From the Rabbi: “When Evil Reigns Unrestrained”

There are times in our spiritual pilgrimage when it seems as if the whole world is set against us and we are confronted with evil in all its darkest hues. What does our worship look like then? In Psalm 5 malicious liars (Absalom and his council) have banded together and threaten King David’s life with a military coup, forcing the king to abandon his the city in a shameful, humiliating exit (2 Sam 15-16). Bruce Waltke comments on David’s faith in the midst of this evil context and I offer my personal reflections in the poem that follows.

In Psalm 5 corporate Israel typifies the corporate solidarity of the Lord Jesus Christ and his church whose life is threatened by fraud and deceit. Christ comforts his church, warning: “Slaves are not greater than their master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). In the alchemy of grace, God uses nefarious enemies to drive us to prayer and so to know him better and to participate more fully in redemptive history.[1]

Reflections on Psalm 5

The Watchtower
Caught in the crucible of evil, gashed
and bleeding through the terrors of the night,
your ’ebed[2] ever so carefully arranges
his well honed words on the altar;
lit with soul-fire,
they ascend like an ’olah[3] consumed in smoke –
a ringing cry splits the dawn
darkness flees
and our sentinel is seen standing
eyes fixed upon another place,
waiting for you in the watchtower.

Watching, waiting, gazing, penetrating –
its seems so foreign to my divided
distracted, doing heart,
but what little of it I have tasted,
has sent me longing for more
The Morgue
Caught in the crucible of evil
our ‘ebed is forced to stand up
and take a good long look at evil in the eye.
It is a dreadful trip to the morgue,
who can endure an autopsy?
But the medical examiner is relentless,
he pulls back the sheet, hands you the knife and says,
“Take him apart piece by piece.
He was a chain smoker, but don’t worry,
he’s dead, though he is still breathing.”
The gruesome task turns your world around
there are no more greys, or self-seeking lies
only flaming, everlasting truth
and the invitation to dine at Le Meurice
on the rue de Rivoli with Royalty.
Who could refuse?
If I’m honest…
I must confess I want to dine
in all the wanton extravagance of You,
yet I dread the thought of doing
what my father[4] did in the morgue.
Who will I see when the examiner
pulls back the sterile sheet…
will it be me?

The Party
From the towering heights of the watchtower,
out of reach of ribald rebels and bloodthirsty assailants
our ‘ebed peers past history’s horizon and sees
an explosion of light that sets things aright.
When the smoke clears
“unblemished eyesights now pierce time,”[5]
the future leaps out of its holding tank
to invade the painful present,
infecting everything it touches with simchah[6]
that spontaneous, unrestrained, riotous joy
that overtakes all our sensibilities,
such that even the Pope lifts his robes
to dance unabashedly like David before the ark of God.
It is a crucible of joy that remains and sustains,
it is perhaps the greatest gift poetry can give us,
or as we say among the “Men of Monday Night”
as we pass the cup and look into our brother’s eyes,
“It doesn’t get any better than this!”

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston & Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Lament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 24-25.

[2]ebed is Hebrew word for “servant.”

[3] ’olah is the Hebrew word for the “whole burnt offering” that was completely consumed in smoke.

[4] My father, Dr. Wendell Morgan, was a surgeon. But the image is dual edged. In one sense, Saul was David’s father, and the fear of every son is inheriting their father’s sins.

[5] This line is taken from Ionatan Ille’s Romanian poem “Vecernie,” translated by Marcelus Suciu.

[6]simchah” – the wondrous Hebrew term for unrestrained, full-bodied, spontaneous joy.

%d bloggers like this: