The view from above (part 1)

Perspective. It can radically change how we look at and respond to the situations that trouble us. Most of us have experienced times in which we were angry and defensive at some perceived insult, only to find out later that we had the situation all wrong. We had misheard what the other person said or misread their motivation. Full of self-righteous indignation, we never bothered to check our interpretation.

Then we found out the truth of the matter, and our anger turned to sheepishness.

In the previous post, I was compelled to confess my own weakness in that area. I had misinterpreted a situation communicated to me by my department chair, a trusted and beloved colleague, and ranted in my email response. My anger and defensiveness were unjustified.

And it was my reading of Psalm 59 that prompted me to apologize the next morning.

. . .

Psalm 59, as we’ve seen, is a prayer for deliverance. The psalmist is being set upon by enemies who are both spouting lies and waiting to kill him. But the psalm is not merely an individual prayer; it represents the concerns and anxieties of the people, who feel threatened by their national enemies.

But the psalm also repeatedly declares the source of the people’s strength and security:

I keep looking for you, my strength,
    because God is my stronghold.
My loving God will come to meet me.
    God will allow me to look down on my enemies.
(vs. 9-10, CEB)

There are three key words here: stronghold, strength, and loving. First, the word “stronghold” is sometimes translated as “refuge”: it pictures a lofty place of safety, like being set atop a rocky cliff by God, far removed from the reach of enemies. This seems to be the reason for the CEB’s translation “look down on”: it doesn’t mean to look at with arrogance or disdain, but from a high and distant place of security.

Second, the word “strength” implies that the psalmist’s strength is not his own, but God’s. In the context of the psalm, the word doesn’t seem to refer to the power to accomplish something through human effort, but the strength and security of the stronghold. Third and finally, the word “loving” refers to the Hebrew word hesed, God’s faithful, steadfast covenant love. Hesed is used repeatedly in the Psalms to refer to God’s dependable care for his people.

And it is used repeatedly in the psalm itself. Indeed, all three words stick together as a triad, and the triad appears three times. Verse 16, for example, reads:

I will sing of your strength!
    In the morning I will shout out loud
    about your faithful love
        because you have been my stronghold,
        my shelter when I was distraught.
(emphasis added)

And again, in verse 17, the final verse of the song:

I will sing praises to you, my strength,
    because God is my stronghold,
    my loving God.
(emphasis added)

The interweaving and repetition of the words suggests a theme that goes well beyond a plea for help. God is a God of steadfast love, who can be depended upon to provide a rock-steady place of security in the midst of trouble. And if it’s not too much of an extrapolation, that place of refuge is also a place of perspective, where we can get a better view of our troubles from above.

That, at least, is why I apologized for my behavior after reflecting on the psalm.

I’ll explain in the next post.