1, I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of Your wonderful deeds.
2, I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
3, When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before Your presence.
4, For You have maintained my cause; You have sat on the throne, giving righteous judgement.
5, You have rebuked the nations; You have made the wicked perish; You have blotted out their name forever and ever.
6, The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins; their cities You rooted out; the very memory of them has perished.
7, But the LORD sits enthroned forever; He has established His throne for justice,
8, and He judges the world with righteousness; He judges the peoples with uprightness.
9, The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of troubles.
10, And those who know Your name put their trust in You, for You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.
11, Sing praises to the LORD, who sits enthroned in Zion! Tell among the peoples His deeds!
12, For he who avenges blood is mindful of them; He does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
13, 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,
14, that I may recount all Your praises, that in the gates of the daughter of Zion I may rejoice in Your salvation.
15, The nations have sunk in the pit that they made; in the net that they hid, their own foot has been caught.
16, The LORD has made Himself known; He has executed judgement; the wicked are snared in the work of their hands.
17, The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.
18, For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.
19, Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before You!
20, Put them in fear, O LORD! Let the nations know that they are but men!
This entire psalm seems to be praising God for His promise made in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine, and recompense,” which Paul repeats in Romans 12:19. At the beginning, David begins with thanks and praise, but we don’t know why yet. It isn’t revealed until verse three. Here, we just know David is praising God with his entire being for the wonderful deeds He’s done.
As I read through this psalm, it appeared to me that this is a retrospective psalm—that David is reminiscing about the past, not the present. It looks as though David is looking into his past and recognising the many great deeds God has done in his life. So, in awe of these things, he responds with praise, which is a proper response.
Perhaps some of us can relate when we look into the past of our own lives. Whenever I look into my own past, I see how God was there as I was beaten up every day in kindergarten by a Caucasian 5th grader and bullied by other Black kids for being biracial, I see Him during my parents’ divorce, I see Him during my time in the Army, and many other times of my life. When I think on these things, like David, I cannot help but praise God. What other response is there? Where do you see God’s presence in your past?
David remembered certain experiences in his life—likely troubling experiences—and instead of blaming God for his horrible experiences as people sought to kill him throughout his entire life, he instead recognises God’s presence during those troublesome times and gives Him praise. May we all be like David as we remember our own dark pasts. Instead of blaming God for the evil that has happened to us, let us instead recognise where He was present and turn to praise in thanksgiving.
Now we know why David is praising God: God conquered his enemies. Consider our enemies today. It may seem like they’re unstoppable, but think back on all the enemies of God’s people in the Bible and throughout Christian history. None of them stood a chance against God when He chose to deliver His people. Our enemies today have no chance against God.
As the anointed king of Israel, David knew his cause was just, but how do we know if our causes today are just? There are platoons of “social justice warriors” lurking in every corner of the internet, just waiting to tell us how bigoted, intolerant, homophobic, and transphobic we are as Christians when we don’t submit to their ways, claiming they are standing up for “justice.”
We know what justice is by matching it up with God’s Word. How do we know abortion is unjust? God’s Word talks of life in the womb—how God is the creator of life in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16; Luke 1:41), and that murder (the unlawful taking of life) is sinful (Exodus 20:13). Thus, we stand for justice when we oppose abortion.
How do we know euthanasia is unjust? Because we confess God to be the Lord and Giver of life and the duty we have to carry one another’s burdens so as to love our neighbour (Galatians 6:2). Thus, we stand for justice when we provide for those who are unable to take care of themselves and carry their burdens even when they are “burdensome” to us.
I could go on, but moving on to verses 5 and 6, we have a striking revelation. God’s destruction against our enemies can be so massive that they completely disappear from the historical register, such as the Canaanites, whom God gave Israel the power to overthrow. There were still Canaanites around during the New Testament period (e.g. Matthew 15:21-28), which shows how Israel was disobedient in destroying all of Canaan as God commanded (Joshua 3:10; Judges 3:1-6). Today, however, there is no historical record or archaeological record of the Canaanites that can be found. This reveals the harrowing truth of God’s wrath against His enemies.
