambiguity is the closing line of the Psalm. The writer doesn’t need to sign it all off with a neat answer, but seems content to rest in the ambiguity. Sometimes the world is messy and I’ve just got to live in the mess, and resist the temptation to tidy it up with a orderly conclusion.

Brueggemann writes,
“deep loss and amazing gift are held together in powerful tension.”

That tension is reflected in my inability to be wholly one or the other. Wholly committed and believing. Or wholly able to let it all go into disbelief this time.

Thing is, God seems able to cope, whichever.

Light shines in the darkness. And the darkness is unable to overcome it.

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