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Well, folks, here it is.
Psalm 137:7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us–
9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (NIB)
Yuk! Did you read that? And it’s right there in the middle of the Bible.
People deal with this in different ways. Here are just a few.
- Skim over and ignore.
- This was a very long time ago in a different culture. At that time, the cultural norm was different than today. Things are changed now.
- God is sovereign. He judges whom and how he pleases.
- They were given their chance to repent.
- They earned it.
- The psalmist doesn’t represent the heart of God here.
Can you spot the common thread in all of the above responses? There’s one thing they all have in common. Waiting…waiting…Ok time’s up. All the above responses are defensive. If you are reading this, then most likely you are the sort of person who would try to defend, gloss over, or somehow explain away the presence in Scripture of this offensively violent vengeance. It does offend us. There’s no getting around that response. Believers feel they must explain and defend God for including these words right in the middle of the Bible. How uncomfortable. What a great spot for critics and skeptics to attack Christians, and they do. Because, in fact, these words challenge us in our gut.
So here’s my take on this at this point in my life: We read it because it’s here.
When I was still young in the Lord, but growing, I worshiped with a small congregation. The format of the services included songs, Scripture reading, and communion. Each of these was congregational led. Some used to call it Spirit led. That is, there was no preplanned program for the day. There were no predetermined songs, readings, or specified time for communion. Someone would lead out and others would join in or listen as appropriate.
I used to enjoy reading from Scripture at these services. Psalms were often read by myself and others. Over time, I noticed that whenever I selected a psalm to read, I tended to select only portions of psalms. Many if not most of the psalms have a sentence or two of judgment and/or punishment concerning the “wicked” in them. Because I felt that our Sunday worship services were meant to be joyful, I only read the happy verses in Psalms. Eventually, the burden became too great. My own censorship piled up to an enormous height, so large that I could no longer bear it. The result was that in my personal devotions, I began reading all of Scripture. I quit censoring. I quit cutting out large segments because I could not deal with them.
My discovery? That God is a God of judgment. And not just in the Old Testament. Not just in the “old days” before Christ came. It’s often quoted that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture. “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” That’s the phrase that kept gnawing at my heart so miserably before I converted to Christ. It dug into me and ate my insides out like a worm. I hated that phrase. As an unbeliever in great need, I used to open my Bible as a desperate, frightened beggar lost in life. I hoped I would find comfort, but instead I repeatedly found, “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” And I would slam my Bible shut.
Eventually, my need for help won out, and I turned to the God of the Old Testament, confessing my need and total ignorance of him. Interesting…he didn’t meet me with condemnation. He met me with love, a strong love that continues to this day.
So what do we as believers in Jesus do with Psalm 137:7-9 and similar statements sprinkled like salt throughout Psalms? We read them and admit that they are there and that God intends those words to be there and that he hasn’t changed his mind, because God never changes.
Several decades ago, I realized that the God of creation is the same God who loves me. What a privilege and blessing that is! Think by name of all the evil dictators in the whole world over all time. God could have been like one of those! But he isn’t. When I think of God, I see his Son hanging on a cross to save the world. “If you have seen me,” Jesus said, “you have seen the Father.” I believe that God is both a God of judgment and a God of love. Fortunately for us, the love won out. But what good does that love do you if you don’t know about it and haven’t received?
If you remove heat, you have cold. If you remove light, you have darkness. If you remove love, you have pain. If you remove mercy, you have judgment. So turn towards the heat, turn towards the light, turn towards love, and turn towards mercy. In short, turn towards God. He loves you.
IS IT COINCIDENCE OR GOD’S PLAN that three psalms ending with the number 8 form a triplet detailing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God’s divine and human Son? Psalm 88 is a first person account of the crucifixion. Yes, that’s right–the Psalter gives us in Christ’s own words an account of what it was like for him to die. Foretelling in advance is called prophecy. Through the poet Christ prophetically speaks out his thoughts and deep feelings as he lies within his tomb. That God captured this moment in time and included it within his Scripture for us to find and read is precious beyond words.
