Thursday, January 30, 2014

Introduction to Psalm 10

Psalm 10 (11 in most modern Bibles), is the second psalm said at Prime on Wednesday in the Benedictine Office, and is an exhortation to spiritual heroism.

Psalm 10(11): In Domino confido
In finem. Psalmus David.
Unto the end. A psalm to David.
In Dómino confído : quómodo dícitis ánimæ meæ: * Tránsmigra in montem sicut passer?
In the Lord I put my trust: how then do you say to my soul: Get you away from hence to the mountain, like a sparrow.
2  Quóniam ecce peccatóres intendérunt arcum, paravérunt sagíttas suas in pháretra, * ut sagíttent in obscúro rectos corde.
For, lo, the wicked have bent their bow: they have prepared their arrows in the quiver, to shoot in the dark the upright of heart.
3  Quóniam quæ perfecísti, destruxérunt: * justus autem quid fecit?
For they have destroyed the things which you have made: but what has the just man done
4  Dóminus in templo sancto suo, * Dóminus in cælo sedes ejus.
The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord's throne is in heaven
5  Oculi ejus in páuperem respíciunt: * pálpebræ ejus intérrogant fílios hóminum.
His eyes look on the poor man: his eyelids examine the sons of men
6  Dóminus intérrogat justum et ímpium: * qui autem díligit iniquitátem, odit ánimam suam.
The Lord tries the just and the wicked: but he that loves iniquity, hates his own soul
7  Pluet super peccatóres láqueos: * ignis, et sulphur, et spíritus procellárum pars cálicis eórum.
He shall rain snares upon sinners: fire and brimstone, and storms of winds, shall be the portion of their cup.
8  Quóniam justus Dóminus, et justítias diléxit: * æquitátem vidit vultus ejus.
For the Lord is just, and has loved justice: his countenance has beheld righteousness.

When to stand and when to flee?

The original historical context for this psalm is probably David’s time at the court of mad King Saul, when he was constantly under suspicion, and was in fact forced to flee and live in the caves in the mountainous regions several times during this period.  On this particular occasion, however, although anxious friends concerned about his safety urge him to flee, he rejects the advice, confident that God  wishes him to stay.

The first two verses have an obvious Christological application as we ponder the events of Wednesday in Holy Week in today's Office,  for they warn that ‘unless you flee, they will kill you’.  Yet Our Lord, knowing the coming betrayal he faced, chose not to flee, not to shirk the cup.

A society in turmoil

The psalm is also, though, a commentary on the corrupt state of a society in turmoil.  The Fathers and Theologians accordingly read it as being primarily  about the threat posed by heresy.   Cassiodorus, for example, in commenting on the structure of the psalm says:

"In the first section he tells heretics in ambush who strive to seduce Catholics into their own wickedness.  In the second he speaks threateningly of the Lord's judgment, clearly revealing what they are to endure at the time of retribution, so that they may fear the Lord's justice and abandon superstitious falsehoods."

But there is another possible allusion in these verses of particular contemporary relevance, namely to the fate of Sodom, as Pope John Paul II pointed out in his catechesis on it:

The righteous person foresees that, as happened in Sodom (cf. Gn 19: 24), the Lord makes "rain upon the wicked fiery coals and brimstone" (Ps 11[10]: 6), symbols of God's justice that purifies history, condemning evil. The wicked man, struck by this burning rain - a prefiguration of his final destiny - finally experiences that "there is a God who is judge on earth!" (Ps 58[57]: 12). 

The ultimate triumph of justice

In fact the key message of this psalm seems to be that no matter how things may seem at a particular point of time, God is not indifferent, and justice will ultimately prevail.  Pope John  Paul II, for example, commented:

Now, the turning point comes in sight, outlined in the second scene (cf. vv. 4-7). The Lord, seated on the heavenly throne, takes in the entire human horizon with his penetrating gaze. From that transcendent vantage point, sign of the divine omniscience and omnipotence, God is able to search out and examine every person, distinguishing the righteous from the wicked and forcefully condemning injustice (cf. vv. 4-5). 

The image of the divine eye whose pupil is fixed and attentive to our actions is very evocative and consoling. The Lord is not a distant king, closed in his gilded world, but rather is a watchful Presence who sides with goodness and justice. He sees and provides, intervening by word and action. 

Indeed the Pope suggested that:

The spiritual key of the entire psalm is well-expressed in the concluding verse:  "For the Lord is just, he loves just deeds". This is the root of all trust and the source of all hope on the day of darkness and trial. God is not indifferent to right and wrong:  he is a good God and not a dark, incomprehensible, mysterious destiny. 

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