Have you ever felt the weight of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8? He’s talking about all the things he could point to in his life to point to himself or to rest in his own accomplishments. Then he writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” What a statement! He saw knowing Christ to be of greater value than everything else in his life he was, or had, or accomplished. In other words, some of the things that pull at our hearts, saying, “You know you desperately want this,” Paul says, “I had it. And I count it as a loss because I have something that is of much greater worth, namely, knowing Christ.”
Whenever I see texts like this in the Bible, it has a sense of re-centering me on what is most important in life. The Bible makes this clear, as the greatest commandment Scripture gives us is to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. But we don’t naturally drift toward this, do we? We don’t naturally drift toward recognizing that knowing Christ is of much greater worth than all else. We don’t naturally drift toward loving and treasuring God more. We do not naturally drift toward fixing our eyes on Jesus. The pull is always against these things.
I have a devotional on my bookshelf in my office titled A Godward Life. I think that’s a pretty good summary of the commands and realities held up in the Bible. The Scripture commands us to direct ourselves Godward. Look to God for approval and praise. Look to God to give your obedience and affections. Look to God to find what is most worth valuing. And as much as the world around us (and often our own hearts) pull us away from this Godward direction, I think that Psalm 9 can be a helpful pull back toward what is right. Picture Psalm 9 as a gentle yoke around our necks, pulling us back and directing our eyes, minds, hearts, and lives toward what is most important, in a Godward direction. And it does this by reminding us of God’s worth, judgment, and favor.
But before we dive into looking at these truths, let’s note some things about the nature and context of Psalm 9 to orient ourselves a bit. First, the psalm seems to follow a pattern where it repeats its focus. I’ve noted that it speaks of God’s worth (which shows itself in man’s praise), judgment, and favor, but I think these things are given to us in two cycles. We see God’s worth in verses 1-2 as David speaks of praising God. Then, we see God’s judgment in verses 3-6, as Daivd speaks of God defeating his enemies. And finally we see God’s favor, as David speaks of the Lord toward his people as a stronghold and refuge for his people in verses 7-10.
But then note how the cycle repeats itself. In verses 11-14, we’re back at man’s praise of God, seeing God’s worth. In verses 15-17, we see against God’s judgment against his enemies, and then in verses 18-20 we see God’s favor, as he again is seen as the object of David’s hope. When we walk through the psalm then, we’ll look at it by taking these themes together as they appear in the psalm.
Also, we know the psalm is written by David, as we’re told in the superscript. We’re not told about the context in which the psalm was written. Some have suggested that it may be a psalm that David composed after the death of his son, Absalom. You’ll remember that Absalom rebelled against his father, attempting to seize the throne from him, and David’s army put down the rebellion and Absalom died in the process. Well, the reason some suggest that this psalm might have been written just after that is because the superscription reads, “According to Muth-Labben.” And though there’s argument on exactly what that means, it can be translated and understood as telling the reader that this psalm is to be sung to the tune “The Death of the Son.” 1 Thus, some imagine this specific tune that was crafted for this psalm may have been titled “The Death of the Son” because it was fitted with this psalm that was written after Absalom’s death. But it also may have just been the odd title of a tune that was paired with this psalm.
What is clear is that David wrote this psalm after he’s seen some time of deliverance against his enemies, whether enemies led against him by his own son, Absalom, or at another time. And the Lord has delivered him, turned back his enemies, and given him relief. Therefore, David takes up to write this psalm as a psalm of praise on the one hand (which we see in verses 1-12) and as a psalm full of pleas to the Lord to continue to deliver him in light of certain future attacks (as we see in verses 13-20).
But for us, in the midst of a world where the enemies of Satan, sin, and death are a constant attack against us, along with the lure of our own hearts needing to be tamed and transformed, this psalm helps us arm ourselves and rightly orient our lives, as I’ve mentioned, by reminding us of God’s worth, judgment, and favor. Let’s turn to those themes now, beginning with God’s worth.
David begins the psalm by noting God’s worth. He writes, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High” (vv. 1-2). Here is a picture of someone who seems overcome and overwhelmed by the worth and value of God. David here sounds like Paul in Philippians 3. He sees the surpassing worth of God and is overwhelmed.
