Bending God's Ear

Psalm #54

        ‘In honesty you have to admit that to the wise prayer is not for the wise, not for the prudent, not for the sophisticated. Instead it is for those who recognize that in face of their deepest needs, all their wisdom is quite helpless. It is for those who are willing to persist in doing something that is both childish and crucial.’     [Frederick Beuchner]

The starting point (v.1-3)

God! Save me by your name;
    vindicate me by your might!
God! Hear my prayer;
    listen to the words of my mouth!                                                        

The insolent have come up against me;
    ruthless people want me dead -
    people without regard for God. 

The psalm begins with God whose name is invoked six times in this short psalm.  There follows a four-fold plea: ‘Save me, defend me, hear me, listen to me.’  Our psalmist boldly and quite literally commands God’s attention, response, and action.

Why is God’s attention and action commanded? Because the enemies of the psalmist, the insolent and the ruthless, have risen against him to tear him apart with their words.

The turning point (v.4)

But surely, God is my helper;
    my Lord sustains my life.
This is the turning point of the psalm.  The word related to help is ‘Ebenezer,’ which means ‘thus far the Lord has helped us.’  It is a word David often used in his prayers.

Keeping God at the centre helps us keep focussed on what is essential, that God is with us to sustain and encourage us.

The finishing point (v.5-7)

Let evil recoil on those who slander me;                                               

      In Your faithfulness, God, put an end to them.                                    

I will sacrifice to you freely;
    I will give thanks to your name, Lord,
        because it’s so good,
        and because God has delivered me
        from every distress.
    My eyes have seen my enemies’ defeat.     

As we have pointed out before, this type of prayer is not a call for revenge but an appeal to God’s character and will to give life and to enact justice among human beings.  Oppressors must be opposed (see the Exodus story).  This is the same prayer as Jesus taught in Matt. 6.10,13:   ‘Deliver us from the evil one or the time of trial.’   

We remember that twice, David had opportunity to take Saul’s life but he refrained leaving the future of the king up to God’s justice.

We too pray in our distress and need.  And sometimes we wonder.  Madeline L’Engle helpfully writes: 

What happens to all my prayers – those that are not answered, and those that seem to make things worse than anyone ever anticipated? Surely they are still sustaining me. Perhaps there will be unexpected answers to them, answers I may not even be aware of for years. I cannot believe they are wasted or lost. I do not know where they have gone, but I believe God holds them, hand outstretched to receive them like precious pearls.   [Cries From the Heart]