The commonest reading of this Psalm suggests the God of Israel will, from Jerusalem, judge the nations (ie not Israel, the others) and destroy all who threaten God’s people (ie Israel). There are, indeed, other texts in the Hebrew bible with this message which helps us to slide into such a reading. … I’m not convinced (and not every commentary is convinced either) that this is the distinction being made. Is not the Psalmist saying God will judge the warmongers and power brokers, breaking their stranglehold, in order that God may decide FOR the oppressed?
What might we learn from such theology? It seems to me this text is one of those timely reminders that we can all too easily divide people into believers/non-believers, Christians/those of other faiths when perhaps we are being challenged to see that God does not use those categories. God might not always decide for the believer, or the church-goer but can, and does, judge for the oppressed – who might be of another faith, or no faith at all.
This takes us into the realms of a preferential option for the poor, which is also seen through the Gospels as Jesus ministers to the most marginalised, actually defines his ministry in precisely those terms (Luke 4), and who tells us sheep and goats will be separated not on the basis of what they believe but on the basis of how they respond to those in deepest need.
When the texts are tough, O God, help us to hear you speaking. When the message is uncomfortable, O Lord, challenge us not to seek quick palliative treatments to make our reading easier. When our lives need to come under your spotlight, O God, we trust in your guiding and your everlasting mercy. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Rosalind Selby is Principal of Northern College and a member of Didsbury URC.