Saturday, August 24, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 75

Unlike most of the psalms we've been studying, Psalm 75 was not written by David. Instead, it is inscribed, “A Psalm of Asaph.” I had never heard of Asaph before this, but it turns out that he is a rather fascinating character with a long and interesting life. Richard Thompson presents Asaph's life in his article “Who is Asaph?”. According to Thompson, Asaph was a Levite who lived during the reigns of David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. David appointed the musically-talented Asaph as his director of music at the Tabernacle, a position he also held at Solomon's Temple. Asaph wrote twelve psalms of his own and probably composed the musical settings for many of David's psalms. 

Thompson points out that Asaph witnessed the highs and lows of Israel. He saw David's triumph as he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. He experienced the peace of Israel during David's days and the strength of David's leadership. He grieved with David over Absalom's betrayal but was certainly relieved when David was back in power. He probably took great interest in David's preparations to build the Temple, and while he mourned David's death, he was excited about the possibilities of Solomon's rule. He celebrated the completion and dedication of the Temple but gradually became disillusioned by Solomon's immorality, luxury, and idolatry. He worried, too, about the people's growing discontent over Solomon's heavy taxes. Both Asaph and his brother Zechariah spoke out, warning the king that he needed to change his ways. Zechariah was killed in the Temple by Solomon's men. Asaph was probably extremely concerned when Solomon's son Rehoboam took the throne. The corruption continued and worsened. As a very old man, Asaph was horrified to see the northern kingdom split from the southern kingdom. As Thompson says, “The Kingdom was destroyed, the Temple was in ruins, many of his own family had been killed,” and the kings of Israel had turned to evil. Asaph, however, continued to cling to God and hope in Him, as we shall see in his psalms. 

Psalm 75 begins with thanksgiving. “We give thanks to You, O God; we give thanks; Your name is near. People tell of Your wondrous deeds.” The Hebrew verb for “give thanks” is yâdâh. It appears twice in this verse, both times in its Hiphil verbal stem followed by le, which indicates a reference to formal worship. This thanksgiving is probably taking place in the Tabernacle or the Temple. Certainly God's Name is near, for the Israelites recognized the Tabernacle and Temple as the locus of God's presence on earth. Remember, too, that God's Name refers to more than an identifying word. God's Name encompasses His character, His authority, and His glory. His Name is shorthand for everything He is. The psalmist, then, is giving thanks for Who God is. He is also grateful for what God has done, all those wondrous deeds God has performed for His people throughout salvation history. 

In verses 2-5, the psalmist offers a message directly from God. God reminds us, “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity” (verse 2). God is in control. He will select the time and place for His judgment. It will come, but we don't know when. We can be sure, however, that God will judge with equity. The Hebrew word for equity is mêyshâr. It carries connotations of uprightness, sincerity, and smoothness. God's judgment is perfect. We can trust Him for that. But we must be ready when His appointed time comes. 

God continues, “When the earth totters, with all its inhabitants, it is I who keep its pillars steady” (verse 3). This verse should be of great comfort for us. God is emphasizing again that He is in control. The earth and everything in it is melting away. The Hebrew verb for totters, mûg, suggests helplessness and terror. Everything seems to be falling apart. But not really. God is still holding us up. He is keeping the pillars of the world steady. He has everything firmly under control. He is directing everything even if we can't see it. We must trust Him.

God has a warning for us, though. He says to the boastful, to those who praise themselves, “Do not boast” (verse 4). All praise must be directed to God. He also warns the wicked (Hebrew râshâ‛ - evil, guilty, offenders), “Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with insolent neck” (verses 4-5). The Hebrew word for horn is qeren, which figuratively means power or strength. God is telling the wicked not to be like aggressive animals, throwing their powerful horns around and goring everyone in sight. They are not to push their power and strength on others. They are not to impose their wicked wills. They are to hold their tongues and refrain from arrogant, impudent speech. They are not to be stubborn and “stiff necked,” glorying in their pride. 

Why? There will be consequences for boastful and wicked behavior. They will not come from the human world, “but it is God Who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another” (verse 7). God, Who knows the heart, humbles those Who act against Him (Hebrew shâphêl – to humiliate, to bring low). He squashes their pride and arrogance. He also raises up those who follow Him, setting them in lofty places and extolling them (Hebrew rûm). 

The next verse presents a vivid image of God's just judgment (verse 8). God holds a foaming cup of wine, fully mixed with spices that increase its strength. He will pour it out upon the world, and the wicked will stagger under its influence. They will have to drink the cup down to its dregs, the bitter sediment at the bottom. They will experience every last consequence of their sins, and it will not be pleasant. 

The psalmist, on the other hand, “will rejoice forever” and “sing praises to the God of Jacob.” The Hebrew word translated as rejoice, nâgad, is actually much stronger. It means to announce, declare, make known, proclaim, expound, confess, and avow. The psalmist has a story, a message, and he intends to proclaim it forever. He will tell the truth about God and His mercy and justice, and he will praise God for Who He is and what He has done for His people. 

The psalm ends with a final reminder from God Himself: “All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted” (verse 10). He will destroy the power and strength of the evil but lift up the power and strength of the just. Justice will prevail.

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