Sunday Services: 9:00am & 10:45am

Arise, O Lord

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

We planned to study several of the Psalms of Lament during the season of Lent, and I couldn’t think of a better place to be. You won’t find a heading in your Bible that designates a psalm as a Psalm of Lament; that’s the category we place them in based on their content, and when we do, there are nearly fifty different Psalms of Lament. As we prepare our hearts for Good Friday and Easter, we’ve chosen several to cover, each arising from a different cause, a different reason to lament. Last week we covered Psalm 38, which is a lament over our own sin; this week we take up Psalm 10, which is a lament over abuse done by the wicked.

Scripture Reading

You can follow along with me as I read Psalm 10 or feel free to pause the video and read the passage yourself. I’ll go ahead and read the passage now, and then pray that God would be our teacher as we study this passage together.

1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
    let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
    and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.
In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
    all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
His ways prosper at all times;
    your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
    as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
    under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
He sits in ambush in the villages;
    in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
    he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
    he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10 The helpless are crushed, sink down,
    and fall by his might.

11 He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
    he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.
13 Why does the wicked renounce God
    and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
14 But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
    that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
    you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.

16 The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations perish from his land.
17 O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
    you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
    so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Introduction

Last week I shared a realistic although made-up story to illustrate the theme of Psalm 38. I told you about a married couple who comes to a counselor’s office. The first twenty minutes are a nearly unbroken chain of back and forth, of one spouse starting a paragraph about what one person did and the other spouse interrupting to say what “really” happened.

After forty minutes, the counselor raises a hand. A momentary ceasefire begins. She says, “I think I’m beginning to see some of the issues.” Then she looks at the husband. “Sir, in all this, what is it that you think you’ve done to contribute to the problem?” “Well, she did this and she did that, and what was I supposed to do,” he says. The counselor turns to the wife. “And you, what have you done to contribute to the problem?” “Well, he did this and he did that, and what was I supposed to do,” she says. The counselor sighs. She wipes her cheeks with her sleeve. “I want to help you,” she says. “But I can’t.”

The point of the illustration last week was to show that unless you can identify and confess your own sin to God, you can’t begin to heal. However, perhaps many of you, as you listened to that illustration, had objections. “But, Pastor Benjamin, sometimes it is the other person’s fault.”

You’re not wrong. I’ve been in ministry long enough to see marriages destroyed, not only by two parties who share the blame but by one party who goes off the deep end. I let the tension from that illustration hang unresolved last week because last week the focus was on you and I and our sin before God and how it stinks to high heaven. This week, in Psalm 10, we are still concerned with sin, but the sin that stinks something fierce in the nostrils of God is the sin of others. And the problem in view, the origin of the lament, is that God, according to the author, seems to hide while wicked people abuse others.

1. What we see with our eyes: the wicked rule, vv. 1–11

In the first 11 verses the people of God bring their complaint to God. Their complaint is this: judging by what we can see with our eyes, the wicked rule and reign. I’ll read v. 1 again.

1 Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
    Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

The accusation is that the Lord is aloof, indifferent. In times of trouble, God is playing “hide and go seek,” which is a very strange thing to do for the Creator of the Universe—to hide. The game “hide and seek” is a children’s game. It’s fun. However, it’s not fun when you are a child, and there is a murderer in your house, and you’re hiding in the closet of your bedroom calling your father on the phone trying to get him to help, but he can’t pick up or won’t pick up.

A good pastor friend of mine had this happened to his family last fall. He was away on business, and a crazy person broke into the house, and the young son and his mother hid in the bathroom while the intruder pounded on the bathroom door. The police arrived just before the door broke. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? / Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” Verse 1 is the summary of the lament. The author goes on to explain in more detail just what are those “times of trouble” that God ignores.

The next ten verses describe the character and conduct of the wicked. For the sake of time, I won’t reread all the verses. But in vv. 2–6 we read about the pride, arrogance, greedy boasts of the wicked. In v. 4 we read, that “in the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him” and “all his thoughts are ‘There is no God.’” That’s true, but it might be more helpful to notice that it is not so much that the wicked think there is no God but that there is no God other than me. The wicked set themselves up as gods. I’ll read v. 6 again.

He [the wicked] says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
    throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

These are claims of divinity. Not moved or changed, meaning immutable? All generations, meaning transcendent and everlasting? In other words, “I am the master of my fate, the captain of my soul” (cf. the poem “Invictus” mentioned last week). Then in vv. 7–11 we read that the totality of the wicked person’s being is bent toward evil. We read about the curses of his mouth. We read about where he sits in ambush. We read about the greed in his eyes. We read about how his body lurks like a lion stalking prey, His mouth, his sitting, his eyes, his jaws—the totality of his being is bent toward wickedness, and all the while he claims (as we read in v. 11) that the Lord does not even see—let alone do anything about it; God doesn’t even see. The complaint of God’s people in v. 1 is that God stands aloof, and that is a problem for believers. Here, however, the wicked see the aloofness of God not as a problem but as a window of opportunity that is wide open.

