Help for the Helpless

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Psalm 10 – 'Help For The Helpless'

Have you ever experienced injustice? I experienced injustice at primary school, the one time I really got in trouble and was sent to the headmaster. It was a beautiful sunny day a bit like this one (?) me and my best friend were on a bank on the playing field when my friend broke a cardinal playground rule by rolling down the bank's freshly mown grass. The dinner lady came storming across to give my friend a mouthful but I protested; "It wasn't his fault someone pushed him", (Matthew Bradley I've only just forgiven you). This didn't go down well and we were both sent to the headmaster. It still bothers me a bit now; injustice is painful, particularly when we see an innocent party injured by it.

If we look at our banking system we can see a lack of justice there too. On Wednesday at Summer series we heard through the Christian Institute several case of injustice which Christians were victims of. In this Psalm David observes great injustice; he see the innocent murdered and the wicked boasting becoming more and more prosperous. David wrestles with the question; 'Where is God in all this?' As we watch David deal with that question I hope we will see how we can have practically useful hope in dealing with injustice.

We'll look at David's psalm in two halves v1-11 and then v12-18 and they'll form our two points;

1. Lamenting Sin

2. The Helper of the Helpless

1. Lamenting Sin (v1-11)

First v1-11 which I've called; 'Lamenting Sin'. If you're not there already turn up p387 and cast your eye over v2-11, look at the way the verses start; 'In his arrogance', 'He boasts', 'In his pride', 'He lies in wait', 'His victims'. This is David describing a wicked man, probably a generation of wicked men. It's a description of the evil they commit for example in v8;

8 He lies in wait near the villages;

from ambush he murders the innocent,

watching in secret for his victims.

This section also describes the attitude of those who commit such evil v2;

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,

David spends a considerable amount of time lamenting here over the pain that the sin of wicked men causes to innocent victims. I think that this is significant, David spends this first half-and-a-bit of the psalm dwelling on both the pain and suffering inflicted on the innocent and on the sin that caused it. Clearly he isn't indifferent to suffering even though in this psalm it isn't clear that David himself is suffering directly.

So David is moved by the suffering and injustice he sees around him and this is reflected in both the tone of the psalm and the amount of column inches as it were that it he dwelling on it. All well and good you might say, this series is called 'Songs From The Heart' David's heart has been moved by suffering. We can relate to that can't we? David's empathy is certainly admirable and it causes us to question our own response to suffering and injustice; are we apathetic or unmoved? But I think there is more here and it starts with the verse I didn't ask you to look at v1;

1 [a]Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

At first glance this just looks like an exasperated cry for help but I think this verse makes more sense seen as an earnest desire to be near God and away from sin rather than as a complaint against God. In fact verse 1 can help us to understand the rest of this section, there's something rather unusual about it did you notice? As well as dwelling on the suffering of the innocent David spends considerable time inside the mind of the wicked man, examining his thought life. Why does he do that let's read v2-6 again;

2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,

who are caught in the schemes he devises.

3 He boasts of the cravings of his heart;

he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.

4 In his pride the wicked does not seek him;

in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

5 His ways are always prosperous;

he is haughty and your laws are far from him;

he sneers at all his enemies.

6 He says to himself, "Nothing will shake me;

I'll always be happy and never have trouble."

And he goes there again in v11;

11 He says to himself, "God has forgotten;

he covers his face and never sees."

David is concerned with the wicked man's false view of God; v3 'he reviles the LORD', v4 'in all his thoughts there is no room for God', v5 'your laws are far from him' and most blatantly in v11; "God has forgotten;  he covers his face and never sees."

David has a correct 'vertical' understanding of sin; before dwelling on the suffering of the innocent in v7-10 he is quick to condemn the wicked man for his sin against God, this is essentially what he spends v2-6 doing. David learns that sin is first vertical (against God) painfully through his affair with Bathsheba which leads him to say in Psalm 51 v4;

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight,

Certainly David sinned grievously against both Bathsheeba and her murdered husband; Uriah but he comes to understand that all sin is primarily sin against God. In this psalm David seems to understand this before his heart melts at the suffering of the innocent it burns with passion for the name of the LORD. David is incensed that the wicked man can live with no regard for God, no room in his thoughts for him and can even as if God is not a reality.

So whilst this psalm is an impassioned plea, a true song from the heart it is not without theological structure. David goes to God immediately in v1 and that characterises the rest of the psalm, it is centred on sin's relation to God primarily rather than on the way that it relates to David or even those suffering around him.

Why is this important? For two reasons;

1. It helps us understand the depth of sin

2. It reminds us that God is the one who must deal with sin

It helps us understand the depth of sin

A God-focussed understanding of sin uncovers the true wretchedness of the sin. Take for example v8;

8 He lies in wait near the villages;

from ambush he murders the innocent,

watching in secret for his victims.

No-one is going to argue that this isn't terrible sin – its murder, the cowardly murder of the innocent. The wicked man has sinned greatly against his victim, his family and society but at a deeper level he has sinned against God;

- He has murdered a person who God has created, a bearer of his image, insulting his maker (Proverbs 17.5).

