Praise the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people;
he crowns the humble with victory.
Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor
and sing for joy on their beds.
May the praise of God be in their mouths
and a double-edged sword in their hands,
to inflict vengeance on the nations
and punishment on the peoples,
to bind their kings with fetters,
their nobles with shackles of iron,
to carry out the sentence written against them—
this is the glory of all his faithful people.
Praise the Lord. (NIV)
This psalm is a confusing one. It starts off so well! It commands us to praise God with music, singing and dancing. It was a main way of worship in our very ancient past. It sounds like so much fun! (I kind of wish we could do more of that in our worship today!) And it fits in well with the other psalms of joyful praise at the end of the psalter. But then it takes a turn for what we would call ‘the worse.’ And this turn of tone has been confounding scholars and commentators of the 20th and 21st centuries. It rings incongruous to us. Praise to God in one breath and in the next, using a battle sword against the rest of the world? I thought Israel was to be a light to the nations showing them the way to God, not eliminating all opposition!
But there it is. Along with other passages of violence commanded by God in the words of the ancient scriptures. And there is no doubt through the centuries these and others have been used to justify violence against those who don’t see God from the same perspective as “we” do, whoever the “we” might be in a certain case. It would be arrogant of me to say it was misused in the past, although I think it was. I cannot (because I really don’t want to) get past the idea that such violence is not what God had in mind.
People have conflated God’s will with patriotism in every generation. Believing that our country is in the right and our enemy is also God’s enemy is a human ‘go to’ self-justification. So religious fervor becomes a nationalistic fervor and vise versa. We understand on one level that they shouldn’t go together. And yet, we fail to keep those energies separate as we should. Don’t kid yourself. Our generation is just as susceptible.
I do understand that life was harsh in the ancient of days. I do understand that in those early days violence was the accepted way of life. I believe that God’s people were to challenge that violent way of life. Reading the laws of Leviticus, as strange as they are, is a study in society taking a step forward in civility and order, even though we have come far beyond some of those laws and customs to get where we are today. (I recommend Rob Bell’s recorded commentary on Leviticus if you are interested in learning more about this. Find it on www.robbell.com.)
“Vengeance is mine,” (Deuteronomy 32:35, KJV) says the Lord, but here, God is handing that responsibility over to the people. Really? Or is it a case of the current (at the time) culture being ascribed to God? Is this a case of human wishful thinking putting words in God’s mouth? I can only say I hope so.
So what are we to make of this psalm? It fits well with the passage from Daniel we had yesterday that is a reminder that worldly power, no matter how strong it seems, is only temporary. It is a reminder to take it easy when we think we know what God is telling us, because we always think our understanding is correct. If the people of old could get it wrong (which I cannot help but think they have) so could I. If they understood a bit better than the generations before but not as well as the generations to come, well then, we are also a work in progress.
So I say be gentle with one another, especially when you think the other has missed the point, gotten it wrong, misunderstood. And praise the goodness of God that overlooks our faults and loves us where we are.
Blessings to you,
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.