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“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?” — Psalm 27:1
Who Needs a Light?
Do you remember the old TV commercials for Certs? They were marketed as a double value: twin teenage girls were featured in one ad, arguing over whether Certs was a candy mint or a breath mint. An announcer interrupted to insist “It’s both!” Certs, the commercials were prone to intone, was “two, two, two mints in one!”
Today’s text calls to mind that old commercial because Psalm 27 appears to be two, two, two psalms in one. Verses 1-6 appear to be a joyful psalm of trust, while the following section (vv. 7-14) has the characteristics of a lament. Some commentators argue that these must represent psalms written by two different people, or by one person at different stages of life. Others argue that the psalm should be read as a unity. After reading the psalm for yourself, what do you think? [Further discussion of this topic can be found in “The Hardest Question” online].
A superscription to the psalm attributes it to David, and there are hints that the protagonist could be a king, but there is not sufficient evidence to identify either the author or the date of the composition.
Praising God(vv. 1-3)
How confident are you in God’s care? How assured are you that God will respond to your prayers? Whether we’re dealing with one psalm or two, the first six verses of Psalm 27 form a two-part celebration from the lips of one who expresses total confidence in God as the source of all things good. Countless believers have memorized these words: “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?” (v. 1).
God’s beneficent care is described in three ways. First, “light” is an appropriate metaphor for confidence in God. Darkness conjures thoughts of hidden threats, fears, enemies, or evil, but light dispels the darkness with the assurance that God is with us.
“Salvation” renders a Hebrew word that primarily means “deliverance,” and in this context it probably refers to a warrior facing dread enemies with confidence that God will grant victory, no matter what the odds.
“Stronghold” might also be translated as “refuge,” a place of such security that the psalmist could portray himself as fearless against all enemies or dangers: “of whom shall I be afraid?”
The terminology of v. 1 suggests a military context, with the protagonist of the psalm likely to be thought of as Israel’s king, who was expected to be a commander-in-chief not in name only, but also in the forefront of the battle.
The military metaphors continue in vv. 2-3, where the psalmist expresses confidence that any adversaries who might assail him would stumble and fall: he could face an entire army with confidence.
Living with God(vv. 4-6)
From the aggressively confident image of a heroic warrior, the poem turns the page to show a softer side to the psalmist, the inner source of his outward courage: his one plea is to dwell always in the presence of God.
A surface reading of v. 4 suggests that the poet wanted to move into the temple and stretch out his bedroll beneath the wings of the cherubim upon the Ark of the Covenant and never leave. The psalmist would have known better than to think such an arrangement would be practical, however, especially for a king whose business is necessarily a public one.
We read the verse as a metaphor, then, the symbolic thinking of one who longed for God’s presence to infuse his life. Verse 5 shifts back to the hope of protection while engaging the world, that God would shelter him in a day of trouble, hide him from enemies when necessary, and set him “high on a rock,” out of reach of his foes, or possibly standing in victory over them.
In a similar way, we might recall happy times at church where we sensed God’s presence during worship in the sanctuary or felt so at home during fellowship meals. In times of struggle or uncertainty, especially when far from home, we might long to be back in the church where we have found safety and security – but we know that it’s really God’s presence we need, and that is not limited to the church building.
Verse 6 combines thoughts of victories on the battlefield and worship in the temple: as a victor, the psalmist declares “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the LORD” (v. 6).
Note the references to God’s “tent,” as a place of refuge in v. 5 and as a place of sacrifice in v. 6 (though v. 4 speaks of dwelling in the “house of the LORD”). If indeed the psalm originated with David – or if a later psalmist wanted to make it appear that it did – “tent” would be the appropriate term. David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and installed it in a tent, according to 2 Sam. 6:17, where he was prone to pray (2 Sam. 7:18). The temple would not be built until the reign of Solomon.
The first part of our psalm, then, begins and ends with happy praise from a joyful and confident worshiper. When we come to v. 7, we wonder: “Could this be the same person?”
