Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
It can be difficult for us to connect with particular psalms sometimes. We talked about this last week. In any given moment we may be too down to resonate immediately with a joyful psalm of praise, or too cheerful to want to linger in a psalm of lament.
Then there are times when the words before us are all too fitting. Even the most basic awareness of the news on any given day can help orient us to Psalm 10:
For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the Lord…
as for their foes, they scoff at them.
They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved;
throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity. (Psalm 10:3, 5-7)
Tell us something we don’t know, right?
And it gets better - “In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor – let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.” (Psalm 10:2) Yes! “They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it. Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed.” (Psalm 10:11-12) Amen! “Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account?’ … But you do see!” (Psalm 10:13-14) Preach!
I personally can’t help thinking about our president when I hear words like that. All that talk of arrogance and boasting, deceit and pride. Scoffing at foes, watching for ways to take advantage of the helpless, and all the while insisting he’s above reproach. Even one-time supporters are becoming seriously concerned about his behavior.
At the same time, we know he’s not alone. Regrettably, every city, every nation, every generation has its share of arrogance and greed, pride and deceit. If we’re honest, there are times we even see some of these vices in ourselves. Meanwhile, not only do the righteous suffer, but the wicked seem to get away with murder. The poor are taken advantage of seemingly everywhere. “Why, O Lord, do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10:1)
We talked last week about the raw honesty of the psalms, and it’s possible a few verses in today’s text made you squirm a little. For instance, “O God, lift up your hand… Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers.” (Psalm 10:12, 15) Maybe we wouldn’t mind too much if they got what they deserved, we might catch ourselves thinking. At the same time, this doesn’t sound much like Jesus’ teaching about loving our enemies.
But if you flip through the book of Psalms, you’ll actually find this dynamic quite often: the speaker urging God to avenge him against his enemies. And the language in Psalm 10 is pretty tame in comparison to some of the others. A broken arm? The enemies of Psalms 69, 109, and 137 should be so lucky. There are at least 18 other psalms where God is asked to inflict painful judgment too.
Eugene Peterson reminds us, in this context, that the psalms are poems, and “far from being cosmetic language,” poetry “is intestinal. It is root language…Knowing this, we will not be looking here primarily for ideas about God, or for direction in moral conduct. We will expect, rather, to find the experience of being human before God exposed and sharpened.”
I’ve talked on other occasions about the importance of remembering what kind of material we’re reading as we approach different parts of the Bible. This is absolutely essential when we read through the Psalms. Other parts of Scripture offer guidelines for behavior or charge us to go and do likewise. Not so with Psalms. The psalmists don’t worry about saying what polite people are supposed to say. They’re not interested in offering careful lessons on ethics and morality. They just say what they feel. That’s the nature of lament.
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1) “They sit in ambush… they lurk in secret … in hiding places they murder the innocent.” (Psalm 10:8-9)
I wonder if this is how our black brothers and sisters are feeling as they protest the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and so many others, particularly given how shamefully long it’s taken the rest of us to pay sufficient attention to brutality and specifically police brutality against African Americans. However we may feel about those who’ve been co-opting peaceful protests for more destructive ends, surely it’s not difficult to imagine incorporating into Psalm 10 phrases like: Don’t shoot. Black lives matter. I can’t breathe. Right along with the psalmist’s own words: “Rise up, O Lord… do not forget the oppressed.” (Psalm 10:12)
When Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin casually extinguished the life of a fellow human being, hands in his pockets, knee on his neck, did he “think in [his] heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it?” (Psalm 10:11) “But you do see!” (Psalm 10:14) There in those awful 9 minutes when George Floyd called out for his mama, you, O Lord, his divine mama bear, did see. It sickens us that such a thing could happen. We are horrified, too, to know it wasn’t an isolated incident. Far from it. But again and again, O God, you do see. Every instance of racial violence, with or without any cameras running. Every lynching, every act of terror, every abuse of power. Every act of sexual violence, too, no matter that the perpetrators think they can get away with it. And for that matter every heartless decision in the halls of power to exploit the poor. “They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might. They think in their heart, ‘God has forgotten; he has hidden his face, he will never see it… But you do see!” (Psalm 10:10-11, 14) You see, O Lord, and you care.
God sees and God cares because God is a mama bear whose love for her children is fierce and protective.
God sees and God cares because God is a God of justice.
God sees and God cares because God knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of injustice too. Remember that Jesus himself was unjustly condemned, beaten, left hanging until he couldn’t breathe. With a nod to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel, God knows what it’s like to be lynched.
“Rise up, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand … do justice for the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” (Psalm 10:12, 18) Amen.
 See, for instance, Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 57, 58, 59, 79, 83, 94, 139, 143.
 Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer, pp. 11-12.