Psalm 9 - Do not let mortals prevail

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To the leader: according to Muth-labben. A Psalm of David.
1) I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2) I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

3) When my enemies turned back,
they stumbled and perished before you.
4) For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.
5) You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6) The enemies have vanished in everlasting ruins;
their cities you have rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.

7) But the Lord sits enthroned forever,
he has established his throne for judgment.
8) He judges the world with righteousness;
he judges the peoples with equity.
9) The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10) And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

11) Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion.
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
12) For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.

13) Be gracious to me, O Lord.
See what I suffer from those who hate me;
you are the one who lifts me up from the gates of death,
14) so that I may recount all your praises,
and, in the gates of daughter Zion,
rejoice in your deliverance.

15) The nations have sunk in the pit that they made;
in the net that they hid has their own foot been caught.
16) The Lord has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.
Higgaion. Selah

17) The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
18) For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.

19) Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
20) Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human.

Psalm 9
Proper 7, Sunday between June 19 and June 25, Year B, verses 9-20

So many psalms deal, often directly, with the real threat of enemies. It's not just the people of Israel 3000 years ago. It is a reality of life in so many times and places. Over time, and sometimes every day, people, communities, and nations are in danger from those who would:
  • Frustrate our plans;
  • Prevent us from thriving and prospering;
  • Take our food, our wealth, our land;
  • Take our labor, even enslave us;
  • Take our safety and bodily integrity through violence, including sexual violence;
  • Take our lives; and
  • Erase our very memory from the earth.

Theologically, I am a little uncomfortable with the way this and other psalms seek to remind the Lord that if we are destroyed, we can no longer praise God's name or tell of God's saving power (v14). Should not our praise and adoration have it's own worth? Do we not already trust God to value us as her own creation?

But God does not seem to be distressed at our need to "work the ref," and influence his divine judgments. God is God, and the psalmist, the one raising this plea and prayer, keeps reminding themselves of this.

"The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble (v9)." If you are beset, if you are in trouble, in debt, pursued, and in fear, who better to call on that the Holy One who protects and defends her own, a Power beyond that of mortals to make justice reign in all the earth?

And this God's preferential option for the oppressed arises from God's compassionate concern for those enduring suffering. "Be gracious to me, O Lord. See what I suffer from those who hate me" (v13).

We might say that everyone needs God's favor and grace. But those who are in touch
with their suffering, who know their oppression, know the blessing of deliverance more strongly. And those who know their Deliverer hesitate not to call on his name, and to offer up their praise and testimony at any and all times.

For the one who has heard of the Greatness of God, and the one who have experienced it, have the ability to trust in God's power and God's will to do it again.

While praying for the destruction of enemies (note how the prayer is for adversaries' evil desires to be inflicted upon them), we trust in the Lord's righteousness to render judgment.

When, where, how, and to whom is up to God, even when we are sure we know. We rember that we and our enemies share a common mortality. And that is the basis not only for God's intervention, but for our turning God-wards, for the Lord alone is our hope and our salvation. When we pray "Do not let mortals prevail" (v19), are we not affirming that we, too, must give way before the Lord? The well-know prayer says, let not my will but thy will be done. Our own mortality gives way before God's reality.

Yet we pray and trust in God's will: that the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever (v18).In our poverty and need, we trust and believe that God will hear us, and grant our prayer, because we seek the Lord and stand not on our virtue, but on that relationship with the One who is a stronghold for the oppressed (v9-10).

In Hebrew, Psalms 9 and 10 form an acrostic, and were likely a single psalm.
Unknown artist. Hebrew Psalter, English manuscript from the early 13th century, Jewish Museum. This manuscript, open to Psalms 6:7–9:19, was used as a schoolbook in the first half of the thirteenth century. At least three Christians annotated the Hebrew text extensively in Latin and French. The notes in the margin mainly concern Hebrew grammar and vocabulary. The Latin translation relies on the Vulgate, but also reflects knowledge of Jewish sources. Photos of two pages, combined. Page 1 and page 2. This is a faithful photographic reproduction of a two-dimensional, public domain work of art. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.

* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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