The 4th book of Psalms
Oh dear, oh dear. I have been down one of those rabbit warrens of the internet seeing if my first impressions of this psalm matched with what other people have said, and it does not match up. The problem with being an Evangelical is that other Evangelicals of a more fundamentalist persuasion can take poetic parts of the Bible such as psalms and prophetic visions and interpret them in a literalistic way as you would the teaching of Moses or Jesus. Guys, this is poetry.
The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.
The layout is like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.
1 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,Psalm 92 ESV UK
to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
and your faithfulness by night,
3 to the music of the lute and the harp,
to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;
at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
5 How great are your works, O Lord!
Your thoughts are very deep!
6 The stupid man cannot know;
the fool cannot understand this:
7 that though the wicked sprout like grass
and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction for ever;
8 but you, O Lord, are on high for ever.
9 For behold, your enemies, O Lord,
for behold, your enemies shall perish;
all evildoers shall be scattered.
10 But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
you have poured over me fresh oil.
11 My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies;
my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.
12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the house of the Lord;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
15 to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
You, O Lord, are on high for ever
The title of this song is “A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.” This is a song to be sung on Saturday.
I have given this part of the post a heading, because I have seen the previous verse used as proof of the annihilation of the wicked, but also as proof of the eternal torment of the wicked. All it proves is that when you have two theologians in a room you have at least three opinions. But the annihilation of the wicked is not the point of the psalm, so I will not be arguing my side of that debate in this post. Rather the point is in the very next verse: You, O Lord, are on high for ever.
The whole point of these psalms in book 4 is to show that God is above us and that God is king. To that end this psalm starts with the shout of joyfulness, giving thanks for God’s love and faithfulness.
It is God who is the judge, and he judges while we are still on earth, those who do not do God’s will, the wicked, last for a season, like grass which in the Mediterranean climate withers away each summer due to the heat, never to rise again. I know that the actual grasses will sprout from their roots the next year, and the psalmist probably knew that too, but this is poetry, not a botany lesson. In contrast those who do God’s will. the righteous, are like a tree, even a cedar of Lebanon which stands for hundreds of years. The wicked may seem to have the upper hand at the moment, but God is the one who is above us, is king, and has the ultimate control. AS the picture above shows, grass only grows outside the shade of the tree.
We do not know when this psalm was written as the author is not named. But the compilation of the fourth book of psalms is believed to be shortly after the return of Judah to Jerusalem following the exile in Babylon (King Cyrus of Persia had defeated King Belshazzar of Babylon and freed the captives). The people had a lot to praise God for. The exile had ended in the time frame that God had said it would through the prophet Jeremiah.
The conclusion is not that the psalmist is righteous in himself, he is exalted by God because he trusts in God and there is no unrighteousness in God. I am weak, I fail, but God is good. There is nothing bad in God.
You, O Lord, are on high for ever