Psalms is usually considered the “feel good” book of the Bible. It’s inspirational, encouraging, it’s like K-Love without the “call this number to donate” speech. The book of Psalms is, essentially, a compilation of hymns; it’s original title translates to “praise songs.” The lyrics were written by people like Moses, David, and Solomon, and they were used as songs of worship in societies thousands of years ago. In later years, these songs were collected and organized into their final form: The Book of Psalms. Their history raises a question, though. Why was a long list of hymns important enough to be included in the Bible? That’s because corporate worship through song has a significance that’s been lost in the modern church. Today, worship is most often viewed as the feel-good introduction to the more important sermon. However, in the time these songs were written, hymns were not just for pumping the crowd up. Most members of a congregation could not read, and even if they could, typically only scholars had access to the scrolls. These songs weren’t just something they hummed on their donkey-ride to work; to these people, hymns were the Word that taught them truths about their God. So, when other nations were building alters to golden statues because their land was in danger of war, people that knew Psalms would remember the lyrics “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him,” and they would know that they were protected. To a people that had nothing, these lyrics taught hope, justice, peace, and joy. It taught them truths about their God that they clung and conformed to. The more they learned about their God, the more they wanted to know.
Red Hills Church began a series last Sunday about Psalms. The goal of this series is to walk through Psalms the way the historical church did. With the goal being not just to learn about God, but to allow the truths we learn to transform and shape our lives and hearts. The first two characteristics of God that we learned about were His judgement and His mercy. Because, as Pastor Marshall put it, we don’t get the mercies of God without the judgement of God and we don’t get the judgement of God without the mercies of God.
In Psalm 9, we see David declaring God’s judgement over the nations. David is praising God for destroying his enemies. Throughout Israel’s history, we see a need for God’s righteous judgement over enemies. We see Israel, the underdog, needing a fair and Holy judge; they needed God. How different this is from our culture today. When, if ever, do we sing songs in church that go “Arise, O Lord! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you”? But that’s what David was writing. “Put them in fear, O Lord,” he wails, “Let the nations know that they are but men!” Psalms reminds us that God’s judgment is terrifying and powerful, but also something we should be pleading for, just like David and the Israelites. Not because we want to sit back and watch the world burn, but because God’s judgement is holy and good. God’s judgement is not a bad thing, it’s not something we should be trying to avoid; it’s something that our world desperately needs. The poor, the oppressed, the slave, the hurting… They all desire God’s judgement, because they know that with God’s judgment comes redemption and righteousness. Are we that out of touch with the reality of this world that we can’t see how much God’s judgement is needed?
However, sometimes the issue isn’t the outside world in need of God’s judgement. Sometimes – most of the time – the issue is our own flesh. And that’s when we need God’s mercies. When we have failed at putting our desires to death, and we are the ones that need to change, our songs must sound a little different. In Psalm 51, David’s lyrics contrast big time with those in Psalm 9. Most of us know the story of David and Bathsheba. If not, you should look it up – it’s a page turner. The basic gist is that David kills a man to be with his wife and thinks nothing of it. When a prophet named Nathan comes along and brutally (awesomely) rebukes David, David is completely undone. He is disgusted with himself. He begs for mercy and pleads for God to forgive his sin. His utter sorrow and repentance can be felt in every line. What does repentance sound like for us? Anything like, “let the bones that you have broken rejoice; hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities”? Mine doesn’t. I am usually the one pleading for judgement on the world and begging God to change what’s outside so I’m not tempted. But when I find myself in a situation that my flesh falls prey to, I speak a quick “oops, I’m sorry” prayer and then point God to the “real” issue – the “out there” issue. Thankfully, the judge that executes judgement, covers our sins, as well. The same God that judges the nations and defeats our enemies, blots out our transgressions and cleanses our iniquities. We don’t get one without the other; the songs of praise tell us so.