In this psalm Asaph praises God for his sovereign control of circumstances. His words in verse 1 indicate that God’s people have had a recent deliverance and have gathered together to give thanks to him for performing a marvellous deed on their behalf.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Lord responds in verses 2-5. He probably spoke directly through Asaph as he was composing the psalm. We can see in these verses that the first person singular is used throughout them. Further, the words are arranged in such a way that the users of the psalm are encouraged to stop and ponder what has just been said (the use of Selah at the end of verse 3 requires this careful and thoughtful response).
What are they to think about? They are to reflect on two divine realities. First, the sovereign God has fixed times for judgement and will always deal justly with people. They will only receive what they deserve. Second, the Lord remains in control even although everyone thinks the world is collapsing as he judges individuals and nations for their opposition to him (this is an important perspective to have on the various crises that affect our world today). If people take these realities seriously, then they will heed the warning to the proud in verses 4 and 5. Of course, only the proud will ignore the fact that God will judge them.
In verses 6-10, Asaph draws several conclusions from the Lord’s personal description of his actions. First, he acknowledges that God is the One who promotes and demotes human rulers (vv. 6-7). They may think that there are other reasons for the changes, but behind all such secondary reasons God is at work. This perspective of the psalmist is one that is seldom recognised today, but those who worship God should always have it in mind. For example, when we watch the news and hear about someone becoming powerful or hear about someone losing power, we should say, ‘God is at work in that situation.’
Second, Asaph uses a graphic picture of a cup full of foaming wine to depict the extent of divine judgement that can come on a society. The cup is in God’s hand and when he decides to pour it out he will compel the wicked to drink all of it, even the dregs (v. 8). This is a reminder that divine judgement will be very thorough.
Third, Asaph resolves to praise God because he acts in history to judge those who deserve it (v. 9). Unlike those who praise earthly power, the psalmist knows that he can praise God for ever because he will never lose his throne. Further the psalmist resolves to do what he can to further the cause of righteousness (v. 10). He realises that praise and practice should go hand in hand.