- The murder too is one who has been created by God; he has distorted and abused God's design for him.

- He has called God's character into question by disobeying his commands and then expecting to escape punishment. We see this clearly in v11 where the wicked man says 'God has forgotten'.

The wretchedness of sin is revealed when we hold it up against the purity and holiness of God. When the light of God's kindness and goodness shines on it, it becomes a deeper shade of black. This is the motive for David's song from the heart not just the suffering of the innocent (though that is not insignificant) but the way that obscures God's glory and throws doubt on his character. The infinitely beautiful, worthy God is not given his due – this is the greatest injustice.

It reminds us that God is the one who must deal with sin

In v11 the wicked man arrogantly questions God's ability to intervene;

11 He says to himself, "God has forgotten;

he covers his face and never sees."

In fact this is characteristic of the wicked man's attitude right from the beginning of David's description of him in v2;

2 In his arrogance (or pride) the wicked man hunts down the weak,

It is the wicked man's pride, his unwillingness to accept God's rule that leads to him hunting down the weak, blessing the greedy and murdering the innocent. The root problem is his sin against God. Complete justice can only come through God dealing with that sin either through judgement or in forgiveness in Christ.

So David laments sin, he is cut to the heart as he dwells on the suffering around him. But he first realises that sin is primarily against God so it is to him that he goes to, to ask for deliverance and justice. What will be the result let's move on to v12-18 to find out in our second point; 'The Helper of the Helpless'.

2. The Helper of the Helpless (v12-18)

The second half of the psalm begins with this request in v12, 13 for God to take action, to remember the situation of the helpless and bring the wicked to justice;

12 Arise, LORD! Lift up your hand, O God.

Do not forget the helpless.

13 Why does the wicked man revile God?

Why does he say to himself,

"He won't call me to account"?

The next four verses v14-18 are really like David preaching to himself the answer to his own question. We don't observe the physical situation directly changing in these verses but rather we see David re-fixing his eyes on the hope that the we can have in God. There are two truths that David fixes his eyes on;

1. God is near to the helpless

2. God will bring justice

God is near to the helpless

In v1 David cries to God; 'Why, OLORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?' in v14 David reminds himself that God is not passive or removed but close, v14;

14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief;

you consider it to take it in hand.

God does see the suffering and sin which David has observed in the first half of the sin, he is not ignorant of it or apathetic towards it, or it's victim but rather he 'considers it to take it in hand', it is on God's mind with a view to taking action, truly he hears their cries, v17;

17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted

What action does God take v14;

14 But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless.

And in v17;

17 You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted;

you encourage them(prepare their hearts), and you listen to their cry,

Here is the promise of God's closeness, of his willingness to hear the cries of the afflicted and comfort them. The victim commits himself to God, turns to him as helper, v17 says that God hears and encourages them literally it says he 'prepares their hearts'.

It's worth taking a minute to consider David's hope that God would hear the helpless and encourage their hearts. It is easy for us to empathise with David's call for justice to be done, for the wicked to be punished like in v15 when he asks God to 'break the arm of the wicked and evil man' but David hear that the helpless, the innocent victim can find comfort in God hearing their plea and God responding by working in their hearts to encourage them. Is that something to hope for, to pray for that God would change our hearts when faced with suffering or injustice, to give us comfort but also to use the opportunity to mould us to be more like Jesus? Many of us if were honest would simply prefer vengeance.

God does not stand far off, he hears the cry of the afflicted and encourages them by working in their hearts. God is near to the helpless.

God will bring justice

We saw earlier how David thinks of sin first as an offense against God and we were reminded that it is God who must deal with sin because it is against him. We pick up this theme again in v13 where David asks burning with indignation;

13 Why does the wicked man revile God?

Why does he say to himself,

"He won't call me to account"?

He calls for God to bring justice in v15;

15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil man;

call him to account for his wickedness

that would not be found out.

Reminding himself in v16 and 18 that God will be judge and king;

16 The LORD is King for ever and ever;

the nations will perish from his land

v18;

8 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,

in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

These verses are similar to those at the end of Psalm 9 which Matt spoke on last week. David reminds himself both of God's kingship on one hand and man's mortality on the other. The LORD is King for ever and ever whereas man is of (literally from) the earth. David is applying the bigger and deeper eternal reality to the situation he sees around him. David sees oppression, the innocent murdered while the wicked appear to get away with it. But the LORD is king for ever and ever he will drive out the evil doer, he will one day bring total justice. On that day the wicked man will terrify no more and the innocent in Christ will be free from pain and suffering forever free to enjoy the presence of God and all his beauty.

Summary

So what can we learn from this song from the heart?

-          We can learn to grieve over sin and the suffering it creates.

-          We learn that the horror of sin is first in its prideful ignorance of a good God.

And we gain two truths to help us deal with suffering and injustice;

-          We can be sure that God is not far off but close, that He listens to the cry of the afflicted and encourages them.

-          We are also reminded that the LORD is king forever and that one day when Jesus returns justice will be done and suffering finally defeated.

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