Alphabet soup, Psalm 25

David wrote Psalm 25 as an acrostic poem; each of its 22 verses begin with the consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Since the psalm contains petition as well as declaration and repentance, it doesn’t fit into one specific category. It’s more like vegetable beef stew than steak and potatoes.

It begins as a prayer that confesses God as the One in whom the true believer trusts:

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    let me not be put to shame;
    let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
    they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous (Psalm 25:1-3, ESV).

Those who trust in God and wait on his perfect timing will never be put to shame. Their enemies may seem to gloat over them for a season, but God sees and knows all things. He will not allow evil to triumph forever. In fact, he will turn the schemes of wicked deceivers upon their own heads and they will be the ones put to shame. The “wantonly treacherous” are more than simply sinful; they are those who capriciously betray the trust of others, secretly working deceits against them behind the scenes.

As this prayer continues, David petitions God for wisdom–not in the things of this world–but in God’s word:

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long (4-5, ESV).

As he next requests biblical wisdom, David again confesses that he waits on the will of God, the author of his salvation. Then he reminds himself by reminding God of his kindness and forgiveness in the past (6-7, ESV):

Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!

Notice that David doesn’t ask God to remember him for his own glory, but for the sake of God’s goodness.

The next section of Psalm 25 does not directly address God. It’s almost as if the speaker slips out of prayer to remind himself of God’s goodness by listing evidences of it:

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies (8-10, ESV).

If anyone had cause for pride, it was David. God himself called David a man after his own heart (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).  God loved him and chose him to be king, elevating him to the highest position of leadership. Yet David realized that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 3:34). The proud man thinks he knows best, but God teaches his way to the humble person. God grants his steadfast love and faithfulness to those who not only know, but also obey his word in public and in private, at church and at home.

Reminding himself of God’s goodness awakens in David a sense of his own sinfulness. He bookends verses 11-18 of this psalm with confessions of sin:

For your name’s sake, O Lord,
    pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins (11-18, ESV).

After that first confession of sin, David again seems to slip out of direct prayer to God for a few verses. He speaks about how God blesses the righteous person with guidance, security, and progeny in the land. God befriends those who fear him and gives them covenantal knowledge. Having reminded himself of all these blessings, David confesses that he always looks to God and trusts him to deliver him from every snare.

He then returns to prayer and asks God to be gracious to him because he is lonely and afflicted. David spent many days in the company of his mighty men and many days surrounded by people in his royal court. But he also spent monotonous days and long nights accompanied only by sheep. When Saul sought his life, he often fled alone. He understood loneliness and affliction. His knew the kind of pain that makes your swollen heart ache. As David prays for deliverance, he prays for forgiveness. Troubles may not be of our own making, but troubles make us pause and examine our own hearts. Prayers for deliverance ought always to be accompanied by truly repentant prayers for forgiveness.

God knows all things, but David reminds him of just how bad things are for him:

Consider how many are my foes,
    and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
    Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
    for I wait for you (19-21, ESV).

After telling God what he already knows about the violent hatred of his foes, David pleads with him to guard his soul and deliver him. Finite foes may destroy material things–even our bodies–but they cannot destroy the soul. We do not need to fear them; we need to fear only the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). But when we take refuge in the Lord, he will not let us be put to shame. When we wait on his will, he will preserve us in integrity and uprightness.

David concludes this alphabet soup psalm with a prayer for the redemption of Israel:

Redeem Israel, O God,
    out of all his troubles (22, ESV).

King David represented the nation of Israel, God’s people. His personal deliverance would result in corporate blessing. Somewhat similarly, our personal deliverance blesses Christ’s church. When other people witness the way we confess our sins and humbly seek to obey God’s commands while we wait patiently on his will, they will walk beside us in our distress. And they will praise God with us when they see our shame removed and the wantonly treacherous put to shame instead.

May God grant you a truly repentant heart and a humble spirit as you seek his will today! May he remove your shame and turn it back on your enemies! And may you see his blessings in your life and in your church.

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