Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 17, 2016

Psalm 36:5-10 Commentary

Verse 1’s reference to an “oracle” that’s in the psalmist’s heart about the wicked’s sinfulness may puzzle citizens of the 21st century who link Oracle to Internet technology. They may wonder if this is some sort of moral “Cloud.” That’s why it’s important to remember the term “oracle” generally refers to some kind of revelation from God. The Bible records prophets such as Balaam, Isaiah and Jeremiah as speaking such oracles. The NIV Study Bible suggests Psalm 36’s oracle may be an “insight, perhaps coming like a flash, into the true character of the wicked.”

Some scholars believe Psalm 36 was originally two psalms. Yet as J. Clinton Mc Cann points out, its perhaps unwieldy form is actually both important and instructive. The words and witness of the poet are, after all, surrounded by references to “the wicked” in verses 1 and 11. This serves as a kind of reminder that opposition always surrounds God’s children. This was true of the psalmists, prophets and especially Jesus. In fact, even today people regularly oppose God, God’s law, God’s ways and even God’s people.

On top of that, the psalmist’s description of the wicked is also a description of the natural state of worshipers. By nature, even God’s sons and daughters rebel against both God and God’s good purposes. What’s more, we struggle against our own rebellion even after God’s grace has rescued us for God’s loving plans and purposes.

While we generally assume that the line between good and evil runs between people, worshipers recognize that line runs almost right down the middle of all people. So Psalm 36 offers those who preach and teach it an opportunity to reflect with worshipers on humanity’s basic sinfulness and Christians’ struggles to resist the temptation to continue to rebel against God.

The contrast the psalmist draws between the nature of wickedness and the living God could hardly be more vivid. While the wicked don’t offer God the loving worship and obedience God deserves, the poet insists that God’s love and faithfulness is like a tower that reaches all the way to heaven. Rebels against God are so “stuck on themselves” that they miss God’s towering love. So they’re a bit like someone who stands before the Sears or CN Tower and simply denies it even exists.

While the wicked are so self-absorbed that they don’t even recognize their rebellion against God, God’s righteousness, the psalmist professes, is like mighty mountains and God’s justice is like the oceans’ depths. Since wicked people assume they’re only accountable to themselves, they oppose God and God’s righteousness and justice in every imaginable way. So they’re like people who stand at the foot of Mount Everest or Baker but claim they aren’t real.

While the wicked wholeheartedly commit themselves to destroying others, God, insists the psalmist, preserves both “men and beasts.” In fact, while the wicked plot to harm others even while they lie in bed, God foils their destructive plans. God preserves and saves both people and “beasts.” So worshipers don’t have to either fear the power of the wicked or assume they must provide for themselves. God generously provides for all of God’s creation and creatures.

This assertion offers Psalm 36’s preachers and teachers an opportunity to reflect on God’s care for God’s whole creation. Christianity sometimes devolves into an obsession with “me (or us) and Jesus.” This psalm reminds us that God loves God’s entire creation. God is stunningly generous not just with people, but also with “critters.” In fact, Jesus goes on in Matthew 5:45 to assert that God sends rain on both the wicked and those who know God.

While the wicked who so richly benefit from God’s generosity plot death, God, in a sense, plots life. Life is, after all, among God’s good gifts to God’s creation. Yet people naturally distort that life by often doing what makes the rich richer and the powerful more powerful. God, by contrast, longs for abundance for all.

On top of that, while the wicked live and stagger around in a kind of moral darkness, God is the light in whom we see light. In a world characterized by so much spiritual darkness, God graciously displays God’s light through God’s love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice.

Because of God’s loving faithfulness, the psalmist can conclude Psalm 36 by begging God to continue to show God’s love and righteousness to those who know and faithfully obey the Lord. She can also plead with God to protect her from the evildoers who relentlessly plot her harm.

So Psalm 36 doesn’t advance a kind of “Pollyanna” theology. It’s very candid about the reality of human wickedness and arrogance. Yet the psalmist also professes a far deeper reality. God is startlingly loving and faithful. So God’s adopted sons and daughters can stake our lives and future on God’s never-failing love. After all, God’s purposes for God’s world will ultimately prevail. God will get the last word.

Illustration Idea

Among the United States’ Marine Corp’s most cherished mottoes is: “Earned. Never given.” It refers to the respect that Marines earn by enduring almost unspeakable deprivation throughout boot camp. The motto “Earned. Never Given” is emblazoned on an emblem presented to men and women who are, until then, considered “recruits.” It signals that they are now Marines.

Yet one might argue that Psalm 36’s motto is: “Given. Never earned.” It affirms, after all, that God in God’s faithfulness, preserves both “men and beasts,” in other words, God’s whole creation. Yet people don’t somehow earn shelter and protection. God graciously gives it to us.


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