Monday, July 26, 2010

Psalm 61 – A Pilgrim’s Vow to God

“Hear my cry, O God;

listen to my prayer.

From the ends of the earth I call to you,

I call as my heart grows faint;

lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”

~Psalm 61:1-2 (NIV).

This psalm begins quite desperately. The psalmist is lamenting their personal situation and imploring God for help; just to get to that slightly higher place where the confines of this living Sheol seem not so entrapping.

I guess we’ve all been there. This is one reason the Bible is a glowing encouragement to us always; it never ceases to give voice to our more haranguing questions, especially the lament psalms.

In two verses of the second half of Psalm 61 (vss. 5a, 8b) mention is made of vows. These verses ‘bookend’ this part of the psalm and lead us to thought around it. They, indeed, lead us to consider the foregoing four verses, as we ask the question, “What did the psalmist vow?”

Firstly, let’s answer an obvious question.

Aren’t Vows a Little Like ‘Oaths,’ i.e. Aren’t They Bad?

Jesus discussed ‘oaths’ in his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:33-37. In this, Jesus is contemplating for us consideration of the fear of the Lord (rightful respect of God as Almighty Judge) before we do or say something silly.

The concept here is we all have to live with the prospect of our promises coming home to roost; with every promise comes the time to deliver on the promise. We think of the story of Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:30-40 as the consequences of rash vows and we know now the very real issues that come into play when we too make rash promises.

But the psalmist’s promise—his vow—is not rash. It is founded on the promise to, “dwell in [God’s] tent forever [and to] take refuge in the shelter of [the Lord’s] wings” (verse 4).

This is a safe vow. It’s an appropriate oath. It’s not an oath that’s going to backfire in any way. Indeed, the psalmist—and it is likely David—is arranging an iron-clad pact here with God in verses 5b-7.

Our Pacts with God

We’ve all heard the term, “Equal Opportunity,” and know where it’s heading. It’s equity for all. But equity is not always equal, however balanced it sounds.

Equity in this relationship with God is a great arrangement, however.

Although we’ll never be equal to God, we enjoy the favour of God in our pilgrimage to and with the Spirit, as God enjoys our love and faithfulness—certainly under grace.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

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