I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
Psalm 28 is not complex poetry, though it is beautiful. David opens with a plea for mercy, asking Yahweh not to destroy him alongside the wicked. He spends some time describing the wicked men he has in mind—men who do evil, who are hypocrites toward their neighbors, who do not regard Yahweh’s works as they should. Then he praises Yahweh for answering that plea. It is not the propositional content in and of itself that gives the psalm its particular value; these ideas are found throughout the Psalms, as well as throughout Scripture. Rather, it is the particular way David put them together, and the particular response for which the psalm calls.
Poetry is designed not merely to communicate content but to move the heart.1 The fear of judgment is heavy in the first section. The second sequence paints a vivid picture of the men David has in mind. I described them above, but the poetry works far better on its own terms:
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.
David wants nothing to do with these kinds of people, and he wants very much not to be like them. He wants God to judge them, and he yearns not to be judged himself. So when he comes to the second half of the Psalm, we should feel the change. “Do not drag me off with the wicked… he will tear them down and build them up no more. / Blessed be Yahweh!” The sharp transition, the sudden turn from the fearful expectation of judgment toward praising Yahweh, should catch our attention and make us demand an answer.
David supplies us the answer, of course, in beautiful phrases:
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
The plea David offered to begin has been answered. Our plea with David has been answered. Yahweh saves. But the response is not simply an acknowledgement of a fact: This is true. David’s response is exulting and singing. Exultation is elation and jubilation. This salvation warrants more than mere recitation of facts or even some degree of happiness. It deserves the kind of excited joy that comes bursting out of the heart in uncontainable song.
Yahweh saves. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!
- One of the reasons lots of evangelicals struggle with the Psalms: Americans are, by and large, no longer people are who read much poetry. For most evangelicals, the Psalms are it, in fact. Combine this with our already-strong tendency to treat the Scriptures as a source of propositions, and it’s no wonder we struggle to appreciate the Psalms as poetry. ↩