Here, David acknowledges God as the true ruler of Israel and all the earth and will always uphold righteousness. He judges all people according to the standard of His righteousness, which has been revealed in the Law. The Law always accuses because it reveals to us God’s holiness and righteousness, and we are incapable of living up to these standards. Because we can never live up to the standards of the Law, the Law always accuses us.
Thanks be to God that we are justified by faith through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Christ fulfilled the Law and thus imputes—or credits—His righteousness to us. Therefore, as believers, when we are judged on the Last Day, we are judged according to Christ’s standard—who stood in our place on the cross and took God’s wrath upon Himself—whereas unbelievers will be judged according to the standards they set up for themselves and, therefore, fail to meet the requirements of righteousness (a right status with God).
Not only does God sit as Judge over all the earth, but He is also our refuge—a fortress in times of trouble. As the God-man, Jesus is the incarnation of this fortress of refuge. “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). But what does this look like? It’s easy to say Jesus is our refuge and just move on, but what does it look like to take refuge in Jesus? We can’t run to the physical arms of Jesus, so how do we take advantage of these inviting words?
Prayer. Prayer. Prayer.
The Greek word for prayer is προσευχή (proseuchē), which in the New Testament is always used as a “personal address to Israel’s deity” (Danker, 303). Prayer is a personal address—a personal conversation with God. Prayer is our method of communication in which we can take our needs to God. God already knows what we need, but He nevertheless desires that we come to Him and express what these needs are (Matthew 7:7-11). In prayer, we learn to trust God and His providential will.
One of the many problems with American Christianity is that it teaches prayer is how we become close to God, but God never says that’s why we pray. In his book, Has American Christianity Failed?, Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller outlines four reasons why we pray:
- Prayer is commanded, which we find in the second commandment. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). On this, Wolfmueller says, “When the Lord forbids us from misusing His name, He is commanding us to use it rightly, to call upon Him in trouble, to pray to Him and praise Him and to give thanks” (193). Since there is a negative use of God’s name, this means there is also a positive use, which is to call upon His name in trouble, need, and praise through prayer. “Let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is not a polite suggestion; it is commanded and expected of us.
- Prayer is a promise. God promises to hear our prayers and to answer them. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me” (Psalm 50:15). Jesus also promises us that when we pray in His name, God the Father will give us we what ask (John 14:13; 16:23, 26-27). However, this is always misinterpreted. Wolfmueller notes, “The name of Jesus is not a magic formula. Tacking the words ‘in Jesus’ name’ onto the end of our prayers does not give them some sort of extra power to manipulate the will of God. To pray ‘in the name of Jesus’ means to pray according to His will and from His promises. To pray in Jesus’ name, then, is to join our prayers to the petitions of the One who ‘always lives to make intercession for’ us (Hebrews 7:25)” (195-196). Thus, to my dismay, as a child in American Christianity, I thought if I prayed in Jesus’ name for a puppy, I would get one, but I didn’t because I wasn’t praying according to God’s will. As an adult, just because I pray in Jesus’ name to get one million dollars doesn’t mean God is obligated to say yes. If it’s not God’s will, it’s not going to happen.
- We pray because we have many needs. Wolfmueller says, “Jesus teaches us what our real and true needs are in this life. And there are certain things we need of which we are completely ignorant. In fact, these are the things we need most of all, the things we pray for in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer. We have no natural capacity to know we need the Lord’s name, His kingdom, His Word, and His Spirit… The seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer do this very thing. ‘Hallowed be Thy name’ teaches us that we need the Lord’s name and His Word. ‘Thy kingdom come’ teaches us that we need the Lord’s Spirit and His Church. ‘Thy will be done’ teaches us that we need the Lord’s will, not ours, to be accomplished. Here we learn that we need the Lord’s help to overcome the will of the world, the flesh, and the devil” (197).
