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Praise for God’s Ultimate Justice
Fall Quarter: Celebrating God
Unit 2: Called to Praise God
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 10, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Psalm 9:1-12; Ecclesiastes 3:16-22
Key Scripture (NIV):
“He rules the world in righteousness and judges the people with equity.” Psalm 9:8
Preparation for Lesson
Type of Literature and Structure
- To understand the importance of acknowledging God in life.
- To understand God’s constant love and care.
- To understand how best to discern God’s will in our decisions.
- To understand the reality of the Kingdom of God.
- To understand the importance of verbal testimony.
Like Psalm 100 in the previous Sunday school lesson, Psalm 9 is Hebrew poetry. It is written as an acrostic; that is, each line begins with a succession of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Acrostics were of great value in helping the listener to remember the psalm. It is always important to recall the Israelite people did not possess sacred scripture. Only the priests could handle the sacred books. Historically, the leadership had access to the sacred Word, thus, the common people were dependent upon them for spiritual knowledge. Still, psalms allowed people to sing of the Lord and to remember what the Lord had done. Therefore, the book of Psalms proved extremely important for the Hebrew people. However, I do not call attention to the acrostic framework unless it is directly related to the message. With the psalm translated from Hebrew into English, we lose the acrostic. Like Psalm 100, the poet uses parallelism; that is, one line repeats the meaning of the first. It is just written with different words and images.
(Reprinted from last week’s Sunday school lesson on Psalm 100)
“The book of Psalms represents the hymnbook for the Hebrew/Jewish people. The book of Psalms is divided into five sections, and Psalm 100 lies in the third section. It is important to understand the great role poetry and prose play in the sacred writings of the Hebrew people. More than 8,600 verses in the Bible are poetry and prose. In other words, 27 percent of the Bible is written in prose and poetry. This was not uncommon in ancient literature. Only Esther in the Old Testament contains no poetry or prose. The Old Testament was not an era in which written documents were readily available. Poetry and prose could be shared orally and musically. Poetic words more easily capture the human ear. Just as important, prose and poetry were more easily remembered, especially when music was also involved. Today, most of us can remember the words and messages of songs better than what we have read in paragraphs and pages from a book. Poetry and prose possessed an aesthetic beauty. This aesthetic was welcomed in the violent Old Testament world. Rhythm and rhyme existed in this literature, allowing the listener and reader to more deeply experience the content.”
Are there hymns and songs that you especially remember? What is the message of these songs? What does the hymn and song teach you about God and God’s Kingdom?
Who wrote this Psalm and to whom?
David is the author of this Psalm. David was of the house of Jesse. David faced Goliath under the reign of King Saul. He was not a soldier or known warrior at the time. After listening to Goliath’s constant taunting of the Israelite army, David grew weary of Israel’s fearful cowardice. He borrowed Jonathan’s armor which was the beginning of an extremely strong bond of friendship in the ensuing days. Jonathan’s armor was not a good fit. David decided to fight as he knew best. As a shepherd he had protected the life of his sheep from wolves and predators using a sling. He slew Goliath with the sling.
David was both a warrior, poet and musician. He never sought to hide his feelings, good or bad. He wrote psalms of confession in which he bared his soul. We also hear his thanksgiving to God expressed in unrestrained joy and praise. In Psalm 9, David is recalling the great victory over Goliath and praising God for victory over all his enemies. We do not know when the psalm was written by David. Though Psalm 9 is recalling a major event in David’s life, its message remained relevant in facing any enemy and celebrating victory over that enemy.
It is important to note that this psalm is written with one eye on the past and the other on the present. Israel understood their history as it related to God. One did not march into the future without an understanding of the past. Because of what God had done in the past, we face today in confidence.
People who understand the past and present are confident as they walk into the future. To look only to the past is to become an inactive keeper of memories. The past is to inspire our movement forward in time. It is to teach us to seek and trust God in all matters to come. To look only toward the future without remembering the past primes us to repeat mistakes. John 13 expresses this dual perception
expressed in Jesus. In verse 3 John wrote, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God.”
As a community of faith, it is important for us to realize from where we’ve come as we walk toward what is coming.
How do you understand your journey of faith in terms of perspective? Do you understand what it means to have one eye on the past and one on the present? Can you describe the manner in which you understand God’s work in your life? How does your past with God give you confidence in the future? How does the past effect your perception in the present?
