Drama from the Past
* God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.
“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”
God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.
The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth-quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.
God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.
Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)
“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”
“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”
*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19
When as readers we consistently keep Christ in view and use the key of the gospel message which he himself provided to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), much of the Psalter prophetically accommodates the apostolic kerygma (gospel message). In Psalm 88, Christ the Messiah, in his form as a human being (Philippians 2:8), prophetically laments his condition as he approaches the grave and then descends into it. Psalm 89 gives us another view of Christ’s persecuted life during his incarnation, with the difference that it stops short of his Passion week. Before we hear the psalmist’s lament, however, the reader is given a brief review in broad, comprehensive strokes of the biblical history of creation and the Davidic Covenant. (Link to text of Psalm 89: Link)
Psalm 89 Is Like Readers’ Theater
Dialogue is notably present in Psalm 89. Speech as a tool creates dramatic immediacy and truthfulness within the psalm. The quotations themselves unite Scripture into an organic whole, as one portion cites other portions. Speech causes the readers or listeners to recall the real history of Israel as God’s holy people.
One of the first tasks for the reader, then, is to recognize that speech occurs. The fancy word for this reading technique is prosopological exegesis (Matthew W. Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183f). Our task in Psalm 89 is made easier by the use within the text of quotation marks and identifying speech markers, such as, “I said, …” (v 2) and, “You have said, …” (v 3). Additionally, the text supplies a liberal use of second person speech labels, as commonly used in direct address: “you” (e.g., vv 8, 9, and 10) and “your” (e.g., vv 4, 14, 15). Finally, the use of first person singular in verses 1 and 50, intertwined with direct address (you) to God, provides a strong clue to the reader that dialogue is present. The reader can easily envision Psalm 89 being performed or read upon a dramatic stage, perhaps as a reader’s theater.
Where is the Speech and Who Are the Speakers?
The psalmist (the narrative speaker of the psalm, not the author) makes reference to himself as “I” in verse 1 and again in verse 50. As is usual in the Psalter, the first person psalmist does not identify himself. One of the first person speakers is God, as the entire context declares. Therefore, our task is to identify the voice represented by the other speaker, the first person psalmist. No universal agreement exists. If there were, there would be no need for me to write. Context, however, including the previously mentioned apostolic kerygma, provides sufficient clues for the reader to confidently assume that the speaker is the Anointed One.
- God as the reported speaker in verses 3-4 states the Davidic Covenant as it applies to Messiah. Verses 19-37 expand the terms of that covenant (see 2 Samuel 7:1-17). Details of this expansion, as in the original, indicate that the covenant extends beyond David himself and refer to God’s chosen Messiah, or Anointed (see vv 25-37, especially verses 27, 29, and 36).
- The gospel message, or apostolic kerygma, proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be Christ, God’s Messiah.
- Verses 50 and 51 (“Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 5with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed,“) in context of the larger unit unite the first person speaker and the referenced Messiah. The calamities described in verses 38-51 have befallen the Anointed One with whom God made the covenant, and by the use of first person singular in verse 50, the psalmist claims those calamities as his own.
The Four Sections of the Psalm
Psalm 89 tells the interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord. (I am indebted to Patrick Reardon for his observation of the sections in Psalm 89. While he identifies three sections, I find it more convenient to locate and describe four. See Reardon, 175.)
The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.
Creation: Verses 2, 5-18. God created all things, and his power is supreme, even over Rahab (Job 9:3). Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)
God’s Promise to Israel and Messiah: Verses 3-4, 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. Verses 15-18 provide the transition from the first section to the second. God’s people know and understand God’s nature as expressed in creation, and they are blessed because they walk in accordance with his nature.
In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.
Enter Messiah. Enter Discord. Is Something Wrong? This Reality Doesn’t Match Up with the Promise. Description of the Discord: Verses 38-51
Verses 38-51 describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with the following statements:
38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah
Messiah’s Prayer of Appeal (vv 46-51)
As we read Messiah’s prayerful protest to God, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had this psalm in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)
Summary and Conclusion
Psalm 89 concludes, as many psalms do, with a final word of blessing for the Lord. Here the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that his people worship and adore him.
Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?
Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contradictions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.
The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation of suffering do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many believers, if not most, do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.
In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)
The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.
Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:
38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … …
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah
Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.
Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)
Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.
Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?
All? Not just one or two but All? Not just the reds or blues, but all? Not just my enemies but my friends also? Me? Are you talking about me? The talented, the beautiful, the artsy, the spiritual, the meek, the humble, the poor, the victims, all? How can all mean all?
This post is excerpted and expanded from a prior post: Psalm 116: Christ Loves the Father. It promises to be technical. The substance of the article below demonstrates how the phrase, “All men are liars,” likely was spoken by Christ during his ecstasy, or passion, while hanging on the cross or at some time during the week before.
Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse.
NAU Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All men are liars.”
NET Psalm 116:11 I rashly declared, “All men are liars.”
ESV Psalm 116:11 I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars.”
LXE Psalm 116:11 And I said in mine amazement, Every man is a liar.
NIV Psalm 116:11 in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
“I said in my alarm, All mankind are liars.“
There are two phrases in Psalm 116:11. The first speaks of alarm and the second of humanity as liars. This discussion will begin with the second phrase. The presupposition is that Psalm 116 speaks of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
All mankind are liars. Scripture teaches that Christ’s love for his Father surpasses the unworthiness of the people for whom Christ died. (See Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3; and John 2:24-25.) When Jesus was tried, convicted, and hung on a cross, none came forward to speak on his behalf (Pilate’s wife did mention to her husband the nightmare she had experienced concerning him). There was no one to comfort him (Handel’s Messiah quoting Psalm 69:20). Because the human race, as represented by all who were gathered and by those who chose to stay away and avoid trouble, allowed and encouraged the great Creator’s crucifixion, they all in essence, denied his deity. To not receive Christ, to not acknowledge God’s love in Christ, is to lie. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18 ESV) In this sense, in the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of deity, all humankind was deceived and lied about the true relationship between themselves and their Creator/Savior.
