Facing slander – Psalm 27
What’s the source for our confidence?
How do you cope with your fears and anxieties? Some take time out, or use breathing techniques, or face their fears, or imagine the worst, or look at the evidence, or don’t try to be perfect, or visualize a happy place, or talk about it, or have a meal, a walk and a good night’s sleep, or reward themselves. David, the shepherd who became king of Israel, experienced many dangerous situations. What can we learn from the poem that David wrote when he was facing slander (Ps. 27ESV)?
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in His temple.
5 For He will hide me in His shelter
in the day of trouble;
He will conceal me under the cover of His tent;
He will lift me high upon a rock.
6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in His tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “See my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
Context and chiastic structure
The context of Psalm 27 is given in Appendix A. The psalm is a prayer for deliverance from David’s enemies, who were liars that wanted to destroy him (v.12). The prayer (v.7-12) is preceded by saying that he relies on God (v.1-6) and is followed by confidence that His prayer will be answered (v.13-14).
According to Terrien (2003) Psalm 27 has a chiastic structure. However, I am not convinced by his subdivision of v.4-9a. Instead, I think that this modified version of the chiasm is more robust.
v.1 The Lord’s deliverance v.2 David’s enemies v.3 David’s confidence v.4-9a The Lord’s presence v.9b-11 David’s confidence v.12 David’s enemies v.13-14 The Lord’s goodness
This pattern suggests that the Lord’s presence (as the central thought) is the source of David’s confidence of deliverance over his enemies.
A more detailed chiastic structure has also been proposed.
v.1 No need to fear v.2-3 Deliverance from enemies v.4 David’s request v.5-7 The Lord will lift me high v.8 I will seek your face v.9-10 The Lord will take me in v.11 David’s request v.12-13 Deliverance from enemies v.13-14 Wait for the Lord.
And a broader chiastic structure has been proposed.
v.1-3 David’s confidence v.4-6 David’s search for the Lord v.7-12 David’s search for deliverance v.13-14 David’s confidence
v.1 Life v.2-3 Enemies v.4-6 Seek the Lord v.7-10 Seek the Lord v.11-12 Enemies v.13-14 Life
So the theme of Psalm 27 is David’s confidence that the Lord will deliver him from his enemies. Although slander is the particular issue he is facing, the psalm could be applied to other difficulties and struggles people face.
Here’s an outline of what David is saying in this poem.
David’s security is in the Lord (v.1-3)
Although he is in a dangerous situation, David is not afraid because He trusts in the Lord of Israel. The Lord had a covenant with Israel and also made a covenant with David. Because of these covenants, the Lord provides David with guidance, deliverance and protection (v.1). He is confident that, no matter what the circumstances, his enemies will not be allowed to destroy him. David is confident because the Lord has rescued him from dangerous situations before (v.2). And because of David’s confidence in the Lord, he is not afraid. This section is a poetic expression of David’s confidence.
The tabernacle is David’s stronghold (v.4-6)
At this time, God dwelt in the tabernacle (a special tent) in Jerusalem. It was the visible expression of God’s presence. David expresses a desire to live with the Lord in the tabernacle. But he is not speaking of literally dwelling in the tabernacle since only the priests could enter it. He wanted to be near God. His enemies will not be able to reach him because God will protect him. And when he triumphs over them, he will offer sacrifices and praise to the Lord.
David’s prayer for deliverance from his enemies (v.7-12)
After expressing his trust in the Lord, David prays for deliverance from the lies and malicious accusations being made by his enemies. God has helped him before, and now he needs that help again. Even if his parents and friends don’t help him, he trusts that God will protect him. He wants to know how God wants him to live and he wants to obey the Lord. So he wants protection, acceptance, and guidance.
David’s confidence is in the Lord (v.13-14)
David repeats his confidence that God will deliver him from his enemies. Meanwhile, he will rely on the Lord.
So the psalm testifies to the experience of God protecting David from worldly attackers, prays for God to do so again, and urges David to keep expecting God to do that (Goldingay, 2006). The lesson is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. David trusts the Lord to help in the storms of life.
How do David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27?
The message in Psalm 27 is expressed in poetry rather than in prose. The poetic techniques used in Psalm 27 include, parallelism, repetition, metaphors, word pairs, and other figures of speech (Appendixes B-F).
Synonymous parallelism repeats the message using different words. It provides alternative versions of the message and so makes it easier to understand. Parallelism also makes the message more memorable and so easier to recall. The fact that it was sung would also make it more memorable and so easier to recall.
Repetition is when the message is duplicated, for emphasis. If different words are used, it also makes it easier to understand the message.
A metaphor is where one thing is compared to another by stating they share the same qualities. Metaphors help to clarify the meaning of the message and conjure up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind. Metaphors can also help the reader to visualise the situation.