We cannot ignore what is known as the Retribution Principle
. This principle is evident in every Old Testament book and was embraced by the people of Israel during Jesus’ ministry. The principle expresses the belief that good, God-fearing people will prosper. They will escape illness, poverty, and suffering. Thus, the inverse was believed. If a person was a sinner, or if their family sinned, they suffered for it. The enemies of David and Israel were perceived as the unrighteous. They were perceived not only to be Israel’s enemies, they were God’s enemies. In the David and Goliath battle, David is the righteous and Goliath the ungodly. Read Psalm 1, for it expresses the retribution principle clearly.
How did Jesus change the retribution principle? Though we do not believe our sins cause all of our problems and pain, does our sin on occasion create our problems? How? Since good works do not insulate us from harm, can obedience to God help us in avoiding trouble? Do you believe obedience helps us move through a struggle? How?
Messages from the psalm
In the introduction, David is presented as the author. The mention of the musical tune to be used in singing the psalm is most interesting. It reveals that certain melodies were known and, on occasion, repeated. The Israelites were a singing people. Early Methodists were also known as a singing people, and I am certain other denominations were as well. Understanding Israel as a singing people reveals the power of song in remembering their history. As a nation, currently, we struggle in recalling our past. Our past has become a point of contention. Furthermore, our culture has moved farther away from the role of God and the Judeo-Christian ethic in our history. Thus, we are in a period of wandering. Israel too often ignored and neglected the role of God in their history. During these periods they, too, wandered. Renewal was experienced when, through a judge or king, they were reconnected to their redemptive history. David’s reign, for the most part, acknowledged God in the past and present.
Do you think, as a people, in our culture, that we are disconnected from our redemptive history (a history of God working in and through His people)? If so, what makes you think we are disconnected? If not, explain how we are still connected. What do you think is the importance of remembering from where we’ve come? How can the Church be more instrumental in connecting people with their redemptive past? How do our hymns anchor us to our past?
“With all my heart” (1)
The above phrase, along with phrases like “bless your heart,” are used frequently without considering what it means. For the Israelites, the heart was the center of one’s being. In their more primitive days they actually believed the biological heart contained one’s love and mercy. If the heart stopped, everything stopped. Eventually the heart became associated with the core of our love, joy, and compassion. Thus, to praise God with all one’s heart was to praise God from the core of one’s being. Today we might say, “From the very life-source within me, I praise the Lord.” To love and praise God with all of our heart can imply we choose to involve our entire being in praising God. Or, it can imply we are so full of gratitude and its ensuing joy that our entire being involuntarily must emote praise.
I was very touched during my visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. As I prayed at the wall, with head covered, I noticed many of the Jewish people rocking back and forth as they prayed. I later learned they believed in using every part of their being in prayer. They used heart, soul, will, and body. David has received God’s care so powerfully, he must praise with “all his heart.” I do think it is interesting to note that he uses the words, “my heart.” Of course, he could say, “with all our heart.” Certainly, we worship and praise God together. When the community of faith praises God with all its being it is remarkably powerful. However, each heart must understand for themselves what God has done in their life. Each person must be grateful for God’s love and care. The New Testament parable of the 10 virgins has the virgins waiting for the bridegroom with lighted lamps. Five were prepared with oil for their lamps, five were not. When the bridegroom arrived, the unprepared five tried to borrow oil from the others (Matthew 5). One of the lessons of this parable is “some things cannot be borrowed.” Each of us must be personally prepared. I cannot borrow faith, love, or praise from another. They must reside in me. Only then can I praise, “with all my heart.”
Are we guilty of using terms like “heart” without considering its meaning? Can you recall a moment when you longed to have a faith like someone else? What have you done to cultivate the faith within you? What helps you to recall God’s love through Christ in your life? Can you recall when you truly praised God with all your heart?
“O Most High” (2)
In Genesis 14:18 we are introduced to Melchizedek. He predates all other priests and was described as a priest of the “Most high God.” The question in our lesson is, “Why did David use this title of God in the psalm?” David refers to God most often as “Lord,” especially in this psalm. However, in the opening of the psalm David uses the phrase associated with ancient Melchizedek. A change in titles within Scripture should not be overlooked. David had a reason for using this title. This psalm calls the singer (reader) to recall God’s mighty work in their past. David is proclaiming that the Lord whom they praise is the same Lord of Melchizedek. The Lord has been their sustainer throughout the years. The God we worship today, revealed in Jesus, is the God of Melchizedek. We are tempted to consider the people of the Old Testament as “them.” No, the Old Testament is the story of “us!” When David calls the people to praise the Lord, he is calling us as well.
