Tag Archives: Hope

Neo-Marxism & Christian Hope

Matthew Rose’s “Our Secular Theodicy” over at First Things is well worth reading. It explores the message and legacy of Ernst Bloch, a German philosopher of hope often cited by Moltmann in his work. Here are a few citations:

Bloch is a guide into the concealed theology of contemporary liberalism, whose outlook remains profoundly, if paradoxically, biblical in one respect. Having rejected a Christian understanding of nature, it retains an intensely Christian understanding of history. It sees human history as goal-oriented and our advancement as a series of conversions and liberations, the outcome of which is the creation of a community that can redeem our fallen history…

Theodicy is the attempt to justify the goodness and providence of God in view of the reality of evil. Bloch is engaged in theodicy, too, but of a much different kind. His theodicy is humanistic. It is an attempt to make sense of humanity in view of its apparently senseless history. Only by creating a just community, Bloch posits, can we vindicate past and present injustices. Hope gives us the strength to undertake this massive, world-justifying responsibility. It refuses the limitations of the visibly possible and rebels with the conviction that a radically different way of life is attainable. Hope is therefore not the power to wait patiently for a home in eternity; it is the daring power to create a true and lasting home here on earth. Aquinas named this the vice of presumption, but for Bloch it is the one thing needful…

To my knowledge, Bloch is the only philosopher to have used Jesus to defend outright atheism. . . . According to Bloch, however, Jesus achieves a lasting victory in his error and defeat. Through his life and death, this ill-fated Spartacus becomes the savior of humanity—not by reconciling humanity to God, but by freeing humanity from God. Bloch arrived at this remarkable conclusion by interpreting the Bible as the story of the awakening of human autonomy and its rebellion against all forms of oppression…

Bloch saw Christianity as the most revolutionary movement in human history. It opened the way to political goals that could not otherwise be discovered, creating what Immanuel Kant called the “immanent expectation” of “the victory of good over evil.” The God of the Bible offered humanity the saving hope of liberation from captivity. In doing so, however, God gave us the keys to his holy kingdom. We learned that we are meant, in Bloch’s words, to “walk upright.” And this subversive imperative leads believers to take leave of God in the name of God.

Scripture on Sunday – Psalm 17

Apple Of My EyeRead Psalm 17

I am not at all sure I can do justice to this psalm. When I first began reading it, I found it odd in several respects. There are two difficult issues with it. First, the opening verses are a cry to the Lord for help, a cry the psalmist justifies by appealing to his own innocence (vv. 1-5). I only wish that I could say with the psalmist, “You have tested me and you find nothing.” Perhaps the best way to understand this claim is to situate it in the very present context of accusation that the psalmist is facing: “With respect to these charges, you know, Lord, that I am innocent!” (Craigie, 162). Yet even the ancient Hebrews had difficulty with these verses, with the Midrash on Psalms constructing a dialogue from these verses in which God demonstrates to David that he cannot pass God’s test, and like everyone else requires God’s pardon and forgiveness (see Charry, 78).

The second odd feature of the psalm, at least as it is presented in the NASB, occurs in vv. 13-14, where the psalmist prays that God would deliver him from the wicked—the very wicked whom it seems God has blessed and favoured! They and their children are filled with treasure and satisfied. He is in effect, asking God to reverse his policy with respect to the wicked.

The psalm begins, as mentioned, as a cry that God would hear, give heed, and give ear to his prayer. He claims a just cause and so the prayer is a plea for justice from one who claims innocence (vv. 1-5). It is also a request for protection, including the beautiful words of verse 8: “keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings” (vv. 6-9; cf. Deuteronomy 32:10-11). The ‘apple’ of the eye is the pupil, with the psalmist requesting that God protect him as he would the most delicate or vulnerable part of the body.

