The Sovereignty Of God
Displayed In Judgement

a brief study of Psalm 76, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 13 February 2009

Psalm 76 is a Psalm of Asaph. Who is this Asaph? Again, he could be Asaph the seer (2 Chr 29:30) or one of the ‘sons of Asaph’ (1 Chr 25:1). We may regard ‘Asaph’ as a pen-name which was used by one or more persons in the same Godly tradition as Asaph the Seer.

Psalm 76 is not a very well-known psalm in that most of us would not be able to say off-hand what it is about. But just as there is a famous verse in Psalm 75, there is one famous verse in Psalm 76.

The famous verse in Psalm 75 is verse 6—“For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” It speaks of God as being fair and just; so the psalm is about Messiah coming to restore fairness and justice.

Likewise, the famous verse in Psalm 76 is verse 10—“Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” From this verse we can see how this Psalm speaks of the sovereignty and power of the God of Jacob.

It is a Psalm inspired by the Spirit of Christ that Christ and His covenant people may sing in praise unto the Father for His sovereignty displayed in judgement.

There are 3 stanzas in this Psalm, each ending with the word ‘Selah,’ which is a musical notation to instruct us to pause to think.

·  In verses 1-3, we declare that God’s judgement is covenantal.

·  In verses 4-9, we proclaim that God’s judgement is awesome.

·  In verses 10-12, we proclaim that God’s judgement is to be feared.

1. God’s Judgement is
Covenantal (v. 1-3)

1  In Judah is God known: his name is great in Israel.  2 In Salem also is his tabernacle, and his dwelling place in Zion. 3 There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle.

At first sight, these opening words of the psalm does not seem to be related to what we say is the theme of this psalm, namely the display of God sovereignty in His Judgement.

But if we think about it carefully, it is not difficult for us to understand what the psalmist is trying to express.

God’s judgement is displayed in His sovereign acts in the world whether they be wars or natural disasters. However, not everyone sees His hands in the acts. Some attribute the things that happen to nature. Others attribute them to false gods or simply to human power.

But God is known in Judah. His name is great in Israel. God’s people can see His hand in judgement. And not only that, God’s people know that His judgement is often meted out in support of His covenant people. For God has chosen to dwell amongst His people. He pitched his tabernacle in Salem and made Zion his dwelling place.

I think the name Salem is used here intentionally. The reference is to Jerusalem. But Salem means peace. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Melchizedek is ‘the King of Peace’ since he is ‘the King of Salem’ (Heb 7:2). Melchizedek was a type of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

For Christ’s sake, God would preserve peace for his people by defending them from His and their enemies. He does so by rising in judgement against their enemies. He does so by breaking the shields, arrows and swords of their enemies who encamp against them (v. 3).

God’s judgement in other words is not random acts of displaying His power. And they are only displayed for his own glory. Rather, they are directed according to his covenant love for His people.

We may think of God’s judgement, whether in national crisis and natural disasters all being directed for the good of his covenant people. For God’s people and His church, we must remember, thrive best under suffering which tries them that they may come forth as gold.

But secondly, we see that…

2. God’s Judgement is
Awesome (v. 4-9)

4 Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey. 5 The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands [i.e. they have become powerless]. 6 At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep.

Our great and glorious God does not often break out in dramatic display of His power on behalf of his people. But He has done so in the history of His people and will continue to do when ever necessary.

We think of His intervention during the days of Hezekiah when the Assyrian army of Sennacherib surrounded Jerusalem and almost forced her to surrender. But God intervened. The Angel of the LORD went forth and in one night 185,000 of the Assyrian soldiers died.

The next day, the people of God came out to plunder or spoil the army and so averted the famine in the city. This appears, does it not, to be what the psalmist has in mind in verse 5-6?

God’s judgement is awesome, is it not?

7 Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry? 8 Thou didst cause judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared, and was still, 9 When God arose to judgment, to save all the meek of the earth.

His awesome judgement is for the meek of the earth. Who are the meek? They are none other than God’s covenant people. “But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace” says the Psalmist (Ps 37:11).

God is yet able to do awesome things for His people. We live in a day of small thing, and we have grown accustomed to looking at our toes or at the wind and waves or at the man standing next to us. Like babies having interest only on their own toes, we have forgotten that there is much more in the Christian life. We have forgotten to look where we should be looking. No, no; beloved brethren, God is able to do great things. We must learn to expect great things from the Lord. He will yet rise up on behalf of His people and His Son.

But as we see God’s sovereignty displayed in His judgement, let us humble ourselves and acknowledge that…

3. God’s Judgement is to
be Feared (v. 10-12)

10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.

This is a famous verse as we mentioned, but what does it mean? What it means simply is that God is sovereignly in control over the affairs of man.

Proud man may think that they can do what they want to do with impunity without any regard for God; but in reality they are accomplishing God’s will. The Babylonians and the Assyrians were cruel and greedy. They sought to conquer Judah and Israel. They thought their god was greater than Jehovah. But what was happening? What was happening was that they were doing God’s will! They were His sword of chastisement (cf. Jer 20:4; Isa 8:7, etc). This explains why when it was not time for Jerusalem to be overthrown yet, God restrained the Assyrian’s wrath by a display of His sovereign power.

Can you see how greatly to be feared His power is?

What shall our response be?

11 Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.  12 He shall cut off the spirit of princes: he is terrible to the kings of the earth.

If God is so great as to be in control even of the wrath of man, what should our response be to Him, but to serve Him in fear?

We must not take His name lightly. When we have vowed, we must not forget to pay the vow. In this way, we can have the assurance that God will not deal with us in the way he deals with the princes and kings of the earth that have no regard to him. Obedience is the key to the assurance of God’s love, which is why the Lord teaches us: “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” If we keep God’s commandments, we can be assured that we do love Him, and if we have the assurance that we do love Him, then we can be assured that God by His sovereign power is working all things together for our good.


God’s judgement is covenantal, awesome and to be feared. His judgement is awesome for His power is beyond human imagination. The destruction of Sennacherib’s army is but a hiding of God’s power and yet we are astounded.  Who may stand in God’s sight if He reveals the fullness of his power?

But God displays His sovereign power not indiscriminately but rather out of love and consideration for His people.

What shall we do with this knowledge but to fear Him and serve Him. Let us not fear man or look to man for our comfort. Let us not trust in our own abilities. But let us look to Him who is unchanging, come what may in our lives.  Amen.

—JJ Lim