Psalm 9 Commentary: Structure
Psalm 9 is a classic example of a lament psalm. As you recall, a lament psalm has five ingredients to its structure, the most prominent of which is the lament itself. The lament is where the psalmist exposes the enemies of God – who are also usually his enemies as well. The psalmist kind of zooms in on these folks and paints a pretty vivid picture for us of exactly how evil they are and how deserving of God’s punishment they are. And in addition, the heightened picture that we get of these enemies also acts as justification for the psalmist asking God for deliverance from them.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Lament
In Psalm 9, the lament appears in verses 15 through 18. Let’s read it.
KJV Psalm 9:15 The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. 16 The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. Higgaion. Selah. 17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. 18 For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Here, we’re told that the enemies made a pit and prepared a net to capture the righteous. But in fact, they’re the ones who will be trapped by these tactics. They set the trap for someone else – someone who isn’t worthy of being snared. And yet – in the end – these enemies will be the ones to be trapped. And not only that, but they’ll be turned into hell. And this is going to happen – according to verse 17 – to all nations that forget God. So, that’s the lament of Psalm 9 – verses 15 through 18.
Now that we’ve recognized the lament of this psalm, let’s start from the beginning and find the other four ingredients of the structure.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Invocation
The first two verses serve as the invocation. This is where God is called upon by the psalmist. And sometimes we learn something about who God is in this section. So, let’s read that.
KJV Psalm 9:1 I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all thy marvellous works. 2 I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.
We learn here that God is worthy of wholehearted praise. Why? Because of his “marvelous works”. And I think in this case that is mostly referring to his judging evil men. He’s a God in whom its completely appropriate to be glad and rejoice. His name or character is worthy of our songs. He is the Most High – there’s none higher – none more mighty. This is the God to whom the psalmist is crying out – the mightiest, most marvelous, most joy-inspiring, and most praise-worthy being. So, that’s the invocation – verses 1 and 2.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Confidence
Next, the psalmist expresses confidence in this Most High God, the Lord – in verses 3 through 10.
KJV Psalm 9:3 When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence. 4 For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right. 5 Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever. 6 O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them. 7 But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment. 8 And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness. 9 The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.
The psalmist is confident that God will judge the world – the world that is so opposed to him. And when he does this, the absolutely correct verdict will be rendered. And when this judgment does come, look who’s going to be rescued – verse 9 – God will be a refuge to whom? The oppressed. The miserable who are made so by the wickedness surrounding him. And verse 10 – people who know God’s name – who know his true character – though the whole world will be judged righteously and be turned into hell, these guys will experience a much different side of the judge. These people are going to find him to be a refuge – a place high off the ground – out of the way of approaching danger.
And isn’t that the nature of even earthly judges? If you’ve ever been in a courtroom setting or watched some courtroom proceedings, you know this dynamic. You know that in a murder case, for example, the defendant – the one who’s being accused and having evidence presented of his guilt – he’s the one who’s quaking. He may be liable to the death penalty perhaps. And he’s looking to that judge as one who has the power to take his life. And in the same exact trial, the sentiments from the plaintiff – those who are bringing the accusation of guilt against the defendant – and those associated with the plaintiff are much different. They don’t fear the judge. They’re looking to him for justice. They’re expecting him to make things right. So, consider those really interesting dynamics – that the same man basically is viewed as almost two different people. On the one hand, he’s viewed with fear as the executioner. On the other, he’s viewed as the deliverer – as one who will ensure that justice is served. And that’s just like what it’s going to be with the Lord when he judges the world. The wicked – those who have forgotten God – will view him with terror. The righteous, the humble, the needy, the oppressed, will view him as the savior who will right all wrongs and we’ll be greatly comforted and encouraged by his protection and condemnation of the group that’s wronging us.
So, that’s the psalmist’s statement of confidence in the Lord – verses 3 through 10.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Praise
Verses 11 and 12 form the praise section of this psalm.
KJV Psalm 9:11 Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings. 12 When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.