In this section of the psalm we are introduced to the ‘wicked who despoil me, my deadly enemies who surround me’ (v. 9), who are then described as unfeeling and proud, as a lion eager to tear its prey to pieces (vv. 10-12). And so we come to the prayer for deliverance, and it is here that the psalm gets tricky. NASB translates verses 13-14:

Arise, O Lord, confront him, bring him low; Deliver my soul from the wicked with Your sword, From men with Your hand, O Lord, From men of the world, whose portion is in this life, And whose belly You fill with Your treasure; They are satisfied with children, And leave their abundance to their babes.

Craigie, who admits that verse 14 is ‘exceptionally difficult to translate’ (161), translates:

Arise, O Lord! Confront him to his face. Make him bow! Deliver my soul from wickedness by your sword. Kill them by your hand, O Lord! Kill them from the world, their portion from among the living. But your treasured ones—you will fill their belly, sons will be sated, and they will bequeath their surplus to their children.

Craigie acknowledges that his translation makes the prayer especially violent, but argues that the language should not be understood literally, but as part of the military metaphor rather than a precise expression of the psalmist’s desire (164). It sets the fate of the wicked and the faithful in stark contrast, in a way reminiscent of the two ways (see Psalm 1), and perhaps also funds a kind of prosperity message.

Both translations, then, are problematic. It may be that the best resolution is found in verse 15: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with your likeness when I awake.” This verse may, of course, reflect the assurance of the psalmist that God will indeed answer his prayer so that his anxious concern of the night (v.3) might give way to vindication in the day. Or it may be read as a point of contrast with verse 14, and in light of the hope of the resurrection. The “men of this world” (cf. 10:18) have their portion only in this life, whereas the psalmist finds his portion in God alone. He shall behold the face of God, and be found like him when he ‘awakes.’

The life of the children of God transcends the bounds of this life. Its primary concern is not its own fullness in this world, but the hope of seeing God and being transformed into his likeness. This religious and moral emphasis in life may not result in earthly prosperity, but the psalmist, however, suggests he will be satisfied. To see the face of God, and to be conformed to his image, is more than enough.

Scripture on Sunday – James 1:12

Saint_James_the_JustJames 1:12
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (NASB)

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (NRSV)

These two translations indicate an immediate interpretive issue with respect to this verse: does it belong with the section dealing with the matter of trials which began in verse two, or is it the beginning of a new section incorporating verses twelve to fifteen and dealing with the matter of temptation? The key word is peirasmos which appears in verse two, here in verse twelve, four times in verse thirteen, and once in verse fourteen. The word has two basic meanings in the New Testament, corresponding to the two meanings used in this chapter of James. First, the word can denote external afflictions, especially persecution, and second, it can refer to the inner enticement to sin (Moo, 59). This range of meaning suggests that James may be using verse twelve to transition his focus from the external pressures experienced by the community, to the internal motives and attitudes which they experience precisely on account of the external trials. It is not uncommon that one’s response to external trials may itself be another trial. The two often belong together, and we err when our entire focus is turned outward as though our circumstances are our only trial, when in fact, our response to those circumstances is also a trial which we must endure and perhaps overcome. This way of viewing the text helps us find unity in the overall section from verse two through eighteen, rather than viewing the whole as a series of disconnected exhortations.

We begin by noting the resonance in this verse with what has gone before. As already noted, the key term peirasmos picks up the opening thought of verse two. The testing (dokimion) of our faith in verse three produces endurance (hypomonē). In this verse James pronounces as blessed those who endure (hypomenē, the verb form of hypomonē), for they have stood the test (dokimos). Finally, the promise that they shall receive (lampsetai) the crown of life stands in subtle contrast to the double-minded person of verse seven who must not expect to receive (lampsetai) anything from the Lord. These verbal links with the earlier passage suggest that James is reiterating and extending his earlier comments, and bringing those exhortations to their climax. Not only does endurance under trial develop good character, but it also brings the promise and hope of eschatological blessing. In light of these considerations, the NASB’s interpretation is preferred.