So David’s poetic techniques help people to understand the message of Psalm 27 by making the message more memorable and easier to recall, and by clarifying the meaning of the message, and by conjuring up images, thoughts and feelings in a reader’s mind.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a poem (or song) worth? They say that memories last forever. As poems (and songs) can lodge in our memories, maybe a poem (or song) can be worth more than a picture!
The psalms were Israel’s pop (popular) songs. They reflected the history, culture and moods of the nation. These songs became embedded in their minds. I can remember the words of songs sung at least 50 years ago by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. When we hear some words or the tune of a song, we can recall the rest of the song. This shows how poetry in the form of songs can be remembered better than prose.
This is important in a society, such as that of ancient Israel, where the average person had limited access to the Scriptures. They would have heard the reading of the Bible during the annual religious festivals, and perhaps also in Sabbath worship activities conducted by the priests and Levites. But the songs that the Israelites used in worship would have reminded them of the Scriptures on a daily basis because they could be sung while they worked and while they relaxed. The great events of Israel’s history were often preserved in this form, such as the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14 and 15).
Lessons for us
But David lived about 3,000 years ago! What can we learn from a poem written so long ago? Despite our technological progress, we still face similar problems to David. Life can be a struggle. And we all face difficulties and injustice.
But there are some differences. We now live under the new covenant that began after Christ’s death and resurrection. And we have the extra revelation given by God through the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers. Today God doesn’t dwell in a building, but in the life of each believer. In this way, we can live permanently in God’s presence. Our body is the temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16). God has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb 13:5).
David’s greatest fear was losing fellowship with God. And sin can come between us and God. But if we confess our sin, our fellowship with the Lord can be restored (1 Jn. 1:9). A victorious life is based on a constant relationship with the Lord. Like David, our greatest desire as Christians should be to seek God’s presence, and to submit to His guidance.
Today we are promised deliverance from our problems and troubles in the afterlife, not necessarily in this life on earth. For example, Paul wasn’t delivered from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7-9). But like David, we can pray in times of trouble. The Lord is the only reliable support when we face difficulties.
Nothing can separate a believer from God’s love (Rom. 8:31-39). This includes any difficulty or problem they face. Through Jesus we can have confidence over our fears. This is a God-centered confidence, and not a self-centered confidence. It teaches us to trust God so that we don’t have to fear.
Today, we can rely on the promise that God is with us in every situation, supporting us through the Holy Spirit. He helps us survive the storms of life and resist wrong responses to them by giving us supernatural power, love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7). The Spirit provides the patience and courage we need to keep going and to follow God’s leading in our lives.
The lesson for us is that there is deliverance from danger (and fear) by trusting in the Lord. We can trust the Lord to help in the storms of life. That’s the best source of our confidence.
Appendix A: Place of Psalm 27 in the book of Psalms
Psalms is a book of prayer and praise in the form of poetry. They were Israel’s songs of praise and worship. It has been divided into five books:
– Book 1 (Ps. 1-41)
– Book 2 (42-72)
– Book 3 (73-89)
– Book 4 (90-106)
– Book 5 (107-150)
Psalm 27 is within a group of Psalms that have a chiastic structure (25-33).
Ps. 25 An alphabetic (22 verse) acrostic prayer Ps. 26 Prayer for vindication for living a blameless life. Ps. 27 Prayer for deliverance from enemies. Ps. 28 Prayer for deliverance from enemies. Ps. 29 Praise to the Lord for strength and peace in the storms of life. Ps. 30 Praise for being healed. Ps. 31 Prayer for deliverance from enemies. Ps. 32 Celebrates the blessedness of those with confessed sins & forgiveness. Ps. 33 A 22 verse hymn of praise
Psalm 27 matches Psalm 31 in the following ways:
– The theme of both is an appeal against false accusers.
– His enemies are spreading lies (27:12; 31:18).
– He takes refuge in the shelter of God’s presence (27:5; 31:20).
– He mentions the “goodness” or “good things” of the Lord (37 ;13; 31:19).
– It concludes, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” and “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (27:14; 31:24).
But this chiastic structure across several psalms is subjective, as another chiastic structure has been proposed for Psalms 18-34.
Psalm 27 continues and fulfils the “I have trusted in the Lord without wavering” theme of the previous psalm (Ps. 26:1). And it shares a devotion to the tabernacle with Psalms 26 and 28.
Appendix B: Parallelism in Psalm 27
Parallelism is a feature of Hebrew poetry where the second line (colon) either repeats the same thought (that is in the first line) in different words (synonymous parallelism), or it has an opposite thought to the first line (contrastive parallelism), or completes the thought in the first line (synthetic parallelism). The pair of lines (bicolon) is called a poetic unit. Sometimes a poetic unit can be longer, say 3 (tricolon) or 4 lines (tetracolon).
“The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:1a)
is synonymous parallelism.
And, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in” (Ps. 27:10)
is contrastive parallelism.
