The Expository Files

What on Earth is Going On?

Psalm 9

On December 21, 1988 Pan Am flight 103 was bombed out of the air, killing all 259 people on board and 11 more on the ground. The little Scottish town of Lockerbie was instantly linked forever to this horrible act of international terrorism. More than twelve years later an international court finally sentenced Abdelbasset Megrahi to life in prison for his part in the bombing. Yet as satisfying as that verdict might have been the real culprit, the rogue government of Libya, remains largely unpunished. It is hard to see pictures of an airliner strewn across a dozen miles of Scotland and families burying innocent loved ones without wondering "Lord, what on earth is going on?" That is precisely what the ninth psalm deals with. The psalmist isn't interested in talking about one bad man here or there that is prospering while in iniquity. In this psalm he wants to probe how God's rule of righteousness and the kingdoms of men come into play. Psalm 9 asks the hard questions: "God, do you know what is happening down here? Will you help us? Will right eventually triumph or will evil nations and evil governments overwhelm Your people?" If you are interested in those kinds of questions come along as we study the ninth psalm!

Introductory Matters
One of the most important interpretive issues with the ninth psalm is a question about the tenth psalm: do they go together? Both of these psalms are acrostic psalms. That means that each line or stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in alphabetical sequence. Psalm 9 covers the first eleven letters of the Hebrew alphabet (though one letter is missing in the pattern), roughly equivalent to our letters A through K. Psalm 10 then picks up that acrostic pattern where, perhaps, Psalm 9 leaves it off. Some old manuscripts even put them together as one psalm, and they do share some distinctive vocabulary. Are they one psalm? Probably not. These two psalms each has its own distinctive theme. Psalm 10 deals with a wicked man, and seems very much to be an individual crying to God about the prosperity of the wicked (see 10:5). Psalm 9 is different. It is much more community oriented, involving everyone in the praise of God for how He deals with nations and kingdoms. So it seems best to see them as related in ways, but not to be taken together. Of course, coming from the same author we would expect style and vocabulary similarities but again, they do not seem to be one psalm.

A key in understanding any psalm is to know its type. This is a lament psalm (a psalm crying for divine help). The superscription lists David as the author, and without any other contrary evidence it seems best to accept that. The notes in the superscription are very difficult to translate and ideas vary wildly as to exactly what they mean. The phrase given as "To the tune of 'Death of the Son'" (NKJV) remains a puzzle.

A simple outline for this psalm would be as follows:

Individual praise of God, vv. 1-2
God's judgment on enemies, vv. 3-6
Hope in God's just rule, vv. 7-10
Community praise of God, vv. 11-14
God's judgment on nations, vv. 15-18
Hope in God's just rule, vv. 19-20

Watch the symmetry of this psalm powerfully reinforce the idea that God rules in the affairs of men!

1. Individual praise of God, vv. 1-2
The psalmist is in trouble so he begins with a statement of praise. Note the four "I will" lines. When you are in trouble can you say what David says? I will worship whole-heartedly. I will tell others of God's work. I will be glad. I will praise God. The praise of God not only causes us to forget our troubles but it deepens our confidence in God. When we find ourselves concerned with evil in this world these verses are a great place for people of faith to begin their cry to God!

2. God's judgment on enemies, vv. 3-6
David praises God for His work of vanquishing evil nations. David realizes God is at work. He is bringing down ungodliness. He is routing His enemies. Sometimes we miss this work of God because we are so rooted in the present, in the now. Focus your attention on verse 5: "blotted out their name." The psalmist isn't kidding. Remember the regular refrain in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers about the "Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite" (see Exo. 33:2)? Where are those nations today? Do you know what is known about the Perrizite and Hivite nations? Practically nothing. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, of the Hivites, "No name resembling Hivite has yet been found in the Egyptian and Babylonian inscriptions."ii Once these were great nations, feared by many, ruling and reigning with might and strength. Now they are gone. They opposed God and His ways and their names have been "blotted out" forever. David wants us to know: those nations that perpetrate evil and ignore God will know His judgment. If the world stands long enough you can be sure that the names Nazi Germany and Communist China and the Soviet Union likewise will dissolve into history and be forgotten. Why? Because God, in His time and in His ways, is pulling down those powers that oppose Him.

3. Hope in God's just rule, vv. 7-10
Verse seven is the heart of the psalm. In contrast to evil nations that are being destroyed "the Lord shall endure forever." The ground of all hope is that the Lord rules. Don't miss the beautiful language of verse 10. To know God's name is to know God. "Name" here stands for the total Person, and means to know His character, His likes, His dislikes, His desires and more. Those who know the Lord know they can trust the Lord for He still rules!

4. Community praise of God, vv. 11-14
All who dwell in Zion are called to sing praises to God. This kind of language is very common in lament psalms. David here urges God to save him, not for David's comfort, but because by so doing more will hear of God's work and be urged to praise the Lord (verse 14).

5. God's judgment on the nations, vv. 15-18
Again, the psalmist reiterates the idea of God tearing down evil nations. Interestingly, verse fifteen views that as something the nations do to themselves. They are caught up in their own sin. Their own transgressions "boomerang" on them and destroy them. This is the nature of sin and wickedness. Not only does it have a terrible eternal reward, but even in this life it turns back on the sinner to bite him and make his life hard and miserable. The other point that needs to be seen in this section is how victory over evil governments is viewed as an accomplished fact. "The wicked is snared . . . the wicked shall be turned into hell . . . the needy shall not always be forgotten." The psalmist sees God presently at work, and that work goes on into the future. This is true trust in God. The one who knows God rules will look upon wickedness and say "That can't last. I won't join with that because I know is defeating that and will defeat that. Things can't continue as they are because God is at work and evil will be judged." How can we be sure? Verse 16: "The Lord is known by the judgment He executes." God's name and reputation are at stake here! God must destroy evil to vindicate His own righteousness.

6. Hope in God's just rule, vv. 19-20
The psalmist closes by setting before us the issues of God's justice and faithfulness. If He does not judge the nations around will never realize who is God. God will act and must act to establish His name before all!

This psalm gives the child of God confidence in God's just rule. Sometimes we look only to eternity as the time when all will be set right. Psalm 9 helps us see clearly that even in the here and now God seeks to establish righteousness and justice. What in the world is going on? God is defeating His enemies. God is protecting His people. God is establishing His rule. That may not always come as swiftly as I might desire, or even in my lifetime. But I know God's name and so I must put my trust in God. "The Lord will endure forever!"

End Notes
1. Adapted from Expositor's Bible Commentary, Psalms, pages 116-117.
2. Taken from ISBE on the QuickVerse ver. 6 CD-ROM.

By Mark Roberts
From Expository Files 8.4; April 2001