The psalmist calls on his audience to praise the Lord. Why? Because of his doings. Namely – verse 12 – he takes vengeance on the wicked and at the same time he doesn’t forget the humble. He rescues them.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Petition
Verses 13 and 14 and then 19 and 20 then form the part of the psalm where the psalmist gives his petition.
KJV Psalm 9:13 Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death: 14 That I may shew forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation.
And we’ve already gone through the lament of the psalm in verses 15 through 18, so we’ll skip to the last two verses of Psalm 9.
KJV Psalm 9:19 Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight. 20 Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men. Selah.
Even though the psalmist is confident in God’s judging the wicked, he still waists no opportunity to ask the Lord for deliverance from these people and even the hastening of their ultimate judgement.
So, that’s the structure of Psalm 9.
Psalm 9 Commentary: The Message
Let’s talk about the message of Psalm 9. And we’re going to find it by skimming through the Psalm looking for what this psalm is really about. I feel like with lament psalms in particular I spend a lot of the message just circling over again and again the psalm. So, I hope that doesn’t make you dizzy – all that circling. So, let’s do it again – circle back over the psalm trying to get the essence of what the psalm is about.
And what we’ll be looking for in particular is three entities – 3 groups of people or individual persons.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Enemies
First of all, there’s the people who are making the psalmist lament. Let’s consider them for a moment. In verse 3, these folks are said to be “enemies”. They’re opposed to the psalmist. But they’re going to be destroyed by God. In fact, it’s viewed as already having happened in verse 5. Somehow these men have been destroyed and judged by God already. I mean, that’s the sense you get from verse 5 – “thou hast destroyed the wicked” – as if it’s already happened in some way.
And that’s the case in verse 6 as well. Destructions HAVE come to an end. The enemies have done their best – they’ve destroyed cities even, but ultimately, that’s all they’re going to do. David pictures them as being done with the worst that they can do. In contrast, now the Lord in verse 7 is the one who lives forever – as opposed to the enemy who’s pictured as sustaining a temporal defeat in this world. And that may indicate that David just won a battle against a particular group of these enemies. So, there’s some temporal defeat that they’ve sustained. But they’re not done yet – and we’ll see that in the rest of the psalm.
OK, what else is revealed about these enemies of David? Verse 12 implies that they’ll be the recipients of God’s “making inquisition for blood”. They WILL BE – and from the viewpoint of this psalm – they already HAVE BEEN – the object of God’s taking revenge on evil-doers.
And yet, currently in this psalm, these men are still causing trouble. In verse 13, David indicates that he needs deliverance from the trouble or “misery” that these people are causing him. In fact, this misery is so severe that it brings him near to the gates of death. He perceives that he will die if God doesn’t deliver him. So, that’s interesting – God has apparently already judged some of these enemies with destruction and yet many of them still remain to trouble David.
Verses 15 through 18 reveal more about these enemies. They are heathen – or Gentiles. They’re non-Jews. And they are “wicked.” And they’re viewed as laying traps for people and setting up nets to catch people as if they were mere animals. And yet, God will see to it that those devices they set for the destruction of others will ultimately destroy them.
These wicked Gentiles – furthermore – will be turned back into hell – these men who have forgotten God. They will be sent into Sheol – the abode of the dead – they will die. And ultimately we know from further revelation that the end of these kinds of people – those who forget God – will be a literal burning lake of fire forever.
And lastly, the wicked non-Jewish men of the earth NEED to be humbled. Verse 20 has David asking the Lord to strike fear into the hearts of these evil-doers. And the purpose of that is to bring this reality home to them – they’re simply men. They’re not invincible. They’re mortal. And they’re nothing compared to God. And the fact that they need to be reminded of this tells us that these men have a self-perception that is way out of line with reality. They’re proud. And they need to be humbled.
So, we have the first of three entities in this psalm. Wicked Gentilic men – probably viewed as constituting the nations around Israel. They’re powerful – to the point of being able to threaten David’s very existence. They’ve experienced some recent temporal defeat – at least a portion of them have – maybe one or two of the nations. But they’re still a dangerous force that God will need to put a stop to ultimately in the future.
