Psalm 25 – God, our Teacher
As you sow, so shall you reap.
Beware the yeast of the Pharisees.
Consider the lilies.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Every valley shall be exalted and every hill laid low.
Give and gifts will be given to you, good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing.
Happy are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours.
Into your hands, I commend my spirit.
Justice and peace shall kiss.
Know that I am with you.
Love thy neighbor as thyself.
Many that are first, shall be last.
Now is the kingdom.
Only in God is my soul at rest.
Peace I leave with you, peace that the world cannot give.
Quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.
Rest in the Lord and wait patiently.
Seek ye first the kingdom of God.
Take no thought for tomorrow.
Under his wings you find refuge.
Victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
You alone are Lord.
Zeal for your house will consume me.
We are in the midst of graduation season, with ceremonies filled with speakers trying to pass on words of wisdom to help the graduates live their lives from this day forward. Often speakers will use catch phrases or pithy sayings or quotes. What you have above is a rough form of an acrostic of Scripture passages, words worth passing on to graduates.
The older I get, the more steeped in Scripture, the more I find these words, written thousands of years before I was born, to be a source of help and inspiration. When I hear of accounts of scandals in the Catholic Church, I remembered Jesus’ words, “Do everything they (the Pharisees) tell you, but do not act like they do.” Or, line 2 of above acrostic, “Beware the yeast of the Pharisee.” Timely words, all these years later. If there was a perfect church out there, I guess I would consider joining, but I’ve yet to find that perfect church so I stick with the imperfect church that we have, following Jesus’ words and actions.
Psalm 25 is an acrostic lament. Acrostic poems in Hebrew literature take a variety of forms. The most common form is to begin each line with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Some forms might have couplets or three verses each beginning with the same letter of the alphabet then progressing through the alphabet. Psalm 119 is a masterpiece of acrostic poetry as there are 22 stanzas, within each stanza every line begins with the same letter of the alphabet.
In choosing an acrostic format, the writer limited himself, as with other forms of poetry. While the psalm is a lament with a focus on repentance and forgiveness, the verses do not fit tightly together with a unifying theme. In many ways it is a collection of wisdom sayings joined loosely together through the acrostic format and under a general theme of repentance and trust in God.
Another aspect of some acrostic psalms is the addition of an extra verse at the end, beginning with the letter pe, as we see in this psalm. Psalm 25 begins with aleph, in the middle at the 11th. verse is lamed and ends with pe, creating aleph, another literary device, found in Psalm 34 as well. However, Psalm 25 is not a perfect representation of this form of poetry. One letter, waw, is missing. Perhaps it was corrupted in translation over the centuries, still it is close enough to warrant the name acrostic. (if you noted in my “acrostic” I took liberty to leave out X – no words beginning with x in Scripture, following the example of this psalm.)
Acrostic Poetry as a Teaching Device
Acrostic poetry is a literary device lost in translation. We have nothing comparable. If I were to teach a class on Hebrew poetry, I would assign students to write an acrostic using our alphabet, as I attempted at the beginning of this post.
Acrostics were often used as a teaching device. Since the written word was not common at that time, Hebrews relied on memorization of verses. This is a mnemonic/memory device making it easier for students to remember. Often it may be used to connect a variety of wisdom phrases. While the overall tone of our psalm is a lament, you can see aspects of wisdom material in the passages.
The reason for the lament is not evident. Psalm 25 is a general one to be used by anyone in a time of distress seeking God’s help. It can be divided into three parts: verses 1-7 speak of the writer’s personal relationship with God; verses 8-15 deal with God’s relationship with people; then in verses 16-21 it reverts back to the individual relationship and his petition. Verse 22 connects the psalm to Israel.
At the heart of the psalm to me is verse 4 –”Teach me your ways, Lord.” Who is wise? He who would be led by God, who has the humility to be teachable, to admit he may not always know everything. Such are the wise. Unfortunately, sometimes before we can know the right path, we first have to see the wrong path.
True Wisdom – Allowing God to Guide our Lives
True wisdom is open to how God might be working now in our lives, not in the past. Knowledge of how God has worked in the past may be helpful but can also get in the way, as it did for the scribes who were incapable of believing anything new or accepting Jesus.
True wisdom recognizes that the things of this world are but transitory, that even though this earthly tent may be destroyed we have a heavenly dwelling that can never be destroyed. Even as our bodies are wasting away with age, as Paul tells us in Corinthians, true wisdom encourages us.
We learn from the past but we live in the present. True knowledge is always seeking out God’s ways, seeking to follow his path even when it takes you down a road you did not expect, recognizing that “all the paths of the Lord are faithful love.” (10) And so, it is good to wait for the Lord, as Psalm 25 instructs, to humbly ask God to be our teacher, leading us in right paths until He leads us home to him.
What might God be trying to teach you today?
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