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(Click or hover over the above Scripture reference link to read the passage.)
Some psalms include a little note that tells us a little of the context that goes with it. Psalm 9’s note is “To the tune of ‘The Death of the Son.'” This doesn’t tell us about the historical context of the psalm, but of the music that it would have been sung to. The music that accompanied the psalms has not been preserved, but with a title like that, I can’t help but speculate that this tune was originally used for mourning. This is a bit surprising, because when you read the psalm itself, it doesn’t come across as a direct song about mourning. After some powerful opening lines about giving gratitude and worship to God, it primarily becomes a psalm about seeking justice for the oppressed. This connection feels like the psalmist is associating his prayers for the oppressed with mourning, which is profound.
What is oppression? Who are the oppressed? What is justice and injustice? Let’s consider these questions in our modern context before marinating on the prayers the psalmist prays for the oppressed.
Oppression and injustice happen when a person or a group of people is deprived, usually by law or by force, of basic and equal rights that are allotted to others. Often oppression and injustice use categories of people to afflict their damages. For example, our country was founded and built on laws that allowed for the brutal killing and enslavement of blacks and Native Americans, with many laws explicitly benefiting white people by name. This is oppression and injustice. Refugees are oppressed by something going on in their home country that they are fleeing from in order to save their lives. This is often religious or ethnic persecution and is often related to wars or guerrilla warfare dangers. The oppressed are the ones under the boot of those with power. We get less comfortable talking about oppression and injustice when we start looking at the vast inequities in the United States between whites and people of color. It’s a lot easier to talk about oppression of biblical times and the distant past, but much more uneasy when it’s right under our nose and we may or may not even be aware of it or acknowledge it.
It would be beyond the scope of this devotional to try to spell out our history or to convince you of this racial inequity if it’s not something you currently agree is a reality. I have a vast blog category that I’d invite you to browse if you’d like a more comprehensive look at these inequalities and where they came from. One stat that is a helpful framework is:
The natural question raised when seeing such a stark contrast in net worth between whites and blacks is why? As I try to distill a complex question down here, the simplest answer is because of a long history of laws and policies that have denied access and opportunity to blacks, but have given it to whites. (Click here for more on this from my blog). But my point in this psalm devotional is that when we read “oppressed,” we can’t just put an ancient biblical stamp on it and move on. We have to see the modern day faces of the oppressed and know that God cares. God cares for the oppressed and he cares about justice, and so we had better care as well. I want you to picture (among others) the modern day refugee, immigrant, or African American (which may be you… know that God cares about you! He cares about your suffering and struggle and he cares about justice!)
9 The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
13 LORD, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.
16 The LORD is known by his acts of justice;
18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
19 Arise, LORD, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
We have to let Scripture lead us and guide us, not our politics or politicians or our assumptions. I firmly believe the Bible offends both sides of the aisle and if a Christian is truly following the Bible and living as a citizen of Jesus’ kingdom on earth, they will be quite uncomfortable immersing themselves in the world of the Republicans or the Democrats. You sort of end up having to vote for one or the other, but voting doesn’t mean the endorsement of or agreement with an entire platform, or at least it shouldn’t for Kingdom citizens.
We may have to agree to disagree on some of the specifics, but as Christians who follow the Bible and who believe that God cares about the oppressed and about justice, we must apply these Scriptures to our present day context.
If you are one of the many who are oppressed today, take heart that our Heavenly Father hasn’t forgotten about you. Take heart that he cares about justice and you can cry out to him for justice. If you are privileged enough to not experience oppression, know that it is your Christian responsibility to help bring justice to those who are oppressed. This will look differently for different people, but it is not a niche issue only for people who get into that sort of thing. Justice and caring for the oppressed is a biblical mandate both in the Old and New Testaments that white Western Christianity has often forgotten about because by and large, we haven’t been affected by it (and we have caused it and let it go unchecked). Let’s fix our theology and get back to following the Bible. Let’s be the Church that pleases God, that does his will, that follows his Scriptures. Let’s care for the poor and the oppressed. Let’s seek to bring justice in our home countries, invading these corrupt earthly governments and economic systems with the values of Jesus and his Kingdom.
Prayer for the day: Lord examine my heart and help me with the ways I might struggle with what is written here. Help me to empathize with those who have suffered oppression and injustice within my country, even if I haven’t suffered in this way. Forgive me for thinking that my experience is the experience of all others and that the opportunities I was given were also given to all others. Give me humble ears to listen to the voice of the oppressed. To listen when someone has been harmed by injustice. Help me to get out of my comfort zone and befriend the oppressed. To learn their stories. To learn their experiences. To learn how they see you in the midst of their oppression. To lift them up in prayer. To use my voice and power to advocate for them. To be a listening ear of friendship, support, and advocacy.
Prayer for the day #2: Come Lord Jesus! Deliver me from my oppression! I am mistreated by my neighbors, by police, and by my employer, but what’s worse, many of my Christian brothers and sisters don’t believe me because of the color of my skin. Help me to persevere. Help me to keep loving them. I am so tired. I am exhausted. I am exhausted by this country’s politics. I am exhausted by the power games. Lord deliver me! Deliver the oppressed! Thank you that you care. Thank you that you care about justice and you care about me! Help me to be a light in this dark place. Lord sustain me. Be my refuge. Be my strength. Renovate your Church, Lord Jesus. Bring repentance. Bring humility. Bring reconciliation. Bring conciliation. Bring equality. Bring access and opportunity to the oppressed. Let the light of your Church shine in this dark dark world! May they know we are Christians by our love toward one another: black, white, Latinx, Asian, native, male, female, Jew, Gentile, or Samaritan. How long Lord, how long? Come Lord Jesus.
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Tom Tripp says
Thank you for your good words on this matter.