In our day, we can think of those who attempt to price gauge on hand sanitizer. I heard of someone who bought 17k bottles of hand sanitizer, put them in his garage, then increased the price a dozen fold and tried to sell them on Amazon, which Amazon thankfully stopped. Or consider this one from our church context. For three weeks in a row, email scammers tried to fake my email address and asked one hundred people in our congregation for money, hoping that someone could be lured into their net. And consider the way that the “lion” and “lurking” imagery in this passage might in our own day cause us to think of the #metoo and #churchtoo sexual abusers who lurk like lions. It’s an especially vile thing when the evil of abuse comes from the hand of those claiming to be priests and pastors, those who claim to know God but do not know him.

In v. 10 we read that “The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by [the might of the wicked].” The wicked succeed in their murder of the innocent that they devise in v. 8. I think about the origin story of Planned Parenthood, which I’m not sure everyone knows. Planned Parenthood and their founder Margaret Sanger have a grizzly origin story, a story with wicked roots of eugenics, that is, in their case the preying upon low income and ethnic and racial minorities as a way to thin the herd. It was evil. It still is.

2. What we see with the eyes of faith: God rules, vv. 12–18

In v. 12, the psalm flips. When the people of God sing this psalm, we begin singing about what we see with our eyes, that is, how the wicked rule and reign. Now we sing about what we see with the eyes of faith: that God rules and reigns. And this leads to something worth pointing out in our sermon series. Laments are not just complaints when they are biblical laments. Laments—the biblical kind—have a trajectory. They move from complaint to trust, just as Psalm 10 does. Look with me at v. 12.

12 Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;
    forget not the afflicted.

Wait—I thought, that they thought, that God was hiding, that he was aloof? Not so. The deeper trust, the deeper knowledge that God is near. It’s like when I use Photoshop, and I have other drawings and images behind other files, and you can only see those other images if you open the main Photoshop files. The .jpeg or .png file is not all that there is. And the godly know there is more to what they can see with their physical eyes. Christians know God can and will arise and lift up his hand.

The hand of the Lord communicates his strength and power. The hand of the Lord is not something to be trifled with. In a UFC fight in January, Conor McGregor won his fight in 40 seconds. McGregor is known for the strength of his left hand, and also other things like being cocky, but whether he is too cocky or not, you don’t want to trifle with his left hand. The fight in January, he actually won with a kick to the head, but you get my point. The hand of the risen Lord is not something to be trifled with. As the saying goes, he’s not a tame lion.

In v. 15 the author writes,

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
    call his wickedness to account till you find none.

This is not so much an “eye of an eye” prayer request. Again, the arm is symbolic of power. It is the arm that does so much wickedness. To ask God to break arms is to ask that he break their ability to do harm. This is asking God to come to our defense.

Some of you might be troubled by this language. Who is God to judge and break arms? What Christian should this? I can assure that my friend’s son and wife who were locked in the bathroom wanted God to break in. And they were not wrong to do so.

The passage ends with the people of God asserting their conviction that God is in fact the one who rules. In v. 16 the author writes, “The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.” And the Lord’s kingship is actually for the good of the vulnerable, the fatherless, the poor.

When we began this sermon series, we thought it would be good to call the series “How Long, O Lord?: Learning the Language of Lament.” I probably would not have said it this way, but when you use the word learn, we tend to think of classrooms and academics. But now, with a serious virus stalking the globe, our learning to lament might be a lot more experiential than theoretical or academic. That’s not a bad thing. Because those who engage experientially in biblical lament will also experientially come to know the goodness of God’s strength. This is the joyful trajectory laments move us on, from complaint to trust. God is not a brittle God; he’s not aloof. God is near; he is strong.

Conclusion

When Jesus was nearing the end of his earthy life, in Luke 22 he referred to that time as the hour of darkness (v. 53). We have a savior who has gone before us through the jaws of death and has come out the other side. In a beautiful twist, in the hour of darkness, God was actually breaking the arm of evil. Listen to the way the apostle Paul describes the gospel and the hope of a Christian in Colossians 2:13–15.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

God broken the ability of the wicked to do us eternal harm and bring us eternal death. It is sin that does us eternal harm, and God in Christ has taken that away.

If you are in Christ, if you have put your faith in Jesus, then whether you feel the hot breath of the jaws of the wicked… or whether you have fears over this virus… or whether you worry about the financial impact to your business… know that God, even now as we read in v. 16, is “king forever and ever.”

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