Singing of a warrior God

File:Bridgman Pharaoh's Army Engulfed by the Red Sea.jpg

Thinking about Psalm 68

1Let God rise up, let his enemies be scattered;
…..let those who hate him flee before him.
2As smoke is driven away,
…..so drive them away;
as wax melts before the fire,
…..let the wicked perish before God.
3But let the righteous be joyful;
…..let them exult before God;
…..let them be jubilant with joy.

4Sing to God, sing praises to his name;
….. lift up a song to him who rides upon the clouds—
his name is the Lord—
…..be exultant before him.

5Father of orphans and protector of widows
…..is God in his holy habitation.
6God gives the desolate a home to live in;
…..he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
….. but the rebellious live in a parched land.

7O God, when you went out before your people,
…..when you marched through the wilderness,
8the earth quaked,
…..the heavens poured down rain
at the presence of God, the God of Sinai,
…..at the presence of God, the God of Israel.
9Rain in abundance, O God, you showered abroad;
…..you restored your heritage when it languished;
10your flock found a dwelling in it;
…..in your goodness, O God, you provided for the needy.

11 The Lord gives the command;
…..great is the company of those who bore the tidings:
…..12 “The kings of the armies, they flee, they flee!”
The women at home divide the spoil,
…..13 though they stay among the sheepfolds—
the wings of a dove covered with silver,
…..its pinions with green gold.
14 When the Almighty scattered kings there,
…..snow fell on Zalmon.

15 O mighty mountain, mountain of Bashan;
…..O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!
16 Why do you look with envy, O many-peaked mountain,
…..at the mount that God desired for his abode,
…..where the Lord will reside forever?

17 With mighty chariotry, twice ten thousand,
…..thousands upon thousands,
…..the Lord came from Sinai into the holy place.
18 You ascended the high mount,
…..leading captives in your train
and receiving gifts from people,
…..even from those who rebel against the Lord God’s abiding there.
19 Blessed be the Lord,
…..who daily bears us up;
…..God is our salvation.
20 Our God is a God of salvation,
…..and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
…..the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.
22 The Lord said, “I will bring them back from Bashan,
…..I will bring them back from the depths of the sea,
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
…..so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.”

24 Your solemn processions are seen, O God,
…..the processions of my God, my King, into the sanctuary–
25 the singers in front, the musicians last,
…..between them girls playing tambourines:
26 “Bless God in the great congregation,
…..the Lord, O you who are of Israel’s fountain!”
27 There is Benjamin, the least of them, in the lead,
…..the princes of Judah in a body,
…..the princes of Zebulun, the princes of Naphtali.

28 Summon your might, O God;
…..show your strength, O God, as you have done for us before.
29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
…..kings bear gifts to you.
30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
…..the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.
Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
…..scatter the peoples who delight in war.
31 Let bronze be brought from Egypt;
…..let Ethiopia hasten to stretch out its hands to God.

32Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth;
…..sing praises to the Lord,
33O rider in the heavens, the ancient heavens;
…..listen, he sends out his voice, his mighty voice.
34Ascribe power to God,
…..whose majesty is over Israel;
…..and whose power is in the skies.
35Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
…..the God of Israel;
…..he gives power and strength to his people.

Blessed be God!

What shall we say about this psalm that acclaims God as 5Father of orphans and protector of widows,” and yet exults that

21 God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
…..the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways…
23 so that you may bathe your feet in blood,
…..so that the tongues of your dogs may have their share from the foe.”

We don’t read such verses in worship. We leave them on the cutting room floor. We pack them away in shoeboxes in the back of the closet. We hope the children won’t notice and ask.

But there are such nice verses here:

19 Blessed be the Lord,
…..who daily bears us up;
…..God is our salvation.

There are hints of themes that will develop into the visit of the magi, and the gathering of all nations in that day when all is made new.

29 Because of your temple at Jerusalem
…..kings bear gifts to you.

There are verses that blossom into flower in light of the resurrection

20 Our God is a God of salvation,
…..and to God, the Lord, belongs escape from death.

And words of assurance that we all need:

35Awesome is God in his sanctuary,
…..the God of Israel;
…..he gives power and strength to his people.

So what shall we do with this psalm of the divine warrior who crushes enemies underfoot?

But there is something here, something indulgent like a sneaked cigarette for those who are giving up smoking, or a hidden cache of little Snickers bars. Something that feeds our wounded spirits when sadness and frustration, or rage and hurt, assail. There are times we want to do a victory dance at the defeat of some adversary.

And, on a deeper level, there is something reassuring in words like this when we face a world with powers and events beyond our control. It is gratifying to know God will bring an end to all the greed and corruption that rots the world. It’s rewarding to think God will crush hate and war and hold the warmongers accountable. It’s comforting to hear that God will scatter the wicked.

Trample under foot those who lust after tribute;
…..scatter the peoples who delight in war.

But the words get uncomfortable when they grow too concrete:

21 But God will shatter the heads of his enemies,
…..the hairy crown of those who walk in their guilty ways.

It is troubling when human enemies are described in subhuman terms:

30 Rebuke the wild animals that live among the reeds,
…..the herd of bulls with the calves of the peoples.

We know the feeling. But we also know where such language leads. It involves machetes in Rwanda and gas chambers in Germany and marches into the desert in Turkey. It leads to the waving of the confederate flag and separate water fountains and brutal police attitudes. It sweeps us down that path of torture where our own humanity gets lost.

So what shall we do with this psalm? We can pull out the nice verses and ignore the rest. We can “spiritualize” the enemy to refer to the devil and his minions. Or we can acknowledge that nobility and cruelty sometimes live together in us – and give thanks that this word is fulfilled in Jesus, who laid down the sword and took up compassion, who laid down his life to reconcile those who were enemies, who grants us his spirit and conquers with love.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ABridgman_Pharaoh’s_Army_Engulfed_by_the_Red_Sea.jpg Frederick Arthur Bridgman [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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About dkbonde

Pastor, Los Altos Lutheran Church
This entry was posted in Psalms, Reflections on the Scriptures and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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