Psalm 41

I don’t really get this Psalm. It seems rather self pitying, self righteous and vindictive.

It starts refreshingly like a social justice Psalm, talking about having regard for the weak.

But it heaps so many promises of reward on people who have regard for the weak that it muddies the motives – are you to fight for the weak because it’s the right thing to do or because this Psalm promises you will be kept safe from illness and the most blessed in the land?

Then it seems like David’s prime example of ‘the weak’ is himself… the rest of the psalm is about how sick and how betrayed he feels, and how he wants healing and strength so he can repay the evil done to him. Say wha?

I’ll hit the commentaries…

Ok, it softens it a bit. They say David doesn’t think he is ‘the weak’, though they agree it’s not explicit.

The thread of his argument is that he was kind to the weak, and he was blessed, despite being a sinner. Now that he is weak, he is appalled at how some of the people are taking advantage of it. And we know from Kings that included his son and his most trusted friend and general at different times, so it probably is fair enough.

So he’s asking for mercy, which is a word that shows he is aware he doesn’t really deserve rescue from his weakened state. But he asks it so that the rightness of God’s character can be demonstrated. So more people can know God as David does.

I’d missed the reference to his own sin and needing mercy when I read it first, as well as the implication that David was the one having regard for the weak… it was him referring back to when he was strong.

It’s also in that old testament mindset where you can only imagine blessing as an earthly concept, not an eternal spiritual thing.

That does come as a bit of a surprise because the previous palm, 40, was definitely reaching beyond that paradigm. But they are not in chronological order. You can’t expect them to show a progression of thought and revelation.

So we are left with 2 responses to the weak on earth: kindness, or treating them as an opportunity to be exploited for personal advantage. And a prayer that, imperfect though we are, God will use our lives and examples to show that kindness is the right and proper path.

And in fact the bit we sometimes lose from the old testament understanding of earthly blessing is that there is no time like the present for living out God’s truth.

We can’t pray ‘thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ every week and merely offer heaven as the answer to people’s present sufferings.

Living out the truth now shows its eternal consistency: that it has been, is, and always will be the way God wants for us. In every moment.

Jesus quoted this Psalm when Judas betrayed him. “Even my own familiar friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted up his heel against me“. The commentaries said to visualise being kicked by a horse.

Though to me it has echoes of a temporary reversal of the garden of Eden promise, that a man’s heel would crush the head of the serpent.

Either way, quoting David here is a message from Jesus to the disciples and for all time that he is still King, and like David the betrayal is not the end of the story, will not triumph.


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