One thing I have a hard time relating to in the Psalms is the self-righteous claims of the psalmists. For example, there is Psalm 17:3 and following….
If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
If you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
My mouth does not transgress.
As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent,
My steps have held fast to your paths;
My feet have not slipped.
I do not think I ever feel like this, nor have I ever, or could I ever pray like this. The only one whose feet have not slipped is Jesus, and I am so glad he is my Savior.
Psalm 18 also has a bit of this same self-righteousness….
The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord,
And have not wickedly departed from my God
For all his ordinances were before me,
And his statutes I did not put away from me.
I was blameless before him,
And I kept myself from guilt.
Therefore the Lord has recompensed me
According to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
Despite this self-righteous tone, there are many lines I find I can use in prayer, like the beginning of Psalm 18….
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer,
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge,
My shield, and the horn of my salvation,
I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
So I shall be saved from my enemies.
This psalm was supposedly written by David on the day the Lord delivered him from the hand of Saul. However, it seems unlikely that David wrote the entire psalm since the psalm ends with these lines….
Great triumphs he gives to his king,
And shows steadfast love to his anointed,
To David and his descendants forever.
It seems much more likely that this psalm was composed about David, in his honor and putting words into his mouth, so to speak, than it was actually composed by David.
Psalm 19 is almost a perfect psalm. It begins with the adoration of God in his creation, something that comes naturally to most of us in certain times and places, yet here it is so exquisitely expressed. As C. S. Lewis says, between this poem and Wordsworth you get nothing equal to it on the theme of the glory of nature.
Then the psalmist makes, what is for him, a natural transition from adoring God in creation to adoring God in his law. The transition may not come so naturally for us as Christians today who delight more in God’s mercy than in his law, but we can still understand the ancient Jews reveling in the perfection of God’s law. This psalm, while not being a penitential one, is free from the self-righteousness we have seen in the previous two psalms. Here the psalmist is aware that he may have hidden faults of which he needs to be cleared.
This psalm was a favorite of C. S. Lewis who said of it:
Nearly all that could be said before the Incarnation is said in this Psalm. (Letter to Mary Van Deusen, February 5, 1956)
I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world. (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 63)
Psalm 20 is another example of a psalm written in honor of David, not by him. It is a perfect prayer for a godly king, but a bit of a come down after the soaring perfection of Psalm 19.