Understanding Psalms 11-20

Read also “Understanding Psalms 1-10” by Christopher Fisher.

‘Psalms 11

Psalms 11 is positioned as David addressing those who tell him to flee. The wicked pursue David (v2), and the righteous must worry (v3). David responds that God is not ignorant of his situation. Instead:

Psa 11:4  The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

God is actively watching the Earth, and David’s faith is in God’s coming judgment. God tests individuals (v5), and then judges the wicked (v6).

Psalms 12

Psa 12:1  …Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.

Psalms 12 starts with an implicit criticism of Yahweh. Yahweh has not acted swiftly and the righteous have been destroyed. As a response, Yahweh is stirred to action. The groans of the needy have inspired God to act (v5). In this chapter, as in the other psalms, the poor and the needy are equated with the righteous. Although the wicked swarm from every side (v8), God will give His people safety (v5).

Psalms 13

Psa 13:1  To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

Psalms 13 describes an abandonment of David by God. This situation is unthinkable to David. He wonders why God has left him. As with other psalms, this abandonment is described as “hiding His face”. David’s enemies triumph (v2), and he is on the verge of death (v3). This death is euphemistically labeled “sleep”. David appeals to God’s ego: if God lets David’s enemies win they will brag about killing a follower of Yahweh. David imagines a future time when God will answer his prayer (v5).

Psalms 14

Psa 14:1  To the choirmaster. Of David. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.

Psalms 14 begins by describing the wicked. They are evil (v1), ignorant (v3), and they declare that God does not exist (v1). Describing the wicked is thematic in the Psalms, and this verse describes them as abandoning God in favor of sin.

But not all people are wicked. Instead, the text describes how God will right the wrongs and restore justice to the righteous:

Psa 14:5  There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.

The theme of Cosmic Justice echoes strongly in this chapter: A wicked contingent who prospers but will soon be punished. A righteous contingent who must trust in God’s salvation. God, looking from heaven, upon the Earth to test the hearts of man (v2). The last verse tells of the coming judgment in which Yahweh restores the fortunes of “his people” (v7).

Psalms 15

Psa 15:1  A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

Psalms 15 is a psalm of David. It speaks of a time in which Yahweh still dwelt in the tabernacle, as opposed to the temple Solomon built in Jerusalem. David wonders who can dwell in God’s holy place. This psalm lists out the characteristics of a righteous man. He does what is right (v2). He does no evil to his neighbor (v3). He does not lend money at interest (v5). He does not take bribes (v5). In this context, David also says that the man “does not change” (v4).

The psalm throughout is layered with Cosmic Justice. The righteous will prosper because God will protect them. The reader can understand where they sit before God, by reading and following the prescriptions of the psalm.

Psalms 16

Psalms 16 is enigmatic in that this very easily can be a psalm in times of distress or in times of great prosperity. David calls on God to “preserve him” because he puts his trust in Him (v1). This is followed by praised of God and the righteous people (v3). David disfellowships those seeking other gods:

Psa 16:4  The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.

Verse 4 might be cursing those who seek other gods, or it might be rendered that “the idols” multiply, meaning something like they chase after all sorts of gods without profit. David puts his faith in Yahweh, who instructs him in righteousness (v7) and protects him (v10). Verse 10 has been used as a text to indicate life after death, which is possibly but not necessary. It could be that David is recounted the many times he was in “Sheol” (close to death) and God saved him.

The Cosmic Justice in this chapter is individual. David follows God and in return is blessed by God. There is a hint of punishment of the wicked, but the focus is on a right relationship with Yahweh.

Psalms 17

Psalms 17 begins for an earnest call for God to respond to supplication. Verse 3 states in bold terms that Yahweh has tested King David and has found nothing.

Psa 17:3  You have tried my heart, you have visited me by night, you have tested me, and you will find nothing; I have purposed that my mouth will not transgress.

As with other Biblical passages, God tests hearts to know what man will do. David proclaims his righteousness. He has passed. He has avoided violence (v4) and held fast (v5).

For this, he calls for God’s response. The idea is that God has some obligation to respond to the needs of His own people, Cosmic Justice. David follows with calling Yahweh the savior of those who seek God (v7). David extends this idea to himself. Because God protects His people, God should protect David (v8, 9).

