There’s something in the Bible for everyone: for young lovers full of vigor, seniors struggling with disability, for kings and leaders, for the poor or depressed, for simple farm laborers, for family members. That’s part of the beauty of Scripture. It can also be problematic because people often chose to manipulate Scripture to fit their own purposes or read into it something that does not belong there. This has happened time and again throughout history with people enacting “holy wars” in the name of God, claiming that God is on their side.
Someone reading Psalm 144 could easily interpret it as a call to arms, in praise of a warrior God who is on the side of the writer. As one commentator said, some of the language used suggests those who “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.”
Psalm 144 is a lament, written in two parts. The first section is an appeal to God by one whose mind is preoccupied with war, perhaps a king or a general. He starts by giving thanks for his ability in war: “Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.” (1); and for his past success in battle: “my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under him.” (2)
He confesses how unworthy he is as but a feeble person in comparison to the might of God: “O Lord, what is man that you do regard him, or the son of man that you think of him?” (3) Then he makes his request, that God come out of the sky in a great theophany and rescue him from those who speak evil about him: “Flash forth the lightning and scatter them, send out your arrows and rout them! Stretch forth your hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me from the many waters, from the hand of aliens, whose mouths speak lies, and whose right hand is a right hand of falsehood.” (6-8)
The first section concludes with a vow by the psalmist to “sing a new song,” thanking God in advance for the victory he believes is about to be his. His situation is so desperate that none of the old songs would be an adequate expression of his thanks.
The second section speaks of the blessings of those “whose God is the Lord.” (15b) It describes a happy nation as one that is blessed in family (“May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” 12), in commerce, (“May our garners be full, providing all manner of store; may our sheep bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our fields; may our cattle be heavy with young, suffering no mischance or failure in bearing.” 13-14a) and in its social life (“May there be no cry of distress in our streets!” 14b).
While the beginning of the psalm may sound like a call to “praise the Lord and pass the ammunition,” it quickly becomes apparent that the writer is not putting his trust in human hands and weaponry, but in the power of God. He calls upon God to come to his rescue, not going out himself with his army at his back. His is a holy war, holy in that he did what he could then calls upon God and relies on God to answer his plea.
In the second section we see the fruit of living in such holy trust – a happy nation, blessed by God.
Our God is not a cowardly God, nor is God’s spirit which is given to us, a cowardly spirit. It is a spirit of courage. But sometimes the most courageous action we can take is to put our trust in God. Like the psalmist we are to thank God for the abilities God gives us and for past and future success, and leave the rest to our God.
“Happy the people whose God is the Lord!” (15b)
Have you ever caught yourself trying to make Scripture what you want it to be rather than what God intends it to be?