Psalm 27

The Presence of God

When have you realized God was present? When did you yearn for God to be present?

An experience of God is addictive. We have a sense of overwhelming power and peace, a sense of our insignificance and overwhelming love. When we have such an experience, we might feel small, but we can just as easily feel that we are in good hands. With God, evil will not touch us.

When the experience is over, we feel at a loss. We want to be with God again. He becomes our focus, our goal, and our beloved. Without him, we feel incomplete. We want him, we need him.

Psalm 27 touched on these two experiences. 27:1-6 was a statement of the believer at the height of an experience with God. 27:7-14 was a prayer to return to his presence. The language of the believer (statement vs. prayer) has led some scholars to posit two poems were woven together to form the single psalm. Despite this theory, the change in language did reveal the presence-absence nature of the religious experience.

1 YHWH is my light and my salvation.
Whom shall I fear?
YHWH is the strength of my life.
Of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers came at me to eat up my flesh,
even my adversaries and my foes, they stumbled and fell.
3 Though an army should encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear.
Though war should rise against me,
even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I have asked of YHWH, that I will seek after,
that I may dwell in the house of YHWH all the days of my life,
to see the beauty of YHWH,
and to inquire in his temple.

World English Bible

Psalm 27 began with two rhetorical questions. With God present, what did the psalmist fear? Despite the siege of the enemy, God would rescue the believer (especially the king) from the time of test. As the profane saying goes, I "might be up to my eye balls in alligators," but I will still place my trust in the Lord. (27:1-4)

5 For in the day of trouble he will keep me secretly in his pavilion.
In the covert of his tabernacle he will hide me.
He will lift me up on a rock.
6 Now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me.
I will offer sacrifices of joy in his tent.
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to YHWH.

Where did the ancient Hebrew believe God dwelt? In the Temple. This was a place of divine presence and, so, safety. A topography of the Temple and its environs might help in understanding 27:4-6. If you have ever seen a picture of the Old City in Jerusalem, you saw the Dome of the Rock monument dominate the landscape. This Islamic shrine approximately stands where the Temple stood, at the high point of the city built in rough terrain. In the time before Jesus, Herod rebuild the Temple and his palace (adjacent to the Temple). The Temple with the palace were built to be easily defended as well as easily seen by defenders to strengthen their spirits. (It is interesting to note that Jews fiercely defended the Temple against the Romans in 70 A.D. after the walls of Jerusalem were breached; when the Temple was mysteriously set on fire and was quickly consumed, resistence to the invaders ceased.) The security that the Temple mount offered allowed the king to worship in defiance of a siege (27:5-6). "Tent" (27:6) was another name for the Temple; during the Exodus, the tent was a forerunner to the Temple.

7 Hear, YHWH, when I cry with my voice.
Have mercy also on me, and answer me.
8 When you said, "Seek my face,"
my heart said to you, "I will seek your face, YHWH."
9 Don't hide your face from me.
Don't put your servant away in anger.
You have been my help.
Don't abandon me,
neither forsake me, God of my salvation.
10 When my father and my mother forsake me,
then YHWH will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, YHWH.
Lead me in a straight path, because of my enemies.
12 Don't deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen up against me,
such as breathe out cruelty.
13 I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of YHWH in the land of the living.
14 Wait for YHWH.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage.
Yes, wait for YHWH.

27:7 marked a turn in tone. The psalmist now sought the presence of God in the "dark night of the soul." Still, he had hope that God would take care of him, even if he was rejected by his clan (rejection by parents would mean a rejection by extended family in ancient Semitic culture; 27:10). He prayed for a calmer existence and rescue from enemies (notice the change in tone between 27:5-6 and 27:12). The psalm ended on a note of longing for God to be near and of hope for his eventual arrival (27:13-14).

The religious experience shifts from a realization God is present to a yearning for Him to be near. Psalm 27 was a response to the two extremes of the religious experience. Like the psalm, our prayer life should be built on those two emotions. In fact, we should pray to focus on the perceived presence and absence of God.

How have you responded to God's presence or absence this week? How has your prayer focused upon these experiences?