Psalms 9 & 10 – The Lord is Known by His Justice

This pair of psalms form a carefully constructed prayer of praise for both the glory of the Lord and David’s trust in the righteous justice by which the universe is ruled. He begins with anticipatory praise, lifting Yahweh high as he looks forward to what will be visited on his enemies:

I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.

I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you. For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously. (vv 9:1 – 4)

The combined message of nine and ten is threefold; humility, limitation, and responsibility. From a human standpoint, not three of our favorite topics. To realize our humility is to recognize how little is truly under our control. No matter how high our position, when we set our own throne before that of the King we are yet again aware of how insignificant it is. When our humility fails us, we rebel against this King thinking ourselves higher than the Host. The warning is clear:

The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug; their feet are caught in the net they have hidden. The Lord is known by his justice; the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands. (vv 9:15- 16)

If our perspective remains on the earthly plain, we can easily convince ourselves of how powerful we are. The humility engendered by an encounter with the Almighty leads us clearly to realize our limitations. David sees clearly that the authority granted him by the Lord can be used in terribly destructive ways:

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises. He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. (vv 10:2-3)

Does the evil man filled with hubris get away with this arrogant behavior? Perhaps, for a time, but as we soak in the words of both of the psalms we return to the glorification that filled the first few verses. We trust and know, based on the ultimate goodness of our God, that righteousness will prevail.

Finally, the rapaciousness of the ‘enemies’ that lurk in the second of the two psalms is in direct contrast to the responsibility for creation that was assigned to the men and women who are to populate it. It is provided for our use but not to be plundered without concern. To do so is as much rebellion as denying the Creator His place and authority. Circling back to humility forces us to answer; are we enemies to any degree?

Psalm 8 – What is Man

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (v1)

This statement of effusive praise brackets both ends of the psalm. The verses sandwiched between offer some of the most overlooked words of encouragement. The psalmist poses and answers the question that elicits the praise:

what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. (vv 4 – 5)

Humankind is not some kind of nuisance creation, destined to corruption and rebellion against their creator. No! Humankind was created specifically to be close to God, dependent on His presence for their security, perseverance, and satisfaction. Men and women were created with purpose, not to merely live out their days in empty pursuit of experience. David looks to the immeasurable complexity and glory of the heavens and compares the insignificant speck that is humankind. The Lord reveals to him that as much care went into the creation of man as in the laying out of the stars. The heavens look in on humans with envy because the people are much, much closer to God than the sky.

The joy of God’s eyes, the creatures that he will one day sacrifice His Son for, cry out,

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (v9)

Psalm 7 – Acquit Me O Lord

The psalmist expresses his innocence against all charges in this prayer by casting his fate completely into the hands of the Lord. We are not told what the charges are, but they must rise above the level of even human judgment. David cries out his appeal;

O Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

O Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. (vv 1-5)

Only the pure of heart can make this bargain for we who approach the throne must know that God searches our hearts and knows what a human judge could not decipher without proof. This becomes even more critical if we follow the psalmist in crying out for satisfaction in judgment against our accuser.

O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. (v 9)

Before this becomes our prayer, we too must walk the path of light. If any portion of us remains in the shadows we will be tempted to hypocrisy in accusing others of similar guilt. The Spirit searches us day and night and, if we listen, will exert a pull to us out of the dark and convict us when we choose to stay. We are thankful for the imputed righteousness that we have received as believers but our task is to be transformed so that we reflect to a higher and higher degree the source of the righteousness.

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High. (v 17)

Psalm 6 – Personal Travail

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint; O Lord, heal me, for my bones are in agony.

My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long? (vv 2-3)

Waiting on God for relief, for an answer, for direction, for anything is difficult because we measure time in the finite scope of minutes and hours and days. With each turn of the calendar or tick of the clock we see our patience tested as our agony continues. The psalmist give us the most personal psalm we have encountered yet in the collection. He is expressing the pain of his condition personally rather than as the voice of all people. His words express the personal relationship with his Lord in which he views himself. He knows that Yahweh will hear his personal plea amidst the voices of all of the people. This confidence encourages him to pray,

Turn, O Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.

The psalmist expresses his assurance that his condition will be addressed based on God’s love, his unfailing, unbreakable, unceasing love. Modern theology diminishes this aspect of God’s character but without the omnibenevolence, the other parts of His character can become lifeless. Knowing and expressing confidence in His unfailing love can lead us also to a new experience, becoming a psalmist ourselves. The love of God and His love for us is not fossilized in the pages of the psalms. You too can create psalms of your own, whether it be from deep personal agony as in this example or from the heights of praise that we see elsewhere. God is interested in hearing your prayer no matter what the source.

Psalm 5 – Lordship and Mercy

To reach out to God in praise is natural to most Christians. On some level, each of us is grateful for the sacrifice and salvation afforded us by the Creator of all and we find joy in proclaiming this gratitude in words of positive affirmation. We understand that praising God for His greatness, telling Him how wonderful He is is much different than the same interaction on a human level. God’s arrogance is not fed by our praise; our proper relationship to Him is. A common feature that we encounter in the psalms are words of praise, directly addressing God by crying out the magnitude of His awesome nature. Another feature that is more jarring to modern ears are the words that emphasize the fundamental nature of God, His absolute holiness.

You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.

