March 30, 2020

My Strength

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
—Psalm 18:1-6
The 18th Psalm opens with words of love for God. But the vocabulary is a bit deceptive in English. Though we usually have several words that can mean the same thing, apparently we're a bit short on words for love. That's because the first Hebrew word of this psalm is a bit unusual. אֶרְחָמְךָ is usually translated as love in English, but its actual meaning is not so much "I love you," but "I feel passion toward you." When this psalm was translated into Latin, therefore, it didn't open with the words Te amo (which we might have learned also means "I love you" in Spanish), but with Diligam te—more like "I delight in you."

So Psalm 18:1 becomes incredibly personal. I don't just love God, I delight in God, for God is my very strength. Perhaps that's why John Calvin noticed the different Hebrew word here, and said that it implied not so much delectability, but a trust in God's mercy. And this makes sense in context, for this psalm is said to have been written by David, who, when his life was being threatened, prayed to God for salvation, and God heard his prayer. Because it talks about being delivered from death, Psalm 18 is sometimes even thought of as an Easter psalm.

Humans can feel powerless when we're up against a strong enemy bristling with weapons. We can feel powerless against overwhelming forces of nature, such as a hurricane or an earthquake. And now we know that we can feel powerless against a microscopic virus. And so I like Calvin's interpretation of the first verb in Psalm 18, for I want to place my trust in the One who promises to be my strength, even when I feel like I have no strength.

Maybe I should constantly meditate on what it means to trust in God when I feel threatened, and what it means that God, my strength, can be trusted. But if not constantly, then certainly now. And it helps to know that not only am I praying as the psalmist prayed, but that I'm praying in union with millions of others across the globe who are feeling exactly as I do.

O God, you who brought Israel out of bondage, who made a shepherd boy Ruler of your people, and who conquered the grave in my Savior Jesus Christ, I bring you my prayers this morning, trusting in your love... All this I pray in the Name of him who taught me to pray: Our Father...

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