Born to Be – Near to Us
November 26, 2017
In Psalm 10, we hear the psalmist cry “Why are you so far away, God?” as he looks at the wickedness and injustice of the world around him. This lament is ultimately resolved in the Gospel, in which Jesus, our Immanuel, takes on flesh in order to be near to us.
Psalm 10 is the second half of a larger work begun in Psalm 9. Both psalms are laments concerned with injustice in the world around us. Since Psalm 9 is recorded to be a psalm of David, it is a reasonable inference that Psalm 10 is as well. The two psalms are linked by an acrostic form in which the first line begins with the first line begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the second line begins with the second letter, and so on. They may have been written separately and joined together later.
When God Seems Far Away (v. 1)
The psalmist begins the psalm by crying out to God “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?” This is not an absolute theological statement (which would imply that God is not omnipresent), but a statement of perception, based on the wickedness he sees in the world around him. Sin within us and around us distracts us from the goodness of God.
The Wicked Oppress the Helpless (vv. 2-11)
The psalmist describes the thoughts and actions of a person or persons he calls “the wicked” (Hebrew: rashah) and his treatment of the poor and helpless. Although vv. 3-4 might imply that the wicked man here is an atheist, true atheism was rare in the ancient world. Rather, vv. 11 and 13 show us that the wicked man does not believe that God see his sin and will not call him into account (Hebrew: darash). In this way, the wicked fashions his own morality, in which “might makes right” and he preys on those poorer and weaker than himself. He entraps the helpless (vv. 2, 9-10), boasts of his prosperity and strength (vv. 5-6), and gloats in victory as no one appears to be around to stop him (v. 11).
As we look at pronounced wickedness in Scripture and in the world around us, we must avoid two temptations. The first is towards fear and unbelief, as we see the worldly might of the wicked. The Bible tells us that God will judge the wicked and unjust and will plead the cause of the poor (Prov 22:22-23). The second is minimizing our own sin in light of what appear to be more “advanced cases” of sin in the world around us. The fact is that all sin is treason before God and sets us in opposition against Him (James 2:10; 4:6).
May God See, Arise and Act! (vv. 12-15)
The psalmist asks God to see (v. 14) the plight of the helpless, to arise (v. 12) and act (v. 15). God has a solid track record of interested in the condition of those who are being abused by the wicked (v. 14). He is omniscient, omniscient, ultimately good and just. He always calls sinners to account (Hebrew: darash), from the sin of Adam and Eve in the beginning (Gen 3), to the final judgment (Rev 10:12-14). The perfect peace of God’s creation in the beginning is called shalom, and it is this shalom that God restores through His judgments (Hebrew: mishpat). Powerful in deed, God brings the proud low, and exalts the humble (1 Pet 5:5-6).
Praise for a Just God (vv. 16-18)
Lastly, the psalmist praises God for who He is, the righteous King over all the nations (v. 16). He expresses confidence that God will strengthen the afflicted and do justice (v. 17-18). Lastly, he will call the wicked to account (v. 15) and remind him that he is “of the earth,” a mere temporal suspension of animated dust. God is not far off— he is with His people!
THE MAGNIFICAT (Luke 1:46-55)
A Dark Context
As we look at the Nativity story, we witness God seeing the plight of His people, arising and acting by taking on flesh and becoming Immanuel, “God With Us.” (Isa 7:14). But we can also hear the cry of “Why, O Lord, do you stand so far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” in the political and personal contexts that surround the story.
The Old Testament ends with Israel under Persian rule (mid 500-late 300 BC), which gives way to Alexander the Great (late 300’s), the Ptolemies (323-198), and the Seleucids (198 BC). After a brief period of self-rule, God’s chosen people find themselves under the hardships of Roman rule. They are subject to taxation and census (Lk 2:1-3) and were placed under the rule of Herod the Great, a king chosen by Rome. Herod was a murderer who not only killed the baby boys of Bethlehem in order to do away with Messiah (Mt 2:16-18), but also any members of his family that he suspected of political intrigue.
Consider also Mary’s personal context. Although she has just received the incredible news that she will be bearing God’s son from an angelic messenger (Lk 1:26-38), Joseph, her betrothed, does not know about it yet. When her pregnancy becomes public, she faces the threat of divorce (Mt 1:18-19) on suspicion of adultery. She has gone to visit Elizabeth, who miraculously is expecting a child of her own. Elizabeth’s friends rejoice with her (Lk 1:58), but Mary can expect to be scorned, mistrusted, and whispered about for years to come.
It is remarkable then, that as Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and praises God that she is being visited by the mother of the Messiah, Mary breaks out into a prophetic and hopeful song.
Mary Magnifies the Lord (vv. 46-50)
We should not be distracted by Mary, word “magnifies.” Her praise for God is not what makes Him great. Rather, just as a telescope makes the moon appear closer to its actual size, her right praise reveals God and reminds everyone of His greatness! Her praise follows God’s attitude and actions at the end of Psalm 10. He sees her (v. 48) and acts (v. 49) on her behalf, blessing a teenage girl in “humble estate” (v. 52). She praises God for His might (v. 49), His holiness (v. 49) and His mercy (v. 50).
When God is Immanuel, God restores Shalom (vv. 51-55)
Mary’s praise shifts from personal praise, to praise on behalf of God’s people. Salvation has not only come to her personally, but God’s nearness is shown to restore God’s shalom in Israel. Seven verbs here highlight God’s present activity as He takes on flesh (which are amazing declarations when you consider Jesus’ helpless physical state). In His Incarnation, Messiah has:
- Shown strength with His arm (v. 51). He is omnipotent, not powerless!
- Scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts (v. 51). The wicked think “There is no God” but Jesus is here to oppose the proud.
- Brought down the mighty from their thrones (v. 52). The wicked said he would not be moved but God is sovereign.
- Exalted those of humble estate (v. 52)
- Filled the hungry with good things (v. 53). The poor and lowly were pursued, trapped, and murdered, but God has restored what they lost.
- Sent the rich away empty (v. 53). The ways of the wicked seemed to prosper at all times, but God has judged them.
- Helped Israel (v. 54). The helpless who sunk down have been raised up!
God has seen that we are helpless to deal with our sin problem. We are also unable to repair and restore the damage that we have done to the world that God has made. God draws near to us in the person of Jesus, to set our lives right and to restore our broken world.
- In what ways do your actions demonstrate that you don’t really believe what you profess to believe about God? What is keeping you from walking out your faith?
- How does wickedness take shape in our culture? How do you see the powerful prey on the weak?
- When you look at the seven statements made about God in Luke 1:51-55, which of them is most encouraging to you?
- How does the Gospel empower us to work on behalf of those who are weak and powerless?