One of the ways we get ourselves into trouble in our faith is when we think of the Bible as a book, instead of a collection of books.
The Bible is full of different works, written by different authors, in different genres across different times. We should be more thoughtful than we often are in how we approach each work. One verse quoted from a Pauline letter and another quoted from an Old Testament narrative have very different contexts.
In the Old Testament, Israel operated as a theocracy. God didn’t even give them a king until they whined to get one. God was to be their King.
Which means that even after they received a king, they viewed the success of their country on the blessings of God. If they were doing well, they saw it as God’s favor. If they were doing poorly, they saw it as God’s judgment.
We all know life is rarely that linear.
And the Scriptures do show depth in that line of thinking. Israel was blessed in order to be a blessing to the world. So though sometimes that meant God lead them to military victories, it also meant He commanded them to welcome the stranger and the alien.
We need to read the whole of the Old Testament, and the whole of the Scriptures, in order to develop a robust theology of who God is, and how He works. And as we read the Bible, we should remember what genre we are reading, and interpret it in context of the bigger picture.
Psalm 60 is full of the kind of military language and assumptions that makes the Old Testament feel distant to many.
“You have rejected us, O God, and broken our defenses.
You have been angry with us; now restore us to your favor.” – vs 1
When we read this, we get frustrated with the assumption that when things aren’t going well it’s because people did something to displease God.
“Now rescue your beloved people.
Answer and save us by your power.” – vs 5
Even more frustrating is the assumption that God will then show His favor by granting the people victory by His power. Who are they to declare themselves worthy of that?
And it concludes with this craziness:
“With God’s help we will do mighty things,
for he will trample down our foes.” – vs 12
What an assumption- that God will help them trample their foes!
These verses could easily lead to a theology that says: When life is difficult, God is punishing me. But if I remain faithful, He will reward me, and give me victory.
That’s sounds nice, but we all know it’s more complicated than that. And I’m guessing the writer of this Psalm did too. And that is where genre and context come into play.
As a nation under God’s rule, times of trouble took Israel in a different direction than it takes us. (Although, we can think about how we praise and blame the president according to how we feel about the state of our nation…) Psalm 60 is not intended to teach us about how nations work. It is intended to teach us about prayer.
Here are three things I think we can learn about prayer from Psalm 60.
First, it shows us the importance of praying as a community.
We so often fall into the trap of an individualized faith. The Bible points to the richness that comes when people gather: confessing together, asking for help as one, supporting each other, and recognizing how our choices and habits effect one another.
Second, it subtly reminds us to lean into God’s promises and His character.
There is a word in verse 5 that would be easy to miss, but is incredibly important. “Now rescue your beloved people.” God promised them an unfailing love. They clung to that when they felt like His love was failing. They claimed their identity.
Third, it helps us hold the tension of God’s sovereignty and human free will.
The debates have raged for ages about how these two seemingly opposite things weave together into the workings of the world. But in our prayers, we don’t have to solve the riddle of how these two co-exist; we can simply lean into both. We can go into the battles we feel God leading us to fight, and make the choice to pray as we do so. At the same time we can acknowledge, as the last verses of this psalm do, that it is only with God’s help that we will win.
So let’s allow the Bible to influence us, but let’s also be thoughtful about how we do so. Let Psalm 60 influence your prayers more than your theology.
Add the link to your post about Psalm 60 below. Make sure to read someone else’s post, too! Or join next week with a post on Psalm 61.