- Jesus has taught us the words to say in prayer. He teaches us how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Pray, then, like this, ‘Our Father…'” (Matthew 6:9-13). Whether this is by rote memorisation or as a guide for extemporaneous prayer, Jesus has given us the words to pray. What a remarkable gift! If we don’t know how or what to pray, we can either recite the Lord’s Prayer verbatim, or we can use it as a guide to pray for: God’s name to be holy on our lips, His kingdom to come to us in His Word and Church, His will (not ours) to be done in our lives, to give us our daily needs (not our wants or what we think we need), to forgive us our sins, and to deliver us from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. God has promised to answer these prayers with the affirmative. And we pray for all these things before our Father, not God as Judge, which is why we can confidently approach Him. As Wolfmueller says, “[W]e bring our requests before God with great confidence knowing that these are the words He wants to hear from us, the things He wants us to ask for, and the petitions He wants to answer” (199).
We can see, then, that prayer is not how we “become closer to God.” Prayer is commanded, it is a promise, it is the way to state our needs to God, and Jesus has given us the words to pray.
Another failure of American Christianity is that it teaches prayers have to be spontaneous—made up on the spot. There’s nothing wrong with praying from the heart since God wants to hear the desires of our heart, but that’s not the only way to pray. As we have seen, God gives us the words to pray, which are especially helpful when we don’t have the words to pray or don’t know how to pray for God’s will. We have His will for us right here in the Lord’s Prayer. Even the written prayers of the Church can be helpful, whether they’re from Martin Luther, Chrysostom, Augustine, the Psalms (it is literally a book of prayers), other Christian leaders in the past, or even the prayers I’ve been writing at the end of these commentaries.
And still another failure of American Christianity is that it teaches to wait for God to speak back to us in prayer, whether that is audibly or visually through direct revelation or some emotion inside of us. But God never promised this. God never promised to reveal Himself to us in our emotions, but in His Word and in Jesus Christ.
Whilst direct revelation has happened with certain people in the Bible, these events are merely descriptive, not prescriptive. That is, they are descriptive of historical events—how God intervened at that particular time. They are not prescriptive—they are not prescribing how God chooses to work today. Rather than hearing God speak to us directly into our own hearts or minds, we hear Him speak directly to us in His external Word. We do not need to listen for God’s voice within ourselves because He has already spoken (and listening for Him inside of us will just be our own voice anyway). If you want to hear God’s voice, read His Word. If you want to hear His voice audibly, read His Word out loud.
Because God willingly opens Himself up to us in prayer—and for other innumerable reasons—He deserves our praise. (Keep in mind throughout these verses that Zion is the personification of Jerusalem.) For the many things God has done for us on our behalf, let us be quick to tell others what He has done for us. Whether it’s the Gospel message of Jesus Christ dying for our sins, or something more personal in our lives God has done, we should be so eager to share the news with other people in our joviality. After all, that is the nature of good news. When we receive good news, we cannot help but share it with other people because we want them to share in our joy. Likewise, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is something we cannot help but share because we want others to share not only in our joy, but especially the joy of the Lord.
In ancient Mesopotamia, the people believed that right after death, the deceased would pass through seven gates on their way to the netherworld. Here, David uses that language in reference to Hell, acknowledging only God can save him from such damnation. He desires this salvation so he may rejoice in God’s grace to grant him this gift of salvation. This is David’s own recognition that we have no power to save ourselves from condemnation and attain salvation, but that it comes from God alone. This is a remarkable foreshadowing of Ephesians 2:8-9.
It is interesting that David calls the destruction of the godless nations a self-made trap. They set out to destroy others, like Israel, only to set themselves up for destruction. Indeed, such evil efforts against God and His people are fruitless. Whilst our enemies may take our lives, God’s vengeance is inevitable (recall Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19). God might give the wicked several chances to turn from their ways (repent) and know Him so they might live (Ezekiel 18:23; 33:11; 2 Peter 3:9), but whilst God is incredibly patient, it will not last forever. Eventually, God will seek His vengeance for the sake of His people because He promised to do so.
