The sacrifice of doing the right thing
- Why do you glory in evil, you tyrant,
while the goodness of God endures continually?
- You plot destruction, you deceiver;
your tongue is like a sharpened razor.
- You love evil rather than good,
falsehood rather than the word of truth.
- You love all words that hurt,
O you deceitful tongue.
- Therefore God shall utterly bring you down;
he shall take you and pluck you out of your tent
and root you out of the land of the living.
- The righteous shall see this and tremble,
they shall laugh you to scorn, and say:
- ‘This is the one who did not take God for a refuge,
but trusted in great riches and relied upon wickedness.’
- But I am like a spreading olive tree in the house of God;
I trust in the goodness of God for ever and ever.
- I will always give thanks to you for what you have done;
I will hope in your name, for your faithful ones delight in it.
As you listened to this Psalm this morning, I wonder what your thoughts were? I know when I read it in preparation for this reflection I was very perplexed. It doesn’t follow the pattern of most Psalms, it is not a ‘prayer style’ Psalm, neither is it a praise Psalm.
I read, and re-read, and then went to my bookshelf to see what Bishop James said about this Psalm in his book. Nothing – Bishop James actually chose to omit it! So I went to my other book on the Psalms, A Rabbi Reads the Psalms and guess what, it wasn’t included there either! So I closed my books and prayed.
Returning to the Psalm it seemed to me that at least the first five verses were almost a condemnation of a powerful, but wicked man. I wondered, was this Psalm written when David was fleeing King Saul? Then a God-incidence happened. Hubby had put on a film, and shouted for me to come and sit for an hour and watch. The film was “King David”.
During the film I saw King Saul chasing David to kill him. It showed David being given food by the High Priest Ahimelech, and after the priest gave David food he went on his way with the priest’s blessing.
King Saul arrives and demands to know where David is, and which direction he left in. Ahimelech won’t answer and the King instructs the soldiers to kill the community one by one until Ahimelech tells him. The Israelite soldiers refuse to carry out the king’s instruction to kill the priests one by one, ending with Ahimelech. But a gentile named Doeg has no such qualms and carries out the executions.
I returned to my Bible and did indeed find this story in 1 Samuel 21-22. The “mighty one” had no qualms about hurting others. I came to my conclusion then that the first five verses of this Psalm were in all probability based on this heinous act, and David’s trust in God to bring judgement on the wicked.
So I see David putting his wish for revenge to one side, and having total trust in God to deal with the situation. If this is correct, it then links to so many other Psalms where David praises the faithful love of God, and states his total trust in God to deliver him from evil.
Verse 8 particularly resounds: like a tree with roots taking strength and stability from the ground, so David is fully rooted in God, taking his strength from his connection with God. And David waits in hope for Gods plans to come to fruition.
My personal reflections on this Psalm start with the back story of the sacrifice made by Ahimelech and his community, thinking of and praying for those who today are innocent and still making sacrifices for their beliefs – and it brings me to a place of prayer for all who are persecuted for their faith.
It reminds me also of my need to make sacrifices for my beliefs, to accept that life can be hard, and never to say, “Why ME?” but to know why not me in both my head and my heart. And to seek God in all places and situations
It reminds me that doing the right thing is not always doing the easy thing, and at times requires great sacrifice. Any one of those priests could have saved the rest by saying in which direction David had travelled. The Israelite soldiers went part way – they refused to kill the innocent priests – but neither did they do they right thing and stop Doeg from massacring them.
So often this is my temptation. Avoiding evil is quite easy, but to take that extra step and stand up and be counted? Well, that is far more difficult, especially if it doesn’t directly affect me or you.
Perhaps more importantly the Psalm also reminds me that even though I can be tempted to quit, I am still charged by God, charged to be a guardian of his Gospel, bringing hope and the good news to others, and to leave judgement to God.
When I came to record the Psalm I found this version, which does indeed say that it was written in the circumstances I discovered through film!
Psalm 52 – from The Living Bible
Written by David to protest against his enemy Doeg (1 Samuel 22), who later slaughtered eighty-five priests and their families.
You call yourself a hero, do you? You boast about this evil deed of yours against God’s people. You are sharp as a tack in plotting your evil tricks. How you love wickedness—far more than good! And lying more than truth! You love to slander—you love to say anything that will do harm, O man with the lying tongue.
But God will strike you down, pull you from your home, and drag you away from the land of the living. The followers of God will see it happen. They will watch in awe. Then they will laugh and say, “See what happens to those who despise God and trust in their wealth, and become ever more bold in their wickedness.”
But I am like a sheltered olive tree protected by the Lord himself. I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. O Lord, I will praise you forever and ever for your punishment. And I will wait for your mercies—for everyone knows what a merciful God you are.
Reflection by Carol Close
Retired Self Supporting Priest (Chapelfields Hub)