Psalm 41 Poor, Me

Questions: How do we obtain the Lord’s blessing? Can we “buy” God’s favor with good works? Will He allow us to get revenge on our enemies? Can we trust in our own integrity? Or are these the wrong questions?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Psalms.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

Psalms 41:1-13

Blessed [is] he that considereth the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble.

The most intriguing thing about this opening verse — perhaps due to its resonance with the Beatitude — is the term “blessed.” In a sense, David is encouraging us to make spiritual deposits (by helping the poor) that God Himself will repay (with interest!):

The LORD will preserve him, and keep him alive; [and] he shall be blessed upon the earth: and thou wilt not deliver him unto the will of his enemies. The LORD will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing: thou wilt make all his bed in his sickness.

But what starts out as (seemingly) a dispassionate lecture is quickly revealed to be much more personal:

I said, LORD, be merciful unto me: heal my soul; for I have sinned against thee.

Ouch. David is not just talking in the abstract about the Lord’s deliverance, as I had originally assumed. Rather, he is planting a stake in the ground — in the Rock, rather — to help him cope with a devastating situation. One where he knows he has “done wrong”, and thus can’t ask the Lord to save him due to his own integrity. Worse, his suffering (however deserved) is compounded by the actions of enemies:

Mine enemies speak evil of me, When shall he die, and his name perish? And if he come to see [me], he speaketh vanity: his heart gathereth iniquity to itself; [when] he goeth abroad, he telleth [it].All that hate me whisper together against me: against me do they devise my hurt.An evil disease, [say they], cleaveth fast unto him: and [now] that he lieth he shall rise up no more.

And — even worse — faithless friends:

Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up [his] heel against me.

When things get that bad, where do you turn?

But thou, O LORD, be merciful unto me, and raise me up, that I may requite them. By this I know that thou favourest me, because mine enemy doth not triumph over me.

Now, despite his evident faith, I must confess I find his response a little troubling. First of all, it sounds like David just wants to “get even” — which in fact seems to be the literal meaning of “shalam“, a cousin of “shalom.” Secondly — despite having just confessed his own sinfulness — he now appears to be drawing on his own integrity:

And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.

What’s up with that?

Well, my first question is simply: how else should he feel? Is he wrong?

As mentioned before, these “self-righteous” Psalms always bother me, perhaps due to my Lutheran “grace-first” tradition. Here, the tension is intensified, since David explicitly refers to his own sinfulness.

Huh. Maybe integrity is a completely different thing than “sin-less-ness.”

If so, then what is it?

Like in English, the Hebrew ‘tom‘ connotes unity, completion, and simplicity. To me, it feels a bit like the earth’s iron core, which is pure and unchanging despite the fractious meanderings of its messy outer surface. And David isn’t so much asserting his integrity as he is rejoicing that God honors it. Even the word “upholding” gives the picture of God lifting David like a weightlifter raises a dumbbell — if the core isn’t solid, it can’t be lifted without falling apart.

Beneath his sinfulness and failure, David is rejoicing that God has ahold of his heart. And thus he’s willing to part with anything outside that solid core.

And if you buy that, then maybe we can see David’s desire for “recompense” as reflecting God’s desire for justice — something that flows out of our solid core as held by God, not out of the fear and anger of the “outer crust.” David isn’t simply trying to “get his own”, but rather to dwell in God’s favor. For ultimate, that is where his trust and joy comes from:

Blessed [be] the LORD God of Israel from everlasting, and to everlasting. Amen, and Amen



God, I confess my own sinfulness, and lack of integrity. I have wounded my own soul in my folly, and I need your healing desperately. Yet Lord, despite all my faults, you know that I long to build my life on you, and you alone. Father, fill me with your integrity, the integrity of Christ, that you may raise me up. Teach me to hunger after your justice, and to seek after your blessed-ness. Make me the kind of man that you delight in rescuing. ‘Cause I need it. I ask all this in the name of Jesus your Son, and my Saviour, Amen.