Psalm 27: My light and my salvation

This ardent, eloquent psalm enlarges on the themes it shares with its more subdued neighbors, Psalms 26 and 28: the Lord’s protection, the joy of his house, and the singer’s unquestioning loyalty and trust. See the second introductory paragraph to Psalm 26.

27:1–3. Whom shall I fear?

Light is a natural figure for almost everything that is positive, from truth and goodness to joy and vitality (e.g., respectively, Ps. 43:3; Isa. 5:20; Ps. 97:11; 36:9), to name but a few. Here it is the answer to fear (1, 3) and to the forces of evil. These are not underrated: the stronghold, or refuge, is a reminder that they may threaten one’s very life. In verse 2 RSV has needlessly relegated to the margin the picture of the enemy as a pack of hunting animals; it also misses the emphatic they in the denouement: ‘it is they who stumble and fall’ (NEB). In verse 3 we can get the feel of these threats by remembering David’s desperate situation in 1 Samuel 23:26f., or Elisha’s in 2 Kings 6:15. Cf. also Exodus 14:19f., where the Lord was both a light to walk by and an intangible barrier against the pursuer.

27:4–6. Sanctuary

As in the well-known 23:6, this is not an ambition to be a priest or Levite but to enjoy the constant presence of God which is typified by their calling. Note the singleness of purpose (one thing)—the best answer to distracting fears (cf. 1–3)—and the priorities within that purpose: to behold and to inquire; a preoccupation with God’s Person and his will. It is the essence of worship; indeed of discipleship. It will be elaborated in verses 7–12.

The present verses ring the changes on the theme of the Lord’s house, taking up various terms that one can use for a dwelling place. Temple (4) is the standard word for a divine or royal residence (cf. 45:15 [Heb. 16], ‘palace’) and need not imply that Solomon’s Temple was already built. Either this word or tent, as the place of worship (6), is being used for its associations rather than its materials (see also on Ps. 5:7), for they cannot both be literal; note too the vivid terms of verse 5, where shelter should perhaps be ‘lair’ (the same word as the lion’s ‘covert’ in 10:9; cf. also 76:2a [Heb. 3] with Amos 1:2; 3:8). The tent in this verse (5) speaks of the devoted protection that a guest would receive from his host, and the rock brings back memories of David’s mountain fastnesses: see on 18:1–3. With the tent of worship in verse 6, and the exuberant thanksgiving, cf. 2 Samuel 6:14–17; Psalm 26:6–8.

27:7–12. Thy face …, thy way
The triumphant scene just pictured is still to come; meanwhile there is little sign of God’s favour or that of anyone else. David gets back to the ‘one thing’ he has set his heart on (cf. 4), and holds on to the fact that the first move, after all, has come from God. He will not ask for our love (8a) and then withhold his own (9a). The point of verse 10 is probably hypothetical (cf. AV, NEB, JB): not that both of David’s parents have in fact disowned him, but that beyond their breaking-point the love of God would still persist; indeed that it begins where man’s leaves off. Cf. ‘Can a woman forget …?’ (Isa. 49:15).

But David is not only a worshiper seeking God’s face (8ff.); he is a pilgrim committed to his way (11), every step of it contested. He is very much in the world, and the prayer for a level path is not for comfort but for sure progress (as a moral term it implies what is right, or straight) when the merest slip would be exploited. The word for enemies (as in 5:8) may contain the idea of vigilance, according to a likely derivation; hence ‘my watchful foes’ (NEB); cf. Luke 11:54. In verse 12 the will might be rendered ‘the appetite’: it is the predatory picture of verse 2 again.

27:13, 14. Believe and wait

While some of the psalms contain an answering oracle (see on 12:5, 6) or an outburst of praise which is evidence of such an answer, whether heard inwardly or outwardly (cf. 28:6f.), others show the psalmist holding on in naked faith, as we may have to do.

The Hebrew of verse 14 begins with an unrelated ‘Unless’, which the Jewish scribes marked as a doubtful reading (the ancient versions do not have it). If it is authentic, it could be leaving the sequel to the imagination: ‘Unless I believed that I should see (etc.)—(how could I survive!)’. Cf. AV, RV; and see Exodus 32:32 for this construction. It does not materially affect the sense. In the final verse the psalmist may be addressing anyone undergoing such a trial, or may be speaking to himself, as in, e.g., 42:5, etc., to stiffen his resolve (the your is singular, as are the verbs, unlike those of 31:24, where see comment); or this may even be the Lord’s answering oracle. Whichever it is, the suppliant has no more to go on than the assurance that God is worth waiting for. But that is enough.