I said in my alarm… The word “alarm” in Hebrew can mean to be in a state of alarm or to hurry or perform some action consequent to a state of alarm. The Qal definition in Psalm 116:11 is “to be in alarm.” (BDB Hebrew Lexicon) From the Greek Septuagint, the translated word is “ecstasy,” which refers to a strong emotional state that is not normal, in the sense of not usual. We say that, “So-and-so is beside herself with such-and-such an emotion.” It can be an emotion of great terror, bewilderment, astonishment, or any such. As the word is most often used in Scripture, the focus is on the state of the person which such a strong emotion produces. Such a state is other than the usual state of the person. It is a state that is figuratively laid beside one’s usual state. (BDAG, 3rd edition, 245)
The New Testament’s use of the word “ecstasy” occurs when someone witnesses a powerful miracle that overrides physical laws of nature (Mark 5:42, where Jesus resurrected a dead girl; Luke 5:26, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man; Mark 16:8, where the women were beside themselves in astonishment upon meeting the angel in Christ’s tomb, who told them that Jesus had arisen from the dead). Any strong emotional state caused by extreme terror or amazement can be called an “ecstasy.” A second meaning for “ecstasy” is a trance (cf. Acts 22:17, Peter’s vision of the blanket filled with unclean foods). This second meaning does not seem applicable in Psalm 116:14.
Continuing with the meaning of strong emotion, often brought on by great fear, the Greek word “ecstasy” appears in the superscription of Psalm 31, which is Psalm 30 in the Septuagint. The English translation of the Septuagint reads, “For the end, a Psalm of David, an utterance of extreme fear,” or, εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐκστάσεως in Greek. Jesus speaks Psalm 31:5 from the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and the whole psalm speaks of death and resurrection.
Further, Psalm 31:22a (30:22a LXX) reads in Brenton’s English translation, “But I said in my extreme fear [ἐγὼ δὲ εἶπα ἐν τῇ ἐκστάσει μου], I am cast out from the sight of thine eyes:…” A footnote gives the word “ecstasy” for the phrase “extreme fear.” The ESV for Psalm 31:22a reads, “I had said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.'” How very much in essence like Psalm 22:1a this is, which nearly all acknowledge is messianic, since Christ spoke these words from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Added to the context of the whole of Psalm 31, this particular verse adds to the evidence that the Greek word for “ecstasy” refers to the Passion of Christ.
Language usage provides yet another thread of evidence to the probable interpretation of the word “ecstasy” in reference to the Passion of Christ in Psalms 31 and 116. The English word “passion” derives from classical Latin “passiōn-” (OED). Applicable meanings fall under the categories of 1) “The sufferings of Jesus in the last days of his life, from the Last Supper to his death; the Crucifixion itself” (OED), 2) obsolete, “A suffering or affliction of any kind” (OED), 3) “any strong, controlling, or overpowering emotion, as desire, hate, fear, etc.; an intense feeling or impulse” (OED), and 4) “A fit, outburst, or state marked by or of strong excitement, agitation, or other intense emotion” (OED). These definitions are all similar to the definitions and context of the Greek “ecstasy,” “ἐκστάσει,” as used in Psalms 31 and 116.
While the Latin Vulgate Bible doesn’t use the Latin “passiōn-“ in correspondence with the Greek for “ecstasy,” in Psalm 116, it does use “excessu meo (Psa 115:2 VULM, Vulgate with Morphology),” defined as, “departure; death; digression; departure from standard.” The meaning “departure from standard” corresponds very well with the sense of “ecstasy” as an emotional state that is not normal, as in not usual, and in other words, an emotional state that is laid alongside of the usual, as in the phrase, “so-and-so is beside herself ” with some named emotion. (See above, BDAG, 3rd edition, 245.) The other Latin meaning for “passiōn-“, which is “departure; death,” as mentioned above in this paragraph, unquestionably corresponds with Christ’s Passion.
The combination of evidences presented here point to the strong possibility that when Christ spoke the words, “All men are liars,” in Psalm 116:11, he did so at his Passion, at some point during the week leading up to and including his crucifixion. It should not be difficult to perceive that Christ the man would have experienced great fear or alarm (Hebrew) both before and while he was being crucified. For example, Scripture testifies to his sweating which resembled blood in the Garden as he prayed concerning the trial and crucifixion that lay just ahead (Luke 22:44). With the definition and sense of the Greek word translated as “ecstasy” in mind, we could read Psalm 116:11 as, “I said in my Passion, all men are liars.”
In summary and conclusion, both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11– 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, quite conceivably make reference to the cross.
In the context of the whole psalm and especially verse 3, “The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish,” (ESV) a reasonable, expanded paraphrase of the intended meaning of verse 11, “I said in my alarm, “All mankind are liars,” (ESV) might be:
Experiencing great emotions of alarm and fear that accompany my intense physical suffering, as I approached the cross and now hang upon it, I realize that not one person in all humanity truly understands what is happening here and who it is they are crucifying. They are all deceived. There is none who are righteous, no not one. All mankind are liars.
Similar to the thought, as presented above, of all mankind being liars is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 2:8, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (ESV)
The interpretation given here that Psalm 116:11 gives a word Christ spoke during his Passion supports the themes of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Psalm 116 is a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God for rescue from death after great suffering. It includes the thought of martyrdom for the sake of salvation and the love of God. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself in love to the Father. He was alone, cut off from human support, wholly dependent on the faithfulness, goodness, and love of God to rescue him.
God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.”
How This Post Developed
Help me to understand what your precepts mean! Then I can meditate on your marvelous teachings. (Psalm 119:27 NET)
Sometimes a portion of Scripture opens to the understanding in a burst, a flash, all at once, like an experiencing directly in our heart. Gifts like these humble us, causing us to worship God, to thank him for his blessings in Christ, and to be amazed that the Spirit can speak his Word like this to us in such an intimate way. Other times, Scripture seems more like a brick wall, impenetrable, unyielding, or like hard dirt that must be mined. When meaning comes forth and gems begin to appear, once again, the heart is humbled, and we stand amazed at God for his goodness to us, his love toward us as displayed in his Word. This psalm yielded to this author without bursts, but with much prayer and multiple, patient readings. When the writer then places her thoughts alongside those of her favorite commentators and finds that she is in the ballpark, not far from the mark of respected others, she is humbly thankful for the confirmation of her meditation.
