The Foam of His Gasping - Psalm 76 Sermon, June Prayer Service
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday June 6th 2018: Season of Pentecost / Psalm 76 "The Foam of His Gasping"
In Judah God is known;
His name is great in Israel.
His abode has been established in Salem,
His dwelling place in Zion.
There He broke the flashing arrows,
the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war.
Glorious are You, more majestic
than the mountains full of prey.
The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil;
they sank into sleep;
all the men of war
were unable to use their hands.
At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob,
both rider and horse lay stunned.
But You, You are to be feared!
Who can stand before You
when once Your anger is roused?
From the heavens You uttered judgment;
the earth feared and was still,
when God arose to establish judgment,
to save all the humble of the earth.
Surely the wrath of man shall praise You;
the remnant of wrath You will put on like a belt.
Make your vows to the LORD your God and perform them;
let all around Him bring gifts
to Him who is to be feared,
who cuts off the spirit of princes,
who is to be feared by the kings of the earth.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Three months ago we heard Asaph in Psalm 74 ask, “O God, why do You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, which You have redeemed to be the tribe of Your heritage! Remember Mount Zion, where You have dwelt.” And then Asaph ends that Psalm praying, “Arise, O God, defend Your cause; remember how the foolish scoff at You all the day! Do not forget the clamor of Your foes, the uproar of those who rise against You, which goes up continually!” Our Psalm tonight Psalm 76, like last month’s Psalm 75 gives answer to what Asaph asks; what he writes as a prayer for the people.
Living as a child of God Almighty there is always a mysterious kind of tension at work. If you’re busy and things are going well you don’t put much thought into it but when thing go horribly wrong, when you are in danger, or real trouble you suddenly want God to act and act quickly and decisively. You want Him to be swift and terrible towards those opposed to Him, to the ones in opposition against you as an heir of His kingdom. Yet when it is a trouble of your own making, a sin that you have committed against God, well then that’s different, you then desire God to be patient, enduring, and tolerant toward you.
Last Sunday we had confirmation of Baptism for nine of our young folks and they received a single confirmation verse. One verse for all of them together, a verse they all worked on memorizing through the year, one that teaches the nature of God. This God who is more majestic than the mountains full of prey to hunt, who indeed breaks the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war is also the LORD who “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” That was their verse, “the LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,” and if you read the next verse in Psalm 145 it says, “The LORD is good to all, and His mercy is over all that He has made,” including your enemies, including the ones Asaph pleads about in Psalm 74 and talks again about in Psalm 75, and now here in Psalm 76 talks of again: the wicked men, men of violence, men of contempt and unbelief, the complacent men satisfied in their wealth with no care for their neighbour, the greedy men of war looking to eat up what God had promised of old to the Children of Israel, even all of these are men who God has made, even all of these are men who the LORD is merciful to. What does St. Peter in the New Testament say, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” “Any,” “Any” is a big word, it includes even your enemies, even those who are hard pressed against you. And there’s that tension, ‘dear God how long! Act now! Be swift; vanquish Your enemies, put to flight and destroy those who hate me and hate You, dear God!” But then God waits and doesn’t strike immediately He shows patience to them in the same kind of way that He shows patient towards you. But will you be glad about that love and mercy or will you fall into the trap, the temptation of impatience and bitterness, the snare set for you by the devil and your old Adam? Will you fall into disbelief thinking that God’s failure to act is proof that He doesn’t exist?
As we wait for the LORD to take decisive action Asaph in Psalm 76 reminds us why we need to strive towards the same sort of patience and mercy of the LORD in our trouble when he reminds us about the fact that God has His limits; that He will indeed act, that however slow He may seem to be to you He will not go on forever, when Asaph says, “But You [O LORD,] You are to be feared!” And why: Asaph says because, “Who can stand before You when once Your anger is roused?” The answer is no one. Asaph in verse 6 of this Psalm says “At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned.” The mighty war horse and its rider, a whole army is but nothing to the LORD, all of humanity from Adam to today to The Last Day could not band together to defeat God, once His anger is roused no one can subdue God, none can contest with Him and prevail, they, like Jacob, can only do so if God is gracious and merciful toward them like a father who lets his small son win at wrestling out of love. The British poet Lord Byron gave a striking interpretation of this verse from Psalm 76 about the horse and its rider who lay rebuked by the LORD, the poet Byron put it like this,
“and there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
but through it there rolled no breath of his pride,
and the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
and cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
with the dew on his brow and the rust on his mail.”