Psalm 18 is a joyful account of Papa God rescuing his Son from death. For us who have seen so many movies, the word that comes to my mind is “playful.” This account of the resurrection frolics, and I mean no disrespect. A more modern word might be “rocks.” Psalm 18 rocks. Reading this psalm fills me with admiration for God, wonder, and respect. The drama of the psalm matches the drama of the most amazing event in all of human history–a man who had been dead for three days broke free from his grave alive and well. Psalm 18 tells how that happened. It later describes the exaltation of Christ to Kingship over all nations as he executes judgment upon his enemies, both spiritual and physical.
Finally, Psalm 118 continues the celebration of resurrection. It’s a glorious day!
Please take time to reread these three prior posts as they explain in detail what I have outlined above. The links are here:
JESUS TOLD US his Father loves to fish. All fishermen have stories to tell. Read some of God’s favorite fish stories in Psalm 107.
Four Fish Stories
1. Some refugees lived out in the desert. One day they got lost and wandered around in the wasteland. They became hungry and thirsty and knew they were about to die. No one was there to help them. They had heard about God, but he wasn’t their God. Nevertheless, at their wits’ end and not wanting to perish, they cried out to the Lord. He heard them. He showed them a straight path they hadn’t seen before. It led to a nearby village where they settled.
Do you think they should thank him for taking them to a safe place where they had water and food?
2. Some children grew up and became rebels against God. “Sunday school BS!” they called it. Unfortunately, they wound up in a foreign prison where they suffered in darkness and iron chains. Their captors forced them into bitter labor. After a long time, they began collapsing on the job, and there was no one to help them. So they swallowed their pride and cried to the Lord in their trouble. Miraculously, the court reversed their sentence, and they were set free.
Do you think they should thank God for his love?
3. Some other children grew up and also rebelled. They turned to drugs, alcohol, and sex. In the end, they hurt their own bodies, got sick, lost all their appetite, and wasted away to nothing. No one really wants to die, so they turned to the Lord in their trouble and cried out to him. He heard. He sent crazy Christians to them who loved them and told them God’s word. God healed them.
Do you think they should thank him and even joyfully tell others about him?
4. These other people became savvy business men and women. They knew all about global marketing and made gobs of money, even millions. But the world economy was very unstable. The markets crashed, their wholesale and retail outlets failed, and all their stocks became worthless. Their stomachs churned and they got sick. No matter which way they turned, the whole world was reeling around them. Really, really scared, they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. He helped them. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm. He guided them to the safe haven they desperately longed for.
Do you think they should thank him by going to the other sophisticated people in their world with praise for the God who saved them?
Do you see how God catches his fish? We say, “Why does God allow all this pain and hardship in our lives? How could a good and loving God allow this?” It’s true–he does allow humankind to suffer. It is true–God does turn rivers into deserts and flowing springs into thirsty ground. A good farm becomes a dust barren waste. He does this because people are wicked and ignore his commandments.
But then God goes and does just the opposite–he turns the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs. He brings the hungry to live in bounteous places. They work and spend their time and resources wisely, and he blesses them and their families.
It’s a sad truth, but when things go well for us, our human tendency is to forget all about God and his ways. We even thumb our noses at him. But when oppression, calamity and sorrow come, we are humbled. God has no respect for the high and mighty among us. But the needy, he lifts out of their affliction and increases their families like flocks. The upright see and rejoice in all this, but the wicked just shut their mouths.
A wise person should think about these things and consider the great love of the Lord.
Some parts of Scripture are written as an appeal to nonbelievers–the Gospel of John, for example–while other parts, such as Psalm 77, are written for believers. The poetry of Psalm 77 is like a painting. It paints the intimate details of a believer’s heart as he, or she, struggles to maintain faith through a dark night of ongoing trial.
These words from the NIV are like colors:
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me; in distress; I stretched out untiring hands; I would not be comforted (chose to pray rather than sleep away the pain); I groaned; I meditated; my spirit grew faint; you kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak; Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
What Christian has never felt like this?
But the poet in Psalm 77, who could easily be Christ himself as he nears his death, chooses not to remain in this posture of unanswered, agonized beseeching. He steps forward. He resolves to do something about his mental state. He purposefully chooses to remember.