Psalms were written during the period of time when other Ancient Near Eastern literature was written. As a genre, the Psalter can sound remote to our modern ear. This need not be, since the psalms were intended for performance in Israel’s worship, whether through singing, recitation, reading, or teaching. Many reading this article may be familiar with a style of literary presentation called readers theater (or reader’s theater or readers’ theater). This is a minimalist performance in which actors read a script onstage in performance without memorization. There is no full set, nor full costumes. Readers theater is basically dramatic reading. As a dramatic production, readers theater can utilize a narrator, a chorus, individual characters, and dramatic tools such as flashbacks and fast forwards. Interactions between these are kept simple.
It is helpful to our modern ear to envision a specific psalm as readers theater. Given the dramatic nature of psalms, various timeframes are discernible, important periods of dramatic time, all revolving around Christ as center. These include the pre-Christ setting (prophetic), the incarnation (historical), the post-resurrection (historical), the end times (prophetic) and the eternal (by faith). Individual speeches within a given psalm may be placed in any one of these time frames, and they do interchange within single psalms.
The author’s viewpoint in the psalms is eternal. God the ultimate writer is not constrained by an Ancient Near Eastern time frame nor by any other. God is as concerned with us the present day readers as much as he was concerned with those who lived during the original recording of Scripture. Paul, the New Testament writer of many biblical letters, or epistles, appropriated Old Testament Scripture as having been recorded for application during his particular era, which was very future to the time when historical events were recorded in Israel’s distant past.
1 Corinthians 10:6 These things happened as examples for us, so that we will not crave evil things as they did. (NET)
1 Corinthians 10:11 These things happened to them as examples and were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come. (NET)
We today are still part of the biblical time frame named by Paul as “the ends of the ages.” Actually, we are nearer to the final ending than Paul was. What was true for Paul is true for us. God most definitely wants us to appropriate ancient Scripture as our own, relevant and applicable for today. God is not a stern, heavy-handed professor who crosses out the needs and heartfelt cries of our prayers with a large red pen, saying, “No, you are reading my psalms incorrectly.” It is his very own Holy Spirit who opens and intimately connects the words of the Psalter with our own hearts and life circumstances. He wants us to apply his psalms in personal ways in order to make them our very own.
Psalms 9 and 10: A Dramatic Interpretation
This is how I read these two psalms, how they make the most sense to me. I have joined them together as two parts of one psalm, as they are presented in the Septuagint, which is my bible of choice for the reading and perception of God’s intent in Psalms.
Psalms 9 and 10 represent three clearly discernible dramatic characters, or prosopa: 1) God, 2) the righteous, poor and needy individual, and 3) the wicked. As a Readers Theater, five speaking parts would be assigned: 1) God, 2) the righteous poor and needy first person singular speaker, 3) the wicked person(s), 4) a narrator representing God, and 5) a chorus/congregation. These are abbreviated in the script below as: God, the Righteous, the Wicked, Narrator, and Chorus.
The narrator may be thought of as a holy person, perhaps the Holy Spirit, who stands outside the action and commands a perfect view of all. He clearly advocates for God. The Chorus represents the congregation, both Old Testament and New. They also are clearly on God’s team. There is by no means any hard and fast line between the Narrator’s speeches and the lines of the Chorus. In most cases, one character could read both of these roles. Assigning two roles is an appeal to a more interesting readers theater.
Psalm 9 (ESV)
the Righteous: [in prayer to God] Psalm 9:1 To the choirmaster: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
2 I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
3 When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before your presence.
4 For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment.
5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
Narrator: [speaking about Christ the Lord] 7 But the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice,
8 and he judges the world with righteousness; he judges the peoples with uprightness.
9 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
Narrator: [speaking to Christ the Lord] 10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Narrator: [speaking to the Chorus/Congregation about Christ the Lord] 11 Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!
12 For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
the Righteous: [a flashback prayer illustrating “the cry of the afflicted” from the previous verse. The afflicted one is Christ in his incarnation] 13 Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation.
Narrator: [from the point of view of the future eternity looking back] 15 The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
Chorus: 16 The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. Higgaion. Selah
Narrator: 17 The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
18 For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
Chorus: [with a strong voice of triumph in address to Christ the Lord] 19 Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you!
20 Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men! Selah
Psalm 10 (ESV unless otherwise noted)
the Righteous: Psalm 10:1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
Narrator: 2 In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3 For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4a In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, …
the Wicked: 4b … “There is no God.”
Narrator: 5 His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6a He says in his heart, …
the Wicked: 6b … “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
Narrator: 7 His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8 He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.
11a He says in his heart, …
the Wicked: 11b … “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
the Righteous: 12 Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.
Chorus: 13a Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, …
the Wicked: 13b … “You will not call to account”?
Narrator: [to the Risen and Reigning Christ:] 14 You have taken notice, for you always see one who inflicts pain and suffering. The unfortunate victim entrusts his cause to you; you deliver the fatherless. 15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man! Hold him accountable for his wicked deeds, which he thought you would not discover. (NET)
Chorus: [expressing faith for the present moment and faith for the eternal future] 16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land. 17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear 18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Summary and Conclusion
The above represents one way of dividing Psalms 9 and 10 for performance in a Readers Theater setting. This is by no means the only way of dividing the script. The goal, however, is that the reader may begin to perceive for herself that there is speech in the various psalms of the Psalter, that more than one voice and one point of view are represented. Psalms are meant to be performed. They lend themselves easily to performance because they deal honestly and passionately with life’s most poignant times of crises. Where we walk, Christ, the ultimate human being, walked before us during his incarnation. Listen to the words of his prayers as man, relate the prayers, Christ as man, and the triune Godhead to yourself, and be blessed. God, as ultimate author, wrote the psalms for all believers of all ages to be active participants in them.
The needs and concerns of summer have already overtaken me. This will be the last post of the Christ in the Psalms series until next fall, Lord willing. My blessings!
God speaks the last word: his word is final, just, and determinative.
What does a “wicked” person look like?
