Psalms - A Political Guide for God’s People
The book of Psalms is a prayer handbook, but it’s more than that.
It’s a songbook that has been used for 3,000 years to tune the hearts of his people to his will and plan. It’s a prophetic book that anticipates the life and accomplishments of the future son of David, Jesus Christ, as well as his final judgment of the world. Moreover, it is an authoritative theological book bearing truths about God cited over 90 times in the New Testament to validate the testimony of those who recorded it.
The book of Psalms is also a political book.
Now, it wouldn’t be correct to characterize the Psalms as politically “right”, “center”, or “left.” In Joshua 5, when Joshua met the angel bearing a sword and asked, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”, he asked this so he could identify the angel within his present political framework. But the angel replied, “No; rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.” The angel did not function or identify with a man-made political kingdom. He represented the kingdom of God.
In the same way, the Psalms teach us about the intersection of his kingdom with our politics. They also tell what God’s agenda will be when he comes to rule and, until then, how he wants us to perceive our temporary, earthly rulers.
Psalm Principle on Politics #1: Things Won’t Get Fixed Until Jesus Returns
Psalm 2 teaches the world’s armies will assemble a coalition to destroy God’s people, Israel.
“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and his Anointed One: ‘Let’s tear off their chains and throw their ropes off of us.’” (Psalm 2:1-3)
This Psalm reflects the situation faced by many of Israel’s kings, who were attacked by a confederation of neighboring countries. Israel’s kings were the object of international scorn because their nation was small, culturally unique, and monotheistic. Other nations such as Assyria and Babylon believed their pagan gods had empowered them to conquer Israel. In their mind, this was one inconsequential step in their quest toward world domination.
Now in the New Testament, Acts 4 applies Psalm 2 to Jesus Christ, Israel’s ultimate King. Whatever aggression God’s anointed kings experienced in Israel was just a foretaste of the aggression which will be planned against Israel in the future.
In the last days, the world will try to destroy Jerusalem. Zechariah explains, “On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples. All who lift it will surely hurt themselves. And all the nations of the earth will gather against it.” (12:3) This means that the nations of the world will regard Israel as a stubborn enemy that must be removed. But none will be able to, even if they all try to do it together.
Psalm 2:7-9 quotes what God the Father says to his Son regarding the outcome of this attack, “‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance and the ends of the earth your possession. You will break them with an iron scepter; you will shatter them like pottery.’”
This means that, not only will God’s Son destroy this global attack, he will obliterate these people and take their nation as his possession.
Political Reality Check #1: Sometimes we hear political groups promise a coming “Great Reset”, “Great Leap Forward”, or “New World Order” that will solve the major problems of society (look on the back of a $1 bill for this in Latin: Novus Ordo Seclorum, same idea) or bring us back to the good ol' days.
Don’t believe in these promises of national or world redemption. The greatest problem isn’t the political order; it is sin in the hearts of the leaders and the people. The injustice in the political order is a consequence of sin existing in everyone’s hearts. And sin will continue to flourish in this world until it culminates in an all-out attack on God’s people. Only Jesus can fix that.
Psalm Principle on Politics #2: Politicians Don’t Deserve Your Trust
Political candidates and government leaders often promise to reform our country, fight for justice, and make us prosperous. Sometimes, they even invoke the Bible to support these promises.
It’s their goal to make you believe in them. But the Bible prohibits us from doing that. God expressly forbids trusting in leaders and their plans for nations in Psalm 146, “Do not trust in nobles, in a son of man, who cannot save. When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die.” (Psalm 146:3-4) This passage warns that human leaders “cannot save” and that natural factors outside of their control, like death, stop them from accomplishing their agenda.
In the heat of a political race or the fanfare of an inauguration, Christians can be swept up in the emotion of the day and thinking "Now we're going to be on the right track." What is there in that? What's wrong with placing your trust in humans?
The context of the Psalm explains why, “Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them” (146:5-6). The only lasting happiness is to be trusting in the eternal Creator. Trusting in anyone less will lead to discouragement.
The Psalm continues into the greatest stump speech for God, “He remains faithful forever, executing justice for the exploited and giving food to the hungry. The Lord frees prisoners. The Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord raises up those who are oppressed. The Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects resident aliens and helps the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.”
First, notice that all these acts are what we commonly expect of our political leaders. Second, notice that these acts are credited to God alone. And third, notice the Psalmist describes God's acts in the present tense. This isn’t just promising that God will do them, but that he is achieving them now! It is God’s nature to do these things. He is the only one who has the power to do them. And we can rest in his promise that he will give help to the needy and punish the evil-doer.
Reality Check #2: Go easy on the hope; politicians are depraved sinners. Go easy on the frustration; it only happens when unrealistic political hopes are dashed.
As I sit here writing this, I still mourn over the abduction of Leah Sharibu. She is a Nigerian Christian who was abducted by Boko Haram at age 14 on February 19, 2018. While in captivity, Sharibu has never given in to the pressure to convert to Islam. Consequently, she is the only child from her village who is still being held hostage. Last year, she was forcibly converted to Islam and married to one of her captors. This year, she gave birth to a boy.
This is an awful reality that strains my understanding of God’s providence. Even though this injustice has not yet found a resolution, I know God will work out his perfect plan. I don’t have any trust that the Nigerian government will bring about justice. But I know I can trust God with this situation. I hope that when I enter into God’s presence one day, he will give me a clearer understanding of why he is allowing her captivity to persist. Hope in God is the one hope that never disappoints.
Psalm Principle on Politics #3: God’s Justice Means Death for Unbelievers
In the information age, one developing commonality on both sides of the political divide is this: justice can’t come swiftly enough. Everyone is certain of the problem, confident that the details will prove their case, and insistent about punishment needing to be meted out swiftly.
But God doesn't often grant our impatient requests for justice. Humans are instructed to wait for God 17 different times in the Psalms. Those who won’t wait for him are condemned in Psalm 106:13-14.
It may be that our impatience for justice is caused, in part, by our ignorance of the overwhelmingly destructive force of God’s justice. God’s justice is described very poignantly in Psalm 110 and Psalm 143:
“The Lord is at your right hand; he will crush kings on the day of his anger. He will judge the nations, heaping up corpses; he will crush leaders over the entire world.” (Psalm 110:5-6)
This passage teaches that one day when Jesus the Messiah returns, he will execute justice like we have never seen. He will slaughter an unimaginable number of people as he renders judgment on the nations for opposing him.
“Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one alive is righteous in your sight.” (Psalm 143:2)
This verse teaches that if God executed judgment on us, we would deserve death just like the rest of the world. It teaches us to desire to escape from the justice of God. We know that Jesus provided this escape when he died on the cross for sinners, to suffer God’s wrath in their place. When we ask God to forgive us through Jesus’ death, we call out to God the same way this Psalmist does.
Reality Check #3: God brings judgment on a slower timeline than we would prefer. His grace compels him to wait for the completion of his salvation plan. Take a moment to thank God for his patience in dealing with sin. Without God's patience, none of us would be saved.
Knowing God’s ultimate solution to the problem of sin should compel us to seek and preach about his grace. This is reflected in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance.” As much as we desire a just world to exist, we also want God to bring as many as he wishes to be saved by his grace until the day when Jesus returns. That takes time. We must wait patiently in the meantime.