Proper 7B

June 18, 2012

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 9:9-20

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    Some who try to preach and teach Psalm 9 may find it difficult to do so.  After all, it has a number of stylistic elements that defy easy categorization of it.  What’s more, at least some western Christians may find it challenging to relate to its description of personal persecution.

    It is fair to say, however, that Psalm 9 is a prayer that has at least three elements.  There’s a delightful section of thanksgiving for God’s saving work in history that reveals God’s reign over all of creation.  Psalm 9 also contains a poignant section that laments the poet’s current plight in which her enemies and the nations are wreaking havoc and challenging God’s reign over them.  Finally, it ends with a beautiful intercession on behalf of the lowly and oppressed.

    This multi-dimensional prayer offers those who preach and teach Psalm 9 a good opportunity to reflect with hearers on the nature of their prayers.  It’s tempting, after all, to shrink our prayers to a presentation of a wish list to God of our desires.  With some prompting, Christians may also spend time in prayer praising God.  Yet how often do we spend time, as the psalmist does, prayerfully lamenting the pain and suffering of the people around us?  Even as most of us pray with our eyes closed, Psalm 9 invites us to pray with them open in the sense that pray about the pain and suffering of those we see and hear about around us.

    Psalm 9’s poet addresses her praise directly to God.  She vows to rejoice and be glad, not first in what God does, but in who God is.  Of course, the psalmist also praises the Lord for what God has done.  She celebrates how God has repelled her enemies, causing them to stumble and fall back, not just before the poet, but also before the Lord.

    However, it isn’t just the psalmist whom enemies have tormented.  In verse 5 the psalmist turns from a description of God’s salvation of her to God’s salvation of the children of Israel.  In fact, perhaps the psalmist has telescoped persecution of both Israel and him so that “my” enemies refers to Israel’s.

    In any case, God’s royal reign is especially manifest in Psalm 9 in God’s judging of the nations.  The poet professes that God exercises that reign by scolding, ruining and even destroying wicked nations, as well as obliterating them from memory and uprooting their cities. 

    Because God is king of all creation, the psalmist can have good hope.  She can be confident that God is a refuge for the oppressed, whether individuals, communities or even nations.  God is a stronghold, someone to whom people can turn, even when they’re in trouble.  As a result, those who know God know they can trust in the Lord.  God, after all, never abandons God’s sons and daughters.  This is the throbbing heartbeat of Psalm 20: our faithful God is always trustworthy, no matter the circumstance.  God’s children, individually and corporately, can sing praise to the God who remembers otherwise forgotten people and hears the cries of the afflicted.

    That ringing profession may make verses 13-18’s turn toward lament seem unexpected, if not startling.  After all, the poet moves straight from, “For he who avenges blood remembers; he does not ignore the cry of the wicked” to “O Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!  Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death.”

    Yet perhaps that turn toward lament shouldn’t startle those who listen to Psalm 9 carefully.  After all, because God has protected the poet in the past, he feels free to turn again for help to the Lord.  His enemies are (again!) persecuting him.  They’ve driving him, in fact, to the lip of his grave.  Of course, they’ve done this before.  They’ve dug pits.  But they’ve ended up stumbling into them.  The poet’s enemies have strung up nets to trap God’s children.  However, they’ve gotten caught in their own treachery.  So the psalmist can confidently beg God to trip up his enemies again, to have mercy on him and lift him up from the brink of death.

    The lament section of Psalm 9 invites those who preach and teach it to reflect with hearers on the way remembering God’s faithfulness can embolden our prayer lives.  21st century westerners suffer from a kind of amnesia.  In our race toward tomorrow, toward the next job promotion or newest invention, some of us can hardly remember what happened in our world yesterday.  So it’s tempting for even Christians to forget what God has done.  However, Psalm 9’s poet can plead for God’s mercy precisely because she remembers God’s mercy in the past.

    Because she’s seen how the nations who forget God eventually die, she can plead with God to again stand up and judge those nations.  Because the poet realizes that God remembers the needy and afflicted, she can beg God to strike those evil nations with terror so that they come to know that they’re only human, that there’s only one God and it’s not them.

    With its element of lament and memories of persecution, Psalm 9 can serve as a liturgical vehicle for praying for all those who are oppressed.  We see oppression at so many levels.  Parents neglect their children.  Spouses batter each other.  Bullies torment classmates.  Employers oppress their employees (and sometimes vice versa).  Psalm 9 offers worshipers words with which to pray for such oppressed people.

    Recent events like the Arab Spring remind us that governments continue to oppress their citizens.  Violent repression flourishes in places like Syria.  Governments allow citizens to starve so that rulers may flourish.  In other places, thugs and terrorists oppress others.  Psalm 9 offers worshipers words with which to intercede for such victims.

    And, of course, Christians continue to suffer oppression for their faith in too many corners of the world.  Recently numerous Nigerian churches have been attacked.  China’s government continues to try to keep a tight reign on religious organizations.  In fact, in many places where Christians are a minority, believers suffer greatly.  What’s more, adherents of the same religion sometimes attack others with whom they don’t completely agree.  Psalm 9 offers worshipers words with which to plead with God to have mercy on all who are persecuted for their faith and rescue them from the threat of death.

    Illustration Idea

    In verse 9 the psalmist professes, “You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”  In 1989 a massive earthquake devastated Armenia, killing over 30,000 people in less than 4 minutes.  In the midst of the ensuing chaos, a father raced to his son’s school.  When he arrived, he was horrified to discover that the massive earthquake had flattened it.

    While surveying the rubble, the dad remembered a promise that he had made to his young son. “What ever happens, I’ll always be there for you.”  Since he remembered that his son’s classroom had been in the back right corner of the building, he rushed to that spot and began frantically digging through its rubble.  As other grieving parents arrived, some tried to pull the man off the rubble saying, “It’s too late! They’re dead. You can’t help.”  Even a police officer told the grieving father to go home.

    But the father pressed on alone both because he needed to know his son’s fate for himself and because of his promise.  He dug for more than 36 hours.  Finally in the 38th hour he pulled back a large boulder and among the remaining rubble he heard his son’s voice.  He screamed, “Armand!”

    A faint voice answered him, “Dad, Dad, it’s me.” Then he added: “I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that you would save us because you promised me that that no matter what happened you’d always be there for me. You did it. You did it, Dad!”