Midweek Musings 24th June 2020

My God Is Bigger Than Your God

(By Rev Paul Graham)

Read Psalm 2

“My dad’s bigger than your dad.”

“My mum’s better than your mum.”

The playground exchange that, you hope, will never be put to the test, just in case your dad happens to be less Herculean than in your imagination. Or that your opponent’s mum is actually better than yours. I recall this sort of childish repartee being shouted across the dirt of the inner-city Birmingham playground where I spent my early school years (imagine the above dialogue in a squeaky Brummie accent and it’s far less threatening now than it was then).

But that’s the sort of thing that we almost never grow out of. Whether it’s the fastest car, the most expensive holiday, or whatever we like to put forward as proof of our betterment, there’s a competitive edge to most of us if we were honest. For me, it’s knowing more about classic Doctor Who (1963-1989) than the 1993 Mastermind champion Gavin Fuller (he passed on 2 questions, I only passed on 1 when I was asked the same questions by my parents). A bit of a hollow boast, to be fair, as I was no good on the General Knowledge round…

We might want to call the Psalm for today’s reading “My God is bigger than your god.”

The Psalm is one that will be referenced in our reading for this coming Sunday (Acts 4:23-31 for those who like to read ahead). However, before we re-join the early church at the weekend, it’s a good idea to spend a bit of time with the Psalmist and explore the original Psalm in its complete form. As we do this, I hope that you will be drawn into the world of the Psalm as well as have space to reflect upon our current situation, as we seek to understand our Lord’s continuing involvement in the world of yesteryear and today.

Firstly, some context to the Psalm. We are not specifically told of the author of this Psalm, nor indeed the previous one. However, the following Psalms and the content of this one might lead us to assume that it was written by David, or at least someone who was close to the royal household. We see the Psalm centred around the King, known as the “Anointed One” of the Lord and his seat of power, Zion, the hill-bound Jerusalem. It’s probable that the King in question is David, or at a push his son, Solomon; it’s highly unlikely that their God-ignoring descendants would be the focus.

This also helps date the Psalm; we are in the time before Israel and Judah were taken into exile, when the King still held sway over the nation. It’s also possible that it comes hot on the heels of David’s triumphant claiming of Jerusalem as the centre of his reign, when David also shows the Philistines once and for all who’s boss (2 Samuel 5:6-25).

Now for the content. This is a royal Psalm, a song of affirmation about the uniqueness of the King’s relationship with God, as well as his place at the top of the tree within the nation. This is a song of triumph, a confident song in the face of opposition from foreign lands. It might almost tip into arrogance, and history tells how over-confidence in their own abilities brought down a number of Kings around this time.

It is also an uncomfortable Psalm; I’m uneasy when I read that “the Lord scoffs at (those who conspire and plot against the anointed One)” (v4). Then I remember that it wasn’t that many generations later that Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27), so maybe the image isn’t so far removed from the realms of possibility. It’s certainly a hyperbolic Psalm, with language is intended to provoke.  For those on the side of the Anointed One, there is good news in the face of powerful enemies: no matter what those beyond our borders throw at us, the Lord is on our side.

What we read is a boost for the King’s status as a feared adversary in the eyes of foreign powers and, dare I suggest, a bit of a massage for his ego locally. It cements his position internationally in the eyes of his subjects and also sends a warning message to anyone else who might be gunning for his throne. Again, a quick trip through David’s history shows that he was regularly under threat of usurpation. Not just from Saul’s nearest and dearest (2 Samuel 2:8-11), but also from members of his own family who thought that they could do a better job (2 Samuel 15:10-12 – see also Psalm 3). So, a reminder in this Psalm that the King is there at God’s behest immediately calls into question any thoughts of revolt. Who would dare go against the might of the Lord, whether they were foreign enemies or home-grown foe?

There’s some of the subtext to the Psalm; it may be more subtle to us given the distance in time and culture, but to those who heard these words, the message is clear. The Lord is almighty, and his agent, his chosen one, the King, is on his side. Anyone wanting to challenge the King, be they local or international, had better be prepared…

We’ll look at how the New Testament writers interpreted this Psalm on Sunday, with references to Jesus replacing the King. For today, we reflect on the tone and sentiments of the Psalm as it was first written and how this reflects on us and the world around us now. Some questions to ponder:

  • Where is it possible to see similarities between the Psalm and our world today?
  • What is “God” for today’s leaders? Where do they derive their power, their strength and assurance?
  • What image is brought to mind when we read of the Lord mocking and scoffing at his King’s opponents?
  • How does this Psalm relate to us, who are not Kings, but still worship the Lord?

(Image by Elias Sch. from Pixabay)