Psalms 9 and 10 stand near the beginning of the Psalter, where themes mentioned in brief words of introduction are still being expanded. While judgment has been introduced in Psalm 1:5-6, Psalm 2:5 and 9, Psalm 5:5-10, Psalm 6:10, and Psalm 7:6, 9, and 11-16, there has been nothing like the detailed portrait of the “wicked” person as described here in Psalm 10:2-11.
The wicked person is someone who…
- arrogantly and hotly pursues the poor
- is greedy for gain
- curses and spurns the Lord
- wears pride on his face as he denies the existence of God
- is prosperous at all times
- is full of confidence in his belief that he shall never meet adversity
- curses and lies and oppresses
- injures with his words
- sets up ambushes and from hiding murders the innocent and stealthily watches for the helpless
- like a lion lurking in ambush, seizes the poor and pulls them into his net
- crushes the helpless until they sink down and fall by his might
- says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it”
We can see from the above that God’s main concern is relationship: How do people treat God? and how do people treat each other?
Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (NET)
This is primary to the God who is L-O-V-E. Psalm 10 spells out behaviors and heart attitudes of the “wicked” who are and do the exact opposite of what God in his love is and does. Only a person in complete denial would ever say that she has never met a wicked person. Our modern society abounds with such. God’s love sent his one and only Son, the co-creator, to hang naked as a human being on a cross and to painfully and willingly suffer and die there in order to forgive wicked people who want to return to him and be forgiven. God refuses no one; he accepts all; but he won’t compel anyone against their will.
God’s Word is Final, Just, and Determinative
Psalms 9 and 10 demonstrate how God gets the last word, that his word is just and favorable to the afflicted, the poor and needy, and that his word carries the power to execute what he decrees. Psalm 9 relates the final outcome of God’s justice in making the world right again, while Psalm 10 provides a close-up of what evil looks like in the present tense to those who plead for God’s merciful help for their defense and deliverance from those who are evil.
Psalm 9 opens with the praises and thanksgiving of a righteous suppliant *(See note), who recounts how God helped him in his great hour of need (verses 1 and 2). God’s help came in universal form, broad in scope and endless in time (verses 5 and 6).
Psalm 9:5 You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6 The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished. (ESV)
Verses 7-10 speak in general terms of the Lord’s eternal, sovereign reign, his goodness to the oppressed, their trust in him, and the Lord’s just and righteous judgments over all. Verse 11 is a call to praise, and verse12 proclaims how the Lord favors the afflicted over the persecutor. Verses 13-14 recount the prayer of a poor and needy suppliant, while verses 15-18 establish the final, favorable decree of God for the poor and needy. The wicked perish. Verses 19-20, functioning as a summary, plead with God to perform what the rest of the psalm states that in fact he will do.
Psalm 10, as summarized above, gives a detailed portrait of the wicked person (verses 2-11). The description of the wicked is sandwiched between a plea for God to act on behalf of the needy and helpless (verse 1 and verses 12-15). The psalm closes with a strong statement of faith in God, that he will bring final, eternal justice to earth (verses 17-18).
The Necessity of Faith
Psalm 9 recounts the thanksgiving of a suppliant whose prayers God answered by judging the world in righteousness, defeating the enemy who stood against both God and against the poor and needy whom God loves. It gives the larger picture, a view from the endpoint of eternity. Psalm 10 on the other hand, provides a portrait from ground level, what the world looks like now.
Psalm 10:1 Why, LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you pay no attention during times of trouble? (NET)
Psalm 10 ends with a plea and a statement of faith. Clearly, the world as a whole leans more toward unrighteousness than righteousness. One only needs to pay attention to the media for a short while to learn of all the millions and billions of people who suffer from one form of exploitation or another. What good are these ancient prayers prayed so many millennia ago, since the wicked still oppress the weak ones?
God has never promised anything except what can be accessed by faith.
Hebrews 11:6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (NET)
Psalm 9 speaks the promise, while Psalm 10 speaks to faith. Faith lives in an already-not-yet world. God’s promises have already been given and have been experienced in part by all believers, but many of his promises will not be fulfilled until most of us have already died. Hebrews 11 is an entire chapter that recounts the faith of Old Testament saints who died before receiving the fulfillment of God’s promises. The statement of God’s promises in Psalms 9 and 10 is very strong, yet the realization of them must await the eternity that follows the final judgement, that is, the realization of God’s full promise must await the end of the world as we know it. We will most likely die before we see the eternal promise fulfilled. Our faith, however, experiences these promises as fulfilled now.
Faith is torture for the flesh. Our flesh does not like to exercise faith, since our flesh craves satisfaction now. Faith must deny the flesh and command it constantly to wait. A biblical illustration of flesh versus faith is the narrative of Esau and Jacob. Esau caved in to his flesh and sold his birthright for a single bowl of stew, because his body was hungry (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob, on the other hand, waited and worked fourteen years to marry the love of his life (Genesis 29:20-30), then labored again to return to his native homeland (Genesis 30:25-43). Jacob controlled his flesh and seeded by faith his eternal future, while Esau allowed his flesh to control him and seeded the present. Esau cared nothing for God, while Jacob encountered God and experienced a life changing transaction with him (Genesis 28:10-22). Jacob responded to God by wanting him and by receiving what God wanted to give. The point is that practicing faith is so hard as to be impossible for those who have not got it (Esau). Faith is a gift (Jacob).
Except for the few who have intellectual interest, the psalms must appear impermeable and repetitive, like watching paint dry, if they are read apart from the eyes of faith.
How Does Anyone Get Faith?
Faith is a gift from God.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)
Gifts come in two ways: unexpectedly or by asking.
- God often chooses people for specific tasks and provides an overwhelming argument as to why the person should believe him. The apostle Paul’s conversion is a good example of this method of receiving faith (Acts 9:1-22).
- A common way to receive the gift of faith is to ask God for it. The conversion of the Philippian jailer provides a good example of receiving faith by asking (Acts 16:22-34).
Having faith is not like having air. God always rewards faith by providing tangible evidences, such as those the psalmist recounts in Psalm 9:3-6. Consider the description of faith given by three translations.
