Psalms 9 and 10 are mirror images and together explain the conundrum of a soul seeking grace from the Lord. Where does one look for this grace? Psalm 9 is the kind David would sing with his army after a great victory, “when my enemies turn back, they stumble and perish before your face” (Psalm 9:3). It is worth noting that you really do have enemies in life, and they are out to get you! This is not a misperception or merely paranoia, and when God brings these enemies down before you, you sing with David: “The enemy came to an end in everlasting ruins … but the Lord sits enthroned forever” (Psalm 9:6–7). God both “avenges blood” and maintains “my just cause” (Psalm 9:12, 4). What a great day when your enemies are rebuked, and the oppressed are set free.
Moreover, God’s rebuke is not merely temporal but eternal. When God rebukes, the enemies pay with their own blood and are returned to Sheol (hell), where they belong (Psalm 9:17). Blood for blood, as the Law demands. But enemies keep popping up while you play whack-a-mole, and meanwhile, you must ask God for the grace that comes to the afflicted. Why does he let such enemies loose to wreak havoc in the world and me? What is this uprightness of the Lord that David seeks—that is, God’s righteousness or justice? Of course, when David has just won a victory, the great justice of God is the Law. My enemies disobey the Law and oppress me. What, then, do I ask from God? I want my day in court, or my victory on the battlefield, and I want my enemies to suffer the consequences of their disobedience to the Law. So David ends his victory over enemies with a prayer: “Put them in fear, O Lord! Let the nations know that they are but men!” (Psalm 9:20).
What David asked for is what any victor over enemies in battle wants: “Place a lawgiver over the nations, O Lord!” That is just what the Greek and the Hebrew mean in verse 20—give them a King and Judge—just as you, O Lord, are such a judge for me. God’s justice on earth is the Law—and by it, the wicked who spill blood will have their blood spilled, and the oppressed will be freed. We need the Law and must have it—including in sermons in a church. What oppressors need is a lawgiver to oppress them.
However, God was not done with David, and now enters his strange work. Immediately after granting you victory, God hides himself from you and lets your enemies run roughshod again: “In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor … boasts of the desires of his soul, the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord … his ways prosper” (Psalm 10:2–5). Thus, we have the reverse view in the mirror of Psalm 10. But when God hides from us, we wonder if our enemy is really God himself: “Why O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide your face in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).
Indeed, why does God hide when we need him most? Why does he give us victory over the enemy one day, and then hide so that we cannot find him?
At the end of Psalm 10, when David says, “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand” in the face of the wicked who think God will never “call to account” (Psalm 10:12–13), the hope seems to be in God coming out from hiding to exercise the justifying Law. David then would depend upon the ultimate justice of the Law, even though it is presently hidden: “But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation” (Psalm 10:14). So, “Do justice!” (Psalm 10:18). Bring the Law. It is my only hope!
But God gives no relief in this way to David, until we hear something quite new and unexpected from this same warrior and king in Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Paul used this in Romans 4:6–8 as his evangelical discovery: “just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works.” David no longer says, “Thank you for revealing yourself as my defender and destroying my enemies.” Nor does he say, “Why are you hiding your face from me?” Instead, David now says the sweetest and most shocking thing, apart from the Law altogether: “You are a hiding place for me” (Psalm 32:7). The God whom I met without a preacher is neither revealing nor hiding—but now, with a preacher, he has become my hiding place!
How does this happen that God becomes a hiding place? Apart from the Law, which God himself gives and uses for justice on earth, he now makes himself a place to run to—wrapped in the sermon of the word of forgiveness. God not only hides from me, but now lets me hide in him, since he has given a word David had never heard before: “I forgive you”—and look! His sin was covered; the transgression was blotted out.
So David pleads that you not be like a mule, who must be bridled (Psalm 32:9)—but instead listen to the preacher give the word of forgiveness. Then the hiding God becomes the God who hides me in his bosom. There no enemy, including myself, who can judge me otherwise. Even God will not judge me otherwise! In Psalm 32 David found the God who preached himself and so abandoned the search for an unpreached, righteous God. David was justified by God’s promise, and nothing could assail him there. It makes all the difference as to whether you find God’s grace in the Law, or in the gospel. David no longer had to seek God’s grace/justice, because that justification now wrapped him in the Christ blanket, and he would never be exposed to harm again. For the time being God gives you a lawmaker, but when God hides, what you really need is someone to come and wrap you, hidden, in the Christ blanket.