Should We Wait in Silence?

by Pastor Larry DeBruyn for Contemplative Spirituality

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Contemplative prayer and Psalm 62:1.

Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from him cometh my salvation.” Psalm 62:1, KJV

Supporters of silent waiting in cite such Scriptures as 1 Kings 19:12, Psalm 46:10, and Psalm 62:1 to encourage the practice. Regarding the last mentioned verse, Richard Foster writes:

Contemplative Prayer is the one discipline that can free us from our addiction to words. Progress in intimacy with God means progress toward silence. “For God alone my soul waits in silence,” declares the Psalmist (Ps. 62:1). [1]

But does David’s description of waiting in silence qualify as a proof text for practicing listening prayer?

Psalm 62 was written amidst a personal crisis–evil men were out to “murder” David (Psalm 62:3b). The situation in David’s life that gave rise to this psalm is unknown. Absalom’s rebellion and attempted overthrow of David may provide the historical background for the psalm’s composition (2 Samuel 15:14; 17:1-4).

But whatever the life situation, having exhausted his human defenses and resources in the crisis, David said two times, “My soul waits in silence for God only . . .” and again, “My soul, wait in silence for God only” (Psalm 62:1, 5, NASB). While verse 1 is a self-declaration, verse 5 is a self-admonition. David enjoins himself to wait silently for God. But as Richard Foster employs the statement to mean, does David’s mention of “silence” indicate that he practiced silent or contemplative prayer?

First, it must be noted that the versions are not unanimous in translating the Hebrew word (dûwmiyah) by the word “silence”. The word can mean “a silence, a quiet waiting, or repose.” Some versions read “silence” (NASB, NKJV, RSV, and NRSV); others read “rest” (NIV, NAB, NCV, and Darby). The Hebrew word possesses either of those meanings. So in the psalm’s opening statement, David declared that he was experiencing personal peace in the midst of a life threatening situation.

Second, the Hebrew word order communicates that David’s focus is not upon the rest or silence per se, but rather upon the source of it. The psalmist’s confession is toward God. Literally, the opening affirmation of trust might read, Surely toward God is rest, O my soul . . . Of David’s frame of mind, one commentator writes, “The words have all been said–or perhaps no words will come–and the issue rests with God alone.” [2]

Third, David is not silent. As he speaks, his state of soul is confident, but realistic. First, he speaks to himself (vv. 1-2, 5-7). He confesses he “waits in silence for God only” (v. 1), and later exhorts himself, “My soul, wait in silence for God only” (v.5). Twice he confesses that God alone “is my rock and my salvation” (vv. 2, 6). David next addresses his enemies (v. 3-4), and asks them, “How long will you assail a man, that you may murder him, all of you . . .?Then he encourages fellow believers (v. 8-10) to “trust” in God and “pour out” their hearts to Him. He testifies regarding what God has told him (v. 11). And finally, in the psalm’s last verse, David addresses God (v. 12).

Does this sound like a man practicing silence? If David had been in a self-induced state of contemplation, he would not have written, or said, anything! But rather, he is assessing the danger, declaring his confidence in God, addressing his enemies, encouraging his own trust in God, and exhorting fellow believers to trust God too. The soul in a state of “faith-rest” will focus upon God’s care for it, but that attention will not be the result of “some mystical trance that enables it to ignore the nastiness of life . . .” [3]

Psalm 62 is not a call to unexpressed contemplation, but rather a song of expressed confidence. With integrity of heart, David affirms that he will rest and trust in God. Whether in silence or rest, David’s soul trusts in God. The psalmist is not providing an example for retreating into silence. Rather he is telling fellow believers to go to God; to “Trust in Him at all times“; and to “Pour out your heart before Him . . .” (v. 8).

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ENDNOTES
[1] Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1992) 155.
[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973) 221.
[3] Michael Wilcock, The Message of Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001) 221.

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