282 – Psalm 9 – Eating the Elephant
Most of us know that a snake does not chew its food, but rather swallows it whole. It can take hours or days for the snake to completely swallow larger prey. Did you know that a snake’s digestive system runs almost the entire length of its body from the buccal cavity (essentially the mouth) all the way to the anus? Also, the digestive enzymes in a snake are so powerful that things like eggshells and bones are digested. Another interesting thing is it is often many days between feedings due to the prolonged digestive process.
What praytell does any of this have to do with Psalm 9, you may ask? To be honest, nothing. However, in the larger context of our regular encounters with the Word of God, there seems to be an almost uncanny similarity between how the modern-day Christian eats spiritually (reads the Bible) and the way a snake eats.
We often want to consume a whole passage all at once with long gaps of time before our subsequent consumption of the Word of God. We assume this big chunk we bit off will sustain us for several days – probably even last until Sunday. Man, that’ll be great! The pastor has done the studying for us. He’s chewed up the Word of God and will spit it into our baby bird mouths, sating our hunger until next week!
The problem is, we are not snakes and we are not baby birds. It seems to me our spiritual digestive systems are designed very much like our actual physical digestive systems. Because of its digestive system, a snake could never eat an elephant. But one of us, because of the way our digestive system is designed, could eat an elephant. How would we do it? One bit at a time of course! We couldn’t do it in one sitting though. It would take many, many meals. It would be work, but we would be nourished all along the way until we saw it through to completion.
Yuck! Who wants to eat an elephant?? Well, probably no one. The metaphor works if you change out the elephant for any animal. Cow, chicken, pig, fish (ok not sardines), but you get the idea. Let’s slow down a bit and take bite-size chunks that we can actually digest in the Bible. It will be delightfully nutritious!
Psalm 9:15-18 (LEB)
15 The nations have fallen in the pit that they made;
their foot is caught in the net that they hid.
16 Yahweh has made himself known;
he has executed judgment.
The wicked is snared by the work of his hands. Higgaion Selah
17 The wicked shall turn back to Sheol,
all the nations forgetting God,
18 for the needy shall not always be forgotten;
the hope of the poor shall never perish.
Let’s take some smaller bites in the above passage. Who are the actors or characters in this passage? The nations (maybe the superset of the wicked?), Yahweh, the needy (same as the poor). Next, notice the poetic form.
We’ve talked before about Hebrew poetry. It is recognized not by rhyme and meter, but by a concept known as parallelism. Look at the start of verse 15 to the semi-colon. The nations fell into a pit. The second half of the verse communicates the same idea using a different metaphor (caught their foot in a net), so the Psalmist employed synonymous parallelism.
Next look at verse 16. Did you notice a contrast is being offered between the nations and Yahweh?
The first part of verse 16 to the semi-colon tells us Yahweh has made Himself known. The second half of the sentence gives us additional information about making Himself known, He did it by executing judgment. This is referred to as synthetic parallelism because subsequent thoughts provide additional information.
We also observe that the nations have fallen into their own pits and we’re caught in their own traps. They set these entrapments for others, but Yahweh turned their own weapons against them.
There is some serious, sobering content here for the wicked and the nations who forget the almighty God. In contrast, there is some incredible encouragement for the needy or poor.
There is so much more that could be observed if we would simply take the time.
I left out observations from the second sentence of verse sixteen down to the rest of our passage (verse 18). What observations can you make about those verses? What forms of parallelism do you think are being used in verses seventeen and eighteen?
You may be thinking, “if we slowed down to a snail’s pace on every Biblical passage we’d never get to the end of the Bible!”, you’d be correct. I’m not suggesting we abandon devotional reading. I am suggesting we get out of the devotional reading ditch and get back on the road to a balanced approach to reading and studying the Word of God. After all, the Bible is one of the greatest gifts ever given!