Are you tempted to consider the Old and New Testament people in a disconnected manner? Do you associate yourself with the characters and people? Do you understand you are reading your “spiritual family history?” When you read this psalm, do you hear David calling you to remember and praise? If not, what keeps you from understanding the Bible as our story, and that you are a part of it?
“You have upheld my right and my cause” (4)
David believed his cause was God’s cause. In the battles Israel fought, it was believed the true God was on Israel’s side and against their enemy. It is comforting to know God is with us in our causes. It is another issue to recruit God to be on our side. A lot of prayer, meditation, and listening to others in our faith should precede such a claim. Some too quickly believe their personal wants and desires are God’s. I am unsettled by the claims of many that God is on a particular political side. Many card games have a “super trump card.” No card can defeat the super trump. A man once enticed me into a debate over scripture. His beliefs were often judgmental and harsh. However, when I pointed out the error in his thinking he simply said, “Well my Bible says. . .” This was his super trump. It meant the debate is over and he declared himself the winner. Many today use some type of super trump to justify their cause. They believe by attaching God to their argument all debate is over. Certainly, it is important to believe we are on God’s side. Thus, it is important to know what God’s side truly is!
At some point it is advised to use the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In considering an issue we are to ask, “Is it biblical?” If uncertain as to what the Bible reveals, we follow the progression: What does the tradition of the Church reveal? What does my reason think? What does my experience and the experiences of others reveal?
If we would choose to walk our decisions through the quadrilateral we would better understand God’s will.
Have you participated in a “God is on my side” debate? How do you understand that phrase when using it or speaking with another who uses it? What is the difference between the phrases “God is on my side,” and “I am on the side of God?” How can we know if we are on God’s side? When we are uncertain regarding God’s side, how are we to respond? What do you think is the importance of listening to the counsel of others when seeking to know if we are on the side of God? Do you walk issues through the quadrilateral when discerning God’s will? Why do you think the quadrilateral is a good method?
“Sitting enthroned as the righteous judge” (4,7-8)
There are two major threads that run through the Bible. The first is the Covenant. God has chosen to enter into a meaningful relationship with us. Secondly, the Kingdom of God is present in both Old and New Testaments. The Kingdom of God is the “reign of God.” It is invisible and consists of God’s reign and God’s attributes. The Kingdom is one of peace, love, justice, mercy, joy, etc. When we witness the expressions of these attributes on earth we are witnessing God’s Kingdom. It is possible to enact these attributes through a relationship with Jesus. When we embody these attributes we are revealing that kingdom which is here now and yet coming in all of its perfection in the future. The Old Testament provides images and expressions of God’s Kingdom. In the New Testament we witness Jesus fully embodying the Kingdom. Paul’s use of two phrases are in reality Kingdom phrases. Paul writes we are “in Christ” and Christ is “in us.”
In the first, we have become a member of the kingdom. We have been elevated into another reality. We see what others fail to see. We are aware of that kingdom in us, others, and the world. In the second, Christ in us in the presence of that kingdom in the human heart and life. The Kingdom has moved toward us. The Old Testament vision of God’s Kingdom reveals God as the one and only holy judge and dispenser of all righteousness. Israel is the seat of his reign. Israel believed this kingdom would literally be established on earth through the conquering of their enemies and the Messiah being placed on the throne. Jesus revealed this Kingdom is present in the heart. Christ is to reign in the heart and move us toward a perfect reality where the earth and heaven are redeemed (read Rev. 21)
Do you associate expressions of unconditional love or true justice as expressions of the kingdom in the here and now? Do you associate such expressions with the kingdom to come? How does your understanding of the Kingdom alter your life? How do you associate God’s Kingdom with the ministry of your church? How can the Church best embody the Kingdom of God “on earth, as it is in heaven?”
