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Sunday, 7 December 2014

Psalm 108 - Preparing for Battle

The context of Psalm 108 is preparation for battle. Israel is about to fight their enemies, and these nations, such as Philistia on the west and Edom and Moab on the east geographically surrounded her (vv. 9-10). Edom, in particular, was the focus on this occasion (v. 10). So how does the psalmist prepare for the battle? In his psalm, he highlights three aspects: praise of God (vv. 1-6), the promises of God (vv. 7-9), and prayer to God (vv. 10-13).

One striking feature of this psalm is that it includes several verses from Psalm 57 (108:1-5 are virtually the same as 57:7-11; 108:1 uses a different name for God than does 57:7). Clearly the author believed it was appropriate to use the same verses in different compositions. In Psalm 57 the verses are used as a response to prayer whereas in Psalm 108 they precede prayer.

The context of Psalm 108 is preparation for battle. Israel is about to fight their enemies, and these nations, such as Philistia on the west and Edom and Moab on the east geographically surrounded her (vv. 9-10). Edom, in particular, was the focus on this occasion (v. 10). So how does the psalmist prepare for the battle? In his psalm, he highlights three aspects: praise of God (vv. 1-6), the promises of God (vv. 7-9), and prayer to God (vv. 10-13).

His statement of praise comes from a heart that has learned by experience to be stedfast and fixed. Such an attitude only comes from having proved the Lord's help in the past (v. 1). Yet although he has had this training, the psalmist does not take anything for granted and rises early in the morning to pray for victory (v. 2). As he does so, he looks forward in confidence to praising the Lord in other places, particularly in locations where God's name was not yet known (v. 3). When the psalmist had conquered those enemies he would ensure that they would not hear others exalting his name; instead he would lead in the praise of God. Here we have a vivid example of humility by the psalmist, and it is a reminder that it is only humble people who receive divine help.

The psalmist knows that victory will only occur if the Lord shows mercy. He combines the divine attribute of mercy with another divine attribute, truth (v. 4). This is how we should view all of the Lord's attributes. If we remove his mercy from the picture, what benefit will his truth convey to us? Without mercy, there can only be judgement. 

Because this combination of mercy and truth is always the case, the psalmist can lift high the name of God (vv. 4-5). He uses the highest visible things, such as clouds and the sky, to depict how exalted he knows the Lord is. Yet such elevated exaltation does not make him a distant God (v. 6). He still remains the Lord who can reach down and deliver his people.

The second aspect of obtaining victory is by reminding the Lord of his promises (vv. 7-8). Previously the Lord had given promises to the psalmist that included dividing out the land (v. 7), loyal tribes (v. 8) and complete victory over his enemies (v. 9). The psalmist gives us an example of how to use God's promises. They are intended by him for our use as arguments in our prayers. So when we ask for his help, we should not dwell on our intentions but on his promises.

The fact is that the Lord has never broken a promise he has made. Sometimes we fail to see them fulfilled because we have not kept the attached conditions. When defeat comes our way, our response should not be to question the Lord's loyalty. Neither should our initial response be a resort to his sovereignty; such a response can merely be a ruse to avoid self-examination. Instead we should search our hearts and see if the reason for his denial is in there, perhaps in a tolerated sin.

In verses 10-13, the psalmist comes to the third aspect of obtaining victory and that is intelligent petitions. He asks a necessary question concerning his situation, which was about obtaining victory over Edom. The answer is obvious (God would give it), but it is good to remind ourselves of it. Yet there is also a surprise because the God who would help them is the same God who had refused to deliver them on previous occasions, perhaps because they had trusted in human help (v. 12). But dependance on God will give victory.

Of course, the mark of one who is depending on God is that he gets involved in the battle (v. 13). If the psalmist had sat at home pretending to depend on God the campaign would have been a failure. It is easy to speak about God's sovereignty, but it is a different matter altogether to reveal that we truly believe it. Today God calls us to be his soldiers, who fight depending upon him, as we spread his message of the gospel in order that his enemies will be forgiven. It is true that God blesses the gospel, but it is also essential that we spread it as much as we can.

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