For the Love of God, Volume 2/September 24
From Gospel Translations
2 Samuel 20; 2 Corinthians 13; Ezekiel 27; Psalms 75—76
THE STRUCTURE OF PSALM 76 has an elegant simplicity, with a theological lesson I shall spell out at the end of this meditation. The first six verses recall a great deliverance, a concrete historical event; the final six verses paint a picture on a cosmic scale, with every prospect that God will triumph no less in this domain.
The historical particularity of the first six verses is clear in the first two: “In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel. His tent is in Salem [an alternative name for Jerusalem, Gen. 14:18; Heb. 7:2], his dwelling place in Zion [the fortress on the hilltop that David captured]” (76:1-2). The focus, then, is on Jerusalem, the city where God disclosed himself. The reference to “tent” may suggest that the tabernacle was still standing, the temple not yet built. Alternatively, the temple was built, but “tabernacle” language was still being used of it because that was the terminology used in the Mosaic covenant. This city, in any case, was where God “broke the flashing arrows” (76:3, literally, “thunderbolts,” cf. 78:48) and other weapons of war. Verses 4-6 suggest a dramatic and sudden rescue like that when Sennacherib’s army was destroyed overnight by the angel of the Lord (Isa. 37:36; see meditation for June 5). God himself declared, “He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here” (Isa. 37:33). Compare: “[N]ot one of the warriors can lift his hands.”
The rest of the psalm paints with a broader brush. Now God reigns not from Jerusalem, but from heaven (76:8). The lessons from the first six verses are universalized: “You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?” (76:7). Verse 10 is notoriously difficult to translate. The “wrath” of the first line could either be God’s (hence the NIV), or that of the people (hence NIV footnote). The two notions may not be that far apart. If it is the “fierceness of man” (Coverdale) that turns to the praise of God, it does so in this context because God has the last word and replies in judgment—though it is also true that God operates with such providential wisdom that he can turn the wrath of human beings to serve him even under the most extraordinary conditions (Acts 2:23). What is clear from the closing verses is that God rules over all, and none can stand against him.
Thus the structure of the psalm mirrors in some respects the structure of the entire biblical plot-line, authorizing contemporary readers to see in old covenant narratives of grace and judgment portraits of the ultimate self-disclosure of God in grace and judgment.