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see. (NET)
Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (KJV)
Hebrews 11:1 Faith assures one of the substance of hope, providing verification of invisible realities. (MacDonald Idiomatic Translation, MIT)
God helps our faith, which is intangible, by giving us tangible evidences. In Psalm 9, the speaker saw his enemies actually turning back, stumbling, and perishing. Jesus Christ saw God perform astounding miracles through him, and he experienced his own resurrection. For ourselves, God helps our faith by answering prayer in real time–by healing the sick, by providing for us financially, by bringing to nothing the threats of our enemies, by any number and kind of miracles large and small, and by his Word.
Faith is a spiritual “something” within believers that God encourages and grows by his own Spirit indwelling the believer and by his Word. Faith is a transaction between the person and God. As a person puts her trust in God, God in turn entrusts himself to her. And just as some children need more adult encouragement than others, so God gives tangible evidences that encourage faith to some more than to others. But it is the trust in God and the commitment of our needs to him that pleases God. He is a good God who provides good things for his children.
Listen to Jesus–
John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”
17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said,`I have no husband,’
18 “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.
20 “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father.
22 “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.
24 “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (NKJ)
So once again, how does anyone get faith? Answer: by asking God for it. Here are just a few examples of how you might word your request.
Lord (notice the humble acknowledgement of God as “boss” and the willingness to approach him on his own terms), I don’t have faith (notice the humble confession of need). Please (notice the humble acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty and willingness as the weaker party to receive from his hand) give me some (notice the faith inherent in the desire to have faith and in the spoken request for it.)
If you get this far in your petition to God, you can be one hundred percent (100%) sure that he will answer you affirmatively. God is good! He loves you!
Lord, I don’t believe in you. Please help me to believe (notice your desire to believe–that is sufficient).
Dear God, I don’t know if you even exist. But if you do, I want to learn more about you.
Once again, if you’ve gotten this far in your petitions in all sincerity and truth, God has chosen you because he wants you to believe in him. He himself has placed this prayer on your heart because he wants to give you the gift of faith to believe in him and in Jesus Christ whom he sent to open the way for you to return to God your Creator.
No step is too small. Even half a baby’s first baby step is enough, just so you step toward God your Father and not away. Try it! He will catch you in his loving arms.
*Note: A righteous person, as defined by usage in Psalms, is someone who commits him(her)self fully to the Lord. She looks to the Lord for all her needs and tries to please him in all she thinks, says, and does. Her motives and heart are pure; she is 100% on the Lord’s team. Jesus Christ, as incarnated human being, is the ultimate Righteous Person in the Psalter.
Please tune in for the sequel to this post, which will present these same two psalms, Psalm 9 and Psalm 10, in a Readers Theater format. It is scheduled for Friday, May 25, 2018.
As it breaks out with joyful praise, Psalm 8 is a first day of the new week kind of psalm. It voices neither petitions nor statements of personal need. It is a Sunday worship kind of psalm, the first of its kind in the Psalter.
The Orthodox Church uses Psalm 8 in its liturgy to celebrate the resurrection of Lazarus on Lazarus Saturday and the very next day in the morning prayer of Palm Sunday (The Orthodox Study Bible, 685). The connotations of Christ as King are apparent, as will be demonstrated below.
Psalm 8:1 To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength [praise, NET] because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?
5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (ESV)
Psalm 8 resembles Psalm 1 in its ambiguity concerning its subject, whether humankind in general or a specific person, one man, in particular. NET Bible editors interpret mankind as the subject of the psalm and translate the singular “man,” (enosh in Hebrew) of verse 4 as “the human race,” and “son of man,” also in verse 4, as “human beings.” In this they follow their similar interpretation of Psalm 1. Humankind in general and generic “men” are indeed often represented by this Hebrew noun in the Old Testament. The New Testament, on the other hand, in several places applies Psalm 8 specifically to Christ incarnated.
Matthew 21:15 But when the chief priests and the experts in the law saw the wonderful things he did and heard the children crying out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became indignant 16 and said to him, “Do you hear what they are saying?” Jesus said to them, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of children and nursing infants you have prepared praise for yourself’?” (NET) (Matthew 21:16 quotes Psalm 8:2)
Note: The context of Matthew 21:16 relates how, on the occasion when Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem on what has come to be celebrated as Palm Sunday, the children cried out in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This was equivalent to naming Jesus of Nazareth as the long-awaited Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. The chief priests and scribes became indignant and protested to Jesus, “Do you hear what they are saying?” In other words, How can you, a mere man, receive as true the adulation of these children as though you were Messiah, the anointed One of God? When Jesus answered their question, “Yes,” and quoted Psalm 8:2 to them, he was in effect agreeing with the children and accepting the title of Messiah. Jesus was in effect also claiming that Psalm 8:2 made specific reference to himself. The chief priests and scribes interpreted what was happening in the same way–hence their indignant objections.
1 Corinthians 15:27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. (ESV; quotation of Psalm 8:6)
Note: Paul, the writer of 1 Corinthians, quotes the literal translation of Psalm 8:6, “you have put all things under his [singular] feet” (as in the Hebrew Bible, ESV, NAU, Septuagint Greek and English, and KJV), as though it refers to the particular sense of a certain man, Christ. Contrary to Paul and to the versions just named, the NET and NIV interpret Psalm 8:6 in a plural sense (note that the plurality is not in the exact text) and assign the meaning of humankind in general. This is in fact defensible in view of other Old Testament verses that use the same word.
But here in the New Testament, the NET and NIV translate Psalm 8:6 exactly as Paul writes it. Paul in Corinthians accurately quotes Psalm 8:6 of the Old Testament, which is the same in Hebrew and in the Greek of the Septuagint (Archer and Chirichigno, 58-59). In the Old Testament, however, as mentioned above, both the NET and NIV depart from Paul and from both the actual Hebrew and Greek texts by substituting a plural, “their” feet, or “their” authority, for the singular “his,” in keeping with their interpretation of the generic nature of the word “man.” Yet it is clear from the context of 1 Corinthians 15:27, including verses 22-28, that Paul the inspired New Testament writer sees the singular Christ in view when he quotes from Psalm 8.
This places the reader in the awkward position of having to choose between a rock and a hard place. Did Paul misquote and/or misapply the referent of the Old Testament verse Psalm 8:6? Or, perhaps have the NET and NIV editors taken liberties in their translation of Psalm 8:6? Or, did God the Holy Spirit infuse Paul with correct inspiration through shoddy exegesis?
