“When I meditate, my breath falters.” (Psalm 7…


Image: Detail of “The Hunt Patera,” depicting a Canaanite chariot and archer

This is one of my favorite psalms.  It starts with a classic plea of anguish; the psalmist’s whole body is wracked with despair, with particular mention of wringing hands.  In search of answers, the psalmist turns to the past — both the historicized past (the Exodus from Egypt) and the mythicized past (YHWH’s triumph over chaotic waters, depicted in archaic Canaanite tricola).  At last, insight comes.  When God acted in the past, his footsteps were invisible; the hand at work was that of God’s human servants.

With the massacre at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue on my mind, the despair of the psalmist is easy to relate to.  But the message still resonates: God’s power to act relies on our willingness to act as God’s hands.

(To the director: à la Jeduthun.  Of Asaph.  A psalm.)

My voice goes to Elohim, so I cry out.
       My voice goes to Elohim, so he can hear me.
On my day of distress, I seek the Lord.
       At night, my hands wring unwearyingly.
       My soul refuses to be consoled.
When I remember Elohim, I groan aloud.
       When I meditate, my breath falters.

You hold open my eyelids;
       I am too disturbed to speak.
I think about ancient days
       and remember years of distant past.
I strum a song to myself at night;
       I ponder and search my spirit.

Will the Lord reject eternally?
       Will he never show favor again?
Has his loving-loyalty ceased forever?
       Has [his] communication finished for all time?
Did God forget how to show grace?
       Did he close down his compassion in anger?  (Selah.)

So I say, “This is my anguish:
       the right hand of Elyon has changed.
I will remember Yah’s actions —
       yes, let me remember your ancient miracles.
I will mull over all your deeds,
       and ponder your accomplishments.”

Elohim, your path is holy.
       What god is as great as Elohim?
You are the god who works miracles;
       you made your might known to the peoples.
You redeemed your people with your own arm,
       the children of Jacob and Joseph.  (Selah.)

The waters saw you, Elohim —
       the waters saw you, and they writhed.
       Aye, the Great Deep shuddered.
The clouds poured down water;
       the atmosphere thundered.
       Aye, your arrows rushed past.
The sound of thunder came from your wheels; [1]
       your lightning bolts illuminated the world.
       The earth shuddered and quaked.

Your path was through the sea,
       your trail was through the mighty waters —
       but your footprints went unseen.
You led your people like a flock
       by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

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