In the land of the living—Psalm 27

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are primarily personal songs, so I will look at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of Psalms.

I’m back at looking at the psalms after a break for Lent. And it is right back to what looks like a continuation of the songs about the king which were Psalms 20 to 24, although the king is not mentioned the structure is the same—a chiasm, where the ideas are introduced in one order then added to in reverse order, and that the psalm is messianic.

A cemetry with old tombstones covered in mosses and lichens
Photo by Mike B on

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Of David.

27 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?
When evildoers assail me
    to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
    it is they who stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
    yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
    that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
    and to enquire in his temple.
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 lift me high upon a rock.
And now my head shall be lifted up
    above my enemies all round me,
and I will offer in his tent
    sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
    be gracious to me and answer me!

You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
    “Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
    Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
    O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
    O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
    but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
    and lead me on a level path
    because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
    for false witnesses have risen against me,
    and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon 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!

Psalm 27 ESVUK with italics and bold added to reveal the chiastic structure.

Sometimes I can get a better idea of what a psalm is about by just reading it, the structure gives a guide as to where the writer’s emphasis was placed, but reading this psalm as a lectio divina* I got emphasis on a phrase in verse 13. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!”

In the land of the living, a good phrase to find in a psalm review that I intend to publish eight days after Easter Sunday. God had planned the resurrection of Jesus from the beginning and left clues in the Scriptures. Leaving clues like this is referred to in film and computer games as ‘Easter eggs.’

Whether David knew he was prophesying in the words of this song is unknown. We are given no hints from a title or from any musical or liturgical notes. The introduction simply says, “Of David.” David probably thought he was writing a song about trusting God.

Hide and seek

My autistic brain can’t be kept in check for too long, so I had to look at the structure of the psalm. Like many psalms and poetic parts of the prophets, Psalm 27 is a chiasm, a very common poetic structure in the Bible. The outer sections, verses 1-3 and 11-14 are full of David’s confidence that God would keep him safe, based around the themes of my enemies and my heart on the way in (verses 2 and 3) and my enemies and your heart on the way out (verses 11 and 14).

The other large parts of the psalm, which I have put into italics, are a game of hide and seek, a bit like the Easter Egg hunt we has in church of Easter morning, (which itself is me dropping the other sort of Easter egg into this post). Going out there is seeking after the Lord and being hidden from enemies by God (verses 4 and 5) coming back there is seeking God’s face and asking God not to hide his face.

The centre section, verse 7, explicitly mentions prayer in a song which is itself a prayer. Prayer is the reason for the confidence we can have that god will protect or hide us from our enemies if we seek him with our hearts.

But church was too loud on Easter Sunday. Not the service, I can take people all singing the same songs or saying the same prayers together, just as well as I was playing electric bass. It was me adding a funk bass line to part of a worship song. I don’t mind volume. But so many people chatting in a small groups afterwards and wishing each other a Happy Easter that it took me all my effort to last a few seconds in the church welcome area without melting down. That is my autistic sensory issues again, I cannot turn off all these conversations, my brain is trying to process all the conversations at once. It is extremely tiring.

But when I did the Lectio Divina on this passage, one of the readings I used was The Message, a paraphrase.

This sprung out:

That’s the only quiet, secure place
    in a noisy world,
The perfect getaway,
    far from the buzz of traffic.

Psalm 27:5 The Message

The noisier the world is the more my autism makes it difficult. A church which seems hell bent on creating a healthy buzz does not feel like a healthy place to me. We are not all extroverts, but it feels like pressure to conform to an extrovert ideal. All that is needed is a get out space, somewhere quiet for anyone who needs it. A quiet secure space in a noisy world. Not just for autistics, for anyone who needs it.

Odd as it seems, I am asking God to protect me from church. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church, I love the people there, but celebratory times cost me a lot in energy. It takes days to recover. But I’m aware of the cost, and I am glad I went despite the difficulties.

< Psalm 26 | Psalm 27 | Psalm 28 >
< Previous | Psalms of David | Next >

*Lectio Divina: A slow, contemplative way of praying the Scriptures which aims to enable the Bible to become a means of union with God. 

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s