Psalm 9 Commentary: Victims
Now, let’s look at the second entity in this psalm – the ones whom these men are threatening.
And it’s obvious, but I’ll state it anyway – David would consider himself in this group of individuals on the receiving end of the enemies’ threats. And what do we see David engaged in in the first two verses of Psalm 9? You know, we might well be more sympathetic with those who were threatening David’s life if he himself were doing evil. But what do we see him engaged in? Praising the Lord. Telling of God’s marvelous works. Singing praise to God’s name. Being glad and rejoicing in the Lord. These aren’t actions worthy of having one’s life threatened. And yet these are the very acts that this group is engaged in.
And verse 4 makes us even more sympathetic to David and his group when it gives us the idea that David is waiting for justice from God against these people. He’s putting himself in his mind’s eye into a courtroom setting where he’s waiting for God’s justice and God’s deliverance against these enemies. He’s not viewing himself as sufficiently powerful to handle these enemies all alone. He resorts to God, the almighty, the just judge.
Now, verse 9 – when God will in the future judge the world with the totally correct verdicts that only he can render – these people of which David is a part will find God to be a refuge. Again, this word refuge is a word for something that’s high up out of the way of things. When God judges, these people will be lifted out of the situation up to a position of safety and protection.
And how are these people – David’s group – spoken of? What’s the label given to them in verse 9? They’re the oppressed. They’re the miserable. Why would they be miserable? Who’s oppressing them? Yes, the group we just talked about – the wicked Gentile enemies. They’re oppressing this group and thereby making their existence miserable.
Listen, and I don’t want to get needlessly political here and comment on things too great for me and things I don’t understand. But I have to think there’s really a pretty close parallel between what ancient Israel headed by David experienced and what modern-day Israel is experiencing. David and his oppressed group were surrounded by hostile Gentile nations. The same is true of Israel today.
When I went to Israel in 2011, I was just reflecting on the ever-present danger that this small nation faces.
I remember being in a hotel room watching the news when President Obama came out with his idea that Israel needs to return to it’s pre-1967 borders. That caused a stir. What if someone suggested that America return to it’s pre-1776 borders? Give all the land back to the Spanish and English and Native Americans. That would cause some stir in our midst I believe. And what if it was the most powerful nation on earth stating that this should happen?
I remember hearing about Palestinians who were rushing the borders of Israel, trying to get in.
One tour guide told us when we were in a particular area of Israel that if you hear air raid sirens, that’s a GOOD thing because that means the missile is traveling PAST you and is going to hit somewhere else. Of course, that left us wondering what happens if we DON’T hear a siren.
Israel is now surrounded by Arab nations that are intent on its destruction. Israel is really in a bad neighborhood. The Middle East is a mess and is sliding into mass lawlessness with the consequences of the Arab Spring and now with the radical Islamic groups that have moved to fill the power vacuum left by that movement. And meanwhile it seems like our country is doing everything we possibly can to add to that destabilization and chaos.
In addition to what’s happening now in and around Israel, they have centuries of being oppressed and murdered simply for being who they are.
When I asked one of our tour guides whether he felt safe in Israel or not, he said “it’s a daily struggle to simply exist.”
So, in some ways, things really haven’t changed all that much in Israel from the time that David is writing Psalm 9 here to our modern time.
Let’s get back to Psalm 9. These oppressed ones – though they’re miserable – yet, they’re still going to put their trust in God because the Lord has never forsaken them – these people who seek the Lord.
Verse 12 speaks again of these oppressed ones. They’re said to be humble. What a contrast to this other group who in the last verse of this psalm needs to be reminded that they’re just men! But these oppressed men who seek the Lord – they’re humble. And they’re said to cry to the Lord. They know they’re not sufficient in themselves to defend themselves against the enemy. They cry to God. They trust in him. They seek him. And they find him to be a refuge to which they can flee for help.
