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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 27

 

 

Introduction

This Psalm to some extent follows the pattern of Psalms 25. There also a prayer of confidence and certainty (Psalms 25:3-15), was followed by an urgent plea for help (Psalms 25:16-21). It is often thus with the people of God in the place of prayer. As their eyes are turned upwards towards God and His ways, confidence overflows, and nothing can distress them. They can move mountains. All is serene. And then the eyes turn on the problems around and at that point entreaty becomes urgent, and even desperate, as the pressing needs are considered and ‘earthly reality’ takes over. It was thus with the Psalmist. The change of emphasis is underlined, not only by the words, but also by the change in poetic structure. The smooth rendition in the first half (Psalms 27:1-6) suddenly becomes rough in the second half. For while he is confident in God, he is deeply aware of the parlousness of his position as one cast off even by his family, and it is tearing his heart apart..

The explanation for why the compiler positioned this Psalm after Psalms 26 can be found if we compare Psalms 27:7 with Psalms 26:11, and Psalms 27:11 with Psalms 26:12. There are similarities of thought.

Heading.

‘A Psalm of David.’


Verse 1

‘YHWH is my light and my salvation,

Whom shall I fear?

YHWH is the strength of my life,

Of whom shall I be afraid?

The Psalm opens with a declaration of the Psalmists confidence in God, and his recognition of His attributes. He has taken his mind off his own troubles as he considers the wonder of God’s love and faithfulness. Note the tripod on which his life is built, God is his light, God is his salvation, God is the strength of his life.

‘YHWH is my light.’ The Psalmist may have had in mind here the seven-branched lampstand in the Tabernacle/Temple which continually burned (see Psalms 27:4), and which pictured the glory of YHWH that Israel believed was hidden behind the veil. It was a perpetual reminder of the glory of God which was revealed in the pillar of fire that had led His people out of Egypt, and of the further glory of YHWH which had been revealed on Mount Sinai. Compare here Psalms 78:14, ‘In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.’ Thus he saw himself as being led forward by the glory of YHWH. This idea of glory ties in with Isaiah 60:1, ‘arise, shine, for your light is come, and the glory of YHWH is risen upon you.’

Furthermore it was from His light that His people obtained guidance, assurance and truth. ‘The entrance of Your words gives light, it gives understanding to the simple’ (Psalms 119:130). ‘Your word is a lamp to my way, and a light to my path’ (Psalms 119:105). ‘He lightens the lampstand of His people and lightens their darkness’ (Psalms 18:28). ‘They look to Him and are lightened, and their faces are thus not ashamed’ (Psalms 34:5). ‘For with you is the fountain of life, in your light shall we see light’ (Psalms 36:9). ‘Oh send out your light and your truth, let them lead me’ (Psalms 43:3).

He is also elsewhere compared by David with the glorious light of the noonday sun. ‘He will be as the light of the morning, when the sun rises, a morning without clouds’ (2 Samuel 23:4). But to him YHWH outshines the sun, and His light reflects on His people, making them righteous too. ‘He will make your righteousness go forth as the light, and your just dealings as the noonday’ (Psalms 37:6). That is why Jesus could say, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).

And we need not doubt that it includes the thought of the light of YHWH’s favour. The Psalmists regularly speak of ‘the light of His countenance’ as shining on His people (Psalms 4:6; Psalms 44:3; Psalms 89:15; Psalms 90:8; compare Proverbs 16:15).

For us the light shines even more clearly. Not the dim light of the Tabernacle lampstand, but the glorious light of Him Who is ‘the light of the world’ Who gives the light of life to His own (John 8:12; John 12:35-36; John 12:46; John 1:4; John 1:9). ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14) ‘I am come a light into the world, so that whoever believes in me may not continue on in darkness’ (John 12:46), ‘but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).

