Psalm 25, Parallelism, and Humility
Trusting in affliction… Humility.
What characteristics does the life of someone who trusts God demonstrate while undergoing affliction? Psalm 25 gives us some examples of the multi-faceted answer to this question. Certainly there are many themes that could be derived from this Psalm, but we are going to use parallelism (see parallelism) to focus on humility (see humility). True humility (as defined in David’s article) is determined by our view of our relationship to God; it is not how we treat other people, but how we submit ourselves to Him. Psalm 25 illustrates this truth and the centrality and importance of humility are demonstrated by parallel structure in verses 7-11 of the Psalm. Verses 1-6 set the context for verses 7-11:
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2 O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
3 Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
6 Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
(Psalm 25:1-6, ESV)
Focus on Humility
Now let’s consider the parallel structure in verses 7 – 11. I have arranged the verses to illustrate the parallelism:
7 (A) Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord! 8 (B) Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 9 (C) He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. 10 (B’) All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 11 (A’) For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (ESV)
Verses 7 and 11 focus on the difference between the Lord’s character (good and upright) and the psalmist’s (sinful and guilty). Notice how this dichotomy illustrates humility based on the psalmist’s perception of his relationship to God.
Verses 8 and 10 describe the Lord’s “way” or “paths.” Earlier in the psalm, the psalmist stressed how he wanted to know these paths (verses 4-5). In verses 6-8, the psalmist tells what kind of paths these are: they are paths of love and faithfulness, good and upright.
Verse 9 is in the center of this parallel structure, consequently it contains the main point or theme.1 This verse continues to emphasize humility by stating it twice2 and assuring that the Lord will guide those who show humility in “His ways.” But why is this verse at the center? Why should it be the center of our attention?
The psalmist desires a good and upright life and realizes that God’s paths are the only solution. He also recognizes that he is not capable of knowing or following these paths on his own, needing God’s help and teaching. But God can only lead those who will submit to Him, those who are humble. The opposite of humility is pride. A proud person tries to go his own way and does not willingly place himself under God’s guidance much less desire His paths.
There are other indications of the psalmist’s humility in Psalm 25: the Psalmist repeatedly admits his wrongdoings (verses 7, 11, 18) and repeatedly puts God above himself (verses 1, 2a, 5b, 14, 15, 21). These indirect references to humility give us additional insight into the character of the psalmist, and are examples of true humility. But why? Why does he desire God’s ways?
Benefits of Humility
By reading other portions of this Psalm we know that the psalmist is struggling with affliction (see verses 16-19, for example). Desiring help and hope in his time of need the psalmist turns to God. In the face of great struggle the psalmist recognizes the requirement of humility.
Verse 14 says, “The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.”3 The psalmist desires God’s friendship, in other words, knowledge of God’s covenant (God’s direction on how to live), which leads to integrity and uprightness (v 21) and to deliverance from affliction and sin (verses 5b, 15b, and 19-20). The challenge for us is to maintain our humility whether we are suffering or not. He stands ready to teach and guide us in paths of righteousness. But are we willing to assume humility, recognizing His place over us?
1 The central portion of Hebrew parallelism contains the main (central) thought and the surrounding text is written to add to that focus.
2 Verse 9 contains an embedded parallelism.
3 Verse 14 is another example of parallelism.
© 2011 – Kevin Fitting