Psalm 19:20. A Refuge from Injustice

From: "Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <>
Subject: Psalm 19:20. A Refuge from Injustice
Date: July 14th 2017

Psalm 19:20. 
A Refuge from Injustice

American Journal of Biblical Theology,
Copyright © 2017, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

If there is one thing that we see continually around us in this world today is the constant and pervasive injustice experienced by many people at the hands of those who have the power to abuse others.  We see injustice meted out by governments who abuse their own people to meet their own political or ideological ends.  We see injustice at the hands of both religious and secular groups as they seek to maintain their power over others.  We see injustice at the hands of individuals who simply have the power to abuse others.  We also see injustice in the opulent lifestyles of the world’s most powerful abusers.  We want to cry out when se see good people killed and tortured while the abuser lives in abject luxury.

How do we respond when we witness injustice?  When injustice is demonstrated by governments and groups we usually watch and mourn, recognizing our powerlessness to affect any change.  We often observe the downtrodden and sympathize for their plight, but find no possible or reasonable action in order to provide substantive relief.  When we witness injustice close to home we often turn a guilt-filled blind-eye, drawing upon a litany of fears that prevent us from getting involved.  Often our involvement is simply ineffectual because of the power that the abuser enjoys.

King David, King of Israel certainly witnessed his share of injustice, not the least was the treatment he received at the hands of a jealous King Saul.  David was a gifted writer of songs for the Temple with many preserved in the book of Psalms.  Psalm 9 is one that celebrates God’s purpose towards circumstances of injustice.

Psalm 9:1-2.  To the chief Musician upon Muth-labben, A Psalm of David.

1I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will show forth all thy marvellous works.  2I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.

Like many of the Psalms, this Psalm is entitled with a superscription that identifies both the author and the context of the purpose of the writing.  The text retains the Hebrew word or name “Muth Labben,” utilized uniquely here.  The word does not appear in any other scripture or in any other remaining common Hebrew writings.  However, the word, “Muth” can be translated “Death” and the word “ben” refers to a son.  Consequently, many hold that the statement is literally “upon the death of the son”.  Because of the nature of the content of this Psalm it is quite reasonable to speculate that it was written to celebrate the goodness and provision of God in response to the death of a beloved son who lost his life as a victim of injustice.  The inspiration for this Psalm could have come from the grief that David experienced at the death of Jonathan, son of King Saul, or possibly of his own son, Absalom.

David starts the song with words of praise using the parallelism that is typical of Hebrew poetry.  When faced with what is probably the funeral of one who is close to him, his first words are words of celebration and praise to the LORD.  Instead of blaming God for the death, David lifts the name of God in at least four ways.

1.. With the whole heart.  David’s expression of praise for God is lifted with all that David has to draw from.  His praise is not half-hearted, or simply sufficient enough to declare praise, but it is rather a whole-hearted, over-the-top praise that comes from the very core of his soul.  We can probably successfully argue that our praise is rarely give so full-heartedly.

2.  Proclaiming His marvelous works.  Rather than dwelling on the negatives surrounding the circumstances of this liturgy, David openly proclaims the great works of God.  David uses the circumstances surrounding the death as an opportunity to share the good news of a good God with anyone who will listen.

3.  Filled with gladness and rejoicing.  Rather than being filled with grief and dread, David declares that he is filled with gladness during this time.  He rejoices because of the glory of the God he loves.

4.  Singing praises to His name.  This poetry is meant to be sung as a song, one that lifts up praises to the very nature and character of God. It is a celebration of God’s goodness and of His mighty works of good.

We often celebrate the goodness of God upon the death of a loved one because we understand God’s purpose of good, and His eternal provision for all people of faith.  We can assume from the context of this work that the one who David laments was an individual of faith.  The ancient Hebrews also believed in and understood God’s eternal provision for the faithful and it is through this provision that David can lift up words of praise.

Psalm 9:3-4.  When mine enemies are turned back, they shall fall and perish at thy presence.  4For thou hast maintained my right and my cause; thou satest in the throne judging right.

