I have long been a lover of the Psalms. I have chosen one of Eugene Peterson’s titles to describe a particular aspect of the book and which will hopefully enhance this reflection on Psalm 68:1-10,32-35. This title is simply: Psalms, Prayers of the Heart (Peterson,E.H.2000.InterVarsity Press, Madison.US)
In this title, Peterson has a chapter called “Praying our Praise” (2000:44). Although he uses Ps 150 to illustrate the psalmist’s need to pray his/her praise, it seems to me that vvs 3,4 in Psalm 68 call for an exuberant prayer of praise from those who love God and in this psalm specifically because God is a ‘Father/mother (own interpretation) to the fatherless’ (vs5a). In the light of so many orphans due to AIDS related conditions, where often the lost parent is a mother, I especially warm to the feminine face of the Father in caring not only for those who are left behind (fatherless/motherless) by placing the lonely in families (v6a);but also for those who are living with the HI virus…he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy (6b).
But, as verses 6c-9 demonstrate, this God is an awesome God who is in control of the elements and who is ignored at our peril. Listen to the use of elements to display this awesome power… both for hardship and for blessing. I have chosen FOUR:
Verse 6c : ‘he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land’
Vss 7c,8 when you marched through the dry wasteland the earth trembled and the heavens poured down rain.’
Verse 9. ‘You sent abundant rain, O God, to refresh the weary land’
Verse 10 ‘There your people finally settled ,and with a bountiful harvest, O God, You provided for your needy people’ (own emphases throughout)
We are all ‘needy people’ and for different reasons; but it seems to me that in the light of the HIV pandemic here is a specially needy group of people some of whose needs I can only begin to imagine…the need for proper management of the virus whether by use of Anti-Retroviral Drugs or not; the need for good nutrition; the need to travel sometimes long distance to clinics; the needs of orphans; the struggle with stigma …and many more. Yet/But for those of us who love Him or who want to love Him, and according to the psalmist of 68 God will provide for His needy people(vs 10).
Perhaps there is a need at this point to return to the two opening verses of the Psalm…here the Psalmist implores God ‘to rise up and scatter His enemies’(1a);’to blow them away like smoke, melt them like wax in a fire’(v2). Strong words indeed for those who are going their own way rather than God’s way. I am challenged by the plea to ‘scatter enemies’ in v1 and wonder if this could not become our prayer to ‘scatter the enemies’ within HIV…those enemies of lack of education about the disease; those enemies which still encourage stigma; those enemies which disable treatment for whatever reason; those enemies of gender domination and violence to name but a few … rise up and scatter these enemies blow them away like smoke and melt them like wax in a fire’(v2) could be our cry.
Verses 32-35 bring us back to where we started this reflection…’Praying our Praise’ and they demand attention in closing it…here are the psalmist’s commands to us who are needy/poor in spirit in any way to focus our praise on God(v32) to the ‘one who rides across the ancient heavens, whose mighty voice thunders from the sky’(v 33); furthermore we are commanded to ‘tell everyone about God’s power, His majesty, His mighty strength’ (v34). May this ‘awesome God give power and strength to his people’ (v 35); and most especially in this context, to all who are living with and affected by HIV.