Psalm 54 - Surely God is my helper
Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.
For the insolent have risen against me, the ruthless seek my life; they do not set God before them. Selah
But surely, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will repay my enemies for their evil. In your faithfulness, put an end to them.
With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you; I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For God has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies.
Psalm 54: (NRSV, edited)
18th Sunday of Pentecost, Year B
If we don't have anyone actively seeking to kill us, we may take the psalm's language as metaphorical. And so we can. But we should not lose sight of two facts. There are real enemies, and throughout the world, thousands of people can pray this psalm today and the words be literally true.
It is also true that, even when the insolent who are set against us are not fully bent on destruction, the act of enmity can seem dire. Fear can lead people to their own destruction, as when shame contributes to suicide, or harrasssment leads to harmful behaviors of self-medication, risk-taking, or retaliation. This may be the go-to psalm for anti-bullying, since "insolent and relentless" succinctly describe our experience of those who challenge and threaten, for whatever real, half-true, or imagined reasons.
Would we have the courage or the knowledge to ask God to hear our prayer when set upon. Would that always be able to find ourselves in the position of having set God - and God's loving will - before our own.
It is not quite clear if the voice of the psalm, while currently beset by trouble, is able to recall that there is a history, where God has been a faithful deliverer. Or if it anticipates, in confidence or perhaps desperation, when God will step in, when he or she can get back to the ordinary business of devotion and praise and thanksgiving.
I confess to being both uneasy with, and encouraged to hear the habit some have of claiming in faith the deliverance in which they hope. But what else should we do? Should we not count on the Lord?
I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good. Surely, you are my helper.
Layard, Austen H. Crushing the Bones of the Ancestors (detail), in The Monuments of Nineveh from Drawings Made on the Spot. London: J. Murray, 1853. Photo courtesy of the New York Public Library.