Making War on Sin and Death: Psalm 76

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Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 76 (NIV)

God is renowned in Judah;
    in Israel his name is great.
His tent is in Salem,
    his dwelling place in Zion.
There he broke the flashing arrows,
    the shields and the swords, the weapons of war.

You are radiant with light,
    more majestic than mountains rich with game.
The valiant lie plundered,
    they sleep their last sleep;
not one of the warriors
    can lift his hands.
At your rebuke, God of Jacob,
    both horse and chariot lie still.

It is you alone who are to be feared.
    Who can stand before you when you are angry?
From heaven you pronounced judgment,
    and the land feared and was quiet—
when you, God, rose up to judge,
    to save all the afflicted of the land.
10 Surely your wrath against mankind brings you praise,
    and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.

11 Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them;
    let all the neighboring lands
    bring gifts to the One to be feared.
12 He breaks the spirit of rulers;
    he is feared by the kings of the earth.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

It is sometimes easy to forget that our redemption is only possible because of a battle that was waged. Sometimes our worship reinforces this by emphasizing the victories and glories of the redeemed, but downplaying the grueling, costly battle that made it possible. Asaph is not content to simply extol God’s lordship in some isolated way. He wants us to know that he is enthroned in Zion because he “broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war” (v. 3). God has “plundered” the mighty warriors who opposed his rule and now they “sleep their last sleep” (v. 5). The “horse and chariot lie still” (v. 6).

The glorious victory that belongs to us as Christians is because God has made war against the powers of sin and death. Christ suffered and died on the cross to secure our victory. The triumph of our hope is only made manifest because of the agony he endured on our behalf. We should never forget that the grace of God and the judgment of God are two sides of the same coin of redemption. There is no liberation from bondage without the forcible breaking of our bonds. There is no emancipation from oppression without the overthrow of the oppressor. There is no victory over sin and death without the vanquishing of Satan, who is the author of sin and death.

Seeing grace and judgment as one great redemptive act, rather than separate works of God that are in tension, is why this psalm says, quite boldly, “your wrath against men brings you praise” or, in some translations, “your wrath against mankind brings you praise” (v. 10). The point is that, unlike ours, all of God’s actions are just and right. All aspects of redemption, including his acts of judgment, are ultimately testimonies of his glory and majesty. Even they serve to praise him.

This is also why the judgment of God in Revelation is met with the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments” (Rev. 19:1–2). Even Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” which we often hear at Christmastime, was not, in his original setting, placed in the Christmas portion of the Messiah. Rather, it is placed as a response to the righteous judgment of God.

We need not feel embarrassed or needlessly avoid the many declarations about judgment in the psalms. Rather, we should embrace them as part of God’s redemptive plan. We remember, as Christians, that Jesus has not only borne God’s righteous judgment, but he also embodies the grace of God that makes possible the salvation of the world.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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