‘YHWH is my salvation.’ What picture could be more comprehensive? He is the God of the deliverance from Egypt at the Red Sea (Psalms 15:2). He saves him by forgiving his sins (Psalms 25:7; Psalms 25:11). He saves him by delivering him from his enemies (Psalms 27:2). He saves him by bringing him through everything that he has to face triumphantly. This indeed is what the name of Jesus means, ‘YHWH is salvation’, because He saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

‘Whom shall I fear?’ And with such certainty who can be afraid? If my life is hid with Christ in God I need fear nothing but sin, for although sometimes the future may seem dark, He will make all right in the end. None can stand against Him.

‘YHWH is the strength of my life.’ This underlines the significance of God’s light and salvation. The certainty of God’s presence with him provides him with an inner strength that nothing can resist. The ‘stronger than he’ is here and Satan and all his enemies will be vanquished (compare Luke 11:22). David was well acquainted with Satan (1 Chronicles 21:1). Furthermore YHWH is like a fortress round about him protecting him from all assaults of the enemy (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 31:2-3).

‘Of whom shall I be afraid?’ He knows that having YHWH with him he need fear nothing and no one.


Verse 2

When evil-doers came upon me,

To eat up my flesh,

Even my adversaries and my foes,

They stumbled and fell.

He casts his mind back to the past, and remembers how his enemies had tried to destroy him But no matter who they had been, whether internal enemies or external, they had all stumbled and fallen. None had been able to prevail against him. They had been unable to ‘eat his flesh’, that is, to destroy him. And the same was still true. The Hebrew ‘past tense’ reflects not so much the past, but the sense of definiteness.

Significantly when the greater David came His enemies would be allowed to ‘eat His flesh’ (John 6:53) by destroying Him. For it was only through doing that that light (John 8:12) and salvation (Matthew 1:21) could be made available to His people as they too could ‘eat His flesh’ by trusting in Him (John 6:35)


Verse 3

Though a host should encamp against me,

My heart shall not fear.

Though war should rise against me,

Even then will I be confident.

In the light of YHWH’s presence with him nothing could stand against him. Whether it be an enemy encamped against him, and he had seen many of those, or whether it be open war, he had nothing to be afraid of, for his confidence lay in the One Who was mighty in battle, YHWH of hosts (Psalms 24:8; Psalms 24:10). In quietness and in confidence would be his strength (Isaiah 30:15). Our enemies may be of a different kind, especially the enemies of the soul (Ephesians 6:12), but the One Who is our light and our salvation will deliver us from them all as we clothe ourselves in His armour (Ephesians 6:10-18) and walk with Him (Matthew 10:28).


Verse 4

One thing have I asked of YHWH,

That will I seek after,

That I may dwell in the house of YHWH,

All the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of YHWH,

And to enquire in his temple.

For he has only one goal, and that is to enter more fully into His light and salvation by ‘dwelling in the house of YHWH all the days of his life’ in order that he might behold the beauty of YHWH and learn from Him. He does not mean by this that he intends to live perpetually in YHWH’s house in a literal sense, but that he may constantly feast at His table and have fellowship with Him (compare Psalms 23:4-5; Psalms 15:1; Psalms 78:19) while he meditates on His beauty (compare Psalms 16:11; Psalms 90:16-17; Psalms 96:6; Psalms 96:9; Isaiah 25:6). The literal element will be when he goes to enquire in His temple. For ‘the temple’ as signifying the established Tabernacle see 1 Samuel 1:9; 1 Samuel 3:3; 2 Samuel 22:7.

He visualises YHWH as some great oriental prince, magnificently arrayed (compare Exodus 28:2) and magnanimous to His guests, and himself as one who has constant access to His Table. ‘Your eyes shall see the king in His beauty’ (Isaiah 33:17). A beautiful picture of this is found in the life of Mephibosheth, where one who was lame in both his feet, and therefore in those days to be hidden away, instead dwelt in the king’s house and sat daily at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9:13). He must often have looked around filled with wonder at the sudden change in his fortunes.

