This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.
Psalm 7 is omitted. This is another prayer of David in which he pleads for God to defend him from his enemies. He begins by saying, “O Lord my God, in Thee I have taken refuge; save me from all those who pursue me, and deliver me, lest he tear my soul like a lion, dragging me away, while there is none to deliver.” One possible reason that this Psalm is omitted from the Psalter Readings could be that it assumes the reality of enemies. The reality of having enemies is highly distasteful for the modern believer. The general assumption of today’s believer is that if he goes to church and says his prayers, he will then have no enemies. After all, is it not true that enemies only exist when a person has done something wrong? If the believer’s behavior is non-offensive and highly tolerant of others, he should never have any enemies.
Jesus, of course, lived in the real world. He warned His disciples that they would be surrounded by many enemies, even the members of their own households! The reality of having enemies as a direct result of obedience to the will of God is rarely contemplated in our time. Who wants to be unpopular? How can you grow a mega-church when there are many enemies around? No, we are told, it is best to keep a low profile, never rock the boat, and try to live a life with no enemies. Dilute the truth if necessary, but above all else, love everyone and don’t make enemies!
David, on the other hand, lived in the real world of violent confrontation between the followers of God and the haters of God. However, David also realized that it was possible that he could be on the wrong side of a confrontation. He realized that the confrontation could be the result of his own sin. Therefore, before he prayed for God to bring vengeance upon his enemies, he first prays a prayer of self-imprecation. He says, “O Lord my God, if I have done this, if there is injustice in my hands, if I have rewarded evil to my friend, or have plundered him who without cause was my adversary, let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it; and let him trample my life down to the ground and lay my glory in the dust.” How many evangelicals are prepared to pray that prayer? Who in our churches today has the courage to pray a prayer of self-imprecation? That is the prayer of a man who is supremely confident that he knows and is engaging in the revealed will of God.
David understood that all actions in life are judicial in nature. All behaviors are either obedient to the revealed will of God or they are not. Obedient actions bring blessing, disobedient actions bring judgment. David had been slandered by his persecutors when he had been obedient to the will of God. As a result, he engages in a process of self-examination to make sure that his own behavior was correct. Once he determined that he had been obedient, he moves on to discuss those who are immorally persecuting him. David cries out for God to “vindicate” him. Then, just like in Psalm 6, David lovingly (not affectionately) warns his enemies that bad behavior will incur the wrath of God. He says, “If a man does not repent, He will sharpen His sword; He has bent His bow and made it ready. He has also prepared for Himself deadly weapons; He makes His arrows fiery shafts.” David’s warning to his enemies is clear. They need to repent of their sin or face the wrath of God. How could any pronouncement be any more loving? Is there a better example of “loving one’s enemies” than this psalm? Why has it been excluded?
Psalm 9 is included in the Psalter Readings but the first six verses have been omitted. This Psalm starts with David saying, “I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all Thy wonders. I will be glad and exult in Thee; I will sing praise to Thy name, O Most High.” This psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving. The introduction sets the tone for what follows. However, the first thing that David expresses his heart-felt thanks to God for is His wrath upon His (and David’s) enemies.
The rest of what was edited from this reading is, “When my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before Thee. For Thou has maintained my just cause; Thou dost sit on the throne judging righteously. Thou hast rebuked the nations, Thou hast destroyed the wicked; Thou has blotted out their name forever and ever. The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins, and Thou hast uprooted the cities; the very memory of them has perished.”
Apparently this beautiful description of God’s righteous judgment, in defense of His servant David, was too mean spirited to be included in the Psalter Readings. The next part of the psalm talks about how God will be a “stronghold for the oppressed”. That much less offensive description of the righteous acts of God is where the reading begins. The fact that God is an advocate for the oppressed is a very popular message. Modern believers love to see themselves as victims. Beginning with verse 7 allows evangelicals to see God as being on their side. That is a good way to add warm bodies to the congregation.
