Scholars debate whether Psalm 9 and 10 were originally one psalm or two, but they agree that these two psalms are clearly intertwined. These psalms use consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, beginning in Psalm 9 and finishing in Psalm 10. Viewed this way, we can see two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Although these psalms seem very different, they are very closely related. In Psalm 9 the Lord appears very much in charge; In Psalm 10 the wicked rule the day. Which is it?
The Bible doesn't ignore or shrink back from the difficult realities of life in a fallen world. Though we may view these two sides as a contradiction, the Bible takes these two very different realities and places them right together in tension. Why? Why is God's rule over the affairs of the world set in tension with the prosperity and scheming of the wicked? What is God's intention for us in these psalms?
Psalm 9: God Rules Over the World
In the Holman Christian Standard Bible, the heading above Psalm 9 reads, Celebration of God's Justice. Here we see God executing his rule over the nations of the world, over the wicked, over the oppressors of the world.
3My enemies turn back; they stumble and perish before you. 4For you have upheld my right and my cause; you have sat on your throne, judging righteously. 5You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name for ever and ever. 6Endless ruin has overtaken the enemy, you have uprooted their cities; even the memory of them has perished. (Psalm 9:3-6)
This is the world when everything goes as it ought to go—at least as it ought to go in a fallen, broken world. Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people. When the bad people do bad to good people, God deals with it. “The Lord sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for judgment.” (Psalm 9:7 HCSB)
In American church culture many shy away from talking about God establishing His throne for judgment. Judgment is perceived all too often as a bad thing (and it can be if we are talking about evil human judgments). But judgment, righteous and just judgments, are a good thing, a wonderful thing for the oppressed—those who are being unjustly treated and harmed. Real justice is the answer to the cry of the person wronged when he cries out, “It's not fair.” It fixes that situation. God's rule, His Kingship (throne) is established to right the wrongs.
Not only does God sit enthroned forever, not only is He enthroned in heaven (Psalm 2:4); God sits enthroned in Zion—in the midst of His people (Psalm 9:11). God doesn't just rule from a distance; God rule is close and personal, He is ruling not from a ivory tower far away, but from a throne in the middle of “our city,” right where we live! Zion is the city of the Living God, the dwelling place of the Almighty. Here the Lord is called, “he who avenges blood.” (Psalm 9:12). The wicked shed the blood of the innocent, but God doesn't give them a pass; He takes up the cause of the innocent.
This is encouraging news in a day that the innocent are being slaughtered by the millions in our own cities and towns across this nation in abortion clinics. God will deal with the manipulating doctors and nurses who, using the fears of young and naive pregnant women, pressure them into killing their children. God will deal with the politicians who for the sake of personal gain manipulate the voters to keep this slaughter going. God is the One Who avenges blood.
This psalm looks at the brokenness of the world from one side of the coin. It ends (Psalm 9:17-20), however, reminding us how God's rule often comes. We get a hint that sometimes justice delays until the grave, but are reminded that the needy will not always be forgotten—which means they sometimes appear to be forgotten. Then it ends with a cry to God to arise and not allow man in his wickedness to triumph. This is a cry of “Your kingdom come; Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
Psalm 10: The Wicked Rules Over the Powerless
In Psalm 10, the coin is flipped and we see the same world from the other side.
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
There are days when we see the world through the eyes of Psalm 9 and days we see it through the eyes of Psalm 10. What kind of day have you been experiencing lately? Does your soul celebrate with confidence that truth that God will right every wrong? Or does your soul cry out, “Why are you so distant? Why have you taken a vacation in a time of trouble?” God has given us ways to communicate with Him, to pray, in each of these places.
This psalm continues for 10 verses describing the observable rule of the wicked. The kingdom of the wicked seems firmly in place. The wicked one...
“hunts down the weak... boasts... blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD... does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Yet, “His ways are always prosperous... your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies (who are the righteous)... He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me; I'll always be happy and never have trouble." His mouth is full of curses, lies, and threats... from ambush he murders the innocent, watching in secret for his victims... he lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, "God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” (Psalm 10:2-11)
What is the psalmists response?
Does he give up and decide that God must have died or not exist because the world feels out of control? Does he simply utter a pious platitude about how God is in control and he trusts that God is wiser than we are? While God is certainly wiser than we are, that is not what the psalmist does. The psalmist refuses to accept the world this way. Psalm 10:12-18 are the response of the psalmist, and teach us what our response is to be when God seems to have taken a vacation. He cries out in response with what may be summed up as a prayer saying, “Your Kingdom come; Your will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” The words are different, but the meaning is the same.
Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless....The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out.
The psalmist teaches us to cry out to God against the injustice of this fallen world. God calls us to pray that this injustice would be overturned, and He will answer (Luke 18:8). God is no more delighted by the wickedness and brokenness of this fallen world than we are—indeed He is more grieved than we are. Speaking of our call to petition God to bring about His justice, His kingdom rule, in this unjust world where the wicked rule, David Wells says it well,
…petitionary prayer only flourishes where there is a twofold belief: first, that God's name is hallowed too irregularly, his kingdom has come too little, and his will is done too infrequently; second, that God himself can change this situation. Petitionary prayer, therefore, is the expression of the hope that life as we meet it, on the one hand, can be otherwise and, on the other hand, that it ought to be otherwise.
Always pray and do not lose heart! (Luke 18:1)
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