Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 21, 2018
Psalm 62:5-12 Commentary
Psalm 62 is a Psalm of trust with a healthy dose of instruction mixed in. It is tailor-made for troubled times in which the clamor and agitation, grasping materialism and sheer meanness of society threaten the person who is trying to live a God focused life. In other words, Psalm 62 is for times like ours. Here we listen in on the Psalmist as he (the superscription attributes this Psalm to David) commits himself to God when threatened by assaults of conspirators who wish to de-throne him. In this Psalm we have a model of trust in such times; indeed, in the opinion of many scholars Psalm 62 is the greatest expression of simple trust anywhere in the Psalter.
Though the Lectionary is focused only on verses 5-12, it is important to take the Psalm as a whole, because the first two verses are echoed almost exactly in verses 5-6. Such repetition is a literary device that points us to the central focus on the Psalm. Further, verses 3-4 give us the occasion for the writing of the Psalm; without them, the trust exhibited here hangs unexplained in thin air. This is trust in the face of forces that make life very untrustworthy.
So, while I won’t spend a lot of time on those opening 4 verses, it is important to take them into account. The first two verses and the last two verses frame the rest of the Psalm; verses 1 and 2 are an expression of simple yet profound trust while verses 11 and 12 give the simple yet profound reason for such trust. Verses 5-8 are an extended confession of trust and hope, repeating but elaborating on verses 1 and 2.
The remaining verses speak of those who threaten the Psalmist. Verses 3 and 4 identify the intention of these hypocritical liars; they intend to “topple him (the Psalmist, presumably King David) from his lofty place.” They are, as one scholar put it, “reputation wreckers.” Verses 9-10 reveal their weakness and wickedness. Though they think they are heavyweights, they are in reality “but a breath…, together they are but a breath (verse 9).” Further, they are obsessed with material things, whether honestly or dishonestly gained. Not only are they increasingly rich, but they also, and more importantly, “set their hearts on” their riches. These are the kinds of folks Paul warned about in I Timothy 6, when he said that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
In contrast to the weakness and wickedness of his enemies, the Psalmist trusts in God. He uses a proverbial convention to give the reason for that trust. “One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard….” What follows sounds a great deal like the childhood prayer we taught our little ones. “God is great, God and is good, and we thank him for this food.” The Psalmist’s trust in troublesome times is based on two great truths that God has revealed: “you, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are good.”
Because God is all of that, the Psalmist is able to trust quietly (verses 1 and 5) even though these enemies threaten his life, because he believes that God will make it right in the end. Despite the lies these enemies are spreading about him, threatening his place in the world, the Psalmist trusts that in the end, God will judge all people, not on their big words, but on their deeds. The Psalmist knows that the accusations of his foes are not true, and he trusts that God will reward him according to what he has actually done, not according to his damaged reputation. That last verse (5), in other words, is not teaching some version of salvation by works. It is simply appealing to the justice of God to make things right in a world where so much is wrong. Judge me by what I have actually done, not what people say about me. My deeds show who I am. Or to put it in terms of James 2, our works show our faith (in the case of the Psalmist his quiet trust).
There are many homiletically fruitful points in this lovely Psalm, but I’ll focus on just two of them—first, the contrast between the quiet trust of the Psalmist and the frantic clamor of our times and, second, the connection between this Psalm and the Epiphany of Christ.
Verse 5 sets the tone for the entire Psalm, transforming the indicative of verse 1 into self-talk, an exhortation to actually do what he says he believes in verse 1. It’s easy to say that we rest in God alone, but when trouble comes, it’s not so easy to do. So the Psalmist gives himself a bit of a pep talk. “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone.” God is my hope, my rock, my salvation, my mighty rock, and my refuge. I know that; I believe that. Now, I have to rest in that God alone.
Several things merit comment in those few words. The word translated “rest” is a word that means to be quiet, to settle in peacefully, to rest silently. When he is blasted by the words of his enemies, he does not fight back with a storm of words, as some contemporary leaders do. Rather, he is silent, not because he is helpless or cowardly, but because he trusts the God who is his rock, his salvation, his refuge. Because he trusts God that way, he exhibits what Calvin called “the grace of silence.”