Evil sets a trap for itself in that as soon as it is manifested, God seeks to destroy it, but not without seeking to reform it first. (Consider Jonah’s prophetic purpose to proclaim the near destruction of Nineveh. They were a wicked nation, but they repented and God relented from His disaster. But God eventually destroyed Nineveh because they returned to their former ways [Nahum; Zephaniah 2:13].)
As David recounts in verse 16, God has made Himself known. The wicked are already aware of God’s actions against His enemies, but in their wickedness they choose to believe they are exempt from His wrath from whatever fallacy they can devise (e.g. God doesn’t exist, God doesn’t interfere with the affairs of humanity, our god is greater, I am greater than God, etc.).
As Paul says, “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). We may not be able to visibly perceive God, but all of creation is evidence of His existence—of a single intelligent creator above all things. These are His “fingerprints,” if you will, and the wicked ignore the forensic evidence.
This is called “natural revelation,” that evidence of God—or a god—is seen in all creation, from the earth and into the heavens. But without “special revelation,” we cannot know who this god is. That is why God revealed Himself to us in His Word (both spoken and written) and ultimately revealed Himself in Jesus Christ (the Personal Word). We wouldn’t know who this God is unless He first revealed Himself to us, and He has done precisely that. This is why we are without excuse, Paul says.
Again, David speaks on how the wicked who remain unrepentant are doomed to Hell. God does not forget His people, especially when they are in the midst of trials and persecution. It is easy to assume God is absent when we’re facing trials and persecution, at least for us Westerners. For those Christians facing persecution in the East, they often have more faith and reliance on God than we privileged first-world citizens do because Jesus is literally all they have left. They know that if Jesus is all you have, you have everything.
They know God has not forgotten them because they know God’s promises, the evidence of which they find in God’s Word. They are wholly cognisant that God keeps His promises, and they do not lose hope. This is something we could learn from when we “suffer” with bad WiFi, lack of air conditioning/heating, final exams, and so on.
Here, David prays for God to judge the nations so they may know the fear of the Lord. We’ve probably made some similar prayers ourselves, even for our own nation. The nations, especially our own, need to be reminded that they are only men. With the power we imagine ourselves to have, in reality our power is minuscule.
David praying for the nations to know the fear of the Lord is a proper prayer because it is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Let us pray for the same, for if the people of this nation fear the Lord, it is right to assume they will begin to know His wisdom, which is manifested in the person of Jesus Christ. God does not convert nations, but He does convert people. The world can only begin to change if its people know the One who created the world.
Psalm 9 Prayer
Father, thank You for all You have done in my life [feel free to be specific]. You have defeated my enemies long before my birth, and even as I live today. As You rule over all the earth, judge us according to Your righteousness, and in Your mercy. Give my enemies the chance to know You. If they refuse, deliver us from them. You are my refuge, and so I come to You with my troubles [feel free to list anything that’s troubling you]. I trust Your Word, and I ask for Your consolation so I may return with praise on my lips. Keep me safe this day [or night] from my enemies of this world and from Satan and his demons. You have made Yourself known, O Lord; let as many as You will come to know You. Even though I am in the midst of trials and persecution, I know You will not forget me. Lastly, Father, I pray for my nation. Its people are straying farther away from You. Let them properly fear You so they may gain wisdom in order to live as You command us to live, and therefore come to know my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is the incarnated personification of Your wisdom. Let our rulers fear You and gain Your wisdom so they may govern wisely, for their governance has fallen into foolishness. In Your name I pray. Amen.
Danker, Frederick W., and Kathryn Krug. The Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: U of Chicago, 2009.
Wolfmueller, Bryan. Has American Christianity Failed? Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.