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (NIV)
What does this believer remember? God’s ways, his past miracles, his power among his believing people. Every Christian has a history with God Almighty. If not, then they are not Christian. All Christians have been saved by God. There is so much to remember! The older one grows, the greater these memories of times when God stepped in to help and to save. For the poet in Psalm 77, it was the crazy crossing of the Red Sea that he remembers. For the guards at the tomb of Christ, it was that magnificent earthquake that released to freedom their no longer dead prisoner. For Jesus, it was when he came up from the waters of baptism and the dove of the Holy Spirit alighted on his head. For Peter, it was when an angel of the Lord silently broke the locks on the chains that bound him captive to the guards in Herod’s dungeon (Acts 12:1-11).
We all have memories. Psalm 77 encourages us as believers not to remain in our feelings of fear and despair, but to make an instant withdrawal from the savings account of our past dealings with God. God’s nature and his love never change; he is eternal; so is his love for us. Because we remember all the times that God saved us in the past, we know that he will not fail us now. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
PSALMS ARE NOT WRITTEN IN CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE. Readers hinder themselves when they only read Psalms in sequential order. If I may use a word like “fun” when describing the Bible, then it’s fun and exciting to find two psalms separated numerically that link in chronological sequence. By “chronological sequence,” I mean the sequence of events in Jesus’ life.
Using a psalm arrangement such as that found in 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise sometimes helps locate links that otherwise might be lost. One such link in this book is found on Day 17. On Day 17, Psalm 47 immediately follows Psalm 17. Psalm 17 (see link to the left) contains a prayer which prophetically describes Jesus’ thought life at some point near the time of his Passion. In verses 9-12, the reader can easily picture Christ as he is confronted in the Garden of Gethsemane and later assailed by a mass of accusers at his unjust trial. Then in verses 13-15 the prophetic voice of Christ through the psalmist asks God for help and expresses faith that God will perform his resurrection. Psalm 47 answers Psalm 17, though separated by thirty other psalms.
Psalm 47:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
8 God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! (ESV)
While Psalm 17 is ascribed to David, a solo speaker, Psalm 47 is ascribed to the Sons of Korah. The reader perceives Psalm 17 in deep chords of stress and endangerment, while the group speakers of Psalm 47 appear barely able to contain themselves for joy and jumping gladness. In Psalm 47, God answers what the psalmist prays in Psalm 17, while the chorus of singers in Psalm 47 serve as witnesses and co-beneficiaries of God’s reply. The reader can easily picture the disciples’ astonishment, followed by joy, as they learn that Jesus their friend and teacher is no longer dead, but alive. The amazement and extreme jubilation carries over to the incipient church assembled to watch as Jesus ascends into the clouds. The church continues to express their reverence and jubilation over Christ their King throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Psalm 47 is an appropriate celebration of both Christ’s ascension and his second coming.
Readers should remember that the psalms are prophetic. They use poetry, often written in first person, to foretell what will happen at a later date to Jesus, who is God’s anointed, and to Israel, which in the prophetic application of Psalms is Jesus’ church. Verses 5-9 celebrate the ascension of King Jesus and name him as God. Psalm 47 complements Psalm 2, which also names the Son as sharing divinity with God, “…You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psa 2:7 ESV)
How constantly grateful I am to know as certainty that Jesus God’s Son–and through him, God Almighty–has been here and experienced everything we as humans experience, in person, himself. He knows all our trials and tribulations, our triumphs and joys.
I lived most of my life in that exact part of the US where the recent mass gun slaughter occurred in what was considered by all a “safe place.” The very next day, while grief and shock were still stabbing hearts, vicious and ferocious fires broke out. My heart and mind have been with dear friends and family in that area all this past week. In the gun slaying and fires we see both evil and love at work.
When people kill other people because of hatred based upon their appearance or beliefs of any kind, that is evil. “Judge not,” the Bible teaches, “so that you will not be judged (condemned.)” Humankind’s first sin was siding with God’s enemy. The second sin was brother killing brother. All humans are brother/sister one with another. We are not to kill our brothers and sisters because we do not like them or because we disagree with them.
God knows the evil in the human heart. He’s always known everything that lies in our collective hearts. Yet he chooses to love us anyway, laying his own life as incarnated human on the line. God knows firsthand the effects of evil. Apart from whether or not you believe in Christ as the Son of God, the facts of his life as recorded in the Book show him as a good and loving man, someone who went around doing only good for others. His enemies killed him mainly out of jealousy. It’s not about race. It’s about what lies in every human heart.