“Blessed is the man” (Makarios anēr hos) is almost formulaic language in Old Testament appearing six times in Psalms and twice in Proverbs (Davids, 79; cf. Psalms 1:1; 2:12; 32:1; 112:1; 119:1-2; Proverbs 8:32, 34, etc). James, then, is taking over biblical language, though his use of anēr (“man”) is not required to make sense of the sentence and should not be used to limit this blessing merely to males. Thus, while the NASB provides a very literal translation, “blessed are those” or the NRSV’s “blessed is anyone” are more appropriate to convey the sense intended. The person so blessed is the one who perseveres under trial as already explained in earlier verses. Such a one, having stood the test is approved (dokimos). In verse three dokimion emphasised the process of testing, whereas here the emphasis is more on the person who has successfully endured that process and so “passed” the test (McKnight, 111). This person will receive (lampsetai) the crown of life, the future tense indicating that the promised blessing still lies in the future, especially perhaps for James’ suffering community.

What, precisely, is “the crown of life” (ton stephanon tēs zōēs)? Virtually all commentators read this phrase as epexegetical, that is, “the crown which is life.” This is another way of saying that those who persevere will receive God’s promise of salvation which is eternal life. The same phrase is found in Revelation 2:9-10 and its use there, in the ascended Christ’s message to the suffering church of Smyrna, may have relevance for interpreting our text:

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (ton stephanon tēs zōēs).

This text has similar characteristics to James 1: the apocalyptic context of trials by which the community is tested. It is not insignificant that James’ community may well be persecuted by other (wealthier?) Jews. Nevertheless the trials are limited in duration, and over against the threat of death is the promised “crown of life.” In Revelation chapter four, the elders clothed in white garments (a picture of the church?) are crowned with golden crowns which they cast in worship before throne (Revelation 4:4, 10). As God’s people endure the testing of their faith even to the point of death, they will be crowned as victors, as those who have triumphed over the opposition. The imagery of the crown is most commonly used of the wreath awarded to victorious athletes in the games (Davids, 80; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25 where “wreath” translates stephanon). A similar sense is seen in Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7-8:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Paul’s crown of righteousness is the equivalent of James and John’s crown of life, and Peter’s “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Each in slightly different ways refers to the eschatological blessing and recognition awaiting those who faithfully endure. The whole life of the believer will be “crowned” as it were, by their entering into the life “promised” (epēggeilato) to those who love him (tois agapōsin auton). They shall receive the honour and acknowledgement of those in God’s royal presence, his children, and heirs of the kingdom.

The subject of the promise is identified in both translations above as “the Lord,” the italics in the NASB indicating that these words have been supplied by the translators. A better translation would supply “God” as the subject of the promise and so bring this verse into harmony with James 2:5 where an identical construction is used (“promised to those who love him”), and where the subject of the sentence is explicitly identified as God. There is no explicit promise in the Old Testament that James is here citing, though a number of texts do promise God’s steadfast love to those who love him (see, for example, Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 7:9; Psalm 145:20). James generalises the broad sweep of Scripture in which those who love God and therefore stand firm in times of trial will be those who receive his blessing.

An Ethics of Presence & Virtue (Psalms 9-11) Pt 2

Hands of hopeIn Sunday’s post I suggested that Psalms 9-11 generate a moral vision for the people of God. What, then, might this positive vision of life look like?

1)     It will be a life in community, the life of the people of God, rather than isolated individuals. Although David seems to stand alone against the wish of his interlocutors, David was not alone, and one can be sure that his leadership in this matter would stimulate a corresponding response in others. Further, the very psalms themselves testify to a community that kept this vision alive and embodied their hope.

2)     It will be a life deeply grounded in the knowledge of God and vision of hope that emerges from the Old and New Testaments. It is clear that the faith, hope and worldview that come to expression in these psalms is grounded in the revelation of God given in the scriptures of the Hebrew people.

