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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.