We too should seek constantly to feast with the Lord at His table, enjoying His presence, gazing at the beauty of His life, seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6), and meditating constantly on His words, continually coming to Him and believing on Him so that we might enjoy the Bread of life to the full. ‘I am the Bread of Life, He who comes to Me will never hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst’ (John 6:35)

‘And to enquire in His temple.’ Not the least of his privileges was that he could approach YHWH in His temple and enquire of His will, in the same way as we can at the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). The word elsewhere means ‘to seek out, to search out’. Alternately this might mean, ‘reflect upon His sanctuary’ (compare Psalms 73:17), as he ‘searches out’ its symbolism which reveals something of the nature of God (compare Psalms 27:1; and see Hebrews 8:5, and the whole message of Hebrews).


Verse 5

For in the day of trouble he will keep me,

Secretly in his pavilion.

In the covert of his tabernacle will he hide me,

He will lift me up on a rock.

That the Psalmist is already conscious of the troubles that will take up the second part of the Psalm comes out here. But he recognises that his trust must be firmly in YHWH. YHWH will protect and keep him. He will keep him safe in His pavilion, hidden in the security of His tent, firmly established in his impregnable fortress on a rock. None can feel insecure when protected by the Warrior King, the Mighty in battle, YHWH of hosts.

Once again we have the dual comparison of the King’s table, spread in His pavilion, and the protection of the sanctuary which was absolute. The one who was in the King’s pavilion was safe from plottings and deceitful tongues, especially when his presence there was unknown (Psalms 31:20). In the same way Isaiah also pictures the glorious future of God’s true people in terms of a pavilion where the glory of YHWH is manifested (Isaiah 4:5-6), and of a strong city where none can harm them (Isaiah 26:1-4), protected by the walls of salvation and praise (Isaiah 61:18). And one day, ‘a Man will be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of water in a dry place and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land’ (Isaiah 32:2) and will be manifested by the opening of ears and eyes, and the giving of knowledge and the releasing of tongues (Isaiah 32:3). And it is to Him that we must look constantly.


Verse 6

And now shall my head be lifted up,

Above my enemies round about me.

And I will offer in his tabernacle,

Sacrifices of joy.

His confidence in YHWH’s protection gives him the further confidence of triumph. He knows that because God is on his side his enemies will stand no chance against him, for God will lift up his head above theirs. And the result will be that he will be offering ‘sacrifices of joy’ (thanksgiving offerings offered in rejoicing as a result of victory) within the Tabernacle, God’s Dwellingplace. He will not overlook what he owes to God, but will express his gratitude with a joyous heart. The thought may includes the shouts of joy and clashing of cymbals often accompanying worship at the Tabernacle (Psalms 33:3; Psalms 47:1; Psalms 47:5; Psalms 95:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:15).

I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to YHWH.

The section ends with a change of metre, as he concludes it with words of praise to YHWH (compare the similar situation in Psalms 27:14). Note the dual emphasis on his singing. ‘I will sing, yes, I will sing.’ But the questions is, what will he sing? And the answer is that he will sing praises to YHWH. His heart will be full of joy in Him. (Again compare the repetition in Psalms 27:14, but there it is of waiting on YHWH as befits the change of tone)

From this point on the metre deliberately becomes less definite in order to indicate the situation in which he finds himself. The smoothness of his experience with God now gives way to the hurly-burly of life. What follows is not a new Psalm but a descending from the high point of worship to face up to the realities that lie before him. For a while he had been able to forget his troubles but now they come home to him with a vengeance. It is not an unusual situation for a believer who is confident in God and yet aware of great troubles ahead.


Verse 7

Hear, O YHWH, when I cry with my voice,

Have mercy also on me, and answer me.

In this second part of the Psalm it appears as though his family have cast him off, with the result that he is concerned lest YHWH too cast him off. It is necessary here to remember the closeness of family ties in Israel, and their importance. To be cast off from the family was to be rejected by the tribe. And that could be seen as being cut off from God. Such a situation may have resulted from false information having been laid against David by Saul, so that even his family withdrew their support from him. but whatever it was it went very deep.

And so he cries to YHWH that He will hear his voice, and will in compassion answer him, and be gracious to him.


