Like most of us, today I’ll gather around a large table with family and friends to enjoy an afternoon filling my stomach to its capacity. Half of my first plate will have turkey and mashed potatoes covered in gravy. The rest of my plate will have some cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and one or two buttered rolls. After the meal settles, I’ll fill a second plate for dessert. Half of this plate will have pumpkin pie covered in whipped cream, while the rest of it will contain an assortment of additional desserts. Thanksgiving is a day for feasting! I may have to work extra hard over the next few weeks to lose the pounds I will gain, but I never regret enjoying the food and fellowship to the fullest every year.
While seated around the same large table, and before we all drift off into food comas, many of us will share something we are thankful for in 2023. We can always expect to hear someone mention how much they love their family or their children. Others will mention gratitude for their health or a new job. However, one thing I’ve never heard anyone say is how grateful they are for God’s righteous judgment. That might sound a bit awkward at the Thanksgiving dinner table, but it is exactly what David is thankful for in Psalm 9.
This psalm (and song) of thanksgiving is a prayer of confidence in God’s past and future deliverance from our enemies. David primarily praises God for his righteous judgment. This year — with David as our guide — let us joyfully recount the wonderful past, present, and future deeds of our righteous King.
Wholehearted Thanksgiving (Psalm 9)
The Trinity Psalter Hymnal includes a partial version of this psalm covering verses 1-2 and 9-14 (#9B – Wholehearted Thanksgiving). The psalm is set to a familiar tune (To God Be the Glory), which includes the fitting refrain written by Fanny Crosby,
“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, let the people rejoice! O come to Jehovah declare ye His fame, and give Him all honor, for just is His Name!”
“Whole hearted thanksgiving to Thee will I bring, in praise of Thy marvelous deeds I will sing; in Thee I will joy and exultingly cry, Thy name I will praise, O Jehovah Most High.”
David acknowledges Whom he is praising, as well as how he is offering his praise. He thanks God with his whole heart (v.1). He is not double-hearted or half-hearted. The content of his praise involves recounting all God’s wonderful deeds (v.2). David actively recalls the ways God has been gracious to His covenant people. Maybe he’s thinking of God’s miraculous protection of Israel in Egypt, or His preservation of them in the wilderness. David might have recalled any number of events or episodes in Israel’s history, and then he joyfully declared those deeds back to God in heartfelt worship.
While verses 3-8 are not included in the selection, a few summarizing comments are essential for understanding the psalm. At this point God takes the character of a righteous judge (vv.3-4). When David’s enemies retreated, instead of finding relief, they ran into the Lord’s righteous judgment. He’s actually imagining a future judgment as if it already occurred. David employs “prophetic perfects” (common in the prophets) to describe future events in past tense. Specifically, David imagines the future and final judgment of the nations as if it has already taken place (vv. 5-7):
- “You have rebuked the nations.”
- “You have made the wicked perish.”
- “You have blotted out their name forever and ever.”
- “The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins;”
- “Their cities you have rooted out;”
- “The very memory of them has perished.”
- “…He has established His throne for justice.”
While the eighth verse of the psalm does not include a verb in the perfect tense, it is arguably the central theme of the psalm. God is praised for judging the world with righteousness and the peoples with uprightness.
“Thou, Lord, art a refuge for all the oppressed; all trust Thee who know Thee, and trusting are blest; for never, O Lord, did Thy mercy forsake the soul that has sought of Thy grace to partake.”
The Lord provides safety as a mighty fortress (cf. Psalm 46) for those who are troubled and oppressed (v.9). God assists His people in their affliction. He does not forsake those who know His Name and put their trust in Him (v.10). The Lord vindicates His own. Regardless of how low our circumstances have brought us, this Thanksgiving we can look up to see God seated on His throne.
“Give praise to Jehovah, the mighty deeds tell of Him who has chosen in Zion to dwell, of Him to whom justice and vengeance belong, who visits the lowly and overthrows wrong.”
David again praises God and encourages us to proclaim “His deeds” among the peoples (v.11). Sing praise to the Lord who reigns and tell the nations about all the Lord has done. When we sing praise to God, we ought to sing them in such a way that the world hears and knows who we credit for our victory. The Lord keeps the afflicted in mind (v.12). He hears their cries and does not forget them.
“Behold my affliction, Thy mercy accord, and back from death’s portals restore me, O Lord, that I in the gates of Thy Zion may raise my song of salvation and show forth Thy praise.”
If you find yourself in the midst of a present affliction, you should follow David’s pattern of raising a plea for mercy (vv.13-14). David cries out for the Lord to see his affliction and lift him up out of the gates of death. This is his first acknowledgment of personal distress in this psalm. He is clearly in a state of great fear. His affliction has brought him to the brink of death on a number of occasions.
While it is oftentimes helpful to place a psalm within its original context, that is not possible here. We simply do not know which experience David has in mind. This indefiniteness allows us to make a universal application. We do not have to know precisely what was causing David’s fear in order for us to understand it. Confident of his deliverance, David declares God’s praises and rejoices in God’s salvation. In other words, his present affliction did not keep him from present worship.
This psalm is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ. We have been redeemed by the shedding of His blood on the cross (vv.1-2). Jesus swallowed up death in the victory of His resurrection (v.6). He is enthroned in the midst of His church (v.11), continuing to save us from the affliction of indwelling sin (v.13). By uniting us to Himself, Jesus puts sin to death, and He makes us partakers of His righteousness. When we joyfully recount the wonderful past, present, and future deeds of our righteous King, we are retelling the testimony of God’s grace shown to us through His Son!
David not only praised God for past and present deliverances in his own life, but he also gave thanks to God for his future deliverance at the final judgment. Praising God for His salvation necessitates the destruction of everything that threatens our peace with Him. Mercy and justice are not competing truths, for they support one another.
What enemies has God destroyed in order to rescue you? As you recount God’s wonderful deeds, consider the idols of your heart that He has already removed. Also, praise Him for the destruction of every last competing idol that has already been destroyed in the final judgment! This is not a grammatical trick. Christ has promised that every single sinful temptation will be destroyed on the last day, and we can praise Him as if that destruction has already taken place!