Sure Deliverance

I’m not sure why, but the kids and I keep reading the Psalms.

I know, it sounds like a really great idea. But in the words of a friend who attempted the same and ultimately was punished by God for it with a PhD in Old Testament, “There’s some really strange stuff in there.”

Ok, so maybe “strange” isn’t the word for the dissonance I’m experiencing. But what I’m finding in the first dozen or so Psalms is that the core of Israel’s religious worship consists of an expectation that for the God of all the earth to what is right, Israel’s enemies must be sent running before her swords.

This, of course, is not everything. And perhaps it’s too much to call military victory the core. It closely resides next to the idea that the unjust will not escape the sight, or vengeance, of God.

As I read these poems, I am constantly moving among several thoughts in my mind. One is that the expectation of military victory as the means of YHWH’s engagement with the world is so deeply rooted that (a) I have constantly refreshed sympathy for the disappointed disciples of Jesus; and (b) I consciously wrestle out Christologically revisionist interpretations of the psalms in order to mesh them with a transformed understanding of the victory God has won, and is winning, through His King on behalf of the people of the earth.

The other is that the expectation that injustice will not succeed is weird. It seems off. It seems overly optimistic. It seems just plain wrong.

And here is where I get caught.

I suspect that for the singers of these songs, the tangible reality of injustice was much more acutely felt on a day-to-day basis than it has ever been in my own life. I bet that for them, there were particular faces of injustice to put to these general hopes.

And these songs were sung in faith.

The songs of deliverance are not, for the most part, triumphant proclamations of how God has socked it to the bad guys, but songs of invocation–celebrations beforehand of the just and powerful God that would not believe that evil will be allowed the last word here on earth, as it is not allowed it in heaven above.

The more that the songs strike me as wrong, as wishful, as overly optimistic, the more I am reminded that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

I need to be reminded that the God of all the earth will not allow the unjust to escape his due recompense, that God will not turn a blind eye to the cheat and the swindler–that God will not allow the cry of the righteous to go unheeded.

And we have the resurrection to prove it.

6 thoughts on “Sure Deliverance”

  1. “The more that the songs strike me as wrong, as wishful, as overly optimistic, the more I am reminded that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.”

    I could not agree more- thanks for the perspective!!

  2. Strange indeed. Yes, there are various passages which subscribe to an optimism of justice, one which bolsters, as you say, a resurrection hope. Though, I would argue this is only half the story; much of the Psalter demonstrates not just the presence but absence of hope in justice. There are various instances where the poet makes pleas for deliverance from a persistent and enduring suffering exacted by an oppressor. Of course Psalm 22 is exemplar; but there are darker shades of this genre seen in Psalm 39 and Psalm 88.

    This said, the absence of hope makes room for a larger eschatological hope. And so, it is not contradictory but contrary to the thanksgiving and praise genre which you are highlighting here.

    (Structurally speaking, one-third of its makeup is dedicated to the complaint/lament genre.)

  3. @ Lee

    I am not all that comforted by Psalm 73. Doesn’t it portend a dichotomy between good and evil? How does this Psalm fit when the story of redemption is radically inclusive in scope, where God calls King Nebuchadnezzar his servant to put his own people into exile (Jer. 27:6) and where the rain and sun falls on sinner and saint alike (Matt. 5)?

    Psalm 23 speaks a better word regarding the actions we are to take in response to the question of enemies thought to be wicked or evil:

    You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
    you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
    and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    my whole life long.

    This Psalm envisions a tabling of grace amid death, anticipating the narrative of Jesus.

    – Interestingly enough, though, there are many, many Psalms like Psalm 73, ones which take the easy highground of righteousness, thus scapegoating the enemy…

  4. ..Though I suppose in the case of thugs like Gaddafi or Saleh systematically thumbing down their people with violence and terror, a pretty rigid line can be drawn in the sand. Context and perspective does matter.

    I guess I am just hedging against some of the Psalms which explicitly endorse an ancient, primeval violence via the alleged impunity of the Davidic empire — see Psalm 89!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.