YEAR B: SEASON OF PENTECOST
(Sunday between June 19 and June 25, if after Trinity Sunday)
Psalms 9 and 10 are printed in most modern Bibles as two psalms, but they have long been considered one psalm. Together they form what is called an acrostic poem (where the first words of each section are arranged according to the order of the Hebrew alphabet). There are also a number of verbal and thematic connections between them, such as language describing ‘the poor, oppressed’ etc. (e.g. 9:10, 12, 18; 10:2, 12, 18), ‘times of trouble’ (9:10; 10:1), ‘to seek’ etc. (9:10, 12; 10:13, 15), ‘avenge’ (9:13; 10:13, 15), ‘forget’ (9:10, 12; 10:13, 15), ‘nations ... perish’ (9:6–7; 10:16), and ‘Rise up, O Lord!’ (9:19; 10:12). Finally, the psalms are treated as one in the Septuagint (LXX), the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.
While there are connections across the psalms, they may have been composed from originally independent sayings, this is especially so in Psalm 9. It begins (vv. 1-12) with thanksgiving and praise for both what the Lord has done and for who he is: enthroned, judging with righteousness, not forsaking the poor etc. However, it quickly turns to a lament and ends with a plea for the Lord to act again in this way (vv. 13-18) and to rise up and judge the nations (vv. 19-20). Psalm 10 then begins with the question of why the Lord is so far off describing the wicked in relation to the poor (vv. 1-11). The Lord is then again called to rise, defeat the wicked and rescue the poor in 10:12-16. Finally, in Ps 10:17-18 there is a statement of assurance and trust in the Lord to do justice for the poor picking up the note at the end of Psalm 9.
Two things connect Psalm 9 to King David. The superscript to the psalm, although not reflective of historical events, associates the psalm with David by name. Also Jewish interpretation in the Targum of Psalms (an ancient Aramaic paraphrase of the psalms) has traditionally seen an allusion to 1 Sam 17:4, thus interpreting the psalm in relation to David’s battle with Goliath.
In Psalm 9 we hear David speaking of the Lord enthroned
forever (vv. 7-10). Two aspects are highlighted: the Lord’s righteous judgment
and care for the oppressed. These are joined to a third, the defeat of
the enemies in the preceding verses (vv. 1-8). The one who ‘sits in the
heavens’ (Ps 2:4) not only laughs but carries on his serious kingly business.
He is not only supremely powerful over his enemies but is a stronghold
(twice mentioned) for the oppressed, who are more closely defined as those
who ‘know (the Lord’s) name’, who trust in him and seek him.
The first section of the psalm comes to completion in vv. 11-12 where David’s thanksgiving becomes an invitation for the whole congregation ‘to give praise’. The one ‘who dwells in Zion’, is also the one who ‘avenges blood’ or literally ‘seeks blood’ (v. 12). The Lord seeks revenge for crimes against those who seek him. The verbs ‘to remember’ and ‘to forget’ are used to contrast the fact that the Lord does not forget the poor (cf. 9:18; 10:12) even though others might forget the Lord (9:17). Thus through a series of word plays, the nature of the Lord’s kingship is set over against the violent action of the enemies/the wicked.
As thanksgiving turns to lament, David seeks the Lord’s graciousness (vv. 13-14) in looking on the affliction caused by those who hate him. While we may think of David as the psalmist, he speaks as one of the ‘poor’ in general, rather than from a position of privilege. As such David is a model for all one who seek the Lord.
Themes of ‘returning’ (NRSV ‘depart’), ‘forgetting’, ‘the poor’, and ‘perishing’ come back in vv. 17-18. But, as before, sharp contrasts are made: the wicked ‘return’ to Sheol because they have ‘forgotten’ God (cf. v. 12; also 10:12). In contrast, the Lord does not ‘forget’ ‘the poor’. In fact, they will never be forgotten, nor will their hope ever perish. The parallel use of ‘wicked’ and ‘nations’ in these verses allows the plea to operate at both the level of the individual seeking aid, and at that of the people in national matters. National and ordinary contexts are brought together and David is seen in both roles of faithful individual and king.
Psalm 9 ends with a call to the Lord to rise again (vv. 19-20), a call repeated in Ps. 10:12. It echoes the battle cry that went before the ark in the wilderness (Num 10:35). Moreover, there are strong connections here with Psalm 8, especially through the word ‘mortal’. David uses the Hebrew word twice in 9:19-20 to remind us that these nations who would attempt to prevail against the Lord are simply mortal, human. The same word was used to describe humans in their weakness compared with the Lord in Ps 8:4a. And while in 9:19 the nations/humans would seek to prevail (‘to be strong’) against the Lord, in 8:2 the related noun ‘strength/bulwark’ described the secure defence of the Lord against his foes. In Psalm 8, the glory of mortals is established by the Lord not by humans themselves, especially those who in Psalm 9 forget the Lord and ultimately assume the Lord has forgotten in the sense of not seeing the evil they commit.
The echo of themes already mentioned in the Samuel reading for today is evident. David, in ‘his’ psalm, as in the story of his contest with Goliath, is one who not only trusts in the Lord, but who is utterly dependent on him, and who models that for others. Psalms 9-10 have been shaped to lead from the prayers of David for his own deliverance in a time of suffering, to his prayers on behalf of the oppressed and meek. His confidence in prayer is based in the eternal sovereignty of the Lord (Pss 9:7-8; 10:16), although his prayer also knows of the experience of the Lord’s absence in times of trouble. But these aspects of David’s prayer are not left there. While he fulfils his responsibilities in terms of his own trust in the Lord and in his intercession for others, he also invites them to participate in his prayer as we have noted. Between thanks and petition in Psalm 9, and having proclaimed the sovereignty of the Lord, David declares the Lord as a stronghold for the oppressed and for those ‘who put their trust in’ and ‘seek’ the Lord (vv. 9-10). Such trust overflows into praise for the Lord (vv. 11-12).
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
Several verses in Psalm 9 lend themselves for use either as refrains during the prayers for the people or as calls to worship. In the latter case, v. 11 makes a fine example:
Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion.In the former, vv. 9-10 could well function as a refrain said by the person who leads in the prayer:
Declare his deeds among the peoples.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,Alternatively, v. 18 could be said as a refrain through the prayer of the people by the congregation in response to each petition by the leader:
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,Old Testament reading: 1 Sam 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
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