As it turns out, scholars fairly agree that Paul uses the Septuagint as his Bible (see for example, Timothy Michael Law, When God Spoke Greek). In spite of this, many evangelical scholars today take the strange stance that although many New Testament writers, early church fathers, and Jesus himself quoted from the Septuagint rather than from the Hebrew, we as modern exegetes or devotional readers should not. In those early days, most people did not know Hebrew, and the Old Testament canon in the early church was a collection of Greek Septuagint scriptures, rather than Hebrew (Law, When God Spoke Greek, 170).
Law writes, “The canonical books of the Old Testament in the early church were Greek, not Hebrew. So if the Septuagint supported the theological expression of the New Testament writers and the theologians and exegetes who established early Christian thought, one may wonder why it has had no place in the modern church” (Ibid).
My intent is not to sound either boastful or non-intellectual when I say that my earliest and first experience with the Septuagint was devotional in nature and that the Holy Spirit indicated to me at that time that the first person speaker of Psalm 102 (LXX 101) was Jesus Christ and that he and his Father in that psalm were conversing back and forth in dialogue through Jesus’ prayer recorded there, very near the time of his Passion. I have loved the Septuagint ever since, and both through further devotions and through academic study, I have come to learn that I am not alone in my perception that Christ is the predominant first person speaker throughout the psalms, though clearly this view is in the minority. Encouragingly, more and more scholars are turning to discover the Septuagint’s rightful place in academia, in church history, and in the church today. Law’s book, referenced above (and see Law, Annotated Bibliography), does a good job of tracing out the threads of impact of the Septuagint’s long history both before and after Christ. Because Law wrote for both academic students and lay readers, the text is mostly very readable.
Hebrews 2:5 For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.
6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (ESV)
Note: Hebrews 2:6-8 above quotes Psalm 8:4-6, clearly within the context of the writer’s demonstrating that Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah, Christ, who is superior to the angels, though for a little while during his incarnation he was made lower than they. The verses he quotes would not be applicable to this certain individual if Psalm 8 did not specifically point toward Christ, but solely to the human race in general. We know that the passage in Hebrews speaks specifically of Jesus the Christ by joining 1:3 (he made purification for sin and then sat down at the right hand of God–i.e., the cross followed by resurrection and ascension) and 2:9 (we see…Jesus) in the context of the whole.
I recognize that I would be obtuse if I did not acknowledge the possible presence of humankind in general within the context of Psalm 8 in addition to the specific person of Christ, especially since Genesis 1:26 and 28 recount how God subjected the animal kingdom to the rule of Adam and his progeny. How does the devout reader reconcile these two thoughts, both valid? Simply, Adam’s race, which is humanity, fell from grace when Adam and his wife disobeyed God. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, (1 Corinthians 15:45), the head of the new humanity (Ephesians 2:15), and in him, all believers are recreated anew. Christ is the new head of the human race, displacing Adam as such. In Christ, by participating in his kingdom rule, all people become once again lords (small “l”) of creation. In Christ, the prayers and proclamations of the Psalter become true for all believers.
Psalm 7 is the first time in the Psalter that the psalmist proclaims his innocence while at the same time beseeching God for mercy to deliver him from enemies who pursue him with false accusations. Psalm 7 is classified as an individual lament in the psalm of innocence category (Tigay, 178).
The theme of false accusations adheres closely to the life experiences of Jesus Christ.
Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward…
Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”
Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
Verses 1-6 reveal the highly agitated emotional state of the psalmist, as he cries out for help:
Psalm 7:1 … O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,
5 let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.
The psalmist appeals to the judgment of the righteous God to make a decision between the two parties (vv 7-9). The psalm ends with the psalmist encouraging himself that indeed God will do so (vv 10-17).
Today’s despairing reader who finds herself still in turmoil after praying Psalm 7 with Christ should turn immediately to Psalm 37 to hear the strongly calm and encouraging voice of the Lord’s comforting reply: Yes, I hear your prayer, I am here, and I am with you. Psalm 37 does not have a named speaker, as many of the wisdom readings of Scripture do not. The viewpoint, however, is so broad and confident, so all-seeing, that the reader would not offend the Lord by attributing the words to the Holy Spirit, God himself.
In Psalm 37 the psalmist speaks in the character of God, who reassures the hurting petitioner with direct commands to actions that will remedy her angst, interspersed with precious promises to the believer and descriptions of the final, dismal outcome in store for the wicked who pursue her.
God’s Directives to the Righteous
Do not fret…or be envious…trust in the Lord…do good…dwell in the land…enjoy safe pasture…delight yourself in the Lord…commit your way to the Lord…trust in him…be still…wait patiently for him…do not fret…refrain from anger…turn from wrath…do not fret…wait for the Lord. (NIV)
God’s Promises to the Believer:
he will give you the desires of your heart…he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun…those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land…the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace…the Lord upholds the righteous…in times of disaster they will not wither…in days of famine they will enjoy plenty…those the Lord blesses will inherit the land…if the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand…I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread…their children will be blessed…the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones…the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial… he will exalt you to inherit the land…there is a future for the man of peace…the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. (NIV)
God’s Decreed Outcome for the Wicked
like the grass they will soon wither…evil men will be cut off…a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found…the wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken…the wicked will perish…they will vanish–vanish like smoke…the offspring of the wicked will be cut off…I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found…all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. (NIV)
Note: Psalm 37 reads much more effectively as it is written, with the three themes interacting one with another, as in a symphony.
Excursus (a walk along a side path)
One often hears the criticism that God is narrow-minded, intolerant, and judgmental, that he invalidly paints people and behaviors in black and white categories of right and wrong, when in fact people are multi-colored and “okay.” The God of the Psalter is not like this.
First, while it is true that there are categories of right and wrong, of righteousness and sin expressed in the psalms, these are not the categories that popular opinion often claims. The strongest characteristic of a righteous person in the Psalter is a wholehearted reliance and dependence upon God. A righteous person is someone who believes in God and aligns herself with him–she joins his team. An unrighteous person in the Psalter is someone who purposefully, openly, systematically, loudly, and strongly resists God and seeks to exploit and plunder both the poor and needy in general and in particular the righteous person, as just defined. The wicked person in the psalms is your basic bully who willfully hurts others and who willfully attempts to hurt the God of Scripture.