In verse 18 this group is also described as “needy” and “poor”. They’re oppressed and miserable. They’re needy and poor. But they trust in the Lord and seek him. And so, it’s really for their sake that God will judge those who oppress them – according to this verse. Obviously, God judges wickedness simply to vindicate his own holiness. But there’s a real sense also in which God is moved to punish evil-doers because he can’t stand anymore to see the suffering of those who trust him and are utterly helpless.
Now, you might wonder how it is that King David could consider himself to be helpless. I mean, after all, the man was a king! He had soldiers and guards. He had a palace and weapons. Surely, if anyone would have felt secure and safe it would have been him! But you probably know what it’s like to be physically secure at the moment, but also aware of external threats that could destroy you quickly if they got out of hand. I think that’s how David viewed things. He had an army – but he knew the truth that princes aren’t ultimately delivered by their horses and weapons. God alone delivers from peril and death.
OK, so here’s two groups in this psalm. On the one hand — the poor, needy, oppressed believers in the Lord. On the other hand, those doing the oppressing.
Psalm 9 Commentary: The Lord
But I said there are 3 entities in this psalm. Who’s the third? It’s the Lord. Let’s remind ourselves of what God has revealed about himself in this psalm.
Basically, God will deliver the oppressed from their oppressors. He’s going to deliver David from his enemies. God is viewed as a judge. He’s said to have set up his throne for judgement. And as we’ve already rehearsed, his judgement is going to be completely right. There will be no mistrials with this judge. No evidence unseen. No lies believed. He knows and sees everything. And he will render a just verdict.
The Lord is one who can be approached by the humble. You don’t need to be someone great to approach the Lord. In fact, he really is viewed in Psalm 9 as preferring the humble and poor and needy and oppressed. He’s going to protect and deliver them even as he’s punishing their enemies.
Now, you and I can be assured that the judge of the whole earth will do right.
I think sometimes we can be discouraged that this is the case. I mean, read the news. Pay attention to what’s happening around you. You’ll notice things like this.
A mother writing a blog in which she details the struggle she’s having caring for her sickly child. She’s viewed as a hero, enduring great suffering faithfully. The boy finally dies. And it’s later revealed that he died from his mother intentionally overdosing him with salt. She knowingly murdered her son. Slowly. Painfully, for him. All to get attention to herself on her blog. Where was God?
Or you have this blood-thirsty Islamic State group invading this refugee camp in Syria – Yarmouk. It’s a place to which Palestinians fled after the Arab Israeli war in 1948 I believe. This camp has been fighting the Syrian president Bashar al-Asaad for years now. So they’ve been bombed and attacked for a long time by Syria itself. And now the jihadists have entered the camp. And the jihadists are against Asaad but they’re also not too friendly with the Palestinians. What a mess! And here’s the worst part. There are children in that camp. And they’re dying of malnutrition. They’re dying of starvation. They’re dying from bullets and bombs. They didn’t choose to be there. They didn’t choose to be born into that living hell. Where’s God?
I’m sure you have an assortment of things in your life that make you repeat that question – “where’s God?” He’s all powerful. He’s totally good. And yet… Why isn’t he stopping the evil?
And this is where our perception of the Lord and who he is and what he should be expected to do – this where this needs to change. We don’t know why God allows suffering. But he does. He allowed in the life of Jesus. In fact, Jesus was perfected by his sufferings according to Hebrews. And he uses sufferings to perfect us as well. All things work together for good to those who love God. But you and I need to adjust what we think of as “good”. Because that verse in Romans states that what is good for us is to be made more and more like Christ. And that’s exactly what suffering does for us. Brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials – how? Because you know that the testing of your faith produces good things. GOOD things.
And a psalm like Psalm 9 reminds us that sometimes God will give temporal deliverance from evil. But the ultimate defeat of it is yet to come. But it WILL come. God will judge the world in righteousness. And when he does, the evil-doers will be destroyed, but YOU will be delivered.
So, that’s the message of Psalm 9 – God’s Judgment Brings Deliverance for the Righteous.