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Thursday, 8 January 2015

Prayer to the Judge (Psalm 119:153-160)

In this section of the psalm, the author asks for God’s deliverance from powerful opponents (v. 157). Although they are many, the psalmist is determined to remain loyal to his God. Yet he realises that God has the power to deliver him. We may ask, why does God not automatically do so? The reason is that he wants to hear our requests because they indicate that we delight in his company as well as in what he can do for us.

The psalmist imagines he is in a courtroom in which the Judge speaks on his behalf (v. 154). In ancient Israel, legal trials did not always involve lawyers for the prosecution and defence. Instead the aggressor and the victim appeared before the judge. Sometimes the aggressor was so strong and the victim so weak that the judge had to step in on behalf of the latter. This is how the psalmist sees his situation.

The psalmist’s accusation is that ‘Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes’ (v. 155). Because this is the situation he faces, he asks the Lord to grant him mercy according to his promised care of his people (v. 156). The psalmist knows that the Judge will always do what is just.

But what can the psalmist say about himself? As he speaks to the Judge, he mentions his fidelity to the Judge’s commandments despite strong opponents (v. 157) and his disgust at the behaviour of those who disobey God’s requirements (v. 158). Then he asks the Lord to take note of such love for his cause and give him life, which here means freedom to obey God’s word (v. 159). The psalmist knows he can ask for such decisions because the Judge is always consistent with his word.

We don’t often think of prayer as being like a dialogue in a courtroom. Yet it is because when we pray we are speaking to the Judge of all the earth. This was how Abraham regarded God when interceding for Lot and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah: ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?’

As we can see from the psalmist’s presentation, it is not sufficient to be able to describe the faults of those who are against us. There has also to be clear evidence that we personally are walking in the ways of the Lord. After all, if we indulge iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not listen to us.

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