Sunday, October 9, 2011

Psalm 3: Overview


The banquet of Absalom,
Niccolo di Simone, c1650

Today I want to start my series on penetrating the meaning of the psalms, particularly in the context of the Divine Office with a mini-series on Psalm 3, the first of the Psalms treated in Pope Benedict XVI's current series of General Audiences on the psalms and prayer.

This post will provide a general introduction to the psalm.  Tomorrow I'll put up some pointers for those who might use this series to learn a bit of Latin.  After that, I'll start working through it verse by verse.

An overview

Psalm 3 is a prayer asking for protection in times of difficulty, and it is said daily at Matins in the traditional form of the Benedictine Office.  

Pope Benedict describes it as:

"a Psalm of lamentation and supplication, imbued with deep trust, in which the certainty of God’s presence forms the basis of the prayer that springs from the condition of extreme peril in which the person praying finds himself."

St Benedict perhaps placed it as a daily first invitatory perhaps because it speaks to us about our daily spiritual warfare: our daily struggles with discouragement and temptation. 

The essential message of the psalm is, I think, that if we but put our trust in God and cry out to him with strength, he will destroy our enemies, be they of the world, the flesh and the devil (and indeed, this psalm is used in the rite of exorcism).

Read through the complete psalm

Here is the complete text, with the Vulgate and Douay-Rheims compared verse by verse:

Psalmus David, cum fugeret a facie Absalom filii sui.
The psalm of David when he fled from the face of his son Absalom.

Dómine quid multiplicáti sunt qui tríbulant me? * multi insúrgunt advérsum me.
Why, O Lord, are they multiplied that afflict me? many are they who rise up against me.

Multi dicunt ánimæ meæ: * Non est salus ipsi in Deo ejus.
Many say to my soul: There is no salvation for him in his God.

Tu autem, Dómine, suscéptor meus es, * glória mea, et exáltans caput meum.
But thou, O Lord art my protector, my glory, and the lifter up of my head.

Voce mea ad Dóminum clamávi: * et exaudívit me de monte sancto suo.
I have cried to the Lord with my voice: and he hath heard me from his holy hill.

Ego dormívi, et soporátus sum: * et exsurréxi, quia Dóminus suscépit me.
I have slept and taken my rest: and I have risen up, because the Lord hath protected me

Non timébo míllia pópuli circumdántis me: * exsúrge, Dómine, salvum me fac, Deus meus.
I will not fear thousands of the people, surrounding me: arise, O Lord; save me, O my God.

Quóniam tu percussísti omnes adversántes mihi sine causa: * dentes peccatórum contrivísti.
For thou hast struck all them who are my adversaries without cause: thou hast broken the teeth of sinners.

Dómini est salus: * et super pópulum tuum benedíctio tua.
Salvation is of the Lord: and thy blessing is upon thy people.

You can hear it read aloud in Latin here. If you are new to Latin, just listen to it through a few times, until you can follow the text.  Then come back to it and actually try and say it yourself when we start on the verse by verse analysis.

For those in the process of or wanting to learn Latin, I'll highlight some of the very common words (such as et=and, Dominus=Lord, and Deus=God) and some of the grammatical structures that occur in this psalm that you could focus on learning first, in the next post.  But first a few general points on the psalm itself.
 
Historical context
 
The historical context for this psalm is the tragic rebellion of David's son Absalom, aided by David's most trusted counselor, Achitophel (2 Sam 15-18). When David learns of the strength of the conspiracy against his rule, he was forced to flee:

"But David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went, barefoot and with his head covered; and all the people who were with him covered their heads, and they went up, weeping as they went." He is pelted with stones by previous allies, while the conspirators plot to attack him at his weakest moment: "Moreover Ahith'ophel said to Ab'salom, "Let me choose twelve thousand men, and I will set out and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged, and throw him into a panic; and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down the king only, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace." And the advice pleased Ab'salom and all the elders of Israel."

The psalm tells us however that despite the advice of fainthearted friends, David never lost faith, and slept despite the risk of night attack, waking refreshed and ready to face the impending tragedy of his son's undesired death.

Pope Benedict XVI comments:

"Psalm 3, which Jewish tradition ascribes to David at the moment when he fled from his son Absalom (cf. v. 1): this was one of the most dramatic and anguishing episodes in the King’s life, when his son usurped his royal throne and forced him to flee from Jerusalem for his life (cf. 2 Sam 15ff).

Thus David’s plight and anxiety serve as a background to this prayer and, helping us to understand it by presenting a typical situation in which such a Psalm may be recited. Every man and woman can recognize in the Psalmist’s cry those feelings of sorrow, bitter regret and yet at the same time trust in God, who, as the Bible tells us, had accompanied David on the flight from his city."

Typological interpretation
 
The tradition of the Church, however, suggests two other levels of interpretation for the psalm.  In addition to the original historical context, St Augustine, for example, sees David as a type of Our Lord.  Thus, St Augustine sees the psalm as a prophesy of Our Lord's Passion, Cross and Resurrection: the persecutors are so many they include even one of his own disciples; they mock him even on the Cross in effect saying God won't save you; and the sleeping and rising up refers to his death and Resurrection.   He also interprets it as a reference to the Church, which too is persecuted, but which can always trust in God to preserve it.  And of course we can apply its key messages to ourselves.

Pope Benedict XVI puts it as follows:

"Dear brothers and sisters, Psalm 3 has presented us with a supplication full of trust and consolation. In praying this Psalm, we can make our own the sentiments of the Psalmist, a figure of the righteous person persecuted, who finds his fulfilment in Jesus.

In sorrow, in danger, in the bitterness of misunderstanding and offence the words of the Psalm open our hearts to the comforting certainty of faith. God is always close — even in difficulties, in problems, in the darkness of life — he listens and saves in his own way.

However it is necessary to recognize his presence and accept his ways, as did David in his humiliating flight from his son, Absalom; as did the just man who is persecuted in the Book of Wisdom and, ultimately and completely, as did the Lord Jesus on Golgotha. And when, in the eyes of the wicked, God does not seem to intervene and the Son dies, it is then that the true glory and the definitive realization of salvation is manifest to all believers.

And now, on to Verse 1 (verse 1 is the psalm title).

For those interested in learning a little Latin as you go through the psalm, take a look at these posts:

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