In this psalm, David recounts his fight with the heathen who had invaded his nation. David writes during the course of a brief respite in the battle. He celebrates a great deliverance in the first part of the psalm (vv. 1-12), and calls for further deliverance in the remainder of the psalm (vv. 13-20). “I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart . . .” (Ps. 9:1-20).
Incidentally, this is the point where the numbering of the psalms becomes confused because some ancient versions include the tenth psalm as the second part of this psalm. The meaning of muthlabben is obscure.
First we see the deliverance past. Praise is fitting; the one who chooses to recount the deeds of the Lord will never have a shortage of things to talk about (vv. 1-2). This is to be done with a whole heart. We are to praise the name of the Most High God.
The presence of the Lord in important in battle. David’s enemies are turned back, but not through his prowess. They are undone by the presence of the Lord (v. 3). God has not sided with David arbitrarily — He decided for David, but did so sitting on the throne, judging rightly (v. 4).
And so it is that the destroyers are destroyed. God has destroyed the wicked, and has obliterated their name forever (v. 5). These were the ones who had sought to make a name for themselves by destroying cities. But their destructions are ended (v. 6). In contrast, the Lord will endure forever, and His judgments will stand (v. 7).
Those judgments which stand are upright judgments. In his address at Mars Hill, Paul quotes the LXX version of this verse (v. 8). Jesus Christ is the culmination of this most glorious process of defeating the wicked. God will judge the world and will minister justice.
God is a refuge. He is a refuge for the oppressed (v. 9), for all those in trouble. Those who know His name will turn to Him, and He will not forsake them (v. 10). Again, He is worthy of all praise for His doings (v. 11). God acts in history.
Because He acts in history, He conducts an inquisition. God will carefully search out all unlawful shedding of blood. Those whose blood has been shed, and whose cry has gone up to heaven, will be therefore vindicated (v. 12).
But deliverance is still necessary in the future. David has seen God work a great deliverance, but he is still in trouble.
And so he asks for “mercy, Lord,” He asks God to deliver him from those who hate him, and who want to kill him (v. 13). His motive in asking this is so that he might glorify God’s name (v. 14). He asks to be removed from the gates of death so that he can praise God in the gates of the daughter of Zion.
The heathen are therefore sunk. God is not mocked. The heathen have dug their own pit, they have set their own trap, and they are caught in it (v. 15). God hangs all envious Hamaans on their own gallows. This is how God works (v. 16). Think about this. Higgaion and Selah. This is one of the ways God makes himself known in history — when treacherous scoundrels fall into their own traps.
What happens to those who forget God. The wicked are turned into Sheol. This is what happens to all nations that forget God (v. 17). This is because God does not leave the poor forgotten (v. 18).
“Arise, O Lord.” The prayer is for men to not prevail, and for the heathen to be judged in the sight of the Lord (v. 19). Because they are sorry little men, the psalmist asks God to put them all in fear, so that they will know that they are only men (v. 20).
In all this, several key applications should immediately occur to us.
First, we need to realize the sin of forgetfulness. Forgetting is not an excuse for having sinned; it is another sin in its own right. The people who forget God are a people who are turned into judgment, and ultimately, into Hell.
Second, poetic justice is a biblical category, and not just a plot device for ham-handed novelists. God does not just render justice; He does so fittingly. The fool thinks that the “breaks” are a matter of random chance, and yet that they always somehow go against him. But God governs the world through blessings and curses. We do not absolutize this — remember Job and the man born blind — but we do believe it.
And third, what is man? The question can be asked in two different ways. We can ask it in the way David does in the previous psalm — referring to man under grace. But the question can be asked another way, when we are talking about man under judgment. When we consider how man is not much, we must either marvel at God’s kindness or at man’s insolence.