Psalm 12 is the first of the 15 psalms of corporate lament.  The theme of the psalm is the power of speech.  We live in a world of mass communication.  We have seen in recent days how a State-run media can speak in a way that distorts the reality of what is happening, with the intention of keeping people in the dark.

    But we sometimes forget the positive power of speech!  In this psalm the concern is with those who lie to their neighbours with flattering lips speaking with deception.  There is no positive speech until God speaks:

“Because of the oppression of the weak

and the groaning of the needy,

I will now arise”, says the LORD.

“I will protect them from

those who malign them.”

    When God speaks He acts, as we see right from the beginning of the Bible.  And that is the positive message of this psalm.

    From the first verse the psalmist is concerned about the nation:

Help, LORD, for the godly are no more;

the faithful have vanished from among men.

    The social situation has become so bad that the psalmist is convinced that there are no godly people left.  It can appear that way sometimes.  Freedom of speech is removed and replaced with freedom for those who say:

We will triumph with our tongues;

we own our lips - who is our master?

    We now have crimes like ‘Hate speech’ which makes it almost impossible to disagree with those who are in power.  Whatever the morality of the legislators, no one is allowed to have an alternative viewpoint, without being accused of something of which they are not guilty.

    As the psalmist puts it:

The wicked freely strut about

when what is vile is

honoured among men.

    This is the society in which we live today and we have to ask if the psalmist is correct about the demise of the godly and the faithful.  We can think back to the days when we knew what morality was and when sin was sin, but now it seems that anything goes and there is no place for Christian values - not when they disagree with “British values” anyway.

    The psalmist does have hope however:

O LORD, you will keep us safe

and protect us from such people forever.

    And so we trust in the same LORD to keep us safe in a world where there seems to be so few of us still following the Word of God.

    This next psalm - Psalm 44 - has a positive beginning, looking back, and then it changes with a But now.  Some of you will have heard my New Testament teaching on the phrase But now that tells us how everything has changed since Jesus came: This is how it was!  But now!  In this psalm the But now has the opposite meaning.

    The psalmist knows about the history of his people:

our fathers have told us 

what you did in their days,

in days long ago.

     Unusually for the psalms he doesn’t go back to the Exodus; he only goes back as far as the conquest of the Promised Land.  This conquest was attributed to God:

It was not by their sword that

they won the land…

it was your right hand, your arm

    And the reason was that God loved them.

But now you have rejected 

and humbled us;

you no longer go out with 

our armies.

    This is a national lament and the psalmist cannot find an explanation for the times in which he is living:

All this happened to us,

though we had not forgotten you

or been false to your covenant.

    There is no loss of faith in God.  He is still the psalmist’s God and he trusts in God’s unfailing love.  He just cannot explain why the people are suffering so much.

    Even the end of the psalm offers no hope:

Awake, O Lord!  Why do you sleep?

Rouse yourself!  Do not

reject us forever.

Why do you hide your face

and forget our misery and oppression?

    We don’t know what was going on behind the scenes and we cannot compare any nation today to Old Testament Israel, but we can understand the despair equally felt by a Christian looking back to revivals of the past, sitting in a mostly empty church building today, wondering when God will do something to change our fortunes.

    Maybe vv23-24 should be our prayer, but only if we can guarantee the truthfulness of v17-18 in our case!

Psalm 58 is a fascinating psalm and unique in that its opening verses are not directed to God, but to politicians!

    The psalmist has a problem with the wicked rulers who are in power at this time.  He suggests their corruption began in the womb:

Even from birth the wicked go astray;

from the womb they are

wayward and speak lies.

    And then the psalmist turns to God and in his prayer he asks God to deal with them in graphic ways, suggesting they may need dental treatment afterwards, and comparing them to slugs.

    The result of this prayer being answered is that the righteous will have a novel foot spa (v10).

And his conclusion is:

Then men will say,

“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;

surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

    The reward of the righteous and the evidence for justice are seen by this psalmist to depend on the punishment of the wicked.  This is one of the two voices found in the Old Testament and particularly seen in the book of Psalms.  This is the view that says the righteous are always rewarded and the wicked are always punished in this life.

    The alternative view is found in the book of Job and for instance in Psalm 73 where the psalmist is concerned the the righteous are suffering while the wicked are living in peace and luxury.

    These psalms, as I have said before, are personal blogs not theology.  This is how the psalmist would like God to answer his prayers.  And in moments of honesty we too like to see justice done.  We don’t want the criminal to get away with it, whether he/she is a petty thief or a war criminal.  We may not have the same graphic detail in mind as the psalmist, but there is still that inbuilt desire for justice.