Second, even the most tolerant person must admit that people wrong and hurt other people. No one expects a victim to always forgive and show tolerance toward the actions of someone who purposefully harms them in any number of ways. Because it is true that Christianity teaches a victim to forgive the one who wronged her–Christ’s statement while hanging painfully on the cross being crucified is the best example of this, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)–it is necessary to reconcile justice and punishment with that forgiveness.
Expansion of the above paragraph: Consider the multitudes of millions of people who are poor and needy and the millions who are abused and assaulted by others–financially, physically, sexually, emotionally, and in many other ways. A God who is real must consider and provide a remedy for the victims of abuse and hold the willful abusers accountable to some form of punishment. To say otherwise is to lie about the nature of human beings and their existence.
So justice demands the accountability of punishment, while love demands forgiveness (1). How does one both punish those who willfully harm others and simultaneously forgive everyone? Evolution does not provide an answer. Secular wisdom has no answer. The God of Scripture provides an answer. The key words are repentance and substitution.
God provides forgiveness of everything to everyone through repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. A truly repentant person admits guilt to God and acknowledges the rightfulness of penalty. In order to receive the mercy and forgiveness God makes available to all, the rebellious heart must approach God and ask for his pardon. Scripture does not promise mercy to the unrepentant and rebellious heart.
Secondly, God in his righteous judgment never waives anyone’s punishment for sin. All sin will be paid for. How does payment for sin work with the concept of forgiveness, or pardon? The answer is in the second key word, substitution. God himself receives the punishment due the pardoned perpetrator. He punishes himself instead of the guilty person. His punishment falls upon himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous man of Psalm 1, and of all the psalms, and the King of Psalm 2. Christ is the righteous suppliant whose voice we hear in the psalms. To receive God’s forgiveness through substitution, everyone needs to repent, or bow the knee to God.
Through the judgment of substitution, God is able to satisfy both the rightful need of victims for retribution and his own nature of love. It is God who loves first, not the victims. God does require of the victims of wrong that they commit all desires for vengeance to him. And this is why the righteous victims whom we hear pleading to God in the Psalter do not ask God to help them bring their own justice to a situation, but they cry out for God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s actions. They have committed their rightful need of retribution to God, for, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30). God does require vengeance for wrongs committed. In Christ, he took his righteous vengeance upon himself.
Psalm 7:12 allows for the possibility of repentance by the guilty party.
Psalm 7:12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; (ESV)
Psalms 7 and 37 together tell the innocent and hurting victim that in the end, God makes everything all right.
1 Forgiveness is very different from tolerance. While tolerance says that there is no such thing as sin, forgiveness names sin and finds a way to forego the penalty.
Continuing the quick descent from the bright and confident promises of Psalms 1 and 2 to the sufferings expressed in Psalms 3-5, Psalm 6 adds a further element: God’s wrath upon the righteous speaker. Psalm 2:4-5 and 9-12 reveals God’s wrath against the wicked; here we see that wrath causing the Righteous One to suffer.
Psalm 6:1 To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath.
2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
3 My soul also is greatly troubled. But you, O LORD– how long?
4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?
6 I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping.
7 My eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes.
8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.
9 The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer.
10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled; they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. 5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
I. How do we know that the speaker of Psalm 6 is righteous?
A. We take a canonical, devotional view that presupposes all the psalms to be united with all Scripture and that unless otherwise directly noted, the first person singular speaker of all the psalms is none other than Messiah, the Son of God, God’s appointed King. By definition, God is righteous, and his Son is righteous, even during his incarnation as a human (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Discussion: First, can the above statement be proven from the Psalms themselves or other Scripture? In a legal sense, no. But neither can it be disproven. This is why commentaries are written. They all take a different point of view. The presuppositions stated in point A above can be reasonably and intellectually defended and demonstrated with quantities of biblical evidence, which is what the several posts in this blog are all about. But no person can provide an airtight proof one way or the other that the Psalter is largely spoken by Christ.
The world of biblical academia has not changed from Jesus’ day to our own. In the gospels, many conversations between Jesus and the “lawyers” of the law, the scribes and Pharisees, record Jesus’ attempts to pierce through combative academics to reach the hearts of people. I believe it safe to say that God does not care about a person’s intellectual understandings about his Word. God wants faith (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is like insight or like solving a mathematical word problem: there comes a point when a step must be made, no matter how small, over a gap that human logic and reason cannot bridge. God as Creator designed it to be so. Belief in God comes by his grace alone.
Second, taken on an individual basis, some psalms, such as Psalm 2, demonstrate the presence of Christ more readily than others. On the other hand, without faith, it appears impossible that a psalm such as Psalm 6 could be proven to speak words of Christ. However, as shown in prior articles on Psalms 1 and 2, it is literarily reasonable to suppose that all the psalms in the Psalter are about Christ or spoken by him. Therefore, it is not necessary to continually prove and demonstrate this point for each and every psalm. Over the five decades since Brevard Childs wrote his boldly conversation-opening book Biblical Theology in Crisis, academia has permitted a greater interconnectedness among the various portions of Scripture, including both the Old and New Testaments. (See, for example, works by Matthew W. Bates.)
B. Even though Psalm 6 is listed as the first of seven penitential psalms by the early church (The seven penitential psalms are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143, C. Hassell Bullock, 207), no sins are mentioned (Craig C. Broyles, 63). Robert S. Hawker explains this feature.
“But the beauty of the Psalms is as it beholds Christ in his strong crying and tears, when taking upon him our nature, and becoming sin for the church, that the church might be made the righteousness of God in him. If we eye the Redeemer as the sinner’s surety, we shall then enter into a right apprehension of what he saith under the divine chastisement for sin.” (Hawker, 178, Psalm 6:2)
C. In spite of the wrath of God being displayed against the speaker (vss 1-3), God hears and responds to the psalmist’s cry for mercy and delivers from the grave and from a multitude of enemies (vss 8-10). Within the body of Psalms, God never comes to the aid of his enemies, but always favors the righteous. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
II. What does Psalm 6 add to the Psalter?
The psalms are prophetic. Their main purpose, or one of their main purposes, is to prophesy of the Christ. For the first time in the Psalter, Psalm 6 reveals the theme of God’s wrath against his Son, his Messiah, his King (if the reader connects this psalm with Psalm 2). Psalm 6 also reveals God’s deliverance after wrath.