Psalm 27 has the following instances of parallelism:
– Seven pairs of lines in synonymous parallelism (v. 1a, 1b, 2, 3, 7, 8, 13).
– Eight three-line poetic units in synonymous parallelism (v. 4, 5, 6, 9a, 9b, 11, 12, 14).
– One pair of lines in contrastive parallelism (v.10).
The determination of the parallel poetic units is somewhat subjective being dependent on the Bible translation. For example, John Goldingay identified 21 2-line parallel poetic units, one 3-line parallel poetic unit, and one 4-line parallel poetic unit. This was based on his personal translation of Psalm 27. For example the Masoretic text has two tricola in v.11-12, whereas Goldingay has three bicola.
So the dominant structural technique used is synonymous parallelism. This means that most of the thoughts are repeated.
Appendix B: Key words in Psalm 27
The following key words occur in Psalm 27:
– His “enemies” and its synonyms (v.2, 6, 11, 12).
– “The Lord” or “O Lord” (v.1, 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14).
– The “tabernacle”, “house of the Lord”, “temple”, shelter”, or “tent (v.4, 5, 6).
– “fear”, with regard to his enemies (v.1, 3).
– “seek”, with regard to the Lord (v.4, 8).
So the key words relate to David not “fearing” his “enemies” because he seeks a relationship with “the Lord” (whose presence was expressed by the “tabernacle”).
Appendix C: Repetition in Psalm 27
The following examples of repetition occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear” and “of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1) and “fear” (v.3).
– “stumble and fall” are synonyms for the enemy’s failure (v.2).
– “seek” (v.4, 8 twice).
– “evil doers”, “adversaries” and “foes” (v.2) are synonyms for his enemies (v.6, 11).
– “sing” and “make melody” are synonyms (v.6).
– “Cast me not off” and “forsake me not” are synonyms (v.9).
– “Wait for the Lord” (v.14 twice).
These words are emphasised in the poem.
Appendix D: Metaphors in Psalm 27
The following examples of metaphors occur in Psalm 27:
– “light” refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies, who were like darkness in David’s life (v.1).
– “salvation” (v.1) refers to deliverance from fear of his enemies.
– “Stronghold” (v.1) refers to a refuge or safe place from his enemies.
– “stumble” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “fall” (v.2) refers to being unsuccessful.
– “my heart” and “your heart” (v.3, 8, 14) means one’s innermost being or soul/spirit.
– “army” and “war” may be metaphors for great danger (v.3).
– “beauty of the Lord” refers to the attributes of the Lord.
– “the house of the Lord” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle, God’s earthly throne.
– “His temple” (v.4) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His shelter” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “His tent” (v.5) refers to the tabernacle.
– “hide me”, “conceal me”, and “lift me high” (v.5) mean to protect by putting him outside the reach of his enemies.
– “look upon” (v. 13) means “experience”.
Appendix E: Other figures of speech in Psalm 27
The following examples of other figures of speech occur in Psalm 27:
– “whom shall I fear?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
– “of whom shall I be afraid?” is a rhetorical question (v.1). The answer is “No-one”.
“eat up my flesh” (v.2) compares his enemies to dangerous, hungry predators, like lions.
– “My heart” means “I”, which is a synecdoche.
– “all the days of my life” means as long as I live (v.4).
– “my head shall be lifted up” (v.6) refers to triumph over his enemies.
– “seek my face” (v.8) refers to praying to the Lord.
– “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (v.8) refers to him praying to the Lord.
– “Hide not your face from me” (v.9) means “do not reject me” or “do not forget me”.
– “Turn not your servant away in anger” means not ot deny justice to an innocent man (v.9).
– “my father and my mother have forsaken me”(v.10) could mean total abandonment.
– “The Lord will take me” means that the Lord will accept him as a son (v.10).
– “your way” (v.11) means “how you want me to live”.
– “a level path” (v.11) means to live a life that is pleasing to God in order to be blameless before his accusers.
– “In the land of the living” (v. 13) means during his lifetime. It means that he would survive the attacks of his enemies.
– “wait on the Lord” (v.14) means to rely on the Lord and wait for his answer to the prayer in v.7-12. Like Joshua he would receive divine aid to have victory over his enemies (Dt. 31:7).
Appendix F: Word pairs in Psalm 27
The following word pairs occur in Psalm 27:
– “stumble and fall” (v.2) describe the enemy’s failure.
– “my father and my mother” (v.10) describe his parents or family.
Goldingay, J (2006), Psalms, Vol. 1: Psalms 1- 41 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms).
NET Bible notes.
NIV Study Bible.
Terrien S (2003), The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Eerdmans Critical Commentary).
This post was inspired by an Assessment Task in Dr Theron Young’s Australian College of Christian Studies course, “Wisdom and Poetry in Israel”.
Written, March 2019