He not only declares that he will give thanks to the Lord, but that he’ll do it with his “whole heart.” He not only recounts all of God’s deeds, but he sees them as “wonderful.” He not only sings praise to God’s name but he finds that in God he can find a source for gladness and rejoicing. And, brothers and sisters, this isn’t David’s response merely because David is some kind of “artsy” figure who is emotional, likes singing, and is given to exaggeration with his affections. This is to be the normal response of believers toward God.
In case we fail to see this, when David returns to the theme of praise in verses 11-14, he begins with a command to us, the readers, writing, “Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples his deeds!” Then, he reminds us of who God is so that we might be reminded of why he is worthy of our praise, writing in verse 12, “For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.” Then, in verses 13-14, he shows us that even his prayers to God are uttered to God as a means of providing David another opportunity to praise God, rejoice in him, and tell others of his greatness. He writes, “Be gracious to me, O LORD! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death, that I may recount all your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in your salvation.”
Now, I mentioned that this psalm can have the effect of reorienting us toward what is right and good and valuable. So, let me ask, do you see a reflection of your own heart and practices in David’s writing here? Have you grasped that when David says that he gives thanks to God with his whole heart that this is to be our response to God every second of our lives? Do you find yourself recounting to others what God has done again and again? Do you find yourself simply enjoying and rejoicing in who God is? Do you delight in singing to him? Do you pray and ask him for grace and mercy and provision because you long for another opportunity to tell others what he has done and praise him for it?
What we see with David in this psalm is not some kind of super-Christianity. This is to be the normal response of believers to our God because God is worthy. He is worthy (as we read to begin the service last week from Revelation 5) to receive blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. This is to be our lives.
Now, let me say a word specifically to us as a congregation that has been given the charge to make disciples. Don’t you feel in this psalm the truth that some things are more powerfully caught than taught? In other words, yes, David tells us to praise the Lord, but he first lets us see his heart, yearning to thank God, eager to praise God, and rejoice in God. Similarly, let’s not merely teach our children or disciples others by saying to them, “Give God thanks and praise.” Rather, let them witness us, as we gather in this room on Sundays, rejoicing in God, thanking him, praising him, and singing to him with our whole hearts. Let our children and others we’re discipling witness us around the dinner table, praying and asking God for his mercy, grace, and provision and gathering around the dinner table and taking concentrated time to thank him and praise him for answering. Let them hear us regularly in our conversations recounting his wondrous deeds and thanking and praising him for them. Let them catch in what we do the infinitely glorious worth of our God. May others see in us that our God is worth the affection, direction, and attention of our whole hearts. And let that truth, shown in this psalm, be like a yoke, pulling us back toward this crucial truth, when the world wants to pull our direction, attention, and affections away.
But we not only see God’s worth, we also see God’s judgment.
In verses 3-6, David recounts how the Lord has judged his enemies. He writes, “When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before your presence. For you have maintained my just cause; you have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgment. You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities you rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.” And he notes the same realities of judgment against the wicked in verses 15-17
, “The nations have sunk in the pit that they have made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught. The LORD has made himself known; he has executed judgment; the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands. The Wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.”
Clearly these verses note the judgment of God against his enemies. But I want to notice a few themes that are repeated throughout. One of them is that rebellion against God does not profit the evildoer. In verse 15 David notes the nations sinking in the very pit they dug or catching their feet in the very net they set up to catch others. In verse 16, they’re snared in the work of their own hands. Isn’t this, if nothing else, a reminder that rebelling against God does not lead to blessing in this life? And David sees this as the Lord executing judgment.
Now, yes, there are occasions or moments in the lives of the wicked when it seems that they are profiting and prospering. But don’t be deceived by these glimpses or occasions. The person who (as verse 18 says) forgets God and is pursuing rebellion against him, Romans 1 reminds us, is full of envy, strife, and deceit. They’re haughty and boastful, dealing with the guilt of their sin by pointing to others who are doing like them and shouting their hearty approval. This isn’t life’s sweetest rewards. It’s God’s judgment against them.
