For the director of music. To the tune of ‘The Lily of the Covenant’. A miktam of David. For teaching. When he fought Aram Naharaim and Aram Zobah, and when Joab returned and struck down twelve thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt.
You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us;
you have been angry – now restore us!
You have shaken the land and torn it open;
mend its fractures, for it is quaking.
You have shown your people desperate times;
you have given us wine that makes us stagger.
But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner
to be unfurled against the bow.
Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love may be delivered.
God has spoken from his sanctuary:
‘In triumph I will parcel out Shechem
and measure off the Valley of Sukkoth.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah is my sceptre.
Moab is my washbasin,
on Edom I toss my sandal;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.’
Who will bring me to the fortified city?(Ps. 60:1-12 NIV)
Who will lead me to Edom?
Is it not you, God, you who have now rejected us
and no longer go out with our armies?
Give us aid against the enemy,
for human help is worthless.
With God we shall gain the victory,
and he will trample down our enemies.
In the book of Deuteronomy God makes clear that when His people neglect Him He will turn away from them. We cannot take for granted that God will give us the help that we feel we need. The warrior God has turned to fight against His people rather than fight for them. The Psalmist uses seven verbs to describe in detail what God has done. God has rejected, burst upon, been angry, shaken the land, torn open the land, shown the people desperate times and intoxicated them. Rejection by God is a very serious matter. We see in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation that God will remove a church if the people turn away from Him. One has just to look at the number of church buildings in the UK that are empty or have been changed to fulfil another purpose. We have already noticed through the Psalms how important the presence of the Lord with His people is. God’s people live a meaningless existence without the presence of the Lord.
The Psalmist has reason to lament, but throughout the lament there are brief prayers. The Psalmist asks for God to restore them. It is important to note that restoration will have to come from God. One of the judgements that God said he would bring was famine into the land. The Psalmist asks for God to mend the fracture of the land.
There was still a remnant of God’s people who feared the Lord v4. The NIV translates the verse in a rather unusual way. This suggests a positive action where God unfurls a banner to protect those who fear the Lord, but that seems to not fit that easily with the flow of what the Psalmist is saying. The most negative interpretation that has been suggested is that the banner identified the people for the enemy archers to shoot at. However, I favour the meaning that the Lord unfurls a banner to identify a place of safety, where the God-fearing people can run to. The Psalmist cries out to be saved, that the people that God loves may be delivered. The only ground for the petition is the unconditional love of God.
God issues an oracle from Heaven in response. It is an oracle of hope. Everything changes in the sanctuary. It is God who divided up the land, the land is His and He states His ownership with symbols of divine power and authority (helmet and sceptre). God also claims ownership over the nearest enemy nations, but He uses menial metaphors like basin, tossing the sandal and triumphing over. The enemy may have defeated God’s people, but God is still in control of the enemy.
The lament resumes even after the oracle of hope. The pain of defeat and God’s rejection of His people is still on the heart of the Psalmist. What is the point of the armies going out if God is not with them? What is the point of any activity on our part if God is not with us? The aid and help need to come from God, for human help is worthless.
At the beginning of the Psalm God’s people were like the enemy. The Psalmist has come into the sanctuary and God has spoken. Now at the end of the Psalm, the Psalmist can express his confidence once more. With God they will gain the victory and the enemy will be defeated.
Lord we endeavour to ensure that our theology is biblical. We seek to honour You by the way that we worship. Lord help us not to assume that just because we feel our theology is right and our form of worship is according to Your word, that we can just presume upon Your presence with us. Lord help us to search our hearts, to explore why it is that we have had the privilege of gathering in public worship and meeting at the Lord’s table taken from us. Has our gathering in worship been like a mere trampling of Your courts (Isaiah 1:12)?. Lord restore Your people, come early to save us and deliver us from the effects of this virus. Lifting of the lockdown might eventually allow us to physically gather, but Lord if Your presence is not there it will be a pointless reunion. Lord be merciful to us, forgive our many sins and restore us that once again we will hear the Call to worship and leave the sanctuary with Your blessing of benediction upon us, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.