Commentary on Psalm 25:1-10
The first seven verses of Psalm 25 are, at the broadest level, a prayer for help. The psalmist calls upon God for relief from some sort of trouble involving unspecified “enemies” (2). As such, the prayer is far from unique—this is one of the more common types of text found in the Psalter. The challenge for the preacher is to identify and highlight some of the distinctive features of this particular cry for help and consider how they might inform and enrich the lives of the congregation, especially when the members find themselves in a position to call for God’s aid.
The psalmist asks that God might “not let me be put to shame” (2), that the “enemies might not exult over me” (2), and that the enemies might “be ashamed” (3). With no specific information about the identity or agenda of these enemies, there is little more to be said about the particulars of the psalmist’s situation. As the prayer continues, additional requests—or perhaps clarifications of the original request—are added. God is asked to instruct (4-5), to be merciful and forgive (6-7), and to remember (7). There are a number of potentially fruitful points of connection available here, and the preacher may choose to emphasize any of the elements of the prayer that seem congruent with the situation of the congregation. One such approach to the text could proceed along the following lines:
The psalmist’s prayer, like all the prayers of God’s people, is relational. When we pray for help, we are not merely summoning God to perform a service. Instead, we are placing our trust and hope in the relationship that exists between the Lord and us as his people.
As in all relationships, the relationship on which prayer is founded includes a role for both parties. In the case of the psalmist’s prayer for help, the role of God as the one who is to provide the help is obviously primary, but the role of the psalmist is also clearly defined: twice the psalmist claims to be one who waits for the Lord.
This waiting is not, and cannot be, simply a passive state of doing nothing until God takes care of everything. Instead, it might be compared to the state of an athlete, waiting to catch a ball. Such an athlete doesn’t just sit on the turf with closed eyes until the ball arrives. Instead, the player is attentively watching the ball and the deployment of the other players on the field and constantly adjusting position and stance, drawing on years of training and experience, all so that at the very instant that the awaited ball arrives, the athlete will be ready to explode into motion, making the very best possible use of the awaited opportunity.
Waiting for the Lord to manifest his power ought certainly to command as much careful preparation and attention, as much ordering of potential reactions, as fielding a ball. When the psalmist speaks of waiting on the Lord, it is a matter of preparing and being ready to act when the time of God’s deliverance comes, and the element of preparation, according to the Psalm, involves learning of the Lord’s ways and truth, under the instruction that God gives. For the church, this is a clear invitation to the study of Scripture as a necessary adjunct to the life of prayer.
Waiting, in this context, is also different from merely hoping. There’s a big difference between saying “I’m waiting for my ride to pick me up” and saying “I hope my ride picks me up.” It is the difference between confidence and anxiety. The difference between waiting for the Lord to answer prayer and merely hoping that the Lord will answer is of the same nature. It assumes confidence that God’s intervention on behalf of his people, while not entirely predictable in its timing, is inevitable. The classic cry of the Psalmist is not “Are you there at all, Lord?” but “How long, O Lord?”
We are of course also very interested in knowing what sort of divine help the psalmist is asking (and waiting) for. As noted above, the language of the prayer notes several aspects of the desired divine action, each of which offers an avenue for interpretation and connection. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the call for God to “remember” in verse 7. This divine remembering is not a matter of the Lord suddenly recalling that the psalmist exists, as if the fact has been forgotten. God’s remembering is more a calling to mind, a directing of the divine attention. The prayer of Psalm 25 asks God to call to mind not the psalmist’s imperfections and transgressions, but rather the psalmist as known only to God, the psalmist as claimed and loved in the primal moment of election as one of God’s people—one whose underlying relationship with God is sacred and unbreakable. Connections here to the thief on the cross pleading with Jesus to remember (Luke 23:42), or Noah adrift on the waters of the Flood until God remembers (Genesis 8:1) may be fruitful. According to the psalm, God’s remembering is sufficiently powerful and effective to include forgiveness, rescue, and victory over the schemes of the enemy. Such remembering is well worth the wait.
Verses 8-10, if included by the preacher in the text for the service, represent a sort of coda or afterward to the prayer, asserting that God is indeed the sort of God who does the things the psalmist asks for. The prayer, however, stands on its own as a viable lesson in any congregational context.