Putting God in the World: Psalm 27 From Faith to Doubt to Action

Haim Watzman

There’s a canard that religious people hear again and again from their non-religious acquaintances: “I’m jealous. It must be such a comfort to be able to believe in God.” They haven’t read Psalm 27, which observant Jews recite twice daily from the beginning of the month of Elul (which began earlier this week) throughout the holiday season that concludes eight weeks later.

The psalm (Read the Hebrew text, the 1917 Jewish Publication Society translation, and hear the Psalm read in the original Hebrew here) belies such a naïve view of the relationship between human beings and God.

Famously, this poem seems to run backwards, if your standard is the assumption that people pray so that their prayers will be answered. It begins with a declaration of confidence in God’s protection, goes on to pleading, then to expressions of loneliness and doubt, and ends with a determined affirmation of God despite the uncertainty the poet sees in the world around him. The disparity of mood is so great that some scholars have suggested that the psalm is actually an amalgamation of two entirely separate works.

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