God also knows firsthand what it is to love others. He loved others in Jesus his Son, when he sent him to us in the first place. Jesus voluntarily lay his life down for all humanity. He died a painful death, the innocent for the undeserving.
In the gun slaying, we saw a police officer who lay his life down for strangers. In the recent fires, and in every fire, we see firemen and other public servants laying their own lives down for people they haven’t met; they do this because these are human beings. Firefighters sometimes die. They know the dangers before they go out, yet they go out anyway. A huge thank you to all of these. “John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (NKJ)
In this post, post-modern world we live in, it is time to get back to calling evil, evil. It is wrong to kill another human being out of jealousy or hatred for who they are or what they represent. Both vengeance and judgment belong to God alone.
In Psalm 17, the psalmist, whom I read as the prophetic voice of the incarnated God–by that I mean Jesus–this psalmist cries out to God for help from his enemies, who are extremely powerful and who have marked him for death. The fact of history is that Jesus did die. We might say, “He died anyway, even though he prayed for God’s help.” The other fact of history is that he rose from the dead. Notice Jesus’ faith in his resurrection in verse 15–
And I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV)
One of the very best things about believing in Jesus as God’s anointed, his Son, is that his resurrection from death into life produces a resurrection from death into life for all who believe. Often we pray for a trial to go away or to not happen in the first place. Often it happens anyway–God alone knows why. Bottom line, there is a resurrection into life eternal. This life will end, and eternal life in Christ will last forever. God’s love has triumphed over all the evil this world and its people can possibly throw at us. Blessed are those who choose the side of love.
Psalm 17:1 A prayer of David. Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer–it does not rise from deceitful lips.
2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.
3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.
4 As for the deeds of men–by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.
5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.
7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.
8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings
9 from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance.
11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.
12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.
13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.
14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.
15 And I–in righteousness I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV, 1984)
The speaker of Psalm 16 has an amazing relationship with the Lord. He runs onto the stage in verse 1, makes a beeline to the Lord, and cries out, “Help me!” (Protect me, save me, guard me.) “Here’s the deal,” he says, “I’m hiding in you. You are my refuge, my safety, my one spot, my only hope.”
Then he grants the Lord everything, “You are the Lord. You are the One. I have nothing worth anything anywhere in all myself or my life apart from you.” Talk about putting your eggs into one basket! What a confession this is.
Scholars concede that verses 3 and 4 are difficult, as in not clear, not understood. Let’s just say that the psalmist makes reference to other people, whether for good or for bad, but dismisses them all and turns back to the Lord.
“You are the One. You are my reward and blessing.” The original of verse 5 reads, “You are my piece of inheritance and my cup.” Not a house, nor a piece of property, not a castle, nor acres and acres of land, but You, a person, you are my inheritance and my daily provision. “I will settle myself down in You and drink of You.” Crazy, huh? Can we even imagine relating to another person in this way? I can only think of someone who is madly in love. Verse 5 also says, “You make my lot secure.” That speaks of knowing someone who both owns the lottery and controls the machine that chooses the numbers. This person matches up the winning number with the ticket I hold in my hand. Can’t get any more certain than that.
I also like the Septuagint translation of the last part of verse 5, “You are he who restores my inheritance to me.” The word restore means to bring back what was lost, to bring back what was once beautiful, whole, powerful, good, and strong. Think about the entire Bible from start to finish. What was lost in Genesis? What gets restored in Revelation? Humankind’s innocence was lost in Genesis–peace, prosperity, walking and talking in the presence of God in a place that was paradise. All this is restored in Revelation. But not just people lost out when Eve surrendered to God’s enemy and ate the apple–God lost out. The Creator and his Son, who was always by his side, they lost what they created to an enemy who destroyed and ruined what they had made for their eternal enjoyment. The Bible tells the story of how all God’s creation gets restored to God. In verse 5 the psalmist speaks of his inheritance portion of all this. Then in verse 6 we see the psalmist surveying his inheritance. “Yep,” he says, “I got the best piece. My inheritance is really good, better than anything else.”