And note as well that they’re forgotten. We read in verse 5 that God has “blotted out their name forever and ever” and in verse 6 that “the very memory of them has perished.” I think one of the greatest pulls the world can have on us is convincing us that their approval is supreme. We can find ourselves fearful to share the gospel with our neighbor, lest they begin to see us as odd, or, we might say, disapprove of who we are. We can find our knees buckle when standing on God’s commands in areas of sexuality, for example, because we so eagerly want the world to recognize and approve of our judgments. We might find ourselves anxious or wanting to back off of our view that we believe the Bible is God’s very word, or that God has provided an order in the home between husbands and wives, or that only those who repent and believe in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ will be with the Lord at death and all others will face hell merely because we’re fearful that it will costs us their approval. Their praise, their approval, and their recognition can feel like such a desirable and necessary thing in our lives. We want to be justified before them. And the psalm says they’ll be forgotten.
Why spend your life chasing after the praise and approval and recognition of those who will merely be forgotten under the judgment of God? Why disobey God in your thoughts, beliefs, or actions because you’re seeking the approval of some who will one day not be remembered at all? Rather, let your Godward heart ask whether the show you’re watching, activities you’re doing, and words you’re saying meet God’s approval.
One day the reality of God’s judgment will bring everything into perspective. Temptations that seemed so struggle will be revealed as empty. Individuals which seemed so powerful will be forgotten. Let’s not wait until that day, however, to let the reality of God’s judgment have an impact on how we live. That’s what David helps us see as he shows us God’s judgment. But he also shows us God’s favor.
There is a strong contrast in this psalm between the wicked and the righteous, between those who belong to the Lord and those who oppose him. After noting the Lord’s judgment in verses 3-6, David again holds us the Lord’s role as judge in verses 7-8, noting that he’s judging the world in righteous and the peoples with uprightness. But then, lest you think that this judgment pours out wrath on those who trust in the Lord as well, David gives us a different picture in verses 9-10. He writes, “The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.”
He is a stronghold, protecting us and shielding us from evil attacks. He is faithful toward us, not forsaking us. And it doesn’t stop there. David returns to this theme of the righteous receiving God’s favor in verse 18. He writes, “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.”
Do you see the contrast? The wicked will be dismissed, removed, and forgotten. But God’s children are protected, cared for, and remembered. He does not forget us. When your obedience to the Lord has led you to a place where it has cost you and you perhaps feel alone, or attacked, or downcast, saying to the Lord, “But I’ve only tried to obey you,” know that he’s not forgotten you. He sees you. He sees your obedience. He sees what it’s cost you. He sees your pain, or loneliness, or sadness and he says, “I’m not forgetting you. I’ll not forsake you. And one day that will be perfectly clear for all to see.” In fact, David prays for that day, saying in verses 19-20, “Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!”
One of the things I try to pray for regularly are our fellow believers who are facing severe persecution and maybe even potential martyrdom. And these truths that David holds up almost always fill those prayers. Lord, let them know they’re not forgotten but that you see them and will not forsake them. Lord, arise and free them. Lord, return and let those who think they have such power and might over your people see that they are but men, and you alone are judge.
And our greatest prayer to that end are that God’s enemies would see that reality now before it is too late. You see, Jesus Christ lived out this psalm perfectly. He perfectly loved his Father to the point that he obeyed him even to death. And as he faced death (dying for our sins), he faced it, knowing of a great joy on the other side. He knew that on the third day that he would be raised, that he would be exalted as the God-man to the Father’s right hand, and that he would have redeemed a people for himself. He is the king that David serves as a pale reflection of. He is God’s King who will one day come and judge the nations and deliver God’s people. So, let me say to those who have not trusted in him this morning, “Run to him in repentance and faith and find him to be your stronghold, who will not leave you, forget you, or forsake you. Run to him that you might never know his wrath but only his care and protection.” One day the Lord is returning to judge the living and the dead, and on that day, we want to see him as our Savior toward whom we have directed our whole hearts, minds, and strength, not as our enemy, coming to execute justice. So, if you’ve not trusted in him, turn to him now.
And if you are trusting in him, let us pray that the Lord would use these truths of Psalm 9 to pull us toward a more Godward life. May we find ourselves orienting all of our lives to his praise and thanksgiving, not enticed by the approval of those who will be forgotten, but resting in and obeying the one who does not forget us, but sees us, knows us, delights in us, loves us, and will faithfully hold us until he comes to deliver us in the end. May that day come quickly. Amen.