Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 21, 2015

Psalm 9:9-20 Commentary

Psalm 9:9-20 (for help with the other psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 133, please consult the April 6, 2015 commentary)

It’s regrettable that the Lectionary appoints only the verses 9-20 of Psalm 9 for this particular Sunday.  It’s not just, after all, that it offers only part of Psalm 9 for our consideration.  It’s also that Psalm 9 and 10, as Old Testament scholar James Limburg suggests, should be considered together because they were likely originally one psalm.

Yet by inviting us to consider only verses 9-20, the Lectionary does highlight God’s promise to be “a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (9).  This is appropriate because that’s the beating heart of this psalm of praise.  It’s the theme preachers and teachers want to constantly hold before their listeners.

It’s hard to detect much thematic development in Psalm 9.  Perhaps that’s because the psalmist feels bound by the acrostic formed by the combination of psalms 9 and 10.  That is, taken together, each line of the psalms is begun with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.  Those who preach and teach this psalm may even want to remind listeners of how difficult that makes it to present this psalm’s ideas in any kind of cogent way.

Even those committed to following the Lectionary’s suggestions will at least want to address the verses 1-8 that fall outside its parameters.  So we note the psalmist’s commitment to praise the Lord because of all the “wonders” (1) God has done.  In fact, the poet addresses verses 1-6 directly to the Lord.  In them she describes some of God’s “wonders.”  The poet also frames her description of those wonders by referring to her “enemies (3, 6) whom God has turned back (3) and overtaken (6).

In verses 7-10 the psalmist shifts his focus from God’s past wonderful deeds to concerns about the present and future.  God, he insists in verse 7, reigns over the whole universe.  God rules and judges the world’s nations (8).  As a result, the psalmist can profess in verse 9’s heart of the psalm, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”  Because God is a “mighty fortress,” the poet tells the Lord in verse 10, “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”

Even God’s adopted children naturally assume we need to protect ourselves, or have our government or nation protect us.  Nations and people invest a great deal in various means of protection.  But, of course, despite all that investment, people, governments and nations sometimes fail to protect.  They sometimes prove to be less than adequate defenders and protectors.

Yet God’s protection never fails.  Because God is a stronghold in times of trouble, God’s people can trust in the Lord.  God, after all, never abandons the Lord’s people.  God walks with God’s sons and daughters through the valleys of the shadow of death.  God stays with God’s children as they walk through deep water and fiery trials.

This affirmation, however, requires some careful explanation.  Even the psalmist, after all, experiences persecution.  His enemies “persecute” (13) him, perhaps even bringing him to death’s doorstep.  Verse 18 at least suggests the needy are sometimes “forgotten” and their hopes sometimes “perish.”  Evil “men” and “nations” sometimes “triumph” (19).

Our own experiences also show that bad things sometimes happen to God’s adopted children.  We too suffer loss, heartache, grief and misery.  Certainly God’s currently oppressed people in places like the Middle East and other parts of the world know what it is to suffer.

So those who preach and teach Psalm 9 will want to explore just what God’s protection entails.  We note, first, there is a wisdom element to the poet’s profession.  That is to say, the psalmist has observed how God serves as a stronghold and refuge for the oppressed she knows.  She has seen and personally experienced how trustworthy God is.

Moreover, Psalm 9’s preachers and teachers will want to note that even the misery God’s people sometimes experience cannot separate them from God’s abiding love in Jesus Christ.  Even when God’s people walk through various fiery trials, deep waters and dark valleys, God stays right with them.

What’s more, the enemies of God and God’s people will not get the last word.  The needy may be forgotten on this side of heaven’s curtain.  The afflicted may cry out.  Hope may die.  Yet in the end God will swallow up Satan, sin and death at the return of Jesus Christ.  In the new creation there will be no room for oppression, misery, suffering and weeping.  It will, instead, forever resound with the sounds of praise and thanksgiving to God.

Finally, God’s protection of those God loves invites God’s children to walk alongside the oppressed and others who are enduring times of trouble.  Psalm 9 implies an ethics of care for those who are beleaguered, especially those on society’s margins.  It invites God’s adopted children to help serve as a kind of refuge and stronghold for those unjustly treated.

Those who preach and teach Psalm 9 may want to note its thematic links to the other lessons the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday.  In the first lesson, I Samuel 17, God is a refuge and stronghold for the young David in his confrontation with his enemy Goliath.  The Second Lesson, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, refers to Paul’s experience of God’s help and salvation when he underwent various “afflictions, hardships and calamities.”  Mark 4’s Gospel Lesson also refers to God’s help in times of trouble such as what Jesus’ disciples experienced during the storm that threatened to drown them.

Illustration Idea

As I write this, news of the hacking of millions of American federal workers’ most sensitive data seems to be getting worse and worse.  Despite the government’s best efforts to protect that information, the hacking seems to have left millions of people vulnerable to financial fraud and theft.

Currently no one knows just who invaded the “stronghold” that is the American government’s computer network.  But it’s interesting that “nations” are currently blaming at each other


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