The Trajectory of Human History: Psalm 94

Today’s Sunday Psalms entry is written by Timothy Tennent.

Psalm 94 (NIV)

The Lord is a God who avenges.
    O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth;
    pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked,
    how long will the wicked be jubilant?

They pour out arrogant words;
    all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord;
    they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner;
    they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people;
    you fools, when will you become wise?
Does he who fashioned the ear not hear?
    Does he who formed the eye not see?
10 Does he who disciplines nations not punish?
    Does he who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
11 The Lord knows all human plans;
    he knows that they are futile.

12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord,
    the one you teach from your law;
13 you grant them relief from days of trouble,
    till a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not reject his people;
    he will never forsake his inheritance.
15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness,
    and all the upright in heart will follow it.

. . .

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This psalm is a declaration about the trajectory of human history. It is a strong counter narrative to the world’s vain and pompous boasts about the unfolding of human history. It is, therefore, yet another psalm in the opening songs of Book Four (see Psalms 90 and 92) that help us regain perspective. These psalms are especially helpful to us as we live in a society where the prevailing popular narratives run so utterly contrary to the biblical narratives about truth, the final destiny of the wicked, and the conclusion of human history.

Psalm 94 opens with the reminder that it is God who avenges the righteous by paying back to the proud what they deserve, and silencing the vain jubilation of the wicked (vv. 1–3). We have already noted that all the imprecations against the wicked are actually prayers to God that transfer our anger and pain over into the hands of God himself, who alone is the final Judge and vindicator of the righteous. The opening of this psalm makes this perspective explicit: “O Lord, the God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth” (v. 1). It is a clear reminder of that ancient hymn by Moses in Deuteronomy 32 known as the Song of Moses, which includes the voice of God saying, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut. 32:35 ESV; quoted in Rom. 12:19).

One particularly powerful moment in this psalm is where the psalmist uses two great doctrines of the Bible to chastise the wicked and awaken them to a more accurate view of truth. He begins by reminding them of the implications of the doctrine of creation on their false claims: “Does he who implanted the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see?” (Ps. 94:9). The implication is that if God is the creator of the ear and eye, then how can the wicked live and act as if God does not hear or see?

He then moves to the doctrine of revelation. “Does he who disciplines nations not punish? Does he who teaches man lack knowledge?” (v. 10). The implication is that God uses his Word as a plumb line or measuring rod to judge the nations and to instruct us in the truth. If the wicked claim to chart the course of the nations, or to have knowledge, how can they deny it of their Creator?

The psalm lifts us up to the great certitudes of biblical revelation. God will never reject his people (v. 14). God will judge the world (v. 15). He will repay the world for their sins (v. 23). The vain boasts of the wicked will be overturned and the righteous will be vindicated in the end.

The surrounding culture frequently chastises the church for not eagerly endorsing their wicked agenda. We are regularly told that we need to get on board and make sure that we are on the right side of history. As Christians, we need to remember that the way to be truly on the right side of history is to align ourselves with the character and purposes of God. We are not as interested in being on the right side of any given cultural trend as we are being on the right side of eternity. The cultural courts of this world may rule against us, but, in the end, God is the final Judge who renders the final verdict. In the end, making money will not be the most important thing we do. Receiving the applause of the world will not, in the end, bring us God’s commendation. A-list celebrities will not, in the end, be quite as glamorous as we may think. Buying that new car, or a new wardrobe of clothes, or a high-resolution TV, or building our dream house, will fade in comparison to our investments of time and energy in the kingdom of God.

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