A Psalm of War (Lenten Midweek IV)

Here is video of our midweek Vespers. The sermon begins at about the 4:35 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 95 seems like a nice, calming psalm of praise. We sing it regularly in the order of Matins, our morning prayer. Songs of praise and thanksgiving in the presence of God, and He’s got the whole world in His hands. A great way to start off the morning.

And it is. We call this psalm assigned for the morning the Venite, which is Latin for the first word of the psalm, “come.” Though we’re not able to come together tonight in the normal place where we gather to hear God’s Word and receive His gifts, we are still able to come and sing to Yahweh, our God, whether it’s in the morning or evening.

But it’s more than just a psalm for the morning; it’s a psalm of war. What kind of noise is a “joyful noise”? The Greek translation of the Old Testament, that we call the Septuagint, interprets that with the word that can mean a battle cry. In Mark 5, it’s the word for the loud wailing of the mourners at the bed-side of Jairus’ daughter. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul uses it in a negative sense, when he says that without love, we are just “crashing” cymbals. But it’s also used in Joshua 6, when the people shout because God had given them the city of Jericho, just before the walls came crashing down.

Obviously, all the psalms are colored by their use and the circumstances in which they’re prayed. But I’d like to consider for a moment this evening what it might mean to get up in the morning with Psalm 95 as a cry of war.

We tend to think of salvation in terms of forgiveness and heaven, but here Yahweh is seen as a savior of His people in the midst of all the idols and gods of the nations, and their warfare against His people as those idols vie for our attention and trust. He is the God who fought for His people against the Egyptian army—not alongside His people, but in their place. He made the water, and gathered it together, and called it a sea, and so it belongs to Him (Genesis 1:10). The people of Israel go right into the midst of the sea without danger, but that same sea is a danger to those who do not belong to the God who made it and all things. And what did the people of Israel do to defeat Jericho? Nothing but march around, blow trumpets, and yell. God does it all. He is the great God, Yahweh. He is the great King above and over all so-called gods. The God who made both the heights of the mountains and the depths of the earth causes the earth to shake.

Because of all this, we come and kneel down and worship before Him. This is what both the subjects of a king and the enemies of the conquering king do. On the day of His great victory, every knee will bow before Him. We do so willingly now, because He has fought for and rescued us from a helpless and hopeless situation—a sure defeat for us, if we were to fight on our own. How would Israel rescue themselves, caught between a rock and a hard place, between the Sea and the might of Egypt? They can neither fight nor flee. And how would you rescue yourself, caught between death and death? You can pretend to fight death for a little while; you can do what the experts say is good for your health; but in the end, one way or another, death is just over the horizon. Can you flee from death? Not forever. Maybe it won’t be a virus, or the flu, or pneumonia, but until the Lord chooses to return, it will be something. For us, defeat in death is certain.

But here comes the Lord of lords and God of gods, Yahweh Himself, to fight for and rescue His people, who are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. Jesus says that He is the door for His sheep, who will come in through Him and be saved; who will come in and go out and find pasture (John 10:9). And as long as He stands as the gate into the Presence of His Father, He protects His sheep from the thief, who comes to steal and kill and destroy. Here comes Yahweh, the man of war, who throws the horse and rider into the sea, and triumphs gloriously. He has led in steadfast love the people whom He redeemed; He has guided them by His strength to the holy dwelling place of His presence.

Hear His voice! Do not harden your hearts, as Israel did at Massah and Meribah, when they tested Yahweh and rebelled against Moses. The God who saved them through His sea also fed them with food from heaven and water from the rock. They had seen His works and they still looked for proof that He was their savior. Hear His voice! He is the one who fights for you. But He fights for you in the way that a shepherd dying for His sheep fights. The victory is hidden and the weapons are not of human design. The victory looks like defeat and the weapons of warfare look weak and harmless. Crosses and suffering are not very victorious, but when it is the Son of God in flesh suffering and dying, then that death is the power of God for salvation. And that victory, which we have by faith in the resurrection of Jesus, will soon be revealed before every eye. Yahweh is the great God, the great King above all gods. Lift up your heads; your salvation draws near, near, every moment.

Hear His voice! In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you. Behold, now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Today, you hear His saving voice. The who has made everything is the one who has redeemed His creation in blood and defeat and death. The one whom Revelation pictures as sitting on a white horse, whose name is Faithful and True, who judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns, who has a Name written that only He knows. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and He is called the Word of God. The armies of heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and pure, follow Him. From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and He rules by a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. And He has another name written on His robe and thigh: King of kings and Lord of lords. The armies who gather to oppose Him, who were so arrogant and proud before, do not even fight, but are defeated in an instant on that Day, when He will put all wrongs right. The war was won on a Roman cross, and so there is no battle on that day. Fighting is over, sin is finished, and death will die.

This victorious one is the one in whose Name we begin the day, with the sign of His victory made over our dying bodies. This is the one who is King and God and Shepherd and Lord. This is the one before whom we bow and to whom we bring our songs of rejoicing. This is the one whose victory has made our battle cry worth making at all. We go forth into the day, knowing that our victory is won. If we live until we see Him, we live forever. If we die before that Day, we know that we already died on the day when we were washed in the baptism of His death. When the victory is assured, what is death? Though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). It is the divine power that has already destroyed the fortress of death, in which we were held.

God shall arise, His enemies shall be scattered; and those who hate him shall flee before Him. But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Sing to God, sing praises to His Name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts; His Name is Yahweh; exult before Him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in His holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; He leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land. O God, when You went out before Your people, when You marched through the wilderness, the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain, before God, the God of Israel. … The Lord gives the word; the women who announce the news are a great host: ‘The kings of the armies—they flee, they flee!’ The women at home divide the spoil… Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to Yahweh the Lord, belong escape from death (Psalm 68:1-8, 11-12, 19-20).

Oh come, let us sing to Yahweh; let us a make a joyful noise of war to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make the joyful noise of war to Him in our psalms! Let us rise from sleep each day and lie down each night knowing that our victory is already won. No one can take it from Him, so no one can take it from us.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/18/20

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