Appreciating the language of the Psalms

The psalms are, first and foremost, the prayers of Israel. They were composed by authors who had a keen sense of their covenantal relationship with God.

Jun 05, 2021

By Msgr James  Gnanapiragasam SSL, STL
The psalms are, first and foremost, the  prayers of Israel. They were composed  by authors who had a keen sense of their  covenantal relationship with God. The intervention of God in their history of ups  and downs called for it to be expressed in  prayer. Consequently, the authors used the  language of relationship. In fact, the whole  Bible speaks of God’s relationship with humanity and man’s response.

Briefly, language is either the language  of science or the language of relationships.  The language of science gives information,  and tells us exactly what it signifies. The language of relationships would signify  something else. It tells us what a person  is feeling; it will use a number of images  and metaphors to convey the sentiments, emotions and perceptions of the one who  prays. For example, a rock is a rock in scientific language, but when a person prays, “O God, you are my rock and my fortress,”  he means something other than a boulder in  the mountain or a rock on the beach.

Ps 91 (90) Divine Office (Everyday  Prayer): Sun Night Prayer (pg 692) Note the title, the saying from Lk 10:19  where Jesus promises protection for his disciples, and the antiphon, which is taken  from the psalm itself. These help us to pray  the psalm with confidence as we retire for the night.

The first paragraph (Vss 1-2) is an exclamation of the person (a king at war) who  has come to the temple completely confident, as he wants to spend the night in the  Holy of Holies, where the Ark of God is  present with the Cherubim. He awaits an  answer from God as to what he should do  with such opposing forces surrounding him  in a dream. The Almighty is his refuge.

In the next six paragraphs (Vss 3-13) the  priests assure this pilgrim (and us) of the  protection which the Lord will grant because of his trust in him. He will escape the  bird-catchers’ snare and the plague, since  the Lord covers him with his wings. Infernal enemies will not be able to overcome  him. Many of his own people may fall and  leave him but since he has declared that the  Lord is his refuge, no evil will befall him.  God’s angels will be there to save him from  annihilation. He will be able to overcome  all evil attackers.

The last two paragraphs (Vss 14-16) are  a solemn oracle of Yahweh giving the answer to this person who is passing the night  in the temple. He tells him that he will be  victorious and he can go back to the battlefield. Yahweh’s oracle makes sense only  when applied to Jesus whom Satan tempted, quoting this psalm, “They shall bear  you upon their hands lest you strike your  foot against a stone.” He faced the final  battle with evil, with the Snake, the Devil,  Satan, and regained his glory. It is Christ’s  victory song of resurrection.

The Church calls us to pray this psalm on  Sunday night before we fall asleep, ready  to face a new week when we awake. As  you pray this psalm, try to think what these  images represent in your life: the fowler’s  snare, the terror of the night, the arrow that  flies by day, the plague that prowls in the  darkness. Let us be confident that the Lord  has won victory over the Dragon. As the  night prayer concludes, we say: Lord, grant  us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen

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