Meet the Judge!
To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy.
A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.
As a response to the prayer of Psalm74:22, that God arise and defend his cause, especially in a world where God himself is the object of mockery, Psalm 75 affirms God’s judgement and justice, humbling one and exalting another, all by his equitable standard (75:2b). Psalm 75 affirms the God of justice who sets the ethical standard of the world (75:6, 7) and makes sure the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded (75:10). It is a psalm vindicating the God of history, even in the face of conflicting circumstances.
Because of the warning against boasting (vv. 4–7), some associate the psalm with King Hezekiah and Jerusalem’s deliverance from the Assyrian invaders (Isa. 36–38 7). They also associate 76, 77, and 78 with that great event. Sennacherib’s officers certainly boasted about their achievements, but when the right time came, God destroyed the Assyrian army encamped around Mt. Zion. The tune “Destroy Not” is also used with 57, 58, and 59. Now let’s go to the worship service.
No one has trouble letting God be God as long as God is doing what we would do if we were God. However, the God we’re talking about is a God who does things that are out of step with—even contradictory to—our cultural preferences.
This God defines right and wrong. And he doesn’t do this after polling our culture, or any other culture for that matter. He gives us a list of dos and don’ts, many of which are as binding today as they were in ancient times. He tells us that if we live life our own way and reject him as the loving Creator and Lord, we will be condemned.
When we read the Bible to learn about this God, we discover the unflattering news that God doesn’t need us. He doesn’t have a human-shaped hole in his heart that only you can fill. He doesn’t run a democratic republic; he runs a kingdom. He is a generous King, a gracious and loving King. But he is a King, and he shares his throne with no one. This is the only God there is. There are no other God candidates.
To a culture where our favorite verse is “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt 7:1 NKJV)—to a culture that stands ready to quote this verse to God himself should he start to get any ideas—to this culture, God comes in Psalm 75 and unapologetically asserts his right to judge, his competency to judge, and his title as Judge.
As Christians we want to think biblically about God’s judgment. Psalm 75 is going to lead us. Along the way, we want to carefully avoid three wrong responses to the biblical teaching concerning the judgment of God: ridiculing judgment, boasting in judgment (gloating), and minimizing judgment.
Something else I hope we see before we’re done is that understanding the judgment to come is at the heart of the good news of Christian faith. There is no need for the gospel without the consequences of the judgment to come. In a fallen world we can’t appreciate our need of salvation without knowing that there is judgment coming.
Invocation of Praise (v. 1)
1 We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.
Why does a psalm dominated by the idea of God’s judgment begin with thanksgiving (v. 1)? Let’s not miss this. The attitude one has toward the judgment of God reveals one’s view of the character of God. In that way this psalm begins by urging us to consider the source. The one doing the judging is the Lord God himself.
True worship centers on the Lord and not on us, our personal problems, or our “felt needs.” We praise God for who He is—His glorious attributes—and for His wonderful works (see 44:1–8; 77:12; 107:8, 15). God’s name is a synonym for God’s person and presence (Deut. 4:7; Isa. 30:27). He is indeed “a very present help in trouble” (46:1), and when God’s people call on the Lord, they know He will hear them. We thank the Lord for all He has done, and we tell others about His wonderful works. Though God wants us to bring our burdens to Him and seek His help, worship begins with getting our eyes of faith off the circumstances of life and focusing them on the Lord God Almighty.
Hear the Lord’s Message (vv. 2–5)
2 “At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. 3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. Selah 4 I say to the boastful, ‘Do not boast,’ and to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up your horn; 5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.’”
If we expect the Lord to receive our words of praise, we must pay attention to His Word of truth as it is read, sung, and preached. The message delivered here was twofold: a word of encouragement for believers (vv. 2–3) and a word of warning to the godless (vv. 4–5). As we see the wicked prosper in their evil deeds, we often ask God “How long?” (See 10:6; 74:9–10; 79:5; 89:46; 94:3–4; and Rev. 6:9–11.) God assured His people that He had already chosen the appointed time for judgment and that His people could wait in confidence and peace because He had everything under control. The Lord has His times and seasons (102:13; Acts 1:7), and He is never late to an appointment.
It may seem to us that the foundations of society are being destroyed (11:3; 82:5), and the “pillars” of morality are falling down, but the Lord knows what He is doing (46:6; 1 Sam. 2:8). Jesus Christ is on the throne and holds everything together (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). Look at how God speaks of judgment in verse 3. When God judges the earth, he is stabilizing it.
Humanism tries to offer us the hope that we can establish peace and righteousness and justice in the world apart from God. In our time and culture, that hope is often built on a theory of evolution coupled with the importance of education. There’s only one problem: It’s not happening. It’s not working. Our advancements in education have only made the tools of war more sophisticated.
When we think of divine judgment, sometimes we think of God shaking the world with judgment. There are passages that speak that way (e.g., Heb 12:25-29). But it’s fascinating to me that this passage comes from the other direction. It’s telling us when unrighteousness and evil and injustice are left unchecked the world is tottering, and when God acts in judgment, he is steadying the world.
One of the reasons we find people not taking judgment seriously is they simply do not believe in the biblical God. Psalm 94:3-9 describes the foolish, arrogant, judgment-dismissing attitudes of the wicked as assuming that God is blind or indifferent. But Psalm 75 views judgment in a positive light because it views God in a positive light. Again, our view of judgment takes its cue from our view of God.
What does this mean practically? It means that if I trust God’s character, then I’m convinced that he will judge rightly. So, for example, before I even read that difficult chapter of the Bible where God comes in judgment, I’m convinced that what God does is right. And after I have read that passage where God comes in judgment, I’m convinced that what God did was right. Why? Because we consider the source. We ask the simple question: Who is doing the judging here? When we discover it’s God, we call to mind what we know about the biblical God.