    If we are made in the image of God, as Genesis tells us, then we have that desire for justice; and if we are made in the image of Adam, as Genesis also tells us, then there will be a distortion of that justice and the fine line between justice and revenge may be crossed from time to time.

    So as we look at the international scene, our own national leaders, local politicians, and more personally, those who affect our lives in negative ways, let us consider again this psalm and realise that God doesn’t want us to hide our true feelings behind pious phrases.  This is one psalm that would be edited out of a modern day collection of psalms because of all the violence in it, but it is included in the Bible to show us once again that God wants us to express those thoughts and feelings that we have when bad things happen to good people.

    This next psalm, Psalm 60, is addressed to God after a time of national disaster, (interestingly it is not addressed to YHWH {the LORD} as so many other psalms are).  The title suggests that it was during the reign of King David, but it could be applied to many other times in Israel’s history.  And in good biblical fashion the psalmist gives God the credit for the disaster:

You have rejected us, O God…

you have been angry…

You have shaken the land…

You have shown your people desperate times….

    There is no sense that these were random events leading to the question, “Where is God in all this?”.  “If it happened, then God did it”, was the theology.

    And if God did it, then God can fix it.  And so his people find him to be a banner around which they can gather when the enemy attacks:

But for those who fear you, you

have raised a banner

to be unfurled against the bow.

    What is unusual about this psalm is that God answers, in vv6-8.  He declares his sovereignty over the surrounding nations, as well as over Israel.

    The psalm concludes with a declaration of trust in God:

With God we shall gain the victory,

and he will trample down our enemies.

    There have been earthquakes (v2), enemy attacks and other disasters that have affected the nation as a whole, and the psalmist is aware that:

the help of man is worthless.

    As a result, he turns to God.  No reason is given as to why God may have rejected his people.  The fact that there have been so many national disasters leads the psalmist to this conclusion, although he provides no reason why this might be the case.

    At times when we experience disasters: personal, national, natural, or whatever, we may feel like God has abandoned us.  We have that other example in the Psalms, from Psalm 22: 1, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’  The psalm that Jesus quoted on the cross.

    Psalm 22 deals with an individual’s sense of abandonment; Psalm 60 deals with a nation’s sense of abandonment. 

    We need the New Testament reminder that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against … the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

    However big the trouble seems to be, it is good to have that understanding of God as Sovereign to remind us that He is in control, no matter how it may look.

    This next psalm, Psalm 74, asks a similar question to Psalm 22, but this time it is the people, not an individual, asking the question:

Why have you rejected us forever, O God?

    This is similar to the question Jesus asked on the cross, quoting Psalm 22: 1.  And it is a good time to look at this psalm.  The people of Israel are feeling abandoned by God.  Their enemies have destroyed the Temple, letting us know roughly when this psalm was written - after the exile to Babylon and before Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.  The people are facing the disasters that God told them they would face if they abandoned his covenant.  But now the heavens are silent:

We are given no miraculous signs;

no prophets are left,

and none of us knows  how

long this will be.

    There was silence from God as his judgements unfolded.  The psalmist, interestingly, doesn’t look to blame God for what is happening.  He doesn’t experience any doubts about God.  In fact, he affirms his trust in the God who is Creator:

But you, O God, are my king

from of old;

you bring salvation upon

the earth.

It was you who split open the

sea by your power….

    And so he continues to describe God’s power and rule over creation.  And then the psalmist asks God to respond to all that Israel’s enemies are saying and doing:

Rise up, O God, and defend your cause…

    And so we come to Easter weekend and we see that God answered the psalmist’s prayer.  As Jesus was crucified He was representing God’s people.  The enemies of Israel (Rome at this point in history) and the enemies of God (Satan and his legions) focussed their attention on this One representative of Israel.  He took all the abuse (much of it from his own people).  He was mocked; his name was reviled, He held back his right hand (v11) and He brought salvation upon the earth (v12).  He had regard for (his) covenant (v20).

    And then as the psalmist requested, He did Rise up and defend (his) cause.  And that is what we are celebrating this weekend!

    Jesus risen from the dead, reminding us that God the Creator is still in control of his creation and nothing can oppose him.

    Psalm 79 tells of the judgement of God on the nation of Judah.  The psalm gives graphic details of the outcome of the invasion by the Babylonian army.  The first 3 verses could easily describe the scenes we have seen in Ukraine in recent days.  