“Even the memory of them has perished” (5-6)
Much of our studies are related to remembering and knowing God. This psalm reminds us of the importance of “being known” and being remembered. Long before a clear understanding of the afterlife was revealed, people sought ways to be remembered. The most horrible thought to many ancient people was to have lived, died, and not be remembered. All of us desire for others to remember us. We want to be remembered for who we were, what we believed, and what we did. Today we do not bury people without demarcation. Tombstones and plates attest to the lives of those passed. A funeral service provides a means of remembering. Grieving people need to hear that the loving impact of another’s life continues within them.
The worst punishment, according to David, was to be annihilated from the earth and never be remembered. We must understand the culture of the Old Testament. David’s world was hostile. Enemies could represent the death of the people and culture of Israel. They prayed that God would help them defeat their enemies and cleanse the earth of their influence and memory. There was always the fear a defeated enemy would rise again and cause them harm. Thus, when they defeated an enemy they tried to totally eradicate them. Naturally, Jesus more clearly defines what an enemy truly is and how we should relate to them.
Imagine the thought of never being remembered. Can you identify the emotions you feel when entertaining the thought? How can we be remembered as a child of God? Though many may never know our name, they might be the recipient of our “spiritual footprint.” What is a spiritual footprint to you? How do we touch future generations in the here and now?
“The Lord is a refuge” (9-10,12)
Living in a hostile, violent culture made a place of refuge extremely valuable. A place of refuge means a place of escape, a place to be safe, and a place of shelter. Many of the psalms describe God as our refuge and strength (Psalm 46). One of the more descriptive expressions of God as refuge is found in Psalm 27. Psalm 27:5 reads: For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.
David understood the value of refuge. He fled from the presence of Saul, who sought to kill him. David hid in the Cave of Adullam. David hid for almost 15 years prior to becoming King upon Saul’s death. When David describes God as a place of refuge he is implying his escape from those who sought to harm him. Who among us doesn’t understand what how it feels when we escape danger? For David, it was a place to remain safe and sheltered. David understood that our life is never more serene than when we rest in God. When we realize our life is no longer that of a solitary person making their way through a hostile, unkind world. At all times we are beneath God’s sheltering wing, as a hen gathers her chicks. Psalm 36:7 reads: The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
We do not escape harm or adversity. However, we are spiritually safe. God will lead us through the harm with greater understanding and wisdom.
Our culture values independence and standing alone. How do you believe our culture makes it difficult to claim dependence on God? Do you feel you are living on your own, or are you aware you are never alone? What do you remember about God’s constant presence in your life? Can you share a time when God led you through adversity? What did you learn?
“Proclaim among the nations what he has done” (11)
I listened as the late Dr. Billy Key from South Georgia shared an experience. He was walking past an African-American church when he overheard the preacher’s voice. The minister would ask, “Do you believe God created the heavens and earth?” The congregation nodded their heads. Then the preacher quoted Psalm 27, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” He continued this pattern, moving through God’s mighty acts. Each time he would repeat, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” It isn’t enough to simply live a good life as a testimony. There are many good people in the world who act compassionately. However, we do so “in Jesus’ name.” We want people to know the source of our love and compassion. It is Jesus within! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! There is a repetitive pattern in the Psalms of the need to say aloud what God has done. This does not imply we should all be ministers or preachers. It is simply to acknowledge to another what God has done and is doing in your life through Christ. It should be proclaimed, not just to the Christian community, but to the world. The surrounding nations heard of David’s God.
Are you uncomfortable sharing your faith verbally? Why? Do you recognize the need to verbally share what God has done in Christ for you? If afraid, what are some ways to grow more comfortable sharing? Does your church encourage you to orally share your faith? Do they provide resources to help you? How can you help the Church become for effective in training its members to “say so?”
This psalm encourages us to remember the mighty acts of God. We are to understand that in the present God is our refuge, as he has been to all in every generation. It calls to us to remember we are participants in a redemptive history going back to Melchizedek and beyond. Our past should help us understand God’s will in the present as we seek to be “on God’s side.” We are encouraged to realize our redemptive history is actually that of the Kingdom of God present in the world, and still yet to come in its perfection. Upon the realization of what God has done, is doing, and where God is leading, we offer praise. We are to speak aloud of God’s greatness.
Almighty God most high, we thank you for our spiritual lineage. We praise you for your eternal love and strength. Touch our eyes to see with clarity your Kingdom. Open our lips to proclaim your goodness and love for all the world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at email@example.com.