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Psalm 151

David Cowles

Mar 1, 2023

“But deliver us from evil,” this last verse is the key to the entire prayer.

The Book of Psalms consists of 150 songs praising or exhorting God. This essay, however, will suggest that there may be at least one more Psalm in Judeo-Christian scripture. We’ll call it ‘Psalm 151’…but you’ll recognize it as ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’


Even though Jesus gave us this prayer half a millennium after the majority of the Psalms were composed and complied, the Lord’s Prayer has all the defining characteristics of a Psalm. It praises God; it petitions God; and it celebrates God’s active presence in the world.


The Old Testament Psalms praise God for being God, exhort God to be God, and celebrate God being God. When we read the Psalms, we seek nothing less than to uncover the mind of God (his values) and discover his will. We seek to conform our minds to God’s values and our actions to his will.


The Lord’s Prayer occurs twice in the New Testament, once in Matthew and again in Luke. While the two versions have much in common, there are differences. Furthermore, the form of the prayer most of us recite today is not a literal translation of either scriptural version.


But none of that matters! Psalms are meant to be liturgical. The version of the Lord’s Prayer that we recite as part of our various Christian liturgies is the version that concerns us here:

Our Father,

Who art in Heaven,

Hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,

Thy will be done,

On Earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

As we forgive those who trespass against us,

And lead us not into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.



The Lord’s Prayer begins by addressing God, our Father… Yahweh. We praise God for his transcendent role (“who art in heaven”) and for his immanent role (“hallowed be thy name”). Alfred North Whitehead (Process and Reality) points out that the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is not God’s postal address; it’s who God is, transcendentally, i.e., beyond spacetime.


Likewise, the ‘name’ of God is not just something he’s called; it is who God is, immanently, i.e. inside spacetime, inside history. The ‘name of God’ is the role God plays in the world. This is why when Moses asks God his name (Exodus), God responds, “I AM.” First and foremost, that is how we know God…as Being itself.


The Lord’s Prayer begins by praising God for who he is, transcendentally and immanently. From praise, the prayer turns to petition. In fact, the Lord’s Prayer includes three distinct types of petition, all found throughout the Book of Psalms. The first petition is eschatological, the second is social (concerning justice and peace), and the third concerns our own personal salvation.


The petitioner is certainly not bashful.  Why ask for anything less than everything?

The first petition is delivered on behalf of the entire universe: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”


In the language of Whitehead, the Kingdom of God will ‘come’ when all entities conform their ‘form’ to God’s Primordial Nature (values) and their ‘aim’ to God’s Consequent Nature (will). When our values conform to God’s values and our actions conform to God’s will, then has the Kingdom of Heaven ‘come,’ then is God’s will ‘done.’ At that moment, Earth and Heaven become one (I Cor. 15: 24 – 28).


The second petition concerns justice and peace, two major themes in Psalms. “Give us this day our daily bread.” Here, we are not praying for some private or transitory advantage. (“O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.” – Janice Joplin.)


Rather, we are praying for ‘bread,’ the precondition of all life, and not just for ourselves, but for everyone, and not just for today, but for every day.

Implicit in this petition, but unstated, is our commitment to do nothing to interfere with the broadest possible distribution of this ‘bread’ for which we have prayed. We cannot pray for generosity and practice greed. We have conformed our values to God’s values; now we must conform our wills to God’s will.


God’s advocacy for the poor and the oppressed and his obsession with justice permeate the Book of Psalms. The Lord’s Prayer echoes Psalms’ insistence that everyone’s basic human needs be satisfied. A society that follows God’s titular commandments, but does not provide adequately for the legitimate needs of all its members, will find itself very far indeed from God.


In fact, nowhere in the Lord’s Prayer is there even a mention of obeying God’s commandments. Psalms generally celebrate God’s law, but they invariably go further: they strive to discover his will. And his will, what God wants for the world, is only hinted at in the law.


In the Gospels, much of Jesus’ criticism of his fellow Pharisees is based on this distinction between God’s law and God’s will. This baffles many of his hearers: how can you separate the two? Psalms show us the way: begin by uncovering God’s eternal values, then cultivate an appreciation for his universal law. Only then can you hope to discover his specific will: WWYD? (What would YHWH do?)


The physical petition concerned justice, but it is paired with a spiritual petition concerning peace: “And forgive us our trespasses.” Our physical survival is dependent on ‘bread;’ our spiritual survival is dependent on ‘mercy’ or forgiveness. If ‘bread’ is a pre-condition of justice, ‘forgiveness’ is a pre-condition of peace; and justice and peace are both pre-conditions for the full realization of God’s Kingdom on Earth.


“Feed us and forgive us!” Isn’t this the baseline prayer that children everywhere direct toward their biological fathers? Why then not all creatures toward their ontological Father? Theology just doesn’t get any more concrete than this! So, we specifically add to our petition, “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” 


When we pray Psalms, we first and foremost seek to discover and interiorize the mind of God; secondarily, we seek to learn God’s will and project that will into the world through our actions. If compassion is a value in the mind of God, if mercy is an act of God that we praise, then it is imperative that we also practice mercy. We must forgive those who trespass against us, in the same way God forgives us who trespass against him.


We prayed first for the coming of God’s Kingdom, the union of Heaven and Earth. Then we prayed for the twin values of justice and peace. Everything is going so well. We are praising the God of Heaven and Earth. We are conforming our minds to his mind, our hearts to his heart. We have agreed to treat no man unjustly and to forgive all trespasses. What could possibly go wrong?


Temptation! It is temptation that throws us off our game. We see an opportunity for some private power, profit or pleasure that we can only realize at the expense of another. Perhaps we just don’t care, but more likely, we find a way to rationalize our actions. In either case, we undermine the foundations of justice and peace we just laid down.


“And lead us not into temptation.” Our penultimate petition is for God to shield us from such temptations, knowing that we are weak and can’t fend them off for ourselves.


Now the climax! “Deliver us from evil.” At the end of the day, all evil comes down to one thing: ‘privation of being.’ Lying, stealing, injuring, all encroach on the being of others, and the ultimate deprivation of being is death itself, mortality!


The Old Testament Psalmist is obsessed with mortality, whether it be the risk of personal death in battle or the existential realization that “every man is but a breath (Ps. 39) …his days are like a passing shadow (Ps. 144).”


It does no good for God to feed us and forgive us…or for God to share with us his values or teach us his will…if we’re all destined for the ontological scrap pile. The last thing we ask of God, the one thing we MUST ask of God, is not to allow our existence to be erased. Our final plea can be nothing other than “Deliver us from evil!” It sums up all the others. “Does dust give you thanks?” (Psalm 30)


The final “Amen,” not found in either scriptural version of the prayer, completes the cycle. We began with “Our Father.” The Father is the ground of all Being, the source of all potentiality, “I AM.” It is from the Father (through the Son and by the Holy Spirit) that everything that is comes to be. When we say, “Our Father,” we celebrate the potentiality of the world.


When we close with “Amen,” we celebrate the actuality of world…the world, not just as pure potential, but as a completely realized matter of fact. God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Justice (‘bread’) and mercy (‘forgiveness’) do suffuse the world, and our futile, temporal lives are transformed and incorporated into God’s eternal life.


Psalm 151 is not just one Psalm among others, it is the prototypical Psalm. It summarizes the 150 Psalms that went before it into one, single, simple theological statement, one universal prayer. That is why the Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the most important collection of words ever written. 


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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