Commentary Ps 17 by Dr Noel Donnelly for Sunday 30A
graphic (c) Netta Ewing
Psalm 17 / 18 Commentary
Psalm 17 is a long one, a great hymn of thanksgiving with 50 verses! It seems to have been used in the ancient Hebrew liturgy, to express thanksgiving for the blessings given to King David firstly and then to the installation of other great figures in Hebrew history.
It starts with an expression of love for God, using many titles: “I love you, LORD, my Strength, my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer, my Crag in whom I take refuge; my Shield, my resounding Horn of Salvation, my Stronghold!” It’s good to dwell on each of these eight images slowly, addressing God here and now as the Strong One from whom I can get strength in my present situation; God is steady and reliable as a powerful Fortress against any enemy assaulting me now; God is addressed as a steadily reliable Crag, where God dwells like a the protecting eagle; God is the one whose battle Horn or Trumpet resounds assuring us of victories past and present. It’s easy to rush past these eight titles of God when we sing or pray this psalm. Maybe we can pause on each one and reflect on the grandeur and power of God. I’m reminded here of my friends in Islam who honour God in the Quoran with 99 beautiful titles!
And yet a more intimate title appears in verse 28: “You will be Light for my candle and bring light to my darkness!” For Christians we can recall our own Baptismal Candle, deriving its light from the great paschal candle, the Christ the redeeming Light of the world.
In our weekend liturgy, the first phrase of our psalm, “I love you Lord, my Strength!”, makes love the important link between the first reading from Exodus 22 and the Gospel. In the Exodus reading Moses gives the balance to the basic commandment: “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength!” Moses balances this with example of loving our neighbour especially when he or she is in debt. The law of loving our neighbour is then quoted by Jesus in the Gospel, when a Sadducee asks Jesus about the greatest of the Commandments. Jesus goes on beyond Moses to say, “You must love your neighbour as yourself!” He is speaking to a person whose sect maintain the Temple finances and who associate with the upper social and economic echelon of Judean life.
The psalm comes to an end in a joyful song of praise with what sounds like someone raising a glass and proposing a toast to God: “Long life to you, God! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour!” (Psalm 17/18:46 ).
Let us cheerfully and humbly join in that grateful toast to our many-titled Lord!
above: the audio of the commentary
below: the psalm setting recorded by Catriona Glen