God’s Power and Justice
To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
If we would praise God acceptably, we must praise him in sincerity, with our whole heart. When we give thanks for some one particular mercy, we should remember former mercies. Our joy must not be in the gift, so much as in the Giver. The triumphs of the Redeemer ought to be the triumphs of the redeemed. The almighty power of God is that which the strongest and stoutest of his enemies are no way able to stand before. We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, and that with him there is no unrighteousness. His people may, by faith, flee to him as their Refuge, and may depend on his power and promise for their safety, so that no real hurt shall be done to them. Those who know him to be a God of truth and faithfulness, will rejoice in his word of promise, and rest upon that. Those who know him to be an everlasting Father, will trust him with their souls as their main care, and trust in him at all times, even to the end; and by constant care seek to approve themselves to him in the whole course of their lives. Who is there that would not seek him, who never hath forsaken those that seek Him? (Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary, Psalm 9:1-10)
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in thee,
I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High.
Although each phrase begins with “I” each points away from self and towards God. Yes, “I” exist, but my chief end is to “glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
When my enemies turned back,
they stumbled and perished before thee.
For thou hast maintained my just cause;
thou hast sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.
Thou hast rebuked the nations, thou hast destroyed the wicked;
thou hast blotted out their name for ever and ever.
The enemy have vanished in everlasting ruins;
their cities thou hast rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
These verses create discomfort to the post-modern reader (i.e., us). This is because those spoken of we today most naturally understand to be victims. And “victims” by definition occupy the highest positions of moral authority. Thus when the Psalmist speaks of their complete destruction our natural response is to take offense.
To begin, when the Nation of Israel entered the Promised Land they did indeed fight and in some cases utterly destroy the people already living there. However note that the Psalmist understands this consequence to be an act of God carried out by the people of Israel. Deuteronomy 9:5 (NIV) provides essential information for our understanding.
It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Even so, the thought of so extreme a judgement causes great distress. Our conception of God has become so dominated by the truth that “God is love” that the truth of “God is our judge” has been almost obliterated in many Christian minds. And yet, when Adam and Eve fell it was God’s judgement that (Genesis 3:19, NIV):
“By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Thus by God’s judgement we all will die in recompense for our sin. No-one is outside of this judgement, although as individuals and communities we meet this end in various and sundry ways according to God’s providential purposes. In this case it was God’s purpose to transfer the Promised Land to the people of Israel and to prevent the wickedness of the peoples already living there to influence God’s chosen people.
It would be a grave error to generalize from this specific instance to any nation’s contemporary situation. Yes, there are cases where warfare is a legitimate national policy. But this passage from the Psalms shouldn’t be used to justify warfare. Rather it should make us quake before the judgement of a holy God and ask what we do that is wicked in His sight.
But the Lord sits enthroned for ever,
he has established his throne for judgment;
and he judges the world with righteousness,
he judges the peoples with equity.
This passage makes it absolutely clear that it is God the sovereign judge that is here being discussed. But our post-modern mindset turns this situation on its head and presumes that it is we who are sovereign and God who receives our judgement. And the judgement of many, including many Christians, is that God has failed to live up to our moral standards! The pathetic, appalling arrogance that Christians should take this position vis-a-vis God is almost beyond belief. And yet, throughout the contemporary Western world this would appear to be the default position of Christianity.
The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know thy name put their trust in thee,
for thou, O Lord, hast not forsaken those who seek thee.
In what possible way can those Christians who see themselves as God’s judge “put their trust in thee” or “seek thee“? No, their trust is in their human selves, in their ideologies and their feelings. In their ideology it is the God of the Bible who is the oppressor. It is only in their ideology and feelings that any “stronghold for the oppressed” exists. But they are the pathetic deceived, and the end of their “kindness” is a totalitarian hell-state.
The silence of those of us who know better is in effect to be an ally of this wickedness.
Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Be gracious to me, O Lord!
Behold what I suffer from those who hate me,
O thou who liftest me up from the gates of death,
that I may recount all thy praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in thy deliverance.
The Psalmist doesn’t enjoy God’s blessings and protection because he is sinless. Rather, it is because he lives in right relationship to God, worshiping Him as the ultimate sovereign and source of righteous judgement upon His creation.
The nations have sunk in the pit which they made;
in the net which they hid has their own foot been caught.
The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
How can we but remember the soul-destroying, mass-murdering 20th century totalitarian regimes of Soviet Russia, Communist China and Cambodia, and Nazi Germany among others when reading these words? And how can we but point to the 21st century ideologues who pretend that these ideologies have been reconstituted to be the best path forward for human society as those breathing new life into ultimate wickedness?
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail;
let the nations be judged before thee!
Put them in fear, O Lord!
Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
Here is the answer to and judgement of the godless, grasping, vainglorious and greedy ideologues who demand our allegiance. They who have brought utter poverty of soul and hearth, who have sought for themselves worldly power and riches based on state organized terror, may our faith in the One Sovereign God “put them in fear” and testify that “they are but men!”