David’s got it backwards! He’s supposed to talk first about the difficulties and then, and only then, about his trust in God’s salvation. So backwards does it sound that many scholars think two psalms have been joined to form Psalm 27, and that awkwardly. But perhaps the psalm is not so awkward.
In verses 1-6, David expresses his confidence in God, a song of confidence. In verses 7-13 he sharply appeals to God for help against his enemies, a psalm of individual lament. His experience may just serve as a harbinger of our own as we seek to let the truths we know dominate the reality that we live.
What do we fear? Three times David claims not to fear (vv. 1, 3), before his prayer asking God not to forsake or reject him (v. 9). Rejection, abandonment, loneliness, failure, and defeat haunt our sleep and burden our days. Abandonment by others may be extreme, so trust must be deep: “Even if my father and mother abandoned me, the Lord would take me in” (v. 10). If fear is the great mover, trust is the great rest.
What are our struggles? “Evil men attack me … false witnesses who want to destroy me testify against me” (v. 2, 12 NET). The evil one launches his onslaught against the faithful and fruitful. Temptations and struggles are often timed to coincide with those moments of greatest effectiveness in service and deepest intimacy in relationship. The easy confidence of the first section gives way to a certain desperation in the second. The rubber meets the road as David deals with faith in the midst of life in all its ugliness. The three anxious negative verbs, “do not” (v. 9), echo the threefold affirmation of no fear in the first part.
What is our one desire? “I have asked the Lord for one thing – this is what I desire! I want to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, so I can gaze at the splendor of the Lord and contemplate in his temple” (v. 4). David wants, above all, to live in God’s presence, represented here by the tabernacle or temple. Is there any desire that ought be greater than this one? “The psalmist’s desire for God above all other things is ultimately obedience to the first commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me'”/1. The one desire provides focus for his efforts, sharpness to his faith.
What are our choices in life? “Teach me how you want me to live; lead me along a level path …” (v. 11). The level path is not necessarily easy, but clear. Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” God’s “way” implies moral behavior within the setting of the psalm as the road to the sanctuary. To get to God, we have to act a certain way, living by his principles.
What is our bedrock faith? “Where would I be if I did not believe I would experience the Lord’s favor in the land of the living?” (v. 13). The phrase “I believe” is “a powerful word signifying ‘I have anchored my life on the conviction that I will live and receive good from the God in whom I trust'”/2. We know that “in the land of the living” vindication will come (v. 13). So we wait (v. 14).
The real world of pain and suffering cries out for answers. We have those answers, but we sometimes take a while to apply them to our situation. The sooner we do, the greater our peace as we wait for the hand of God.
1/ R.J. Clifford, Psalms 1-72, AOTC (Abingdon 2002) 146.
2/ L.E. Toombs, “The Psalms” Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary (Abingdon 1971) 271.