All vocations and gifts are valuable in the sight of and economy of God. I’m not saying that this one or that one is particularly better. They’re different. We need accountants. We need entrepreneurs. We need dishwashers. We need soldiers, city council women, doctors, nurses, creatives and computer programmers.
We also need poets. Do we need poets? I don’t know many poets, though I do know a few. Author Eugene Peterson delves into this important life and role of a poet in his commentary on 1 & 2 Samuel. His words strike a cord not familiar to many of us because we don’t often think about language, poetry and the way words work. David’s poems make things. He believes God is personal and requires a personal response. He’s praying and writing poetry together. Eugene Peterson says, “David is a poet, a theological poet – a God noticer, a God namer of the best kind, noticing and naming God in the immediacy of revelation and experience.” This is how language works. It notices. It names. It makes meaning. It experiences. It keeps us from only counting and describing. Those are valuable exercises and needed. We couldn’t live in a world with only poets. But what if we didn’t have poets or painters or novelists? We’d lose our stories, our pictures, our signs and symbols. Language helps shape and make us.
We don’t only describe. We also form.
David writes about and sings about himself in God’s story. He’s a part of creation. He’s a part of Abraham, Noah and Moses. He’s involved and intertwined into the story. He didn’t make the story, but he’s making it. Peterson says that David is showing us how to read the Bible. It’s not all about us. But neither is it cold and calculating. It’s not all of for grabs and for us to decide everything. But it’s also not all information factoids for us to assimilate. It takes knowledge, wisdom and imagination. Eugene Peterson writes, “God does not go through all the trouble of revealing reality so that we can stand around as spectators and look at it. The revelation is provided so that we can enter and become home at it.”
How does David enter into it and become at home in it? How does he fuse together this poem and this prayer?
Over and over again he calls God his rock. It’s one of his favorite metaphors. He sings, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.” (2 Samuel 22:2-4)
Even the lowly rock gets a spiritual meaning and metaphor. If you’ve been to the Grand Canyon, you’ve seen how majestic and magnificent rocks can be. We climb them. We skip them. We carve them. We drill into them. We can hold them in our hand and they jut out of the ocean. We stand in awe of them, and we cut tunnels in them because they’re in our way.
David says God is my rock. He’s my fortress. He’s my deliverer. He’s strong. He’s stable. He’s at the bottom. He’s solid. He’s not going anywhere.
God has never described himself as a rock. God isn’t literally a rock. But it’s a metaphor. He’s like a rock. He’s like a fortress. He is our refuge, our ever-present help in trouble.
It’s God who saves us. He delivers us. Not our mighty men, or our wisdom and wit. Not our morality or our good living. Not our politics, and not our denomination. Not our child rearing skills. Not our cultural awareness or our critique.
It’s God who’s the rescuer. David keeps coming back to that over and over again. I am saved. He heard my voice. God was and is on high. He’s the rock. He’s in the temple. He made the earth and it trembles beneath him. Smoke comes from his nostrils. This is amazing imagery as God thunders and sends lightening to save his people.
To save David. David’s entered the story. This isn’t just about the flood and the plagues and the Red Sea. It’s about David. David writes, “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.” (2 Samuel 22:17-18)
David needed saving in the Garden of Eden. David needed saving in the great flood. David needed saving from Egypt. David needed saving from Goliath. David needed saving from his sin with Bathsheba, from himself.
So do you. So do I. So do all of us. So does everyone. This isn’t just a story. It’s our story. We’re in it. It’s about us. It’s about you and me. All stories are.
Here’s a poem I wrote back the month before I married Julie:
A Far Worse Psalm 39
Each man’s life is but a breath.
Rising up your acacia temple
Enough gold to stop brining
and singing glory to the Most High
In your plans we touch,
make the hydrogen
Detail mounted with fifty hoops
makes me see the fleetingness
That apartment is too open,
No tent of meeting, no veiled faces
The psalm of one who could not
get to TaiChing if he tried,
but knows its land well.
Too wondrous, your vision
catches Es sideways from
twenty miles. While mine cannot
grasp this one
much less a lifetime
Too wondrous, your plans
of those fifty golden hoops, I see
one, understand one half of one,
wish for one half of fifty.
This fleeting life for your glory
or $300 rent is all there is.