After describing the wicked, David calls on God to “Arise” (v13). God’s justice will be swift and with the sword. The curse states that although they prosper, and have many children, that they will come to an untimely end. The children will inherit the wealth (v14). David contrasts this wealth to his own content with being in God’s presence (v15).

Psalms 18

Psalms 18 serves as praise towards Yahweh for answering David’s pleas. In previous Psalms, the content alluded to a coming salvation or was modified after the fact. Psalms 18 reads uniquely as a psalm dedicated to praising God’s response.

The format follows typical Cosmic Justice mindset. David called on God to execute judgment. Because of David’s righteousness, Yahweh responds with justice against the evildoers. David reciprocates with praise.

The first few verses focus on King David’s calls to action. David called when on the verge of death (v3, and metaphorically referenced as the “cords of Sheol” in v5). And God responded (v2). This response was fierce and swift. The earth rocked (v7) and fire came from the mouth of God (v8). He rides a “cherub” and flies through the wind (v10). The imagery is warlike. And a warlike response was needed. David recalls that his enemy was too strong for him (v17).

The salvation was a function of God’s justice and David’s righteousness. David served God faithful, and God reciprocates in kind:

Psa 18:20  The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.

Psa 18:21  For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

Psa 18:22  For all his rules were before me, and his statutes I did not put away from me.

Psa 18:23  I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt.

Psa 18:24  So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

The next few verses detail David’s outlook on Cosmic Justice. God acts according to man’s actions. God punishes the haughty (v27), but saves the pure (26). It is cause and effect, reaction to action. God enables His people.

In this context, God’s ways are “perfect”. Justice and righteousness equate to perfection. Because God chooses to operate on a principle of Cosmic Justice, God is perfect. The perfection, in this sense, is a choice. God is being praised, not for inherent metaphysics, but for right act.

God’s actions extend to punishment of the wicked. When God poured out His power, his enemies begged for mercy but found none (v41). The time for repentance is long over, replaced with justice.

The psalm ends with David again praising God. He details how he will praise God among the nations. This is the same bargaining chip used elsewhere to convince God to act. In a reversal of the standard psalm format, it is David who is fulfilling his end of the bargain as the psalm closes.

Psalms 19

Psalms 19 is a general psalm of praise, much like Psalms 8 although Psalms 19 does not contrast God with creation. God is glorified in his own right. David writes of God righteousness, His glory, and the perfection of God’s laws.

The psalm starts out with very personified praises towards God. “The heavens declare His glory” and “sky proclaims His handiwork” (v1). Both “day” and “night” glorify Him (v2). Verse 3 seems to be an acknowledgement that this praise is not vocal in nature, no one can hear it.

This transitions into general praises for God’s law, which then, the author affirms. The author, showing solidarity with God’s laws, asks for forgiveness of unknown transgressions (v12). These unknown transgressions are contrasted with willful rebellion, from which the author also asks protection (v13).

The chapter ends by assuring God that everything David does is meant to be acceptable to God, and as a result, God should find him worthy:

Psa 19:14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Psalms 20

Psalms 20 is a “Psalm of David”, but better reads as a psalm written “about” David. The setting appears to be King David preparing for war, and the people pray for God to intercede on his behalf. The themes of Cosmic Justice are invoked for David’s success.

This prayer operates on multiple levels. The people pray that Yahweh intercedes on David’s behalf, but this is concealed by the confidence in Yahweh’s success. The prayer is offered as if it has already been fulfilled, perhaps reinforcing the need for Yahweh to act. If He does not act, the failure would be God’s.

By rendering glory to God before the act, this serves as both positive reinforcement for God acting and gives God the praise that He desires. This quid pro quo is seen in verses 3 and 4:

Psa 20:3  May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah.

Psa 20:4  May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans!

The people focus on David’s loyalty to God, and depend on God to repay this loyalty in turn. King David, perhaps, answers the people in verse 6, shifting the 3rd person perspective to a 1st person perspective: “I know that the LORD saves his anointed.”

The verse ends with multiple confirmations that Israel depends on Yahweh for success. This is linked to a call for God to respond to this prayer of praise:

Psa 20:9  O LORD, save the king! May he answer us when we call.’

source: Christopher Fisher (godisopen).

Read also “Understanding Psalms 1-10” by Christopher Fisher.

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