Psalms 20 and 21 are prayers for the king. It strikes me that they are connected in thought with David’s Psalm 18 in which he recounts and praises God for God’s deliverance from Saul.
Here is a paraphrase of Psalm 20. In it I was taken with the line in verse 1, “may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.” You may remember in Genesis 32 that Jacob wrestles with God and in that night match, Jacob clings and asks, “Please tell me your name.” To which the Unknown adversary responds, “‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him.” That scene obviously influenced my paraphrase or midrash. The Lord does not reveal to Jacob his name, and yet he blesses. The name of the Lord is not a talisman or a ‘spell’ that one invokes to gain power over circumstance. Nevertheless, the Lord comes to us, engages us, blesses us, and promises never to forsake us.
May the Lord come to your help when you need,
and may the one to whom Jacob clung, cling to you.
May help come straight from the holy place
and reinforcement come from Zion.
May God remember your service to him
and smile upon the gift you give him.
May God fulfill all your wants
and bring your plans to pass.
Pray, all of you, shout for joy because you’ve been saved,
and unfurl the banners for his praise!
Pray Lord, answer our prayers!
I’ve seen it, I know he saves his chosen king;
from his holy place above, he’ll send his answer,
and his fingerprints will be all over the salvation he works.
You know, some kings trust in their armies, their war machines and cavalry.
Not us, we trust in the Lord God who says we can call anytime.
Those others give way and fall down, but we rise up and stand tall.
Lord, we pray, save the king! Pray, answer us when we call.
At the beginning or the church season of Ordinary Time, I began a project in the church where I pastor titled Ordinary Prayer. During this pandemic’s staged shut down of activities, we have been meeting over Zoom and praying through the Psalms. Whether they are read in King James English or in a modern translation, the psalms are meant for king and commoner. They’ve been sung and prayed by Levites leading worship in Jerusalem’s Temple and by fishermen mending their nets. They were written by shepherds watching their flocks and by people at their prayers. The psalms are emotionally honest and metaphorically rich.
This past week, I turned my mind to paraphrasing one of the psalms we will be praying. The purpose and benefit of paraphrasing as an exercise is that it allows the writer to further step into what they are reading. The benefit for the reader is that the meaning may be further teased out. The psalms were meant to be prayed, and this is an attempt to make them more accessible.
The psalmist in Psalm 10 brings their faith to bear upon the realities of the injustice of the world in which the psalmist lives. In that world — in this world — there are those wicked people who live as if this world is all that there is and what can be gotten from it is all that is worth getting. Their merciless greed makes them to be, as the the psalmist writes, “of the earth.”
You may listen to me read the psalm paraphrase via the player below.
Why Lord, Why?
Why do you stand off?
Why, when trouble finds me, I cannot find you?
These earthly men have no shame —
These wicked who chase the poor down
And run them into the traps that they’ve set for them.
And when the earthly man has done so,
He brags how he’s gotten everything he’s ever wanted.
Boasting, he laughs to himself, “I got it all on my own!”
He sneers with pride and gives no thanks to God
Of whom he says, “There is no such thing.”
The earthly man gets what he wants here and now.
You, Lord, are far beyond his comprehension.
As for his enemies, he struts around in front of them like a rooster
Saying, “No one makes me step aside. No one can touch me.”
The aerosol droplets of his curse words, lies, and demands
Spit from his mouth the infection of his sin-virus
And works all kinds of mischief.
He is just waiting to cause trouble.
It’s like he just spends his spare time making plans to hurt innocent people.
Like a lion, he looks to pounce on the helpless as he watches from the shadows.
Like a trapper, he waits to pull the snare.
He watches that he might entangle the poor in his net.
Those of us who before were bent by trouble,
The earthly man now breaks and beats down.
He says, “See? God doesn’t care…
He doesn’t see you and doesn’t care what I do!”
Lord! Now! Now!
Come! Do something! Don’t forget us!
How can the wicked go on thinking they can do whatever they please?
Oh, but Oh Lord, you do see.
You mark their mischief and trouble-making
That you may take matters into your own hands.
Lord, we’re reaching out to take your hand,
For you are the one who takes in hand those who have no one.
Slap back the earthly man’s arm,
Shorten his reach,
Frustrate his schemes,
Settle his account,
Make him pay his bill’s full amount.
You Lord, are the boss of everyone: kings, presidents, and CEO’s–
They are all beholding to you.
Nations, agencies, kingdoms, and corporations are nothing.
Lord, Lord, you do hear.
You do hear the cries of those in need.
You will give them courage.
You will find them and listen to every last word they have have to say
So that justice is worked for those who are alone and beat down–
For those who have no one but you,
So that the earthly man won’t make anyone afraid ever again.