    The psalmist is aware though, in his case, that this is judgement from YHWH.  God promised his people when He made the covenant with them that if they persistently disobeyed then He would evict them from the Promised Land.  We all like the promises of God and the blessings from God, but we are not happy with the judgements of God.  

    We prefer it if God just lets us alone to sin in peace.  And that was the problem in Judah.  The psalmist asks God to bring judgement on the nations because they don’t know God, but for himself and his people he wants mercy.

    And again we have that familiar cry in the psalms:

How long, O LORD?  Will you 

be angry forever?

How long will your jealousy

burn like fire?

    The psalmist acknowledges that the people are guilty before God, but the punishment is too much for him to bear and he appeals for mercy:

Do not hold against us the sins 

of the fathers;

may your mercy come 

quickly to meet us,

for we are in desperate need.

    But again we see that the palmist recognises that this is God at work, even in the disaster that has fallen on the nation.  It is the LORD to whom he prays - the Covenant God of Israel, not just a generic name for God.  He knows the specific God to whom he is praying.

    He knows that the disaster has come because of the sins of the fathers.  

        It is the nations who are asking: “Where is their God?”, not the psalmist.  He knows where his God is.  He knows that this is the God who led the people out of Egypt at work.  The problem is that the psalmist has an Old Testament mind-set, so he realises the people will only praise God when pay-back comes (v12).

    The New Testament Church has a different approach to enemies and praise is given to God whatever the circumstances.

    One lesson we can learn from the psalms is that the New Covenant is better (as the writer of Hebrews tells us) than the Old Covenant (Heb.8: 6).  The promises are better, the blessings are better, but the judgements of God are worse.

    While the psalmist appeals for mercy for God’s people and pay-back for their enemies; the New Testament Church prays for mercy for all.

    Let us remember which covenant we are under.

    This next psalm, Psalm 80, begins by calling God the Shepherd of Israel (think back to Psalm 23).  A little later (v8) God is the gardener who brought a vine out of Egypt.  Then God is a demolition worker: Why have you broken down its walls…?

    God is seen as the One who is in control of all that happens in this world, which is a good biblical way of looking at God and “life, the universe and everything”.

    This is another psalm that we cannot place in time, but it is during a time of national distress.  The psalmist asks:

O LORD God Almighty,

how long will your anger smoulder

against the prayers of your people?

    But despite this the psalmist knows that his God is the One who gave Israel their existence as a nation, as a people.  The appeal is all the way back to the exodus from Egypt when God led them into the Promised Land and planted them there so that they would spread out across the land.

    But now!  Things are bad, so who else will the psalmist turn to?  There is no one else.  He knows his God, so he doesn’t have to ask why these bad things are happening.  He knows!

    And yet there is no confession.  The psalmist doesn’t mention the sins of the people.  God has turned away from them.  The repeated refrain is:

Restore us, O God;

make your face shine upon us (v3)

Restore us, O God Almighty;

make your face shine upon us (v7)

Return to us, O God Almighty (v14)

Restore us O LORD God Almighty (v19)

    It may be assumed that the people have already confessed and repented of their sins and now they are wondering how long they have to suffer the consequences.

    That is the problem with living in this universe that God created.  Sin has consequences!  We can confess and repent and be forgiven, but consequences still play out.  There are so many examples of this in the Bible so I will leave you to find them, but as we are in the psalms look at David and what he did to Bathsheba as one example.  He was forgiven straight away, but the consequences for him and his children take up many chapters in 2 Samuel.

    The psalmist doesn’t seem to have learned that lesson.  But he is aware that salvation is found nowhere else than in the Shepherd of Israel.

    May we find that truth for ourselves, whatever situation we may be in.

    This psalm, Psalm 83, is about payback.  The psalmist is living at a time when Israel are facing threats from several neighbours and the psalmist wants God to fight for Israel against these neighbours.

    At one time this was considered perfectly normal, but over the last few decades people have objected to victims seeking retribution.  It is usually people who have never suffered who object to the desire for justice found in these psalms.

    And yet if we consider Israel’s position we will see that they were not a powerful nation attacking weaker enemies - they were the victims.

    I remember hearing someone say once that the Old Testament was written by the victors, but if you look at the end of the Old Testament you see first the Assyrian Empire taking the 10 northern tribes of Israel into exile, never to return, then the Babylonians taking the remaining two tribes into exile, to be replaced by the Persian Empire, who let them go home again, followed by the Greeks who oppressed them, followed by the Syrians who were worse, and the New Testament opens with the Romans occupying Israel.  These people were not victorious; they were the victims.

