The whole idea of appealing for God’s justice gets a bit of a shakeup in these psalms.
Once again, some of these psalms appeal to the LORD for justice and peace from enemies, which seems to shade over into vengeance against those enemies.
It strikes me today, though, that we have a different voice – God’s voice – in Psalm 81. It feels a bit as though God is answering the psalmist as he did Job, to change the perspective and the questions. The psalmist’s main basis for appealing to God is that God’s glory should be seen among the nations, shown in the blessing and security of the people who follow him. In Psalm 81, God makes it clear that for his blessing on Israel to be a sign to the nations, Israel first has to be living a life in line with God’s command. In other words, you can’t be a beacon to the nations just because it says ‘people of God’ (or ‘Church of England’?) over the door. Being the people of God has to be seen in your life, otherwise the natural way for a just God to demonstrate his justice to the world is by starting with sorting out his own people.
Psalm 82 carries on the theme, as God calls Israel to live by giving justice to the poor and weak – it’s because they’re not doing this that despite their privileged position as ‘children of the Most High’ they live and die like anybody else.
It’s a risky strategy to appeal to God for justice – he may not be as sure as you are that you’re the victim in whatever’s unjust. I can’t find the one I’m looking for, but I remember reading a ‘Coffee with Jesus’ strip where the dialogue went along the lines of
Carl: ‘Hey, Jesus, I can’t understand why you allow hunger, untreated illnesses, injustice and all that stuff in the world without doing anything about it’
Jesus: ‘Funny, Carl, I was thinking of asking you the same thing.’
I know that the psalms aren’t a single text to read in sequence, but it still hurts a bit to come into Psalm 83 and find just the same pleas as before – we don’t seem to learn when God speaks, do we?
So Psalm 84 comes as a refreshing draught of water. The joy of worship in the Temple, in the presence of God, is a source of blessing and security in itself. We may not be able to establish justice, though we’re called to work towards it. But we are able to enter God’s presence in trust and worship, and that will never change.