Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Sermon - Psalm 70

This is my Remembrance Sunday sermon from the 8 am service at Highfield Church, Southampton. Audio of the sermon is available here.

Psalm 70 (New Revised Standard Version)

To the leader. Of David, for the memorial offering.

1 Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
2 Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
3 Let those who say, ‘Aha, Aha!’
    turn back because of their shame.
4 Let all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
    say evermore, ‘God is great!’
5 But I am poor and needy;
    hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
    O Lord, do not delay!

Psalm 70 claims to record a Psalm ‘of David’, King David that is. A decade or so ago scholars could truthfully claim that they didn’t know of any evidence for a historical King David outside the Bible. Given how little survives from the 10th century B.C, such a state of affairs really wasn’t surprising. Nevertheless, those with a bias against trusting the Biblical evidence in the absence of external corroboration made much of this absence – thereby ignoring British Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen’s famous maxim that ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

However, several artefacts have since been discovered that confirm the historicity of King David. For example:

1) The Tel Dan Stele - an inscribed monument erected by an Aramaic King in ancient Syria sometime before 800 B.C that makes reference to ‘Jehoram son of Ahab, King of Israel’ and ‘Ahaziahu son of Jehoram, king of the House of David’. Both Kings are biblically attested (2 Kings 9-10) and the language of the ‘House of David’ parallels biblical language about the Davidic Kingdom. (cf. www.bible-history.com/archaeology/israel/tel-dan-stele.html)

Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Archaeology WingDSCN5105.JPG
The Tel Dan Stele

2) The Mesha Stele - a Moabite monument found in 1868 that, it was later noticed, probably mentions ‘the house [of Da]vid.’ (cf. www.bible-history.com/resource/ff_mesha.htm)

P1120870 Louvre stèle de Mésha AO5066 rwk.JPG
The Mesha Stele
3) The Shoshenq Relief is a carving from the temple of Amun in Thebes that describes Pharaoh Shoshenq’s raid into Palestine in 925 B.C. In a list of places Shosenq says he captured a phrase appears that Egyptologist Kenneth Kitchen translates as ‘heights of David’. (cf. http://theophilogue.com/2009/04/24/extrabiblical-evidence-for-king-david/)

It is also interesting to note that ‘From the viewpoint of… textual preservation, Psalm 70 is one of the finest.’ (Harper Collins Bible Commentary, revised edition, p. 420.) Hence, there’s good reason to believe, when we read Psalm 70, that we are reading song-lyrics written by King David nearly three thousand years ago. Moreover, given what the Bible tells us of David’s adventurous life, it’s easy to see that in Psalm 70 David is writing out of personal experience.

Despite the obvious urgency of his situation, whatever that was, note how David asks God to be pleased to deliver him, rather than trying to demand or command God to deliver him. David rightly assumes that God may or may not deliver him.

It’s so very easy for us to lay expectations upon God that are rooted in our personal preferences rather than being rooted in the promises of God. We might wish it otherwise, but the promises of God concern our ultimate safety and fulfilment rather than our worldly comfort. Indeed, Jesus promises his disciples that: ‘In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33, NIV.) Those who build their lives upon the rock of Christ have a firm foundation to see them through the flood-waters, not a talisman to help them avoid the flood-waters (cf. Matthew 7:24). Indeed, Jesus himself asked if he could forego his own cup off suffering and was told that he could not.

David’s attitude in Psalm 70 puts me in mind of Daniel’s three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Their lives are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon when they won’t bow down to the golden idol he has set up. They declare: ‘If we are thrown into the flaming furnace, our God is able to deliver us; and he will deliver us out of your hand, Your Majesty. But if he doesn’t, please understand, sir, that even then we will never under any circumstance serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have erected.’ (Daniel 3:16-18, TLB.) Their confidence in God expresses itself in a confidence that God ‘is able to deliver’ them and, indeed, that on this particular occasion God ‘will deliver’ them; but their confidence in God does not depend upon God delivering them. If God does not rescue them, they will still worship God and no one else simply because of who God is.

This attitude towards God, of worshipping Him simply because He is God, is exhibited by David in Psalm 70 when he writes:

Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’

For David, rejoicing and being glad in God simply for being who He is comes before praising God for doing what He does, even though focusing upon God’s actions would be understandable under the pressure David feels bearing down upon him from those who ‘seek his life [literally, who seek his ‘soul’]’ and who ‘desire to hurt’ him.

It would be understandable, wouldn’t it, if David called upon God to give ‘an eye for an eye’, to take the lives of who seek his life, to hurt those who want to hurt him. But he does not.

Indeed, while David calls upon God to humiliate his enemies, he asks that his enemies thereby be brought to a turning point in their own lives:

Let those be put to shame and confusion
    who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonour
    who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!”
    turn back because of their shame.

The third clause here doesn’t seem to mean that David’s enemies should ‘turn back’ from harming him ‘because of their shame’ as the previous phrases describe their shame as resulting from their public failure to harm David. Rather, David’s prayer appears to be that the shame that will result from publically failing to harm him might lead his enemies to ‘turn back’ to God, such that they can be included in the rejoicing of verse 4. Indeed, the American Standard Version renders verse 3 as ‘Let them be turned back by reason of their shame.’ This is how focusing upon God and God’s nature first and foremost, despite his troubled circumstances, leads David to treat even his oppressors. As Jesus commands us in Matthew 5:43-48:

There is a saying, ‘Love your friends and hate your enemies.’ But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too. If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. (TLB)

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