Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Psalm 25 is the first of seven acrostic psalms, in which each verse starts with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This is a constrained way to write poetry, so why would someone choose this form?
The simplest reason is that the acrostic is a memory aid. For example, if I quote an acrostic poem in English, I can easily recite the A B C stanzas, and then confidently inform you that there are 23 more stanzas which I have forgotten. What a great aid to memory! We know how many verses there are and what letter each verse begins with. The acrostic form also presents an interesting challenge to the poet — it allows him to demonstrate his skill and vocabulary in a simple but difficult form — a bit like the sonnet in Shakespeare’s time. And finally, an acrostic psalm communicates that God is interested in all of life from A to Z.
Psalm 25 shows God in two roles that have been mentioned but not highlighted in previous psalms .
1. First, God is the one who forgives sin. Verse 7 says, “Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways” and verse 11, “For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity for it is great.” The poet is realistic about human stubbornness and failure. But he trusts God to offer forgiveness, instead of administering punishment, justice, and consequences. But sometimes of course, our sins receive both consequences and forgiveness.
2. Second, the psalm shows God as teacher.
Verse 4: Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths.
Verse 8: Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
Verse 12: Who then fears the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.
The tone of Psalm 25 is almost mellow. We see the poet as less desperate than in some earlier psalms, more somber or perhaps even melancholy. He says,
Turn to me and be gracious to me
For I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart
And free me from my anguish (vv. 16 – 17).
Our father, the poet describes the precipice of shame on which we live. We are ashamed of our broken relationships, of our failures in serving you, of our slackness in seeking and loving you. We work for success and joy, but often fail. With the poet we pray, “We trust in you, do not let us be put to shame.” Form our lives and characters so they display your glory, God, instead of the shame of our inadequacy. May people see in us the radiance of your presence, not shadows of our fear and guilt. “May those who are treacherous without cause be put to shame” (v. 3). May those who trust in idols be ashamed they serve delusions. “Do not let us be put to shame, guard our lives and rescue us” (v. 20).
Our father, like the poet, we have unhappy memories of the sins of our youth. We pray, “Do not remember the sins of our youth and our rebellious ways. According to your love remember us, for you are good” (v. 7).
Our father, we need a teacher who instructs sinners in what is right, who teaches us to make good choices, who warns us when we are wrong and encourages us when we are right. With the poet we pray, “Show us your ways, O Lord, teach us your paths” (v. 4). Train us in the way of righteousness, lead us on the path of truth. We don’t need another course in behaviour management. Give us a change of heart, a new worldview, transparent motives, and stronger desire for you. Inform our choices, discipline our actions. Help us learn a way of being and a way of life that honors you as creator and respects us and our neighbours as creatures in your image.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.
Footnote: See http://www.scielo.org.za/pdf/ote/v21n2/17.pdf for a discussion of acrostic psalms.