Theme: Cast off by God
In this week’s lessons we see that even in times of blessing, when we feel closest to the Lord, there are nevertheless areas of our lives that will cause us trouble and need correcting.
Scripture: Psalm 60:1-12
We do not know specifics of the defeat that came to Israel at this time, but the opening verses of Psalm 60 portray it as a great disaster. It was so great that two powerful images are used to describe what it was like.
First, an earthquake (v. 2). We are aware of how damaging and terrifying earthquakes can be because we have received accounts of many of them: the recent earthquake in Southern California, the earthquake that killed many people in Cairo, earthquakes in Central America, Turkey and the former Soviet Union, to mention just a few. In these earthquakes tremendous damage was done and many lost their lives. It is easy to see how such a strong image might apply to a military defeat in which city walls have been broken down and some of the defenders killed. David says, “You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking” (v. 2).
The second image describes the effect of the battle and defeat on the people. It is the image of drunkenness: “You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger” (v. 3). This is a frequent Old Testament image for God’s outpoured wrath, being found not only in the psalms but in the prophets too. For example, the image occurs in Psalm 75:8: “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.” This image is also in Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 13:13; 25:15, 16; 49:12, and other passages. Isaiah 51:17, a typical passage, says, “Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem, you who have drunk from the hand of the LORD the cup of his wrath, you who have drained to its dregs the goblet that makes men stagger.” We might say that the attack by the Edomites left the people reeling from the blow.
Yet the worst thing about this defeat, as David describes it, is that it was because the Lord was angry with the people and had rejected them (v. 1). This does not seem to refer to everyone. For example, there is no reason to think that God was angry with David, at least at this period of his life. Nor was he even angry with all the people in the defeated territories. In fact, the fourth verse makes a distinction, saying, “But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to the unfurled against the bow.” These people were obedient and godly. Still, there were some who had displeased God, and David takes their acts and God’s consequent displeasure seriously. Because of their sin many were defeated, just as the entire armies of Israel were defeated at Ai because of Achan’s disobedience at Jericho (cf. Josh. 7).
Charles Spurgeon has an interesting comment at this point. He says, “To be cast off by God is the worst calamity that can befall a man or a people; but the worst form of it is when the person is not aware of it and is indifferent to it.”1 David was aware of it, however, and he wrote this psalm to show that he was not indifferent.
Let’s apply this to the church. Isn’t it true that the church fails to achieve great victories because of the sin of some? Churches are sometimes torn open because of a few factious members. Denominations fail to achieve their potential because some bring disgrace on the gospel or others deny or even attack it. What shall we do when we see that happening? We need to make sure we are not the cause of the trouble, first of all. But then we need to do something else too. We need to rally around the banner God has given us, and that banner is the gospel. Those who fear the Lord will do that (v. 4). Their actions will show that they fear him, and he will provide for them and defend them. It is significant that a selah occurs at this point in the psalm. It probably means “stop and consider, pay attention to that.”
1C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 27.
Why is an earthquake a good image for military defeat?
What does drunkenness represent?
What two things do we need to do when we see victories being hampered by sin?
What does selah mean, and why is its placement at this point significant in our psalm?
Reflection: When have you seen the church fail to achieve great victory because of the sin of some of its members?
Application: How will you apply Dr. Boice’s lesson to the situations you’ve been reflecting on?