January 17, 2009
“Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God! For Thou hast smitten all my enemies on the cheek; Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked.” – Psalm 3:7
The thought of having my teeth busted out has always given me the willies for three reasons.
First of all, there is the pain. Have you ever attempted to toss a Skittle into the air and catch it in your mouth only to have it bounce off your front tooth? Well, I did that one time, and let me assure you that it hurts. Fortunately, it did not chip anything, but that little incident gave me a good enough idea about the pain of tooth-bustin’ to know I never want to experience it. Now, the only food I ever catch with my mouth is pop-corn.
Second, there is the sound. In college, my friend Dave and I were playing ultimate frisbee, and I was near him when the man he was guarding decided to throw the frisbee right in his grill from two feet away. Both of Dave’s top front teeth were broken in half. He was bleeding really badly. It was awful. And the worst part of my recollection is the sound. Even as I type, my skin is crawling because I can still hear the “thud/snap” that comes as the result of fris-to-face combat.
Finally, and worst of all, there is the permanence. The thing about teeth is that they don’t grow back. Oh sure, a modern-day dentist can crown and cap and implant, but most of the time he can’t put natural teeth back in their place. Those important aids to talking, chewing, and smiling are permanently altered. When teeth get shattered, they are forever shattered. That thought makes me cringe as much as any.
So why all this shatter chatter? The Bible tells us that God is a teeth-shattering God. Now that’s an image of God that many people would never consider, but nevertheless David reveals in Psalm 3: “Thou hast shattered the teeth of the wicked.”
In order to catch the full impact of this image, we need to recognize the movement in the prior verses that culminate in this triumphant conclusion.
The first two verses introduce a recurring figure in the book of Psalms, the oppressed righteous one. This persona occurs over and over in this book and demonstrates that God does not always plan a life of ease for his children. In the Psalms, life is frequently miserable for the very reason that the psalmist is seeking God. The principle is this: Wicked men love to oppress godly men.
Here, David’s prayer reveals two important things about his oppressors: They are many, and they are vocal. They all say of his soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” In spite of this oppression, the middle of this psalm expresses David’s resolve to trust in Yahweh. Though David is currently in the dark, he can recall the LORD’s deliverance in the past.
I love the line, “I lay down and slept: I awoke, for the LORD sustains me,” for two reasons. First, consider the irony. David is saying that even in his most defenseless state, he has all the defense he needs because of the LORD: “You guys hate me? You guys want me dead? You guys are numerous? . . . Yawn. Sigh. Snore. See you in the morning.” Second, notice the verb tenses. The first part of the line is past: “In the past, I went to sleep and got up.” But the second part is present/future. “For the LORD sustains me now and always.” The significance is that David viewed the LORD’s deliverances of the past as an indication of his relentless relationship with his children. Though David’s circumstances were frequently changing, he knew that his position with God was not.
Now, we can consider the finale.
In verse seven, David actually uses the imperative on God: “Arise, O LORD, save me, O my God!” Does this sound audacious to you? Commanding something of God? I think it is important to see that David’s imperative is not a hasty wish arising from human insubordination. It is, rather, the triumphant cry of a godly thinker. David is not demanding anything from God that God has not already demonstrated he will gladly provide. When the LORD hears dependence on him expressed in confident cries, he responds with favor.
Favor toward his people that is. His enemies find themselves in a terrifying position. Their numerous mouths that once hurled venomous boasts become the target of his disfavor. He strikes his enemies on the jaw and shatters their teeth. The blow is painful, loud, and permanent. Their smile is altered forever.