By now we might be wondering who this psalmist is. His tone is so certain, so sure, so totally convinced that he himself is the winner of all. Who talks like this? Verse 7 gives a clue. The psalmist is someone who is close to the Lord. All night long the Lord keeps him awake instructing him, giving him guidance and counsel; we might even say child-training him, educating him, discipling him. Verse 8 tells us the psalmist is someone who sees the Lord always directly in front of his face. He never loses sight of him, never loses track. Further, the Lord is at his right hand. The right side symbolically is the position of power, the leading side, the side of protection and favor. Such confidence in the Lord is amazing.
The psalmist’s confidence in his Lord translates into an overwhelming sense of gladness and joy that in verse 9 completely floods the psalmist’s heart and every other part of him. Even his body rests securely, not the least bit anxious about anything. Verse 10 is the most amazing statement of all. The psalmist speaks out his faith and confidence in God by saying, “You will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you allow your Holy One, me, to see corruption.” In other words, even when I die, the psalmist is saying, You, God, are not going to leave me dead, and you’re not going to allow my body to rot as every other living thing since creation itself does when it dies. I’m different. I’m special. You God will not allow my body to rot at death, nor will you let me stay dead.
There is only one human being in all of history who can make a claim like this one and have it come true–Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The apostle Peter said so in Acts 2:25-28. There he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 and applies these verses pointedly to Jesus shortly after all the apostles and many others witnessed his resurrection.
Psalm 16 closes in verse 11 with this great verse, quoted here from the NET Bible, “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” What could be better than this?
Before I leave here, I just want to point out what strikes me about Psalm 16.
- When the psalmist runs to God for safety in verse 1, he is running for a reason. He’s in trouble.
- The psalmist, God’s Son, has total confidence and assurance in who God is. He knows that God is able to help him and is eager to do so.
- The psalmist knows who he himself is. He is someone whom God very certainly wants to help.
- The psalmist speaks to God from a point in time far before the historical events that equate with this psalm, the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In other words, this is prophecy. Christ the Son existed eternally before he became human, before his incarnation. This is how through the human penman he was able to foresee and foretell his future through this psalm.
- This one is important for us as readers. What is true of Christ in this psalm is also true of all those who give allegiance to him as their King. Just as the psalmist places his trust 100% in God as his Lord and benefactor, so believers must place their trust 100% in Christ as the King whom they follow and rely upon in everything. The New Testament teaches this everywhere.
- All the blessings the psalmist receives from God, God also gives to those who own Christ, to those who by their allegiance to him are found to be in him.
Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7. Therefore, we can read Psalm 16 with Christ as speaker, or we can read it with ourselves as speaker. It works both ways.
How does God feel about what we read in our daily news? Read Psalm 15 here to find out.
ESV Psalm 15:1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
God will not be mocked, and his Word will not be trumped. In crystal clear, plain language God proclaims what he expects from people. God is Creator, the Great Benefactor, the Savior, and Judge.
God is good. Psalm 15 describes what goodness is in God’s eyes. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his notice.
The question is: Does God expect us to behave politically the same way he expects us to behave toward our families and our friends? Psalm 15 makes no distinction. And Jesus clarified his Father’s word even further.
ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Within Psalms, God fully declares his expectations of us.
Where do you turn when the one you love rejects you? Turn to Jesus–He knows.
Anyone here who has never experienced rejection? How about rejection from someone you trusted, or even loved? A spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a best friend, a co-worker, the boss who hired you, the nation where you were born? Jesus is human. Jesus experienced rejection.
Psalm 43 prophetically records Jesus’ feelings of rejection by God his very own Father.
1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!
2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?
3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!
4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 43:1-5 ESV)
God’s main focus in all of Scripture is his Son. Jesus said so. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39 ESV). The Old Testament had the job of predicting and setting the stage for the New. Psalms announces the human life of the divine Son. When the psalmist speaks, he prophesies, and the voice he prophesies is the voice of Christ.