In the remaining verses David continually draws from his experiences of conflict with those who would seek to bring him harm, whether it be Saul and his armies, or Absalom in his rebellion against his father.  Desiring only to honor the LORD in his life, David found himself at odds with a world that hates any such monotheistic belief.  Saul was deathly jealous of David and his sincere faith in the LORD.  David’s political enemies rejected God as they rejected him.  Yet through this experience, David illuminates one encouraging truth:  God is not defeated by the evils and injustices of this world.  God defeats His enemies and rightly judges those who practice evil. 

We may not see the demise of those who practice injustice while they live their lives on this earth.  However, note that David clearly notes that they shall “perish at thy presence.”  David understands that, regardless of the means through which people abrogate God’s will by their bent to sin and their choice to rebel against Him, God does get in the last word.  Those will suffer utter destruction when they find themselves before God, standing in His presence in the final judgment without any form of forgiveness for their multitude of sins. 

We may not see the injustices vindicated during our lives, but David clearly notes that his right and just cause of serving God will find vindication at the final judgment because God’s judgments are always fair and right.  Where we face unjust judgments at the hands of sin and evil today, God will ultimately right the wrong, and for that David lifts up words of praise.

Psalm 9:5-6.  Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked, thou hast put out their name for ever and ever.  6O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end: and thou hast destroyed cities; their memorial is perished with them.

It may seem like evil and wickedness triumph, and their influence remains for our whole life.  However, David understands that even the period of this life is overwhelmed by the vastness of eternity.  Where God’s “name” is to be praise for eternity, the “name” of the wicked is “put out” for eternity.  We might understand this verb as a metaphor, similar to the snuffing out of a candle.  When lit, the candle gives light and heat; it has power over its immediate surroundings.  However, once the candle is extinguished it is dark and powerless.  It has no innate ability to reignite itself. 

God’s judgment results in the eternal end of those who practice evil.  Upon their death their influence is destroyed, and the “memorial,” the respect that they received in this life dies with them.  Upon their death they will be remembered only for who they were:  people of wickedness.  They will be soon forgotten.  Joining satan and his minions in the “lake of fire,” separated from God and the faithful for eternity, they will not be remembered in glory.  They, upon their physical death, will be utterly destroyed.

Psalm 9:7-8.  But the LORD shall endure for ever: he hath prepared his throne for judgment.  8And he shall judge the world in righteousness, he shall minister judgment to the people in uprightness.

Unlike the temporal nature of the wicked who will be destroyed at the end of this physical life, the LORD is eternal and exists in eternity.  God is not subject to the limitations of physical time, but endures forever.  David describes God as though He stands at the door of eternity, judging those who would enter.  The throne of His judgment stands at the entrance to eternal heaven where God will judge all people (the world). 

God’s judgment is righteous.  Consequently, those who have rejected Him and opposed Him in this life have good reason to face this judgment with fear.  The arrogance and pride that they demonstrate now will be utterly changed to an inestimable fear and grief when they face the one, true, and righteous Judge.  Those who love God have no such reason to fear, but can, like David, lift up shouts of praise and adoration for the God of creation who loves them enough to forgive them of their sin and allow them to enter His eternity. 

One might be reminded that David was not a sinless person.  Numbered among his sins were adultery and murder surrounding his taking of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.  We might think that David deserves to be rejected at the entrance of Eternity along with those others who have practiced sin.  Such a consideration also convicts us that we all deserve destruction.  However, David understood forgiveness.  David understood that God was faithful to His promise to forgive the sin of those who place their trust in Him so that sin would not condemn them to an eternal separation that they truly deserve.  Understanding the depth and value of this forgiveness, David could only thank and praise God, even when immersed in the grief of the death of one he loves, one who died unjustly. 

Likewise, people of faith must never take God’s gift of salvation lightly.  The faithful should be prostrate on their faces in humility toward the mighty God who has spared their lives, praising Him with the whole heart, and seeking to be obedient to Him in every choice of every day.  If we approach God’s gift of salvation with apathy, we still face the same Judge who will hold us responsible for our choices.

Psalm 9:9-10.  The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.  10And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee.

David also praises the LORD because the vindication that is promised at the judgment seat of eternity is also provided to those who suffer in this life.  When people face injustice with its difficult combination of trials and sufferings, they do not face them alone if they have faith in God.  The LORD is a refuge for those who seek protection.  A refuge is a place that one can run to, a place where they can trust that they will be protected.  One cannot separate the two words:  refuge and trust.  If one does not trust in the security of the refuge, then even in their security they are still bound to the power of the persecutor. 

