Psalm 28

This week I thought it might be interesting to compare Psalm 28 with Psalm 13. We’ve done 13 previously; you don’t have to read it though, because we’ll mostly be comparing general structure. One of the things about the Psalms is that often they revolve around a small pool of themes. One of those themes is God saving the speaker from bad things. It’s the theme of both 28 and 13 – so I thought we might compare the two and see how they differentiate their content.

Psalm 13 has three stanzas that proceed sort of like this:

  1. God, how long will I suffer?
  2. Answer me, or I will be destroyed.
  3. I have trusted; I will trust.

There’s a clear process of suffering, calling out to God, and then being saved. Psalm 28 employs generally the same process of thought – although it’s structured slightly differently:

  1. Hear my cry, O Lord.
  2. Do not set me with the wicked who are to be destroyed.
  3. Blessed be God who saves me.
  4. God protects His people.

Although that arc of suffering, calling out, and being saved is the same, you can see that there’s a different set of emphases. The first stanza of 28 matches the second stanza of 13: in both, the speaker begs to be heard. Where 13 focuses on the initial suffering, in 28 it’s more implied; 13 commits the whole first stanza to suffering, while 28 is more understated:

For if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.

It’s more resigned than 13, which blares ‘How long?’. Also note that in 13, God is simply failing to act. The speaker wants God to intervene: ‘How long will you hide your face from me?’ In 28, it opens by suggesting that God is failing to intervene (‘if you are silent’), but in the second stanza, God is an active persecutor of injustice. The wicked are to be dragged away – they will be broken down. The speaker is trying to make sure God won’t include him in that category!

Do not drag me away with the wicked…

So here God is an already-active God, who punishes the wicked ‘according to the work of their hands’. The speaker wants to be sure that God will apply that justice properly in his own case. If Psalm 13 can be summarised as ‘God, be active: come and help me’, 28 might be ‘God, as you act, treat me justly’.

The third stanza of 28 brings a resolution much like the third stanza of 13. Both are falling stanzas: in 13, the speaker draws on their past faith in God and projects it forward into the future:

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
My heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

In 28, by contrast, there seems to have been a direct response from God. God ‘has heard’, and so ‘I am helped’ and ‘I give thanks’. It’s much more focused on the present tense.

28 also repeats the inclination to song:

So I am helped, and my heart exults,
And with my song I give thanks to Him.

We’ve seen this before in 13:

I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

In both cases, the song (psalm) that they sing includes an acknowledgement of the fact of their singing. It’s a justification for their actions – so there’s a didactic function in there. It teaches the singers (and listeners) about the appropriate response to God – both through form and content. Obviously the song is a song of praise, right – so when you hear it, you might think ‘Oh, praising God is something to do when good things happen’. And then the song itself reinforces that notion – it just explicitly tells you that ‘with my song I give thanks to Him’. Form and content.

The fourth stanza of 28 is probably the biggest shift away from 13. It invokes the people of Israel – so where 13 is framed in terms of a personal, private relationship with God, 28 works mostly in that framework, but then zooms out at the end to talk about the relationship between God and Israel:

The Lord is the strength of His people;
He is the saving refuge of His anointed.

This raises a question: is the private, personal framework of 28 a metaphor for the relationship between God and Israel? It’s possible that this final stanza, rather than changing the direction of the psalm, actually clarifies the initial metaphor. It’s sort of like that bit in Kanye West’s ‘Homecoming’:

If you don’t know by now
I’m talking ‘bout Chi-town

Yeah, you know the one. If that’s the case, and the relationship between God and Israel is made personal in the perspective of the speaker, then the chosen-ness of Israel is emphasised: there is an intimate and personal relationship between God and His nation. It’s similar again to that reading of Song of Songs – the one that maintains it’s a metaphor for God’s love, rather than being literally just about sex. God’s love and sex… I wonder if anybody’s done research on the parallels between Kanye and the Bible.


Psalm 28

To you, O Lord, I call;
My rock, do not refuse to hear me,
For if you are silent to me,
I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Hear the voice of my supplication,
As I cry to you for help,
As I lift up my hands
Toward your most holy sanctuary.

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
With those who are workers of evil,
Who speak peace with their neighbours,
While mischief is in their hearts.
Repay them according to their work,
And according to the evil of their deeds;
Repay them according to the work of their hands;
Render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
Or the work of His hands,
He will break them down and build them up no more.

Blessed be the Lord,
For He has heard the sound of my pleadings.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
In Him my heart trusts;
So I am helped, and my heart exults,
And with my song I give thanks to Him.

The Lord is the strength of His people;
He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
O save your people, and bless your heritage;
Be their shepherd, and carry them forever.

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