A call for fire signals a longing for rescue, a desperate need for security and evidence that we are not alone in the battle. Whether a soldier sends out a request for artillery fire, close air support, or reinforcements, or a hurting individual or group prays for relief, the caller for fire craves a quick response, an acknowledgement that they are not alone in the battle. They want a sign that help is coming, that there is purpose in continuing to fight.
The lament that we call Psalm 28 is that kind of call for fire. Its sender (composer) confesses fear that no response will come, that God will ignore the message. The psalmist addresses God as the root of security. God is a Rock, but the prayer reveals uncertainty as to whether footing will be secure. A sense of desperation is tangible:
“To you, LORD, I call; you are my Rock, do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who go down to the pit. Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place” (Psalm 28:1-2).
In radio communication, a frantic call for aid may not be heard if it is sent out on the wrong frequency. The sender waits vainly for a response to a message that his or her headquarters never heard. In prayer, our expectations may be so firmly defined that we refuse to acknowledge any other indication that our God answered our request. We may be so convinced of the justice of our own cause that we ignore evidence to the contrary and so plead for something that is contrary to God’s will. In this prayer, the psalmist signals his fear of hearing no answer by urging God not to ignore him, by identifying God’s silence as a death sentence, by stressing repeatedly his need for his cry for mercy to be heard.
He fears that God will ignore him and punish him as if he were one of their common enemy, the wicked. He fears being taken out by divine “friendly fire.” In good call for fire format, he identifies the enemy, asks for specific appropriate action against them, and explains the reason for such action. He prays,
“Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts. Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back on them what they deserve” (Psalm 28:3-4).
Peter Craigie suggests in his commentary on this Psalm that verse 5 is a liturgical response by a priest to the cry of the earlier verses that has been voiced by worshippers in the temple, a response that confirms God’s hearing and answer of the worshiper’s prayer (Craigie, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary, p. 237). On the other hand, it may be the confidence of the praying person that God will recognize the targeted wicked and deal with them as they deserve:
“Because they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD and what his hands have done, he will tear them down and never build them up again” (Psalm 28:5).
After prayer that the wicked will suffer the consequences of their behavior, now follows confident faith that God will hold the wicked responsible for what they have done. After the psalmist prays that God will “bring back on them what they deserve,” verse 5 answers that “[God] will tear them down and never build them up again.”
Faith-grounded prayers of lament often end in celebration of joyful anticipation or the dawning awareness that God already has begun to act. The darkness decreases and the nightmare fades. The fear of God’s silence segues into joy because of what God has accomplished. The psalmist rejoices:
“Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one” (Psalm 28:6-8).
In the aftermath of trauma, shock drowns out sound. It paralyzes. Faith, if only for a moment, dissolves. The victim can only hear the sound of silence, the apparent absence of God. We long for security, for a rock on which we may anchor, for a shield behind which we may find protection. In our bewilderment and fear, we want a guide, a shepherd, who will lead us to safety. The Psalmist in Psalm 28 reminds us that the Lord is our Shepherd and concludes his prayer with this request to the God who sees and hears:
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Psalm 28:9).
When God is silent, pray with confidence that he sees and that he hears. Pray hard, my friends.
Faithful Shepherd, Hagar called you the “God who sees.” We pray because we believe you also hear, and act. When we discern no reply, are you silent? Or does our confirmation bias, our insistence on one specific answer, deafen and blind us to your life-giving, justice-advancing answer? Open our eyes, that we may see what you do. Unclog our ears, that we may hear how you respond to our cries. Defog our minds, that we may comprehend fully the implications of your will and detect the shadows of your acts. See, hear, and guide us with loving care. In Jesus’ name, amen.
- Quotes from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.