Psalm 9, Humility in Leadership

Oct. 30, 2011                                      Humility
Joshua 3:7-17                          Psalm 9            1 Thes. 2:9-13             Matthew 23:1-12
Can’t talk about psalm 9 w/out talking about Psalm 10 – at one time one psalm that has been separated into two parts, an acrostic psalm, form of psalm where each verse, line or couplet starts with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet, ex:  9-10, 25; 34; 111; 112; 119; 145.  Poetic device that at times led to artificiality in trying to make it work.  This poetic form has been lost in translation, making it easier to separate the two, in some ways seem like two very different psalm with no connection, easy to understand why they would be separated rather than together, yet, together, they follow a familiar format found in a number of psalms – starts with praise of God, God’s power and justice, then, after “buttering up” God with words of praise, moves to a lament, tells God his sorrows then ends with a note of confidence that God will prevail, God will do for him what he asks.  Another indicator that these two psalms were once joined is the “Selah” at the end of 9.  “Selah” not spoken, do not know actual function of selah, could indicate a pause, almost like a comma, or like a breathe mark in a song, or, in this case, might say – “to be continued,” meaning it is not done.  Most Bibles have the two separate psalms, for sake of simplicity and space, easier to deal with them as two separate entities.
Psalm 9 – psalm of praise and thanksgiving, praising God for destroying the enemy, appears to be a psalm of orientation, as characterized by Walter Brueggemann, God is in his heaven, He sits on his throne, and all is right with the world – verse 7-8.
Hebrews in Joshua might very well have sung this song of praise after the events of that day and in anticipation of what was to come.  We have the miraculous crossing of the river Jordan, much like the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus, God wants to clearly establish Joshua as Moses’ successor with all of his authority by doing a “replay” of this historic event, yet we hear so little of this event in later Scripture and in our culture today.  The crossing of the Red Sea, saving of the Hebrew people from Egyptian slavery is recounted over and over again in Scripture as well as each Passover by Jews, also part of Christian heritage as story often retold as part of the Easter Story, not to mention dramatic retelling in picture form in the epic movie “The Ten Commandments” and Disney cartoon in “Prince of Egypt.”  This is a foundational story, to be told and retold to each new generation.  Verse 3 of psalm, “When my enemies turned back, they stumbled and perished before thee,” brings to mind image of chariots getting stuck in the mud as they tried to flee.  Defeat of foes in psalm described like the rout of an army, making it very pertinent to Hebrews during Joshua’s time, a time of war.  
In contrast, story we hear today is but a “blip” in Hebrew history – no pursuit by Egyptian chariots.  Joshua is most known for battle of Jericho, dramatic portrayals of the walls falling down.  He led during a time of war.  Passage today serves important purpose of helping to further establish Joshua as God’s chosen leader of Hebrew people – well needed confirmation as there are many challenges to being a leader of a group of people at any time, especially during time of war.  Seeing this dramatic incident, chances are the people followed Joshua more readily as he led them into and conquered the promised land.  May pray this psalm in confidence to God who will defeat evil, destroy the wicked and give them victory over their enemies, in some ways, psalm might be considered a war time psalm for people at war. 
Another way to read psalm, verse 3, rather than being about an army, according to some commentators is about the discomfiture of men who, confident in the deadly character of their charges against the psalmist, had brought their case to the temple to seek through some ritual act or some form of ordeal a pronouncement of the psalmist’s guilt from God, and had been put to shame by a divine decision contrary to their desire.  Verse 4, “For thou has maintained my just cause.” – such a deliverance viewed as result of judgment made by God in his heavenly court of justice. 
If we interpret verse three in a spiritual sense, then perhaps enemy that has fallen are our tendencies to sin, caution though, fall in KJV means “stumble through weakness.”  It is great when we can say that temptations are getting weaker, as if they had fallen into a decline; but we must still watch, for evil has remarkable recuperative power.  Goodness needs to be nurtured, but evil has its private supplies of energy in the heart of man – a painful fact of human nature. (paraphrased from commentary)
Verse 6 speaks of an enemy, could be an army for those in times of war, however God has other foes besides dictators and aggressor nations.  Pain is one; ignorance another; death a third.  He has warriors besides armed forces.  All who fight against anything that brings destruction are soldiers of God.  Thus the verse could be used in fighting against pain and ignorance, praying “O Thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end” with final enemy being death “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” 1 Cor. 15:26
Verse 9, translation of refuge/stronghold, also “high place” – in contrast to “low place” – reminder that those who follow the Lord will remain in the high places or need to take the high road, not sinking to the low road, thus putting their trust in God – verse 10
Verse 11 reminds us of our need to let others know what God has done for us through singing his praises; verse 12 lets us know that our God does not forget – in contrast to humanity that constantly forgets, forgets God’s goodness and strays from their God.
Verses 13-14 – hear how God lifts from death to life, raises us from low place to high place, followed by verse 15 that speaks of nations, or those who have sunk into pit that they made, caught in their own trap.  How often do we slowly fall into pits of our own making?  Some translate “nations” as the “proud” – the proud sink into pits of their own making, well might we watch out for pride which leads to many a fall.
Gospel picks up theme of humility.  Jesus tells the people to listen to the Pharisees for they sit in the seat of Moses, affirming their leadership, as Joshua’s leadership was affirmed.  He tells them to do as they say, not as they do for they speak right, yet their actions are not always in line with their words.  Lest we be too harsh on the Pharisees, we need to look at our own life.  Chances are there are many times that we too have failed to live up to our ideals.  As a minister I hold forth the values and ideals of Jesus, while recognizing how often I fall short, yet the Gospel needs to be preached, as Paul tells us, and so I preach, along with other ministers, being aware of how far off I am in my own life – happened in Jesus’ time, continues to happen.  A reason for humility.  Last week in reading from Thessalonians, Paul spoke of being like a mother to the people of Thessalonica, nurturing them.  This week he speaks as a father, with authority and decisiveness, guiding principles, as God is Father, providing guidance and protection to those who put their trust in Him.
Psalm closes with admonition:  “Put them in fear, O Lord!  Let the nations know that they are but men!” A reminder again of the need for humility, to recognize that we are but human.  We need to struggle against the enemy within, putting our trust in our God as our refuge, not humans.

Psalm ends with “Selah.”  We have set the stage, one of praise of our God, trust in God as just judge and protector, and so we conclude but it is not over.  Selah – to be continued.

Robertson, copyright November 2011

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