Psalm 60: The Blame Game

There is something about human nature that relishes casting blame on others. Once my children were gone I had no one to blame but myself when I misplaced items or the house was in disarray. How convenient to now have a husband to fault when I can’t find my car keys or sunglasses or if bills don’t get paid because they are lost under a pile of papers. And now that we have a puppy, I can blame him for keeping me from being productive.

So, is it any wonder the writer of Psalm 60 blames God for Israel’s lack of victory. This lament starts with a cry to God, “O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses; you have been angry; oh restore us. You made the land to quake, you rent it open; repair its breaches for it totters.” (1-2) Israel has just suffered a terrible defeat, so great that the devastation is compared to an earthquake. The people are so disoriented by this disaster that they act like they have been drinking. “You have made your people suffer hard things; you have given us wine to drink that made us sick.” (3)

God set up a banner, not for victory, but as a place of retreat to escape from harm. “You have set a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it from the bow.” (4) Israel has a history of conquest in battle when following God’s lead. God gives Joshua triumph over Jericho when the walls fall down. Other times, Israel succeeds with a small army with God at their side. The writer recalls these victories in verses 6-8. It’s understandable that the Hebrew nation, knowing how God gave them success in the past, would believe defeat was also from God’s hands.

Then the writer realizes that they went to war without God. “Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.” (10)

Was it God’s fault that the Hebrew’s suffered a great defeat? Or was it a poorly planned venture on the part of the ruler? Were they defeated because God abandoned them, or because of foolishness on the part of the king who chose to go into battle without truly listening to God?

It’s so easy to scapegoat God for our own poor planning and mistakes. God has broad shoulders. But it isn’t helpful, this desire to assign blame. I think it has something to do with our desire to control. If we can assign fault, then we have it in our power to prevent this from happening again. If we can but control God and get him to do what we want him to do, we can have victory.

And so we think that if we pray and offer sacrifice, maybe we can get God on our side. The problem with this is that if we are praying, we need to be listening to God and doing what God asks of us, not trying to get God to do what we ask of him. God isn’t one to be controlled by such as us.

The psalmist asserts at the end of the psalm, “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes.” (12) True, the question though remains: Is God in this action or is it my own machinations?

More often than not, if something goes wrong, it has everything to do with me. If something goes right, it’s all about God. And sometimes, stuff happens. There are earthquakes and natural disasters. It’s not about God’s wrath or anything we have done or not done. It just happens.

While blaming might be human, it’s not very effective. We might feel a momentary relief but the problem still remains. Perhaps the Hebrew people needed to listen more carefully to God before going to war in the first place. Good advice then and now.

Have you ever used blaming to escape responsibility? Have you ever tried to manipulate God into giving you what you want? How did that work for you?

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