The arrogant cannot stand in your presence; you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors. (vv 4 – 6)

How often do your prayers, personal or corporate, remind God of His holiness? The psalmist throws a wide net in these two verses that unsettles. “All who do wrong” are hated, lies bring abhorrence. To meditate on these statements brings nearly all of us to the realization that we can easily find ourselves falling into these wide, wide categories. Does the God we praise also hate us? The answer is found in next verses.

But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house; in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple. (v7)

Only by the mercy of the One we praise can we approach the holy throne. The psalms contrast the people of mercy, God’s people, and those who choose against Him, His enemies. The contrast is less an ‘us and them’ statement as it is a recognition that we are sustained purely by the mercy that God offers. The line between the loved and unloved is very thin indeed. Praise Him.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (vv 11-12)

Psalm 4 – Answer Me When I Call

How many times have our prayers started with a pleading before the throne?

Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer. (v1)

A silence in response to our plea can be interpreted as God not hearing our prayers. Our inclination is to look to God and wonder why He ignores us. Shouldn’t we look within first? Is our relationship such that God is inclined to hear from us? Are we living in rebellion and in expectation that God hears us? Before we bank on his righteousness, that is, His promised response to those who love Him, we should be first concerned with the state of our relationship.

David speaks to his enemies in hopes that God hears the travails that he faces. They attack his reputation and disdain his God and still David tries to proclaim the truth to them.

Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord will hear when I call to him. (v3)

And he beseeches them to put their trust in the right place, to understand that their anger is misplaced in the king. If they search their hearts, David’s enemies can trust that God is willing to reach out to them.

In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.

Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. (vv4-5)

David closes with a cry to God to show His glory, to light the world. Seeing this glory would certainly change one’s perspective, how about yours?

Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. (vv 6b-7)

David closes with a smile, knowing that he will rest peacefully. God may be momentarily silent, but He has things well in control.

Psalm 3 – I Wake Because You Wake Me

The first titled psalm in the psalter gives us an idea of the imminent threat that will influence many of the writings to come. There is danger all around and yet, the psalmist speaks from assurance and faith. His cry, O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him” (v1-2) appears at first to be a challenge but reading quickly into the following verse shows that it was a just a set up so that he could proclaim his trust.

But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. (vv3-4)

Perhaps the depth of his trust is expressed in the next two verses. One who is facing death alone must be constantly vigilant lest the enemy descend in a moment of inattention. So great is his trust in the Lord that he sleeps soundly, knowing that he will be sustained through the night and awoken in the morning if his protector so deems it. In this trust, the psalmist has nothing to worry about or fear because anything that befalls him is a part of the Lord’s greater purpose.

We can know this peace despite the turmoil of our lives. It’s all rooted in trust and the one in whom we place that trust. Where’s yours?

Psalm 2 Rebel In Vain

The second introductory psalm contains a note of incredulousness; why do you rebel against the true Lord in vain?

Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Let us break their chains, they say, and throw off their fetters. (1 – 3)

We live in an age where the highest aspiration is individual liberty, that is we are not ruled by anyone but ourselves. Even if we give passing acknowledgement to God, we are bombarded with the message that we are little gods of our own sphere. God chuckles…and then He rebukes.

The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, “You are my Son, today I have become your father.(4-7)

The speaker shifts in this scripture but we must read the previous verses as addressing the Davidic dynasty. Are we tempted to read Jesus into this? Of course! Context rules though and we must exercise prudence in the approach we take. The anointed King will answer to God and be blessed by Him accordingly. Those considering a challenge to his kingship are warned that any attack will not be against the king alone, but his Father as well. The invitation to place their allegiances is extended,

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (10 – 12)

The remaining psalms rest in the final encouragement, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

Psalm 1 Rootless and Fruitless

Blessed is the man

    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

    or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

    which yields its fruit in season

    and whose leaf does not wither.

    Whatever he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!

    They are like chaff

    that the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

   but the way of the wicked will perish.

This beatitude is placed intentionally at the beginning of the Psalter to invite us, the billions who have read and recited this short psalm, to drink deeply of God’s word. We are blessed in making his way our way, to meditate daily on it so that it becomes who we are. As we are transformed internally, we become rooted in the kingdom, anchored to the nourishment of Life. We are blessed!

But not so the wicked, they are without roots that can enable them to stand against the buffeting of life. They are blown this way and that by everything that the world offers them. Jesus speaks of these adrift souls in Matthew (7:24 – 27) in the parable of wise and foolish builders. Those who anchor themselves survive the wave, those who place their faith in the shifting sands are lost. We lash ourselves to the Lord and nothing will buffet us.

Could it be clearer?

The Psalms

image The one hundred and fifty psalms collected in the scriptures are very nearly a bible unto themselves. These praises, prayers, and laments have spoken to the spectrum of human emotion and experience century after century as God’s people try to comprehend what it means to be just that, God’s people. The psalms have been a part of devotional bible reading and cried out as individual prayer because of the depth of the psalmists soul that the Spirit revealed for inclusion in the Word. The Psalter has a revered place in worship beyond the pulpit as well. The psalms often find their way into the call to worship and the musical selections. The Psalms provide us with God’s word for all seasons of life.

My next series of bible study posts will be on the psalms, one at a time. I invite you to contribute to a dialog on the meaning and theology of each of these important portions of scripture. Have they affected your life or your relationship with God? How does your church utilize this book? Will we be different when we finish this time together.