III. Why read Psalms this way?
Why does this writer invest so much of her time and energy to communicate that the Psalms contain the words of Christ and of God his Father to him? For one reason only: to encourage the reader to pick up the Psalter in a quiet moment of devotion, to lay all academics aside, to ask God to speak to her personally, and to hear in a life-changing way the heart of God expressing itself in love for her the reader through the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross on her behalf: to experience God’s love for you, the reader.
I personally find that reading a psalm out loud when no one is present and there will be no opportunity for interruption is a good way to hear the voice of God through these living words.
The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest.
1 For the director of music. For pipes. A psalm of David. Listen to my words, LORD, consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
4 For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome.
5 The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong;
6 you destroy those who tell lies. The bloodthirsty and deceitful you, LORD, detest.
7 But I, by your great love, can come into your house; in reverence I bow down toward your holy temple.
8 Lead me, LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make your way straight before me.
9 Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.
10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you.
11 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.
12 Surely, LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5 NIV)
The Psalter has few characters: God, His Son, God’s friends, and God’s enemies. In describing the Psalter, no matter how politically objectionable such a description may appear, there are few to no tones of gray, just black and white. One of the basic black and white facts of the Psalter is the contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. Psalm 5 contributes to the Psalter the first detailed portrait of unrighteousness and contrasts this portrait with details about the righteous.
I. The speaker is an unnamed single person throughout, although verse 12, the closing verse, could be spoken by the ever-present narrator/chorus common to many of the psalms, especially in the closing verses. Clearly, the speaker places himself among the righteous.
II. Contrasts between the righteous and the unrighteous.
A. The righteous speaker of the psalm–
1. approaches God to reverently speak to him in worship and humility (verses 1-3 and 7b).
2. God receives, welcomes, enjoys, blesses, and protects the righteous who come to him (verses 7a and 11-12).
3. The one and only positive characteristic of righteousness described in this psalm is the fact of the righteous ones approaching God to speak with him and shelter in his presence.
B. The characteristics of those who come are–
1. the fact that they come
2. they want to speak with God and shelter in his presence
3. they believe in God’s existence and voluntarily place him high above themselves
“… LORD …” (vss 1, 3, 6, 8, 12)
“… my King and my God …” (vs 2)
“… O God …” (vs 10)
4. they are happy and joyful when protected by God (vs 11)
5. and by inference, they are truthful, not arrogant, and not desirous of harming others (vss 4-10).
C. The unrighteous, as described by the speaker of the psalm–
1. do not please God (vs 4a) and are not welcomed by him (vs 4b)
2. they are arrogant and cannot stand before God, who hates all wrong, including arrogance (vs 5).
3. they tell lies, seek to harm others (bloodthirsty), and are deceitful (vs 6)
4. the Lord, who by inference is honest, loving, and truthful detests them (vs6)
5. they display enmity towards the speaker
6. all their words are untrustworthy, reeking of death, and deceitful (vs 9)
7. their hearts are filled with ill will (malice) toward others (vs 9)
8. they plan intrigues and they rebel against God (vs 9)
9. and their end is to be banished (vs 10).
III. What can we make of all this?
A. If the reader is already on God’s side and knows it, then Psalm 5 gives comfort and encouragement (vss 1-3, 7, 11-12).
B. It seems reasonable to conclude that Jesus Christ is the speaker of this psalm, because only a completely holy and humble one could in honest self-examination speak such stark realities, and, we know that Jesus had many enemies who verbally attacked him on every occasion. What we know of his life, words, and actions corresponds well with the portrait of the psalmist given here.
C. If the reader is not on God’s side and knows it, most likely Psalm 5 would add fuel to an already angry fire.
D. If the reader has academic interest only, there might not be a personal response.
IV. My Personal Takeaway
Love for God is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-10). Fear of God is a gift from God (Proverbs 9:10). The very best action in life that anyone can ever take is to approach God in order to ask his forgiveness and blessing. A first step is to approach God and ask him, period. What are the questions? God, do you exist? God, do you see me? A second step is to approach God with personal statements that summarize current heart conditions (confession) and combine those with a request. To request from God is to express humility before him. For example, “God, do you exist? I don’t see you, I don’t hear you, you are not real to me, but I want you. Please show yourself to me in a way that I can see, hear, and understand.” Another example, “God, right now I hate you. But I’m not satisfied with this condition. Please help me not to hate you.” Or, “God, I don’t believe in you, but if you are real, I want to know that. Please take away the hatred in my heart that I have towards you, so that I may see you.” There are endless possibilities, but one final example, “God, I think that I am righteous. What do you say?”
As I read Psalm 5, I see two kinds of people: 1) there are those who want an all-powerful, good God, and 2) there are those who don’t want such a God. In life, we ourselves cannot classify people as starkly black or white, starkly righteous or unrighteous. Our world is gray. We see so-called bad people doing good things and so-called good people doing bad things. We see all people doing both good things and bad things. This is why we are not to judge others. We can only judge ourselves, and even that judgment may be skewed; our own vision is not to be trusted.
God’s vision is much clearer than ours, and Scripture teaches that God has an exact, x-ray-like vision that makes no mistakes (Hebrews 4:12). If you want God, then go to him; he will not turn you away. If you do not want God, but you want to want him, then go to God and ask him for that. If you hate God, go to him anyway, and just say to him, “Oh all right! Why should I?” If you don’t care about God, then go to him anyway and say, “God, I don’t care about you one way or the other. You are irrelevant to me. But if you want me, here I am. You know where to find me. I’m not helping you in that. But I’m here.” The important thing is to go to God. That right there is how Psalm 5 defines righteousness. God himself does all the rest. If you don’t know how to go to God, then go to God and ask him to show you how you should go to him…and on and on and on.
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21 ESV)