Dead, the rider cannot wipe the morning dew from his brow, the horse cannot get up from where it has fallen, the armor of the rider rusts and there is no amount of pride or honour or willpower that will make them rise up from where they lay rebuked by the LORD.
This is why we say in our time of confession and absolution in Divine Service 4, “If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” Today Asaph is prophetically talking about prideful men who would attack the Children of Israel and their inheritance, the inheritance promised by God with no trepidation. They did not believe in the God of Jacob and believing Him to be nothing but a fable, a made up god, they advanced on Jerusalem with no fear that He would act. This Psalm is connected to the attack of Sennacherib king of Assyria and his army in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah when he came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and took them, he took every last one of them, nothing seemed to stop him, he had no way of thing that anything would stop him, but when Sennacherib was about to come up against Jerusalem, the city of David also known by the names Salem and Zion the promised dwelling place of God Sennacherib’s army was defeated. King Hezekiah came to God in prayer saying, “O LORD, the God of Israel, enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and hear the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to mock the living God. Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste the nations and their lands and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods, but the work of men's hands, wood and stone. Therefore they were destroyed. So now, O LORD our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You, O LORD, are God alone.”
And what does our Psalm tonight say? Psalm 76 says, “From the heavens You uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth.” King Hezekiah in Jerusalem didn’t trust in his army, he didn’t trust in the power of his war horses, in humility he turned to God in prayer and the Almighty responded saying, “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.”
And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh.” But Sennacherib was not long for this world, he had not escaped, he didn’t recognize the Hand of God in this defeat, he was given some time to see it but he didn’t see it, he didn’t come to repentance, he instead continued to worship his own god Nisroch and has he worshipped this false god two of his sons, “struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat,” his false god didn’t raise a finger to save Sennacherib and in the end his son Esarhaddon “reigned in his place.”
All the Psalms are about Christ Jesus, what then can we think when we look at this prayer of Asaph’s, this prayer that deals with the destruction of Sennacherib and his army? In the Old Testament the faithful waited for God to act, for the promised messiah to come and redeem, to save, and they needed to be faithful in their waiting, they needed to be patient trusting that the Lord would indeed act. Saint Paul describes the way in which God finally acted like this, He says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law,” in the fullness of time, not on my schedule, not on your schedule, but on God’s schedule. Today we wait for the return of Christ and we are called to be patient, to be trusting, to live our lives remembering that Christ will indeed come in the fullness of time again, and that no amount of pridefullness, no personal grandeur or intellect will stand in the face of the rebuke of God on That Day. In fact, we today, tomorrow and on That Day, we who are the heirs of the kingdom, you in your baptism, simply trust in His promises fulfilled at the cross and the empty tomb; and the one who believed that there was no God – is no God – and that Christ was just a man, if He even was a man at all, those who believed like that will perish in the second death and will go into hell for all eternity, and those who trusted in the Lord and believed on Him will be rescued from their trouble once and for all, they will be restored and redeemed unto eternal life in Christ Jesus.
You do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s returning. Yet you can look at moments like the destruction of Sennacherib and his army from the Old Testament as an example of God in action, an example that points forward to Good Friday and Easter morning, a time when God was in action redeeming and saving His people, that points yet again forward yet again to the vindication that awaits you on The Last Day. The Day when the wrath of man shall praise God; for it is written, “that [on That Day] at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” There is no escaping it – on That Day they will confess it to their condemnation, but you on That Day will confess it with great joy unto everlasting life. Remain faithful, trust in Christ and the works of God Almighty. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Psalm 74:1–2
 Psalm 74:22–23
 Psalm 145:8–9
 2 Peter 3:9
 "The Destruction of Sennacherib" by Lord Byron, from his collection of poems, Hebrew Melodies, 1815.
 Psalm 130:3–4
 2 Kings 18:13
 2 Kings 19:15–19
 2 Kings 19:32–37
 Galatians 4:4
 Philippians 2:10–11