PSALM – 16 (17),1.3ab,5-6,8.15
1 LORD, hear justice!
Hear my complaint, accept my prayer.
3 You search my heart, you visit me at night,
you test me, without finding anything.
5 I followed in your footsteps,
my foot never tripped.
6 I call you, the God who answers:
listen to me, hear what I say.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye;
in the shade of your wings, hide me.
15 And I, by your righteousness, will see your face:
when I wake up, I will be satisfied with your face.
IN THE SHADE OF YOUR WINGS HIDE ME
“In the shade of your wings, hide me”: this very small phrase gives us the precise framework of this psalm: it is about the wings of the cherubim which overhang the casket of the Ark of the Covenant; we are therefore in thought in the Temple of Jerusalem, in the most sacred place, the Holy of Holies, where, alone, the greatpriest entered once a year, on the day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Here, it is not a question of the great-priest, but of someone who hides, who comes to seek refuge near the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem. He is certainly hunted since he comes to seek refuge near the altar of the Temple and appeals to the justice of God; this is the meaning of the first verse (“Lord, hear justice”) and the last (“by your justice I will see your face”). If he is forced to submit his case to God, it is because he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice: this is certainly not an isolated case since we remember that the Prophet Amos had very harsh words about the workings of justice; speaking of judges, he said: “We change the law into poison, we throw justice to the ground”. (Am 5.7). Amos was preaching in the northern kingdom; in the southern one, it was no better: here is what Isaiah says in chapter 5: light the darkness, which makes bitter what is sweet and sweet what is bitter! (Is 5:20).
And besides, if Jesus could tell a parable featuring an iniquitous judge, refusing to render justice to a widow, it is that the case was not improbable; and he himself will be the victim of false witness. We have a trace of it here in the sentence “I call on you, you God who answers: listen to me, hear what I say…” implied by the judges here below, it is useless to to call, they do not answer, they do not listen… In such cases, when an innocent man was unjustly accused, he had only one refuge left, the Temple, which was an inviolable asylum; and there he submitted to what our Middle Ages called the “judgment of God.” It was his only chance. Here, it is certainly something of this order, since our defendant pleads not guilty “I followed in your footsteps, my foot never tripped”; today we would say that he made no mistake.
How the judgment of God actually took place, we do not know exactly; but it is really about this: “You probe my heart, you visit me at night, you test me without finding anything”. The simple fact of accepting to sleep in the Temple, completely abandoned to the judgment of God, was already a presumption of innocence; King Solomon, for his part, had provided for a formula of oath that the accused was made to pronounce: like ‘if I have committed the crime that you believe, then such misfortune happens to me’… if the accused agreed to take this oath, that he was really innocent; superstition was such at the time that no culprit would have run the risk!
KEEP ME LIKE THE APPLE OF THE EYE
He who speaks in our psalm is therefore quite certain of his innocence since he is ready to face the judgment of God; he knows he has nothing to fear. On the contrary, God will protect him, “keep him like the apple of his eye”. We find here the superb expression of the book of Deuteronomy and which passed as such in French: “The LORD meets his people in the land of the desert in the solitudes filled with wild howls. He surrounds him, he instructs him, he watches over him as over the apple of his eye. (Dt 32,10). Even today we say that we care about someone or something “like the apple of our eye”.
He is so sure of his innocence, our accused, that he calmly awaits the morning: “I, by your justice, will see your face; when I wake up, I will be satisfied with your face”. We find here the assurance of Job who dares to affirm: “But I know that my redeemer is alive, that he will rise last from the dust; and even if my skin were torn off, from my flesh I will see God. (Job 19,25-26).
When the people of Israel, assembled in the Temple of Jerusalem, sing this psalm, they proclaim their faith: they know that they will survive all those who wish them harm (as Paul will say to the Thessalonians in the second reading); because, once again, we know well that this man (of whom the psalm speaks), this hunted man, seeking refuge and justification in the Temple, is none other than the whole people. “I followed in your footsteps, my foot never stumbled”, is his protestation of fidelity; in the midst of all the temptations of neighboring peoples, Israel remained faithful to the One God. And it was in the Temple of Jerusalem and only there that he sought refuge. “I, by your righteousness, will see your face; when I wake up, I will be satisfied with your face”. It is not yet resurrection individual, but the chosen people know that nothing can completely crush it; for God cannot deny himself.
“When I wake up, I will be satisfied with your face”: this psalm was probably not written to announce the resurrection : but when we say it again today, in the light of the Resurrection of Christ, we recognize that he applies himself so well to it; after the night of death, we will wake up in the light of God. Already, even before the coming of Jesus into the world, the brothers whose story we read in the book of the Martyrs of Israel in the first reading, were able to say this when confronting Antiochus Epiphanes.
While awaiting final sleep, each night is an opportunity for us to abandon ourselves to the vigilance of God; we understand why our song of Compline takes up each evening the prayer of this psalm: “Keep me like the apple of the eye, in the shade of your wings hide me”.
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Sunday, November 6, 2022 – Catholic Church in France
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