Deceptive Appearances

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We observed yesterday that the compilers of the Psalms often collected prayers in a deliberately thematic way. Recent Psalms (73–75) appear to have been written around the time that Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians and share the broad theme of God’s judgement against his enemies. Psalms 73–74 appealed to God for swift deliverance, whereas Psalm 75 was a reminder that God acts in his time, not ours. Psalm 76 adds another important truth as the reader reflects on this historical event.

The writer begins by noting that God’s dwelling place was Jerusalem. “In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel. His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion” (vv. 1–2). To the average onlooker, it would appear that God had forsaken Jerusalem. Indeed, Ezekiel at one point portrays the presence of God leaving the temple and heading outside of the city. But the psalmist makes an important point, which concerned more than physical real estate. His point is simply this: God is fiercely committed to his people and to his covenant.

The reader of this Psalm must not fall into the trap of thinking that God had failed. Indeed, he reminds his readers that God had previously delivered his people in wondrous ways (vv. 3, 5–8). There had been times, historically, when God had stepped into Israel’s history in a mighty way and the people must not somehow think that God’s failure to do so here was somehow a lack of ability or concern. They needed to understand that the terrible defeat at Nebuchadnezzar’s hand served God’s purpose. He remained committed to his covenant but he was accomplishing something that they perhaps could not understand in the moment. The defeat did not in any way detract from his glory and majesty (v. 4). It was right to make vows to God and perform them. It was right to fear God because he could still cut off the spirit of princes and was to be feared by the kings of the earth (vv. 11–12).

Here is the point, in simple terms: Things are not always what they seem. Appearances can be deceiving. God’s people must not somehow mistake his purposes for powerlessness or carelessness. We might not understand all his purposes in the moment, but we can trust that his purposes will never be at odds to his love for and his covenant with his people. Despite the humiliating loss to Babylon, Yahweh was still known in Judah and his name still great in Israel. His abode was firmly established in Salem (Jerusalem) and his dwelling place in Zion.

Perhaps you can put yourself into Jewish shoes—and, particularly, the shows of the faithful Jews who had not bowed the knee to false gods and yet were caught up in the destruction. Perhaps you know what it is to be beaten down on every side and to be caught off guard by unprovoked attacks. Perhaps your temptation in such times is to wonder where God is, to wonder why he has allowed these things to happen, and even to question whether he is on your side and committed to his covenant. If you know that feeling, allow Psalm 76 to speak into your life this morning. Hear the cry of the psalmist and allow it to be an encouragement to your soul. Realise that things are not always what they seem.

One way to do this is to remind yourself of God’s favour in the past. The Jews who were tempted to think that God had forgotten his people needed to remember his mighty acts in the past and allow those acts to encourage them in the present. As they recalled these past mercies, they were to be encouraged that the God who had made promises to his people was still committed to them and would ultimately not allow anything to thwart those promises.

Believer, even when the world seems to be against you, remember that God is for his people. And if God is for you, does it really matter who is against you?