Do me a favor and please read Psalm 97.
If you recall from the post on the “Psalms: Introduction” (you can find that link here) then you’ll remember that this 4th “book” of the psalms is all about the Israelites and their relationship to their neighbors. And not so much about “how to be a nice neighbor” (we really don’t see a lot of that in the OT) but it’s more of how to be the children of God and follow him and how THAT doesn’t play well with your neighbors in Ancient Israel. And why? Because they don’t abide by him.
This psalm is considered a “didactic” psalm. A psalm that “teaches” or “instructs.” There are quite a few of these types of psalms throughout the book of Psalms and their need and place hits the mark for various reasons:
- We all need instructions in life (Paul has a good statement on that in Romans 7:7)
- We all tend to stray and need correcting from time to time (we see THAT frequently in the Bible and while looking in the mirror each day)
- We need to be reminded of who God is and the way this relationship looks (and we wouldn’t know what that looks like or works without God’s instructions)
- We need to understand WHO God is (both judgment AND mercy) – and scripture helps us there
- It is only by God and his Word, teachings, and Spirit that we don’t fall trap to the “things of this world” and the “ways” of this world
- We need reminders on why we should rejoice in life
We need to remember that before God cut a covenant into Israel and marked them as his they were worldly-living people. They weren’t any different than the Amalekites, Babylonians, and all other nations of this world. They worshipped multiple gods, they made idols, they lived life for “them” and so it wasn’t until God chose them and started instructing them in his ways that they started to BE the people of God. They lived by evil and wickedness, they stole and murdered, and they did whatever pleased them. Instructions? Yeah, they needed it. And if God hadn’t stepped in? If God hadn’t marked them as his, then they’d be in the same boat as all the other nations and people. They’d be on the side of God’s judgment with fire instead of judgment with mercy.
I’ve written quite a bit concerning “judgment” in these psalm blogs and that’s because people are judged on their actions and this is a theme we see in numerous psalms. Even the Israelites were judged and they were the very people of God. God judges because it’s who he is. God judges because there is a way to BE people of God as well as NOT be the people of God. The reality of it is that not only does God hold his covenantal people to those standards but he also requires others to abide by them as well. We all must love. We all must be kind and good, and we all must worship him and him alone. And we may find it unfair for God to hold those same expectations with others who don’t believe in him – but that’s on them…not him.
The reality of all of this, is that while we find it uncomfortable and hard to expect others to worship God and hold to his standards even if they don’t believe in him it would be a completely different conversation if God required us to do weird, odd, and even horrible things to each other. But the truth is that God HATES evil and wickedness and calls ALL people to be good, loving, kind, and merciful in life. All people are held to that standard and ALL people are going to be judged on that way of life as well. This is all about personal culpability. My actions are my actions. The right things I do bring ME honor and the bad things I do bring ME shame. And God holds me to those things that I do. So whether I proclaim God as my Lord and Savior or not – judgment will still come for what I choose to do or not choose to do.
I am personally scattered when it comes to where I am being drawn to in this psalm. I am pulled to the “instruction” and need of it from the Word of God but I am also pulled towards the joy of God’s mercy in his judgment. I am challenged by the reminder that I am no better than anyone else in this world and that simply because I proclaim God as my Lord and Savior I still fall prey to the “ways of this world” and her constant beckoning and pull in my life. I am personally challenged in my hope that all people would “play by God’s rules” and I tend to find myself angry when they don’t, and yet I find myself constantly saying that I cannot “expect others to live by Godly rules when they don’t acknowledge him as God.” Is that last one a cop-out? I don’t know because I SHOULD expect others to worship God and live by his standards. And I SHOULD proclaim that his Word and Law should be in all hearts and minds.
Maybe it’s me being scattered (which is frequently the case) but I find peace in all of this with the two “bookend” verses we have and the theme we see (vs 1 and 12): we should rejoice. All that God has done and all that God asks of us should move us towards rejoicing. Rejoicing for God marking us as his, rejoicing for God instructing us on how to be good and loving people, rejoicing in God who hands down judgment WITH mercy, and rejoicing because no matter what goes on in this world, no matter how many errors I make in being a “godly man”…mercy in God’s judgment is offered. And in the end, no matter what you or I do, God still reigns. We may need constant correcting, we all may fail at being loving and kind, we may fail to heed God’s instructions each and every day but in the end it’s not about what WE do – it’s about what HE does. So rejoice all you people. As we read in Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”