David fully trusts in the LORD for protection.  David has experienced miraculous protection at the hands of the LORD on many occasions.  His faith in God and his relationship with the LORD was so close that he recognized when God was intervening in his life on his behalf.  We may not be as aware of the protection that God provides to us every day as we go through the experiences of this life. Few today face the spiritual and political oppression that David and his culture of faith were so accustomed to.  We would probably experience more of this oppression if we were as engaged in faithful living and as actively proclaiming the goodness of God as did David and others who endured such experiences. 

“That they may know” implies the active and pressing ministry that David provided as he proclaimed the greatness and goodness of God to his nation.  David knows from personal experience that God is indeed a refuge in times of trouble, and he earnestly desires to share this good news with all who endure persecution, including those who mourn the “Muth Labben,” one who presumably fell to the hands of his persecutors.

Psalm 9:11-12.  Sing praises to the LORD, which dwelleth in Zion: declare among the people his doings.  12When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them: he forgetteth not the cry of the humble.

David reminds those who would sing his song that they would sing with praise to the LORD who dwells with them.  God is not a god who stands back and observes, but God is the LORD of His creation, interacting with it, demonstrating love for those who trust in Him.  Zion refers to the most ancient portion of the City of David, the crest of the hill upon which Jerusalem was built. 

The ancients held that the mountains were the dwelling places of their gods, and this mountain motif was also embraced by the Hebrew nation, illustrated by the Glory of God, the pillar of fire that resided over the tabernacle and temple that was erected on the crest of the hill.  The pillar of fire was a visual manifestation of God’s presence with His people.  That manifestation of God’s presence still exists today as the Holy Spirit comes to live in the heart of every believer.  The heart is now the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, a tabernacle that was established forever when Jesus rose from the grave, a tabernacle that was restored in the three days of Jesus’ death.

Because God resides with His people, He is not unaware and unresponsive to their suffering.  God makes “inquisition” for their suffering.  God holds those who practice evil and injustice ultimately responsible for all their sin.  He recognizes both the sin of the wicked and the plight of the faithful who are abused by them.  David encourages the faithful to understand that the judgment of God is sure, and their suffering will be vindicated.  God does not, and cannot, forget their plight.  God is not going to allow the guilty to pass the throne of heaven without just judgment, a judgment that will vindicate once and for all the plight of the downtrodden. 

Psalm 9:13-14.  Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:  14That I may show forth all thy praise in the gates of the daughter of Zion: I will rejoice in thy salvation.

David’s song of lament is also a prayer.  As he praises God and declares His righteousness and His hands of refuge, David also speaks directly to God in this next pairing of parallel statements.  David has experienced and trusts that he will always experience the mercy of God because of God’s unchanging nature and the surety of God’s promise.  Consequently, his request for mercy is not a cry of fearfulness that God’s mercy might be removed.  It is more an acclamation of his recognition of the profound value of God’s mercy in his life. 

It is because of God’s mercy that He considers the sufferings and trials that we endure, and it is because of God’s mercy that He reaches down through time and space to lift us up, to strengthen us in times of weakness, and serve as a refuge in the storms of life.  David even acknowledges the times in his life that God reached down and literally saved his life.  He experienced this in his encounters with Saul and in his military battles against overwhelming odds.  He also experienced this after his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah when God could have rightfully removed him from his office as king, or even snatched his life away.

Whether David is making a vow to the LORD, or whether he is referring to the nature of his public witness is unclear.  However, David clearly states that because of his appreciation for what God has done and for what God is doing, David will continue to proclaim his praises to God from his throne in Jerusalem.  He will continue to rejoice greatly in the knowledge of the salvation that God has given him, a salvation that he does not deserve, but has received because of God’s love and grace.

Psalm 9:15-16.  The heathen are sunk down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken.  16The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands.

Higgaion Selah

Returning to his proclamation to the nation, David points out an encouraging truth.  When faced with injustice it is our natural response to attempt to correct the wrong.  We want to step in and make everything right.  This desire is a stressor that accompanies virtually every instance of injustice that we encounter.  However, we are rarely in a position to impact the nature of the injustice in any way.  Usually the perpetrator of the injustice does so from a position of power or distance that we can rarely approach. 

