Psalm for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Psalm 18: 2-4, 47, 51

This week’s responsorial comes from Psalm 18, a royal thanksgiving for a military victory. Written by King David, the psalm in its entirety gives thanks to God for the many deliverances he had wrought for David; it is thought that the king composed this hymn of praise as a way to preserve these feats in his own memory and to pass down knowledge of those feats to the people.

This psalm of praise is duplicated in 2 Samuel 22.

I love you, O LORD, my strength,

The psalm opens with a litany of invocations acclaiming God as savior.

The word translated here as “love” (rāham) is very unusual. It comes from the word for “womb” and denotes the kind of intimate love a mother has for the child she is carrying or has already borne. It conveys the sense of elemental connection, a connection with something that has come forth from one’s very being.

This word is usually employed to characterize the extraordinary, even incomprehensible, love that God has for human beings. The claim to love God with this kind of devotion is a bold claim indeed.

O LORD, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. My God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!

Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this psalm is the array of metaphors employed to characterize God. Although each has its respective meaning, they all embody some aspect of deliverance.

  • “Rock,” “fortress,” and “stronghold” depict God as an impregnable bulwark against which no enemy can triumph.
  • “Shield” and “horn of salvation” are military accouterments that protect the soldier from harm.
  • A “deliverer” (miplāt) is one who rescues someone from a calamity such as war.

All of these characterizations imply that the psalmist is protected by God from grave danger of every kind.

Praised be the LORD, I exclaim, and I am safe from my enemies.

In a world where people feel they are always at risk and where violence is the common response to threat, the idea that a powerful God will step in and act as one’s defender is very consoling.

The LORD lives and blessed be my rock! 

The victory cry “The LORD lives!” is a cultic formula that extols God’s dynamic activity. Because the psalm speaks of the psalmist’s need for defense and deliverance, the reference is certainly to God’s saving activity in history.

Extolled be God my savior. You who gave great victories to your king and showed kindness to your anointed.

The last verse includes a royal theme. David gives God the glory of the victories, deliverances, and advancements of his people. What began as a hymn of thanksgiving has become a doxology, a prayer in praise of God’s mighty accomplishments.

The perspective of this psalm changes in the New Testament, in light of how Christ achieved his glory, as king of nations, by obediently doing his Father’s will, and of how the nations came to acknowledge him through the preaching of the gospel.

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