Eastman Johnson – The Lord is my Shepard – Oil on wood -16.625 x 13.125 in – c 1863 – Scanned from Eastman Johnson: Painting America – fig 76 pg 141 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This entire psalm is quite elegant. To begin with, it is an acrostic. Verse 1 begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, verse three with the second letter, and so on. It is not intuitively apparent, but in addition to being alphabetic, it is an elaborate chiasmus, where verses repeat themes, ideas, etc. in an A-B-B-A structure. in this case, the entire psalm appears to do so as in this example:
verses 1-11 The Lord is faithful to the righteous
verses 12-15 Righteousness will prevail
verses 16-20 The Lord upholds the righteous
verses 21-24 Righteousness delights the Lord
verses 25-31 The Lord upholds the righteous
verses 32-33 Righteousness will prevail
verses 34-40 The Lord is faithful to the righteous
Robert Alden suggests a much more elaborate Chiasmus within as follow (Alden, Robert l., “Everyman’s Bible Commentary, Vol I”, Moody Publishers, 1958):
“1-8 A The righteous are exhorted to ignore
the wicked and trust God
9 B Wait and inherit the land
10-15 C The righteous inherit but the Lord
destroys the plotting wicked
16 D The poor are blessed though poor
17 E The Lord upholds the righteous
18a F The Lord guides the righteous
18b G The righteous inherit
19 H The righteous receive
20a I The wicked perish
20b J The wicked are like a sacrifice
20c J The wicked are like a sacrifice
21a I The wicked give not
21b H The righteous give
22 G The blessed inherit
23 F The Lord guides the righteous
24 E The Lord upholds
25-26 D The blessed may be poor but not forsaken
27-33 C The Lord loves the righteous who
will live and inherit, but the plotting
wicked will die
34 B Wait and inherit the land
35-40 A God destroys the wicked but saves the righteous
The basic message of the psalm is the safety and blessing of those who trust in God and the insecurity of the ungodly.”
The second half of this psalm implores us to turn away from the evil ways of the world and strive to do good, give generously, wait for the Lord, and keep His way (verses 21, 27, 34). Verse 28 says that the Lord loves justice and will not forsake his saints. The psalmist says he was young and now is old but has never seen the righteous forsaken, or God’s children begging for bread. There is future for the man of peace, he says.
He is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
the Lord helps them and delivers them;
He delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
Taking refuge in the Lord means more than just turning to Him in times of trouble. It means trusting in God, not only when we are fearful, down-trodden or discouraged, but keeping that trust alive through all of the good times and the bad, the joy and the sorrow – all of the days of our lives. A faith based solely on expectations of protection and comfort is worthless if it is not there also when we must weather the storms. The key is to remember that He does not abandon us. Repeated again and again the scriptures exclaim that we must often “wait for the Lord.” It is the ability to do that with the assurance of hope that keeps us strong and carries us through difficulty.
Read or listen to audio of ESV version of this selection from this link.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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