With the lectionary’s choice of verses 9-20 we find ourselves in the middle of an acrostic poem/song. This acrostic comprises the whole of Psalms 9 and 10 and the preacher would do well to study the whole of this poem/song. While the specific timeline of this Psalm is inconclusive, it makes most sense that it belongs in post-exilic Israel. “The post-exilic community was subject domination by the nations, yet in the midst of such oppression, the community affirmed the rule of God.” Perhaps these are the moments when God’s people are at their most faithful; afflicted yet faithful. Or, even, faithful because of affliction!
This Psalm, focusing on the national oppression of Israel is written as a word of comfort. Despite the trouble they face, the Psalmist declares singular fidelity to YHWH, a God who provides comfort to the oppressed and a God who despises the wicked.
The words are pretty straightforward in this poem. The Psalmist isn’t mincing words. God is on the side of the oppressed. God despises the wickedness of the nations. God desires life. God will avenge. The peoples that forget God will depart to Sheol.
I’ll be honest, As an American I’m much more comfortable with Psalm 10. Psalm 10 focuses on the wicked individual and the oppressed individual. Psalm 9 challenges my cultural sensibilities as it is focused on systemic or national wickedness and oppression. I’m an individual. I don’t like to think that I would be implicated in the sin of my nation. I don’t want to think I’m guilty based on citizenship. I’m inclined to emphasize the individual. This Psalm won’t let me.
This is a great word of comfort to the afflicted and oppressed. How great a reminder this is that God chooses the ones who have been forgotten. How comforting it is that God will avenge those who have been oppressed! For peoples who have been pushed to the margins there is comfort.
As much as Psalm 9 is a word of comfort to the oppressed it is a word of warning to oppressors. Maybe this is why I’d rather not preach this passage.. As a WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), male, and straight, I have NO CLUE what oppression feels like. None. And in modern history I am on the side of the oppressors. According to this psalmist my people have a bit of confessing to do…
A theologian I very much look up to has said, “It’s easy to confess the sins of dead people.” This theologian is right. It’s easy to say how wrong we got it in the past, and it’s MUCH harder to acknowledge our present transgressions; especially if their national/systemic.
So in this essay I will not confess the sins of my people who separated native families, destroyed native habitats and food resources, and sent them to “reservations.”
I won’t confess the sins of my people who enslaved people because of their skin color who had been stolen/sold from their native continent.
I won’t confess the sins of my people who interned American citizens because they emigrated from Japan.
I will confess that I’ve never been pulled over while driving without just cause. I will confess that no police office has ever pulled his weapon out on. Ever. I know a total of 0 WASP’s arrested for sitting in a coffee shop waiting for the last person of their party (a crime I’ve committed countless times!)
I will confess that I have no clue how terrible conditions must be to feel it necessary to take my family away from our home to dwell in a foreign land. Whether it’s war-torn syria or gang infested Latin America, God is the stronghold for the oppressed. And I find my company among those who close borders and separate families.
Lord, have mercy on us.
The Psalmist hasn’t minced words and we shouldn’t either. God is a stronghold for the oppressed. The wicked will find themselves in Sheol. If God is on the side of the oppressed than we need to be as well!