3)     It will be life that finds expression in worship and praise, prayer and trust, faith and obedience, that is, in the acknowledgement of this God who is sovereign over all, who will judge the wicked and reward the righteous. The form of life called forth by these psalms will be grounded, nurtured and supported in this community of faithful worship and devotion. In particular, the community and those in it will pray as the psalmist prays, crying out for God to arise, praying Thy Kingdom come!

4)     It will be a life in which particular virtues are evident: we have already mentioned faith and hope. These in turn generate patience and courage. Patience refers to that steadfastness that waits for God’s action, which refuses to capitulate to despair, faithlessness or godlessness. It is the concrete expression of hope and is oriented toward that hope. The courage in these psalms springs from the faith-conviction that God reigns and will indeed establish his justice. Therefore the psalmist has courage to stay, despite personal threats and dangerous conditions.

Other virtues are evident in these psalms. If God loves justice his people will aspire to live justly. If God cares for the vulnerable and shelters the oppressed, so his people will learn to emulate God’s compassion for those suffering and afflicted by the conditions of the world. Over against the pride, greed and violence of the wicked, God’s people will value humility, contentment, gentleness and peace.

5)     It will be a life of presence in the midst of the society. Through faith, David stays. The community of God’s people will be present to the vulnerable and afflicted, ministering to them and in solidarity with them. They will also be present to the wicked as a testimony against their ways. In both cases they serve as a witness to the present and coming kingdom. They not only pray Thy Kingdom come! but live the ways of the kingdom in the midst of world.

In the early years of his career Karl Barth adopted the language of 2 Peter 3:12 as a watchword for his understanding of the nature of Christian life: “waiting for and hastening the coming day of God…” These psalms bear a similar testimony. The church fervently prays Arise O God, Thy Kingdom come! and therefore waits in anticipation of a new heavens and earth in which righteousness dwells. In the meantime, however, they hasten towards and bear witness to that coming kingdom by practicing righteousness here and now. They practice an ethic of resistance and non-participation with respect to the ways of “the nations” and instead live gently, humbly and generously in a world of violence, pride and greed. Theirs is a spirituality of faith, hope and love, and an ethics of presence and virtue, and all this in the community of God’s people.

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 11

bird-in-handRead Psalm 11

Although only seven short verses, this psalm speaks powerfully to those facing crises or danger, for it was written in response to some kind of threat and danger. “In the Lord I take refuge; How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain’” (v. 1).

We cannot know who this person or these people are who counsel flight, although we get some reason as to why they do so in verses two and three: the very foundations of society are being destroyed, and the wicked seem to be in the ascendancy. Although they slink about in darkness, they are armed and ready to shoot at the upright and bring them down. It seems there is nothing the upright can do in these circumstances except flee. Perhaps the counsel to flee comes from those concerned for the welfare of the psalmist. Perhaps it comes as a cynical admonition from those who sneer at his faith and think his defeat is imminent and irreversible. Either way, it is the counsel of despair: “Give up! Flee! Take cover! Save yourself; run for your life; seek safety elsewhere and let the city go to the dogs: there is nothing you can do.”

This is precisely what the psalmist refuses to do: “In the Lord I take refuge.” This bold statement recalls the promise of 2:12 that those who seek refuge in the Lord shall be blessed, even if the nations rage, and the “man of the earth” continues to enact terror (10:18).