Verses 1 and 2 of Psalm 43 indicate that an ungodly nation rejected Jesus and he was oppressed by unjust and deceitful enemies. We previously learned this in Psalm 13. There we see God being very slow to hear the psalmist’s plea for help. Verse 2 of Psalm 43 takes the psalmist one step further. Here he accuses God of rejecting, or spurning, him. This is not quite as strong yet as Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” where “forsaken” means left me behind, abandoned me.
We get the picture. Not only did God’s holy, anointed Son receive the blows of his own people, but while they were doing this, God himself rejected, turned away from, and abandoned him. How must Jesus the man have felt? Shouldn’t the Bible, if it is God’s word, predict this? Who would think? Who would expect? The Bible must tell us these things if we are to place our trust in this person hanging naked and dead upon a cross, then buried in the ground.
Jesus’ disciples had lost faith after his crucifixion. They were afraid and confused. They hadn’t yet heard of his resurrection when Jesus anonymously came by two of them on the road and walked with them awhile. Jesus pinpointed their lack of faith, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (Luke 24:25 ESV) Then he explained to them what the Old Testament had predicted concerning his death and resurrection, “26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:26-27 ESV). Their faith was strengthened. They went running all the way back to where they had just left and shared with the other disciples what they had learned. Prophecy bolsters faith. Knowing this, God included Psalms in Scripture.
Media service providers love to bundle–TV, internet, land lines. Why do some Old Testament scholars deny God that privilege? God bundles. Psalms can be grouped according to themes. This is not news. But God does more than repeat themes and scatter them throughout Psalms. He loves to string psalms like pearls on a single strand.
The major thread running through Psalms is the story of God’s Son, especially what happened to him on the cross. When God foretells a story centuries before its occurrence, the foretelling is called prophecy.
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (ESV)
25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
Acts 13:36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep and was laid with his fathers and saw corruption,
Why did God prophesy the events of his Son’s life centuries before they occurred? I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps collectively we can think of more:
- to prove the presence of the supernatural
- to provide supernatural credentials for his incarnate (born as a human) Son
- to provide a road map of education and warning for the Son’s journey through human existence
- to prepare a people ready to receive his Son
- to bolster the faith of his Son during a very rocky ride
- to bolster the vision and understanding of the first disciples, the first followers of Christ
- to bolster the faith of the first disciples-turned-missionaries
- to convince all that God is for us, not against us, as we discover that the very human voice of the psalmist is my voice, and your voice, and the voice of people everywhere
God told the events ahead of time, so that we who were to follow could see, understand, and believe.
Why poetry? Why write prophecy as poems? Is there a better media than poetry to convince us “stubborn of heart” people that Christ, God’s chosen and anointed, was and is every bit as human as we are? Poems can be a subjectively accurate display of the heart, feelings, mind, and thoughts of the person speaking them.
God loves people so much that he sent himself in the person of his Son to bring life to us–to raise us from the dead. And with his Son, even before his Son’s arrival, he sent these magnificent poems to display the utter humanity of his Son in a way that an itinerant preacher/healer could not do in real time. Think of Jesus and his disciples so pressed upon by the anxious crowds that they had time neither to eat nor sleep. Think about the thousands of people Jesus healed, the thousands (?) of miles they walked, the hundreds of sermons he preached in three years, the hours and hours of private praying he did. Who would be there to write down his meditations and prayers? God provided. He sent a prophet-poet named David centuries ahead of time to record the thoughts, feelings, and prayers of his yet-to-be-incarnated Son. In this way God foretold the life of his Son.
Who in the culture of that day would have expected that God’s Son, his anointed, the mighty King to be (see Psalms 2 and 110), would live a life of poverty and suffering? Who in their wildest dreams would even dare to imagine that God would reject his Son unto death? Who would possibly dare to claim that the nakedly shamed and beaten Jesus of Nazareth was…Messiah? Impossible! No one but God would think these things. Therefore God predicted in advance through the prophecies of Psalms and other books, such as that written by Isaiah, so that at the right moment, we could recognize the divine Christ in his human form when he came.
In the voice of the suffering psalmist, I hear my own voice. As I do, I realize the fact that God ultimately wrote these words and included them in his book. This tells me that just as God sees the psalmist, God sees me, he sees you, he loves me, and he loves you. And just as the psalmist turned to God through all his trials, cried out to him for help, and praised him, God wants me to do the same. God is love.