January 9, 2018: FearJanuary 09, 2018:
by Josh Moody
Psalm 9 begins conventionally enough. It starts with giving thanks to God. And the reasons for the thanksgiving are well known: gratitude for what God has done (his “wonderful deeds”) and ultimately for who God is in himself (“I will be glad and exult in you”).
But having begun in this way, the psalm then picks up its main theme which is, by contrast, quite unfamiliar to many of us today. That theme is the theme of judgment. In particular, David is calling on God to judge. While in some circles the judgment of God is still preached in full orthodoxy, even then it is passingly rare to hear someone pray for God to judge.
And yet this how the psalm climaxes. The psalmist talks of how God “judges the world with righteousness” and then, ultimately, asks God to so judge. “Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!”
How are we to think about this theme of judgment, and even asking God to judge? First of all, it is a recognition of reality. Too often we look for reasons for believing something in terms of what it does to benefit us. But the first and primary reason for believing something is that it is true—whether or not it benefits us. The fact that an idea is useful does not make it true. David, then, writes this psalm of judgment because God is a God of justice and judgment. This is the truth. “The LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice.”
Once this truth is faced, though, its ramifications are both terrifying and comforting:
– Comforting for those who “put their trust” in God.
– Comforting for the “oppressed” for whom the judgment of God against evil powerful men is a “stronghold” in their oppression. God “avenges blood,” and he “does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” The “needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” God will set all things to rights. Take heart you who are oppressed. Put your trust in God. He is righteous, and he will not allow evil dictators, bullies, and vicious gang lords to get away with murder. Trust in him. One day all will be right.
– Comforting for those who, because of their work for God and their witness to God, have “affliction from those who hate” them.
– Terrifying for the “wicked” who do not repent and do not trust in God. “The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.” There is judgment often even in the here and now. Often it is true that sin is its own judgment; bitter is the aftertaste and sour the fruit. And one day the “wicked shall return to Sheol.” David did not have all the teaching of Jesus about hell that we possess in the New Testament. But he knew that after the grave there would be a further judgment for the wicked too.
There are times to pray this prayer. There are times to read the news; to hear of the terrible trauma and evil of this world, the vain power of evil men; and to cry out to God as David does.
“Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!”