What can the psalmist see that his counsellors cannot? “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven” (v. 4). The psalmist is convinced that God is still on the throne, that God reigns, and so the events of earth are not beyond divine sovereignty and providence. God is neither absent nor uninvolved, but tests humanity, weighing the deeds both of the righteous and the wicked. Further, the psalmist believes that God exercises judgement, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous (vv. 6-7). This judgement is  still future for the psalmist, but it is not necessarily eschatological (a judgement beyond the grave), but may in fact be historical. The wicked will in this life get their “just deserts,” while the righteous will receive God’s favour and be vindicated (cf. Craigie). It is possible, however, that the final phrase of the psalm, “the upright will behold his face,” may be understood in terms of the beatific vision promised to God’s people in the New Testament (see, for example, Revelation 22: 4).Archer

Ultimately, then, the psalmist’s confidence is based upon faith. He trusts God because he trusts that the reality of God is more sure and more certain than the disintegrating chaos that surrounds him. This faith has several crucial aspects, which reflect the theological worldview of the ancient Hebrew people:

  1. First, God is utterly supreme, the transcendent ruler, lord and judge of all humanity;
  2. This God is moral, dwelling in his holy temple; he loves righteousness and so hates the one who loves violence (v. 5). The moral nature of God undergirds his activity as judge;
  3. In contrast to God, humanity is morally corrupt, and remains accountable to God who tests all people (vv. 4-5). Yet the possibility of being found among the righteous remains, and those who trust in God and practise righteousness will find that they are sheltered by God, and will “see” God’s face (v. 7);
  4. Judgement is certain, and there is a firm hope that ultimately, justice will be done, with the righteous being vindicated and blessed;
  5. How did the ancient Israelites know all this? By a conviction that this God had revealed himself to Israel throughout her history, and had called Israel into a covenant relationship with God. This knowledge and hope, assurance, courage, and moral vision are grounded in God’s revelation of himself and his will to his elect people.

The central question of the psalm is that put to the psalmist in verse three: if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The psalmist seems to ignore the question, and instead directs his attention to the Lord who is in his holy temple (v. 4). Craigie (133) notes that this hints at the immanence of God: God is not simply transcendent and sovereignly powerful, but also present to comfort, help and support. There is no dualism here, no division of heaven and earth into separate compartments and spheres of rule. God’s throne is in heaven; God dwells in his temple. The same God is lord over all things, sovereignly powerful and yet close enough to shelter those who trust in him.

But is the psalmist evading the question? Perhaps not. For the psalmist, the Lord himself is the true foundation, the only foundation, an indestructible foundation upon which he can build his life and in whom he can trust. Social and cultural foundations may falter, people fail, institutions fade, and civilisations fall, but God remains steadfast. God himself and God alone is our only foundation—an unseen and intangible foundation, but no less real for all that.

What can the righteous do? They can do what the psalmist did: trust more deeply in God, and refuse to abandon their post. If we assume Davidic authorship of the psalm, we find here a leadership that refuses to capitulate in the face of desperate crisis. We find here a righteousness that refuses to hand over the city  to the wicked. We find here a profound vision of faith in the sovereign goodness, presence and power of God—the true foundation upon which a life, a leader, and a city may be built. David stays because David trusts.

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 10

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Read Psalm 10

Last week we noted that this psalm is very possibly a continuation of Psalm 9 and perhaps the two were originally one psalm. Certainly there are a number of common themes between the two psalms. The psalm begins with a complaint that echoes the age-old mystery of God’s absence or hiddenness in the face of ever-present evil. “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (v. 1). Perhaps everyone who has ever trusted in God has had occasion to ask this question. Where is God when things go wrong? Furthermore, the psalm gives no answer to this devastating question, although it does have a response.

The psalmist’s question highlights the dilemma of the person who trusts in God’s universal sovereignty yet sees that sovereignty denied in the reality of earthly affairs. Instead of divine sovereignty, justice and peace, the wicked prosper in their pursuits, and it seems there is no one to hinder their oppression of the vulnerable.

In verses 2-11 the pride, greed and violence of the wicked are portrayed. At the base of their wickedness lies godlessness (vv. 3-4), a practical atheism which lives according to the dictum, “there is no God.” The apparent silence and hiddenness of God has caused the wicked to cast off the remembrance of God and to live as though there is no God. God’s judgements are ‘out of sight, out of mind’ as far as the wicked are concerned (v. 5), and so their mouth is full of cursing and oppression, and their activity is violent and oppressive. The psalmist portrays them as a lion lying in wait to catch its prey, who are described as innocent, unfortunate and afflicted (vv. 8-9).