David confesses that God had “maintained his just cause”. That kind of talk is perceived as being very dangerous in our churches. Anybody who goes around talking about a “just cause” is quite likely a “loose cannon” who is on a “mission”. Undoubtedly that person will be “harsh and intolerant”. That is not the kind of person we want in our churches. Certainly we can never read a psalm that might reinforce that type of thought and behavior.
Psalm 10 is omitted. This psalm is a prayer for the violent overthrow of the wicked. The concept of ‘wickedness’ is a difficult one for today’s believer. There is universal agreement that Hitler was wicked; beyond that it is hard to find anyone else that might fit into the category (I just finished reading a book that took the very popular position that the Reformation theologian John Calvin was an incarnation of wickedness. Anyone who has learned in the government schools that Calvin was responsible for that horrible doctrine of predestination probably believes that Hitler has company.) Perhaps this psalm is omitted from the Psalter Readings because it is not clear that it applies to anyone currently alive?
God’s definition of wickedness in this Psalm is a little different than the evangelical doctrine of wickedness. God describes the wicked man as one who “boasts of his heart’s desire” (vs. 3), who is “greedy” (vs. 3), who is “haughty in countenance” (vs. 4), and who acts and believes that “there is no God” (vs. 4). The wicked man is defined as the man who “says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it'” (vs. 11). This biblical definition of wickedness applies to a lot more people than one dead German dictator. In fact, it is not unfair to say that this description could apply to a fair number of the folks who are sitting in the mega-church auditoriums each week.
I can already hear the howls of anger over that last sentence. However, before you throw this essay into the trash, consider the fact that God describes the wicked as “greedy”. Malachi says that anyone who does not tithe is “robbing God”. I would posit that any church member who does not tithe is guilty of being greedy and robbing God. If recent statistics on giving by members of evangelical churches are correct, then at least 75% (I am being very generous here) of the members of evangelical churches are wicked. No wonder this psalm has been removed from the Psalter Readings!
What does the psalmist want God to do with the wicked? He says, “Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until Thou dost find none. The Lord is King forever and ever; nations have perished from His land.” Wow! How long has it been since you have heard about a God who behaves like that? Quite some time I would guess. How long will it be before you hear about Him in the future? Longer, I would guess. You can’t grow a mega-church talking about a God like the God of Psalm 10.
Psalm 14 is omitted. The omission of this psalm from a hymnal edited by Reformed theologians is an unconscionable act. This psalm, perhaps more than any other psalm, establishes the doctrine of the original sinfulness of man. Paul quotes psalm 14 extensively in his letter to the Romans. Paul quotes this psalm in Romans 3 where he is establishing the theological fact that both Jews and Gentiles are utterly sinful and deserving of the wrath of God.
The psalmist describes natural man as follows, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’. They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
How can a man understand the good news if he is ignorant of the bad news? This psalm delivers the bad news in stunning fashion. There is no mincing of words, no attempt to soft-pedal the truth. There is no one who does good, not even one! Until this eternal truth is perceived as true in the heart of the individual there is no hope for personal salvation. The good news of the Gospel is unknowable until the bad news of original sin has gripped the consciousness of a man. Why, oh why, would the editors decide to omit this psalm?
I would suggest that the doctrine of original sin does not play well to today’s audiences. It is very difficult to build a mega-church while reading psalms like Psalm 14. It is very difficult to add more names to the church membership roles while preaching the doctrine of original sin. Hence, it is removed.
In fairness to the editors of the Trinity Hymnal, Psalm 53 is included in the Psalter Readings. Psalm 53 is essentially a direct quotation of Psalm 14. Hence, the doctrine of original sin is contained in the readings. However, since the Holy Spirit considered those sentences worthy of repetition in the Psalms, why did the editors of the hymnal not also consider them to be worthy of repetition? The concepts of the paternal favor of God and His unending love for His elect are repeated dozens of times in the readings. Should not the doctrine of original sin as explained in Psalm 14 not at least be mentioned twice?