Verse 8-9

To (or ‘towards’) you my heart said,

“Seek you my face”,

It is tempting here to see these words as the words of YHWH interspersed with the Psalmist’s own words, or put into the Psalmist’s mouth, so that it is the heart of YHWH speaking to his heart, and saying ‘Seek My face’. And that fits best with what follows. On the other hand, the general impression of the Hebrew is rather that they are the words of the Psalmist, in which case they refer to a desperate heart plea to YHWH to seek him out and look into his face when no one else will do so. All have turned away from him, including his family, but he still hopes that YHWH will seek him out and look him in the face, as he intends to look YHWH in the face.

“Your face, YHWH, will I seek,

Hide not your face from me.”

But whatever the situation he intends to seek the face of YHWH, and so he prays that YHWH will not hide His face from him. The heart rending nature of the situation is clearly apparent, and brought out by the stuttering metre.

Psalms 27:9

Put not your servant away in anger,

You have been my help,

Cast me not off, nor forsake me,

O God of my salvation.

He continues his theme. Though all have turned against him he prays that YHWH will not turn against him, for it is ever YHWH Who has been his help, and if He were to turn from him what would he have left? So he pleads with Him not to cast him off or forsake him, and to remember that He is the God Who saves, and Who saves him, as he has already stated in Psalms 27:1. That being so he throws himself on Him. It reveals something of how deserted he feels. When all others have cast him off, YHWH is his last hope.


Verse 10

When my father and my mother forsake me,

Then YHWH will take me up.

But in the end he is confident that even though his father and his mother forsake him, and he is cast off by his family and tribe, YHWH will take him up. We are reminded of Jesus’ words to His disciples about the fact that some of them must expect rejection even by their own families (Matthew 10:21-22; Matthew 10:35-36; Mark 13:12-13). That is what can be the result of following Him wholly. For when men follow God they can never know what it will involve. But at such moments they can remember, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man will do to me’ (Psalms 118:6, cited in Hebrews 13:6). Compare here Isaiah 49:15, ‘shall a woman forget her breast-feeding child, that she should not have compassion on the son that she bore? Yes she may forget, yet will I not forget you. Behold I have engraved you on the palm of my hand’.


Verse 11

Teach me your way, O YHWH,

And lead me in a plain path,

Because of my enemies,

The crisis moment past he now prays that YHWH will show him the way ahead. He wants Him to teach him His way, and lead him in a level path in which he will not stumble, a real necessity in view of the behaviour of his enemies. He is aware that he is in a sticky situation, But is confident that God can guide him through it.


Verse 12

Deliver me not over to the will of my adversaries,

For false witnesses are risen up against me,

And such as breathe out cruelty.

So with his confidence somewhat restored he asks that his life might not be subjected to what his opponents want for him, for they have risen up against him and maligned him, and have spoken about him cruelly, which is no doubt why his family have rejected him. The last thing therefore that he wants is to be subject to their will.


Verse 13

Unless I had believed to see,

The goodness of YHWH in the land of the living.

And finally he brings out the fact that he had almost been in despair. Had it not been that he had believed to see the goodness of YHWH in the land of the living, he could not have endured, such was the anguish resulting from his rejection. When our spiritual legs fail us it is good that we can look to the certainty that ‘the Eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms’ (Deuteronomy 33:27).

‘Unless I had believed.’ We would expect something to come before this. Some add words in translation like ‘I had fainted unless --’. That is clearly the idea. LXX has simply, ‘I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’ Alternately he may be saying, ‘such as breathe out cruelty were it not that I believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ with the idea that his faith in YHWH in some way prevents them from behaving in that way towards him. But it is undoubtedly very awkward.


Verse 14

Wait for YHWH, be strong,

And let you heart take courage.

Yes, wait you for YHWH.

Like the first section, the second section ends with a repetition, but this time it is a repetition of the need to wait for YHWH, addressed by the Psalmist to himself, and to every individual in the congregation. Sometimes patient endurance is required. God does not always act at once. And so each must wait and be strong. Each must let his heart take courage, for it is necessary to wait for YHWH, with the confidence that in the end, in His own time, He will act. He will not leave us comfortless, He will come to us (John 14:8).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 27:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-27.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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