Verse 12 echoes 9:19: “Arise, O Lord!” This verse, together with verse 15, constitute the primary petition of the psalm. The psalmist calls upon God to “lift up your hand…break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer.” He prays that the wicked would have no more power to afflict, and indeed, that God would so act, that the wicked would be uprooted from the world until there are ‘no more.’ The psalmist implores God to act so that the wicked would no longer think that they will not be brought to account. He implores God to act also on account of the afflicted who depend upon God to be their deliverer and helper.

The psalm finds its climax in verses 16-18 where the psalmist proclaims that the Lord is king forever. The Lord has not abdicated his authority, nor is his sovereignty annulled. He has seen the oppression of the wicked and heard the cry of the afflicted. The Lord will act to judge on behalf of the oppressed.

As in Psalm 9, the psalmist’s hope is that God will arise to defend the cause of the needy and judge the oppressor. In both psalms God’s kingdom is eternal, and his eternal reign is set in contrast to the ephemeral existence of humanity. In both psalms, the longing for justice takes the form of eschatological hope.

Of particular interest in this psalm is the final line (cf. 9:19-20): ‘So that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror.’ This evocative image suggests an orientation which is often celebrated today; that is, the one who is grounded, earthy, ecologically sensitive, natural and strong. In the psalm, however, it designates something rather different, the kind of secularity for which there is no spirit, no God, no life hereafter, but simply the here and now, bodies and desires, and the will to power.

The psalm is a critique of this kind of life-vision. It suggests that without God and without spirit there will be no enduring justice or peace. It suggests that a godless secularity will issue in a brutal world of violence, abuse and uncaring consumption. The man who is of the earth is one who brings terror into the lives of others.

How valid is this claim? For many today, the origin of terror is precisely those who ‘imagine’ a god: religion is seen as a—if not the—major source of terror, violence and injustice in the world. This assertion is not without some substance, though it is often overstated. Religious zeal has not uncommonly become an oppressive and even terrifying power in the world. To the extent that this is so, it is a ‘religion that is of the earth,’ no matter how exalted its claims, or exuberant its worship.

What is needed is ‘man’ who is not of the earth. This, of course, is the message of the gospel: Jesus Christ is the new ‘man,’ the beginning of a new humanity. The virgin birth of Christ signifies a new beginning, a creative act of God which will ultimately issue in a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth. Those who are in Christ are called to be this new humanity, a people who pray and cry out to God in the face of human injustice and oppression, and who dare to live according to a new vision of justice and peace in communities of hope and care. Such a community insists that might is not right, and so stands against the evil that is in the world, and stands with the afflicted, because it stands in hope of God’s eschatological kingdom: Thy Kingdom come!

A Psalm for Sunday – Psalm 9

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 presetRead Psalm 9

The first thing to be said about this psalm is that it is quite possible, even likely, that it should be read with Psalm 10 as a single psalm. The two psalms seem to be an acrostic poem where each line or section begins with the next letter of the alphabet. Psalm 9 starts with the first Hebrew letter, aleph, and concludes with the eleventh letter Kaph – half way through the twenty-two letter alphabet. Psalm 10 then commences with the twelfth letter Lamedh and continues to the end of the alphabet. The pattern is not entire, however; Psalm 9 for instance, omits the fourth letter Daleth, and there are a few difficulties with the pattern in Psalm 10. Nevertheless, Hebrew scholars feel there are good grounds for considering that two psalms should be read together, if not as a single work.