First, he is slow to anger and abounding in faithful love (Exod 34:6). God isn’t trigger happy. Second, he is righteous in all his ways (Ps 145:17). He doesn’t have temper tantrums. He doesn’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed. No, his judgment is a measured expression of his righteous character. Third, God is all wise (Ps 147:5; Rom 16:27). Scripture says the Lord founded the earth by wisdom (Prov 3:19). He also runs it by wisdom (Job 12:13-35). He judges with perfect wisdom. He is never in the dark. He never lacks all the information. We humans, even at our best, often lack context or comprehensive awareness of motives and contributing factors. God knows all. God rules and governs in righteousness, wisdom, and truth.
But there is also a message for the godless (vv. 4–5), and it warns them not to be arrogant and deliberately disobey the will of God. Before it lowers its head and attacks, a horned beast proudly lifts its head high and challenges its opponent, and the ungodly were following this example. The Hebrew word translated “lift up” is used five times in this psalm (vv. 4, 5, 6, 7, 10), and in verses 4–5, it is associated with arrogance that leads to trouble. A “stiff neck” and proud speech are marks of an insolent and rebellious person, not one who is bowed down in submission to the Lord (Deut. 31:27; 2 Kings 17:14; 2 Chron. 36:13; Jer. 7:26).
Apply God’s Message Personally (vv. 6–8)
6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. 8 For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
How easy it is to hear God’s message, leave the meeting, and then forget to obey what we heard! The blessing doesn’t come in the hearing but in the doing of God’s Word (James 1:22–25). The word translated “lifted up” or “exalted” in verses 6, 7, and 9 has to do with God delivering His people from trouble and setting them free. (“Promotion” in v. 6, kjv has nothing to do with getting a better job or being highly publicized.) The arrogant were lifting themselves up only to be cast down by God, but the humble wait on the Lord and He lifts them up (1 Peter 5:6). A Jew could search in any direction—east, west, or the desert (south, Egypt)—and he would never find anybody who can do what only God can do. Why is north omitted? To look in that direction would mean seeking help from the enemies, Assyria and Babylon! (See Jer. 1:13–16; 4:6; 6:22–26.) The Lord delivered Joseph and made him second ruler of Egypt. He delivered David and made him king of Israel. He delivered Daniel and made him third ruler of the kingdom. (See 1 Sam. 2:7–8 and Luke 1:52–53.)
The cup (v. 8) is a familiar image of judgment (Job. 21:20; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15ff; Rev. 16:19; 18:6). The Jews usually drank wine diluted with water, but this cup contained wine mixed with strong spices, what they called a “mixed drink.” (Prov. 23:30). If the believers went home from the worship service trusting the Lord to deliver them and judge their enemies, the ungodly should have gone home concerned about future judgment. The Lord Jesus Christ drank the cup for us (Matt. 26:36–46), but those who refuse to trust Him will drink the cup of judgment to the very dregs.
Praise and the Fear of the Lord (vv. 9–10)
9 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. 10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.
“But I will declare” (v. 9, nasb) indicates a decision on the part of the psalmist. Asaph had participated in the sanctuary worship and helped lead the music, but he, too, had to make a decision to obey the Lord and tell others about Him. Witness and praise go together.
God’s judgment is a terrifying thing because God is infinitely holy and we have sinned against him. The sobering thing is that when all is said and done, God’s judgment is necessary to point us toward His salvation!
There is a cup filled to the brim with God’s just judgment against human sin, and that cup will be drained all the way down to the dregs. That cup will be turned over on the last day, and there will be no drips. God’s just wrath will have been fully poured out. Yet no one will be able to charge God with overreacting to evil.
“The God of Jacob” is a frequent title for Jehovah in The Psalms (20:1; 24:6; 46:7; 81:1, 4; 84:8; 94:7; 114:7; 132:2, 5; 146:5). It’s easy for us to identify with Jacob, who was not always a great man of faith, and yet God deigns to be called by Jacob’s name! What an encouragement to us! The fact that God will one day judge the wicked ought to motivate us to share the gospel with them, and the fact that God’s people (“the righteous”) will be exalted ought to humble us and give us faith and courage in the difficult hours of life.
So, how is it that we can say the goal of judgment is salvation? How is it possible for us, far from ridiculing judgment or boasting in judgment, to humbly give God thanks in the midst of a song about God’s judgment? The answer has everything to do with this cup in verse 8 and a prayer from Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Do you remember what Jesus asked? “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39). The Father’s silence in the face of Jesus’s plea for the cup to pass makes it abundantly clear that it was not his will for the cup of wrath to pass from Jesus.
What was the Father’s will in sending the Son? The cup of God’s justice against our sin sat there for thousands of years. God could not simply pour it out on the ground. That would be to deny his commitment to justice. It would be a denial of his own character, which is impossible (2 Tim 2:13). So the cup must be drunk.
The glory of the good news is this: in the fullness of time, Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for sinners. The prophet Isaiah predicted the Father would lay on Messiah the iniquity of us all (Isa 53:6). So as we look forward from Psalm 75, the next time we see the foaming cup of judgment is when, on a hill outside Jerusalem, on the darkest day in human history, God puts it into the trembling hands of his only Son and says, “Drink it.” Jesus took the cup and drained it for all who believe!
Christian, that is your salvation! No wonder there’s salvation in no one else. No wonder it’s such an insult to speak of “other ways” of salvation when Jesus alone became our substitute. Jesus alone became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21). He alone bore our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24). The judgment of God on Jesus is our only hope of rescue.