"To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul."
This psalm is a favorite of the lectionary coming up several times over the course of the three years. On a walk, I was thinking about what to say about this psalm. I don't propose to give you anything that is groundbreaking, rather, if you have given 15 seconds more of your day to thinking about the psalm for Sunday, I feel that I have done a good job.
Read the psalm and think of what comes to you. What verses give you pause? What stands out to you? What words make you think? What verses challenge you?
These are some of the questions that we can ask ourselves. As we dig deeper, maybe we can discern what certain words mean, their origin and their use in the time that the psalms were written. Perhaps we can see that there are certain literary forms that the psalms take on like the poetic forms with which we are familiar. But, for now, as followers of Jesus, or at least enthusiasts of the psalms, we must read and chew on the words we are given.
The word that comes immediately to my attention is "soul." The original language of the psalms was Hebrew - soul meant something like breath, or any living being with breath - more specifically, it was what defined life; what we may call today our "self." Such a confusing word this is! We use it for various purposes and where it gets out of control is the thought of what may happen to it after we die - another blog article for sure!
"To you, O LORD, I lift up my [self]."
To our ears, or eyes, this makes a little more sense with what the psalmist is singing in this psalm.
"To you, O LORD, I lift up [all that makes me a living being]."
I think that we're starting to capture the meaning of the psalm, maybe just a little bit. The psalmist goes on to praise God for deliverance from his enemies and then to ask God to instruct him in the ways of God.
If the word "soul" came to my attention, so also did the idea of being instructed. Over the course of the psalm, the idea of teaching and covenant is lifted up ten times. This is not unusual in the psalm tradition. Not only would one conceive of pledging one's whole self, but it was the Law, the covenant with God and his people that compelled those singing the psalm to seek to be taught and corrected by this living God of the covenant.
If you have read the books of 1 and 2 Kings, you know that the history of Israel and Judah is spiraling out of control until just about the last minute when King Josiah takes the throne. At eight years old, he begins to reign and it's not long before someone "stumbles" upon the scrolls of what is believed to be Deuteronomy. Josiah instructs that it must be read and, upon hearing the words of the Law, rips his clothes for the lawlessness of his people. With a Law-minded King, the people repent for a short while until his lawless son, Jehoiakim takes the throne without mind of any of his father's decrees. From then on, it's a few short steps and the people of God are exiled to a foreign land (Babylon) singing their songs (psalms) for an unknown people.
The tension and balance of keeping the covenant is the drama of the Old Testament. God calls a people, gives them a binding covenant, they obey, rebel, obey, rebel and on and on. God comes to them even in their wickedness calling for their repentance through the preaching of the prophets and for a while, they repent. But it isn't long before they are in the dog-house again.
When Josiah's servant found the scroll, he came to him and said something to the effect of "Hey, look what I found in the house of the LORD." The people of God had lost their way. They didn't even know what the scroll was in the Temple! For generations before Josiah, they had been turning away and it was Josiah who brought them back, for a short time, to the ways of the covenant. They hadn't even been celebrating the Passover!
Lest we give them too hard a time, we are a sinful people just as much as they were. Psalm 25 calls us to remember the God of the covenant. Psalm 25 calls us lift our whole selves to this God of the covenant asking for instruction, for teaching and for correction. This psalm reminds us that God is not a disciplinarian seeking to embarrass his subjects, but rather calls us to covenant through his love, moreover, his steadfast love.
Maybe our prayer should be that God keep us close to his word. Lutherans have a hymn for this, "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word." Happy singing!