The vision and theme of the psalm is of the Lord as the sovereign ruler and judge of all nations. That is, the Lord is the universal sovereign who exercises judgement both for David in his immediate situation, and eschatologically for the whole world. The psalm contrasts the kingdoms of this world – the nations – with the kingdom of God. In New Testament language we might say that the whole psalm breathes the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer: Thy Kingdom come!

Verses 1-2 commence as a vow of praise to God Most High (cf. 7:17). Then follows a celebration of God’s judgement of David’s enemies, resulting in their complete and utter ruin (vv. 3-6). They are blotted out and destroyed forever, so that even the very memory of them has perished. In terms of modern sensibilities, this is very troubling indeed, for it seems that the psalmist has co-opted God for his own nationalist purposes, and provides religious validation for violence and hatred of enemies. He is, as usually we all are, convinced of the justness of his own cause, and sees his victory as divine justice.

In contrast to the transience of the enemies who have perished, the Lord abides forever. In verses 7-10 David enlarges his vision: not only has God judged in his favour, but he will judge the world in righteousness and with equity. This is an unusual equity, however, for it favours the oppressed and troubled. Verses nine and ten particularly, recall Psalm 2:12, that those who seek refuge in God will not be forgotten or forsaken by God, but rather will be the recipients of his protection and blessing. For many centuries God’s people have found comfort and strength in these verses.

Psalm 9On the basis of this hope, then, the psalmist exhorts his listeners to praise (v. 11) and again reiterates that God does not forget the afflicted, but indeed will require or avenge their blood (v. 12). Here again modern sensibilities are affronted; yet the image serves to emphasise the reality and strictness of the divine judgement. God himself will take the cause of the afflicted and oppressed and will visit upon those who oppress them, the same kind of treatment that they have dealt out to others. Verses 13-14 now petition the Lord for his grace (cf. 4:4; 6:2), and anticipate that he shall indeed be gracious.

Verse 15 returns to the theme of judgement, and begins with an observation that the nations get caught in their own traps and devices. Like Psalm 7:15-16, this verse suggests that there is a natural moral order functioning in the world, a ‘law’ as it were, of sowing and reaping in which evil intended for others returns upon one’s own head. However, verse 16 suggests that even the apparently impersonal consequences of one’s actions are the direct result of Yahweh’s personal exercise of judgement. Verses 17-18 play on the idea of memory and forgetfulness. The wicked who forget God will ‘return’ to Sheol – where there is no memory of God (cf. 6:5). But the poor and afflicted will not be forgotten, for God remembers them and does not forget their cry (v. 12).

The final two verses of the psalm form its climax, and are the key to its meaning as a whole:

Arise, O Lord, do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged before you.
Put them in fear, O Lord;
Let the nations know that they are but men.

After the celebration of humanity’s exalted status in Psalm 8, this plaintive cry brings us back to earth, reminding us of our fallen state and its moral consequences. There is a stark contrast between God and humanity, between human activity and divine justice. There is also a very  sharp reminder that we need divine judgement if ultimately, there is to be justice and equity.

It seems that human power will always exert itself against God, bringing injustice and oppression to others. The nations forget God (v. 17) and oppress the needy (v. 18). They rage and imagine vain things (2:1). The nations and their leaders strut about upon the stage of history as though they were God. For the psalmist, then, the only hope for peace and equity lies in the hope that God will ultimately judge the nations and thereby bring true justice to pass.

In all this, of course, a genuine problem arises: it is difficult to perceive God’s sovereign reign over the nations in our present world. Injustice, human pretension and violence abound. Where are you Lord, in the midst of the ever-present tensions within and among the nations? How long, O Lord, will you allow the powerful to oppress the poor and vulnerable? Why do you delay in coming? Arise O Lord!

We, like the psalmist, are called to see what cannot be seen: the universal sovereignty of God. And to believe what is almost impossible to believe: that God will one day put things to rights. In so doing, our hope is wholly placed on God, his faithfulness, his righteousness and his kingdom. And so we pray, Thy Kingdom come!