    And we have no theology for victims.   Those who write the theology books like to tell us how “God is not like that”.  He doesn’t bring judgement; there is no wrath of God and perpetrators of violence will be forgiven and the victims will be forgotten.

    I think we need to redress this imbalance and remember that Jesus came to identify with the victims by dying on a cross.  He didn’t (like our psalmist this week) ask for God to punish his oppressors, but He didn’t forget the victims either.  He died as a victim.

    So when we read these psalms that ask God to punish let us remember that there was nobody fighting for Israel against their more powerful neighbours.  They only had God to talk to.  There was no EU or NATO to supply them with weapons to fight against their neighbours.  We have read the horror stories of what some Russian soldiers have done to citizens in Ukraine.  Remember that this was the situation that the psalmist was living in.  But there was no one to report the war crimes back then.  Only God kept a record.

    But also remember that this psalm was included in the Bible to let us know that we are allowed to vent our frustrations and anger at God when we find ourselves against more powerful enemies, whatever form they take: awkward neighbours; financial difficulties; health problems etc.  God is always listening and wants us to know, as the psalmist wanted his enemies to discover, that God:

alone (is) the Most

High over all the earth.

    This next psalm, Psalm 85, is more positive than many of the others we have looked at.  There is a cry for help (it wouldn’t be a lament if there wasn’t), but there is a lot of hope in God as well.  And as people seem to have a hard time with the God of the Old Testament I thought it would be good to concentrate on how the psalmist describes his God.  The Old Testament was the Bible of the Early Church after all.

    So, to begin with, the psalmist acknowledges that God is a forgiving God:

You forgave the iniquity of

your people

and covered all their sins.

    And then he calls God, our Saviour.  Salvation in Old Testament times meant being rescued from enemies and living a long life of peace.  And so the blessings of life were seen as coming from God.  But also the forgiveness of sins!

    Then the psalmist asks:

Show us your unfailing love, O LORD

    This is the God of love of the Old Testament.  His love is unfailing - even when things are going wrong, even at a time like the one the psalmist is experiencing:

Restore us again, O God our

Saviour,

and put away your

displeasure towards us.

Will you be angry with us forever?

    Then this is a God who:

promises peace to his

people, his saints

    This is not a God of war, but a God of peace.  And the word translated peace is Shalom, which means more than just an absence of war; it means wellbeing; wholeness; contentment and so much more.

    The psalmist is assured that his God is good, no matter what is happening around him.  This assurance comes from his knowledge of God, which gives him that assurance:

The LORD will indeed give

what is good….

    As with so many of the psalms we don’t know when this one was written, but we know that it was during a time of national trouble.  All through the psalm there are hints that things are not as they should be.  Life is not meant to be like this.  God is a God of blessings, but it feels like they have been cursed, and so the psalmist looks to his knowledge of God - knowledge that was learned in the good days, and prays:

Will you not revive us again,

that your people may rejoice in you?

    And so we have another psalm that teaches us about the consistency of God.  He doesn’t change.  He hasn’t changed.  He is the same as He always was and He is to be trusted and He can be relied upon to bring us salvation whatever we may be facing.

    This psalm, Psalm 90 is considered to be “A prayer of Moses the man of God”.   Whether Moses wrote it or not, it is worth reading and meditating on.

    It is an unusual psalm because it is not about Israel, but about the human race in general.  The psalmist is lamenting the lot of the human race.  A race that was created to live forever and yet the man in the Bible who lived the longest (Methuselah) only lived for 969 years, while the psalmist says to God:

a thousand years in your sight,

are like a day that has just gone by,

or like a watch in the night.

    This is then compared to:

The length of our days is 70 years

or 80 if we have the strength

    And that is quite a reduction on 1,000 years.  But imagine living for 1,000 if you experience what the psalmist goes on to say:

yet their span is but trouble

and sorrow,

for they quickly pass and

we fly away.

And earlier he wrote:

we finish our years with a moan.

    Not a very encouraging view of life!  But as with all the psalms, a very honest view of life.  And yet there is that trust in God - his unfailing love is mentioned once again.

    And the psalm opens with a fascinating phrase:

Lord, you have been our

dwelling-place

throughout all generations.

    This everlasting God is our dwelling-place!  God is where we live.  Imagine putting that as your address:

Jesus Christ

YHWH

Forever

    This puts this psalm back into the Hebrew way of thinking.  As short as life is, God is eternal.  From before the beginning God has always been.  And He is where we live!  This is our God!

May the favour of the Lord

our God rest upon us

    Whatever we face and however long we live, and even if we end up as a moan, let us look for the favour of the Lord to see us through.