David repeats in this duplet of parallel poetic lines a simple fact:  the perpetrator of injustice is fully undone by his own actions.  It is not necessary, nor is it even appropriate that we pass judgment upon the perpetrator of injustice because the character of the injustice itself declares them guilty before the LORD of judgment who has both the authority and the power to judge righteously and to mete out the appropriate punishment for those who practice evil. 

If we can free ourselves of the judgment of the perpetrator and give that task entirely over to the just Judge, the LORD, the perpetrator of injustice loses all hold over us.  Part of the refuge we find in the LORD is the peace that we find when we turn our bent to judgment and revenge fully over to Him.  This is a declaration that David is making when he describes the snare that the wicked have set for themselves.  We need to set no snare.  The wicked have already done that for us, and for the God who will use it to testify against them in judgment.

We again face some challenges when attempting to translate the inscription that entitles the closing of this portion of the Psalm.  The words Higgaion and Selah are thought to be musical notations that give instruction to those who are singing.  Though there is little external evidence to instruct us on its meaning to the ancients, most hold that the first word is an instruction to the musicians to play the remaining accompaniment quietly, and the second word refers to an instruction to pause.

Psalm 9:17-18.  The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.  18For the needy shall not alway be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever.

David closes the Psalm with a reminder that the final judgment that awaits the wicked is one of eternal separation from God.  The ancients held to a slightly different understanding of the nature of heaven, teaching that it contained three levels, and that it was located deep in the earth.  The lowest of these levels was called Gehenna, named for the perpetually burning dump that laid outside the walls of Jerusalem where waste, and the bodies of the unclean dead, were disposed.  This is consistent with the doctrine of a hell that is eternal, outside of the city walls, and a place of great torment.  This is the final place of judgment for the wicked and for all the nations who have rejected God.

However, the ancient understanding of the afterlife also had a place for those who were faithful to the LORD.  Referred to as “Abraham’s Bosom,” it was understood to be an eternal resting place where the faithful find peace in their everlasting relationship with God.  Unlike the wicked who perish in the eternal fires of Gehenna, the faithful will not perish, but will reside in “Abraham’s Bosom” forever.   

Psalm 9:19-20.  Arise, O LORD; let not man prevail: let the heathen be judged in thy sight.  20Put them in fear, O LORD: that the nations may know themselves to be but men.


David then returns to a prayer that is spoken directly to the LORD.  In it he expresses his agreement with the grace and plan of God, a plan that disallows the ultimate success of the wicked over the faithful, a plan that culminates in a final, sure, and righteous judgment. 

Furthermore, David prays that the wicked will be shown the nature of their own evil, that they will see the snare that they have set for themselves.  David prays that they will recognize their humble place beneath the authority of the Mighty God who is standing in judgment over them, that they will recognize that they are not lords over other people, but that they are simply sinful people like everyone else. 

It is apparent that David wrote this Psalm in response to the death of someone who lost his life at the hands of the injustice perpetrated by wicked men.  It serves almost as a funeral sermon that is meant to expose the truth and encourage the faithful to know that God is faithful even in such extreme circumstances.  The people in David’s nation knew the ravages of injustice all too well, having experienced it at the hands of their own leaders and at the hands of their neighboring kings.  They experienced it at the hands of wicked people who lived among them.

Consequently, there is little difference in our culture today as we also witness the sin of injustice all around us.  We can be encouraged to know that God serves the faithful as a refuge to whom they can retreat as God stands in for the downtrodden and will fully and finally judge the wicked who will be convicted of their sin by the very sin that ensnares them. 

We can also be encouraged to be faithful to the LORD so that we will not find ourselves ensnared by our own wickedness.

We can be encouraged that our faithfulness to the LORD will be a sufficient testimony to bring us forgiveness that will ensure our eternal security with Him.

For that we have reason to praise God with our whole hearts.

1 Samuel, Chapter 31.

1 Chronicles 3:1-2.

c.f. Revelation, Chapter 20.

Craigie, p. 116.



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Written each week by our publisher and editor, John W. (Jack) Carter, these are original, researched, commentaries that may be used for individual study or small-group discussion.
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