Longing for God(vv. 7-12)
In vv. 7-14, assurance is but a memory and God’s presence a distant dream. In the classic form of a lament, the psalmist longs for a sense of God’s presence and pleads for God not to turn away, as if he or she feels abandoned by the same God who once had seemed so close.
Heart-full of desire, the psalmist pleads to see God’s face (v. 9a). Why might the poet believe that God had turned away? Our only clue is the psalmist’s plea “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!” (v. 9b).
Why would God be angry? Hebrew theology did not consider God to be capricious or easily provoked. Rather, the classic understanding of God’s temperament was Yahweh’s self-revelation to Moses in Exod. 34:6: “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness …”
Generally, one who feared God’s anger did so from an awareness of personal sin, of having turned away from God first. But, the Bible also contains accounts of people who felt abandoned by God for no good reason. Job is the classic example, and this poet might be another.
The psalmist was convinced that God, even more faithful than one’s parents, would not forsake forever (v. 10) – but that did not prevent the fear of being forsaken in the meantime. Enemies were about (v. 11), false witnesses who were “breathing out violence” (v. 12). If we are to think of vv. 7-14 as deriving from the same postulant as vv. 1-6, who may have been a king, vv. 11-12 summon visions of palace intrigue or propaganda campaigns from neighboring nations.
Such speculation is not necessary, however. The psalmist, like many of us, could have experienced the cold shoulder of former friends who turned against us, or jealous competitors who sought to elevate themselves by bringing us down. Those are times when we might wonder where God has gone, and why such trouble has come to us. Dealing with people who actively oppose us or make our lives miserable can be difficult, and calls for a special measure of God’s leadership if we are to respond with wisdom and care. Thus, it is in the context of enemy opposition that the psalmist asks “Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path” (v. 11).
Can you recall times when someone criticized your performance or opposed what you were doing? We can respond in ways that make the situation worse, or exhibit more positive behaviors that bring grace into the picture. The psalmist’s practice of pausing to pray and seek God’s leadership before going forward offers a
word of wisdom for all.
Trusting God(vv. 13-14)
As is common in the laments, the psalmist concludes with an expression of trust that God will indeed hear the prayer and respond positively: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (v. 13). In other words, the poet – whether king or commoner – expects to survive the crisis, remain “in the land of the living,” and experience God’s goodness again.
Some interpreters read v. 14 as a priestly oracle of assurance that responds to the postulant’s prayer by counseling patience and trust. It is just as likely, however, that it could be the psalmist’s own reflection. God had been present in the past (as expressed in vv. 1-6) and could be trusted to bless the psalmist again: he or she needed only to wait and trust in God’s deliverance. The reminder to “be strong, and let your heart take courage” is reminiscent of Moses’ charge to Joshua as he assumed leadership in Moses’ place (Deut. 31:7, 23), a charge reiterated by Yahweh in a personal vision to Joshua (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9).
As Joshua trusted God and led Israel to many victories, so the psalmist sought to be strong and courageous as he maintained trust in God for help that was yet to come.
If God seems far away, perhaps we need to hear what this psalm has to say. BT
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Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for February 21, 2015 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: Psalm 27
Teacher Prep | Youth & This Session
Confidence. Many, if not most of our students have it. At times, it may seem like they have an abundance of it. So much so, that we question the decisions that they make because of it. Sometimes this over-confidence is because they are trying to hide something they are truly afraid of. Other times, they really are that confident in who they are. In the opening stanza of Psalm 27 we hear “whom shall I fear?” It could probably be the status of many of our youth at any point in time. What is important for our students to remember is that our confidence doesn’t begin with us, but comes from the first part of this verse: “The Lord is my light and salvation.” Confidence should begin with our love of God, not our love for ourselves.
Teaching Resources | Download
Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.
Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.
“Freedom Speech” from Braveheart via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: Psalm 27