Theme: Praying for Victory
This week’s lessons show us that because God is faithful, we are to praise him and live in confident hope.
Scripture: Psalm 108:1-13
The final stanza is a prayer for victory over Edom, which is what has probably been on the psalmist’s mind from the first verse onward and is the occasion for this new composition. David had defeated Edom and made it a part of his kingdom years before this. The account of David’s conquest is in 2 Samuel 8:1-14 (a parallel account is in 1 Chronicles 18:1-13). The relevant part of this chapter says, “David became famous after he returned from striking down eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. He put garrisons throughout Edom, and all the Edomites became subject to David. The LORD gave David victory everywhere he went” (2 Sam. 8:13, 14). But now the Edomites had apparently regained power, and a new battle was pending. The psalmist asks, “Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom?”
It is a good question. There were a number of well-fortified cities in Edom, the source of the country’s strength and great pride. But when the psalm speaks of “the fortified city” it can only mean Petra, the legendary, inaccessible and apparently impregnable mountain stronghold of Edom. I had the privilege of visiting Petra many years ago. It is approached through a narrow cut in the limestone cliffs that winds inward for about two miles and is called a siq. The cliffs rise upward for thousands of feet on both sides, and in places the passage is so narrow that no more than two horses can pass abreast. A handful of brave men could defend this passage against an army. And even if the entrance to Petra could be breached, the defenders would retreat into the mountains surrounding the hidden inner valley and defend themselves from there. Only God could give victory over a fortress like that, and the writer knows it. So he cries to God, answering his own question, “Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies?”
The only one who could bring the king into Petra and give him victory is God. So the writer acknowledges this and asks God to do it. “Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless,” he prays (v. 12). Will God do it? Being assured by the oracle recorded in verses 7-9, the psalmist is sure he will: “With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies.”
But that is all past now. We want to speak about the present. How can we take this psalm from its ancient setting and carry its value forward into our own time and beyond? There are two ways to do this. We will look at one way in today’s study and take up the other tomorrow.
1. Strength for our conflicts. Since this is a psalm in which some ancient leader of Israel strengthened himself before battle, it is a psalm by which we can strengthen ourselves for our struggles, too. You and I are not kings. We do not have military battles to fight. We have never seen an Edomite. But Christians have spiritual battles. We are members of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our task is to advance his kingdom in this spiritually hostile world. The Apostle Paul spoke of this battle in Ephesians, explaining that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Compared to the conquest of these hostile spiritual forces, the victory over Edom and the overthrow of its mountain stronghold Petra was easy. How can we gain this greater victory? Not by ourselves, or even with the help of other Christians. In this battle “the help of man is [truly] worthless.” We need God to fight with us and on our behalf.
So we need to ask God for help, as the psalmist does. James says, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2), and Jesus, expressing the other side of James’ words, said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). One thing we can ask for is victory on behalf of the gospel.
Do you remember Nebuchadnezzar’s vision, the one that he could not remember but that troubled him so much? It was a vision of a great statue representing in sequence many of the great ancient kingdoms of this world: the kingdom of Babylon, that of the Medes and Persians, Greece and finally the great empire of Rome. At the conclusion of the vision a rock “not cut by human hands” struck the statue and destroyed it, and then grew up to become “a huge mountain” that “filled the whole earth” (Dan. 2:34, 35). That rock is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the mountain is his kingdom that is destined to triumph. If you are a Christian, you are a part of Christ’s kingdom and Christ’s kingdom is something for which you can labor and pray confidently.
Why is the psalmist confident God will answer his prayer?
What is one way we can apply this psalm to our circumstances?
Reflection: Meditate on James 4:2. What have you not asked of God?