Rather than dividing his trust between God and his army, or God and his family, or God and his charismatic personality, he trusts in God alone. Indeed, the word “alone” is the Hebrew particle ak, which occurs 7 times in Psalm 62, four of those uses in verses 1, 2, 5 and 6. It has the sense of exclusivity and fullness. In each of those instances, ak is the first word in the verse, conveying that twin ideas that I rest in God alone and I rest in God fully.
After calling himself to trust God that way, the Psalmist turns to his people in verses 8-10, “Trust in him at all time, O people….” You are surrounded by people who are putting their trust in their own efforts or position (the “lowborn” and the “highborn” of verse 9) or in their wealth (verse 10). But don’t be like them. Rather, join me in trusting God in quietness and rest.
Rather than joining the clamor of society, “pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” There is a place, of course, for speaking out in a world where so much is wrong. The world needs its prophets and its protestors, but this Psalm calls all of us to a quiet core, to a calm reliance on the God who is strong and good. The noisy frantic crowd that is willing to do anything to succeed is not nearly as important as you might think. Patrick Reardon summarizes this first homiletical approach to Psalm 62. “To this quiet waiting in the presence of God is contrasted the busy agitation of life without God, filled with vanity, dishonesty, lying, cheating, hypocrisy, cursing.” Let us call our people to quiet rest in God’s presence, “far from the madding crowd.”
Second, we should ask what this Psalm has to do with the Epiphany of Christ, since this is the selection for this Third Sunday after Epiphany. Does Psalm 62 give us any helpful way to preach on the revealed glory of Christ? Well, not at first glance, but let’s look more carefully.
One scholar suggests that we might read “honor” in verse 7 as “glory.” The use of the word “salvation” which is yeshua in Hebrew suggests at least a tenuous connection to Christ. “My salvation and my glory depend on God….” Those could well be the words of Jesus as he experienced growing opposition to his ministry. Apart from a few flashes of his glory (in his baptism and the call of Nathanael, as we’ve read in the Gospel readings for the last two weeks), Christ labored incognito. Yes, the Gospel of John shows how his miracles revealed his glory, but his enemies saw those miracles as reasons to oppose him. So, we could read Psalm 62 as the words of Christ during those dark days when enemies tried to “topple him from his lofty place….” His quiet strength in the face of that opposition is the ultimate example of the heart of Psalm 62. “My soul finds rest in God alone.”
Or, more plausibly, the twin truth of verses 11 and 12 give us a powerful angle into a Christ-centered sermon on Psalm 62. The Psalmist is able to rest quietly in God, because he knows that God is strong and good. However, a skeptical person might ask why the Psalmist is in so much trouble if God is both strong and good. That dual claim raises the problem of theodicy. If God is so strong and, thus, able to do what he has promised, why are these enemies still here? Again, if God is so loving and, thus, committed to his people’s welfare, why are these enemies still attacking. Maybe God is strong, but not loving. Or loving, but not strong. If God is both, how can we explain the suffering of his people?
The Psalmist doesn’t attempt to explain this conundrum; he simply asserts both truths. Though that will not satisfy any despiser of the faith, it is often all a believer can do. It’s simply a matter of faith, even if I can’t always make sense of it. But here’s where Christ comes into the picture and helps us with the problem of theodicy. God’s strongest response to problem of suffering is not an argument, but a theophany, the appearance of God in human history, not in glory, but in humility.
In Jesus Christ, the strength and love of God were joined in a suffering human. The great Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 traces out the trajectory of that ultimate theophany. “Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human appearance. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross.” The very existence of Jesus Christ is the greatest epiphany of God’s glory the world has ever seen.
Except that the world did not see that glory; only a few did. But they bore witness. And now, all who believe their report can say with the Psalmist, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone…. For he (alone) is strong and good.” The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the proof of those (allegedly) problematic poles of truth about God. To put it very simply, how do we know we can trust God alone and fully in troublesome times? Because in Christ, God has demonstrated that the strength and love of God are our hope and our salvation.
The day will come when the whole world will see the epiphany of Christ’s glory, as taught in the conclusion of that Christ hymn in Philippians 2. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This year the Third Sunday of Epiphany falls very close to the one-year anniversary of the Inauguration of President Trump back in 2017. It has been a tumultuous year for America and for the world. Whether you and your congregation are pro-Trump or anti, all of us will agree that Psalm 62 accurately captures the tone of our times—assaults, lies, cursing, hypocrisy, materialism, meanness, everyone trying to topple someone else. What a time to preach Psalm 62 with its invitation to rest in Christ alone!
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