Through the Bible in One Year

Day 115

Psalm 94

The LORD is a God who avenges.

O God who avenges, shine forth.

Rise up, Judge of the earth;

pay back to the proud what they deserve.

How long, LORD, will the wicked,

how long will the wicked be jubilant?

They pour out arrogant words;

all the evildoers are full of boasting.

They crush your people, LORD;

they oppress your inheritance.

They slay the widow and the foreigner;

they murder the fatherless.

They say, “The LORD does not see;

the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people;

you fools, when will you become wise?

Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?

Does he who formed the eye not see?

Does he who disciplines nations not punish?

Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge?

The LORD knows all human plans;

he knows that they are futile.

Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD,

the one you teach from your law;

you grant them relief from days of trouble,

till a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the LORD will not reject his people;

he will never forsake his inheritance.

Judgment will again be founded on righteousness,

and all the upright in heart will follow it.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?

Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?

Unless the LORD had given me help,

I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

When I said, “My foot is slipping, ”

your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me,

your consolation brought me joy.

Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—

a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?

The wicked band together against the righteous

and condemn the innocent to death.

But the LORD has become my fortress,

and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.

He will repay them for their sins

and destroy them for their wickedness;

the LORD our God will destroy them.

In order to better understand what this psalm is talking about we are going to break it down into six sections of between 3 and 4 verses per section.  And the first section is vv. 1-3.

The LORD is a God who avenges.

O God who avenges, shine forth.

Rise up, Judge of the earth;

pay back to the proud what they deserve.

How long, LORD, will the wicked,

how long will the wicked be jubilant?—94:1-3

This psalm is a community lament with undertones of wisdom literature.  The psalmist complains of radical injustice among the powerful and he implores God to act.  This lament appears mysteriously in a series of psalms celebrating God’s sovereignty (Ps 93-100).  In this position Psalm 94 implies that while God already reigns, his reign is not yet consummated.  The psalmist begins by calling God an avenger.  He wants God to act suddenly in judgment as he did when he caused a sinkhole to swallow Dathan and Abiram (Nu 16:31-33).  The psalmist feels that God is being passive, so he prays that God would rise up and dole out appropriate retribution.  And the oppressed can not wait any longer; therefore, they ask, “How long” (V. 3).  The next section is vv. 4-7.

They pour out arrogant words;

all the evildoers are full of boasting.

They crush your people, LORD;

they oppress your inheritance.

They slay the widow and the foreigner;

they murder the fatherless.

They say, “The LORD does not see;

the God of Jacob takes no notice.”—94:4-7

The psalmist now reports a set of heinous crimes in an effort to provoke God’s judgement.  Those doing the damage have power and influence, and they boast about their exploits.  The oppressed are God’s own possession—his beloved inheritance—so should take interest in their allegations.  The evildoers are utterly ruthless.  They murder helpless people from the three social classes that are to receive the most protection under Israelite law: widows, immigrants and vulnerable children.  The perpetrators of these crimes assume that God does not care, does not see or does not even exist.  And to make matters worse the wicked in this psalm are not foreigners, as evidenced by their referring to God as the “LORD” and “the God of Jacob.”  Rather, they are unethical Israelites in positions of power.  The next section is vv. 8-11.

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people;

you fools, when will you become wise?

Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?

Does he who formed the eye not see?

Does he who disciplines nations not punish?

Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge?

The LORD knows all human plans;

he knows that they are futile.—94:8-11

The presumption by these powerful Israelites is dangerously naive, and it is dangerously naive for us to make those same presumptions.  In language resembling that of Proverbs, the psalmist calls these wicked people “fools” because they have abandoned God’s covenant and chosen their own way.  He then bombards them with questions to expose their irrational thinking.  God designed eyes and ears so he can surely see and hear.  God punishes nations, so he will certainly punish defiant individuals; he has given the world his law, so he certainly his sufficient knowledge.  God is patient, but he is also omniscient and just.  He is watching, and he is not pleased.  Power-hungry people may scheme and bludgeon their way up the trial, but God is always waiting at the top of the mountain.  The next section is vv. 12-15.

Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD,

the one you teach from your law;

you grant them relief from days of trouble,

till a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the LORD will not reject his people;

he will never forsake his inheritance.

Judgment will again be founded on righteousness,

and all the upright in heart will follow it.—94:12-15

Rather than presuming that God is distant, wise people welcome his teaching and his discipline.  Those who know him rest even in dark times because they trust that God will right all wrongs in the end.  When he does, he will rescue his people because he made a covenant with them.  We as God’s people are like a priceless inheritance to him.  And society will be stable once again because the judges and courts will follow God’s law instead of the greedy plots of the most malicious in the land.  And the next section is vv. 16-19.

Who will rise up for me against the wicked?

Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?

Unless the LORD had given me help,

I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.

When I said, “My foot is slipping, ”

your unfailing love, LORD, supported me.

When anxiety was great within me,

your consolation brought me joy.—94:16-19

The psalmist is confident that God will make things right in the end.  But in the meantime, corruption unfortunately is the norm.  He recalls, as we should, a time when he needed an advocate, a legal defender, an encourager, or perhaps even physical protection.  His time was short, his strength was sapped, his defenses were weak and his resources had run low.  But once again, God kept his covenant promises to support and help him.  Even though powerful people had perverted the justice system, the psalmist, just as we should, found some temporary peace in knowing that God is still near and on his side.  And the last section is vv. 20-23.

Can a corrupt throne be allied with you—

a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?

The wicked band together against the righteous

and condemn the innocent to death.

But the LORD has become my fortress,

and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.

He will repay them for their sins

and destroy them for their wickedness;

the LORD our God will destroy them.—94:20-23

Until now, the psalmist has not specified the oppressors’ social status or their precise role in society.  But now he reveals that the corruption reached all the way to the top leadership in the land.  The kings of Israel were meant to represent God.  Their decrees and policies were meant to align with God’s law.  Each king was required to write his own copy of the law so that he would implement everything it taught (Dt 17:18-20).  But Israel’s kings often strayed from God’s law, as 1-2 Kings recounts.  Because many of their comprises were reflected in their laws, the scales of justice grew lopsided.  Unjust rules created unfair advantages, and the greedy and power-hungry took full advantage of this situation.  Still, the psalmist refused to take part in the corrupt system or to leverage bad laws to his advantage.  Even when he suffered for staying faithful or standing for the weak, he trusted that God would protect him and provide for him until God judges the wicked in the land.  And now to answer that burning question you have had this whole time: how does this apply to me today?  In the New Testament Peter teaches us a followers of Christ how we should live in this corrupt and wicked world.  We are to expect to suffer for what we believe in.  We are to deny our sinful nature.  We are to keep doing good, thus following Jesus’ example.  And we are to know that God will surely come to judge.  Because unlike the wicked and the corrupt we have a future hope, whose name is Jesus, and in this dark and corrupt world that we live in we must cling to that hope above all else.

Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:

Judges 6, Luke 22:54-23:12, Psalm 95:1-96:13 and Proverbs 14:5-6

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