"For the wrath of man shall praise you..."

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Here's the manuscript for the sermon I preached the Lord's Day following 9/11 ten years ago, and then again yesterday on its tenth anniversary. I should add that the manuscript usually serves only as my loose outline for the preaching of God's Word.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, You Yourself have promised, “(I) will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment” (Ezekiel 34:16).

Father, we are not the fat and strong, but rather the lost, scattered, broken, and sick who turn to You in our day of need and cry out in repentance for your mercy and healing; both for us and for our beloved mother land. We approach Your majestic throne with trembling and boldness; trembling because we acknowledge that if Thou, O Lord, kept track of iniquities, there is not one of us who could stand; but boldness because we have heard Your Word promise mercy to all who turn from their sins, in faith looking to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, believing in His Perfect Sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. It is in His blessed Name, then, that we boldly approach the Throne of Grace, clothed in Christ’s righteousness and confident that we are acceptable in Your sight.

Father, you have warned us in your Word, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). This Lord’s Day, we cry out for vision, for revelation from on high, that we may not perish. We cry out for the Law of God that we may take (and give) warning. We plead with you to send out across this land, not a “deceiving spirit in the mouth of the prophets” (1Kings 22:22) but lips which “preserve knowledge and understanding,” leading us into all truth.

As we open Your Word, please stoop low and feed us by the power of Your Holy Spirit, that we might take comfort and be strengthened for the battle ahead—a battle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Send out your Word—Your Word is Truth—and we will be satisfied. Fill us with Your Spirit—the “spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2)—and we will be comforted. Pour out your grace—the grace of our Beloved Lord Jesus Christ Whose blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins—and we will be saved. Adopt us as Your Own sons and daughters, whose names have “been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Revelation 13:8), and we will cease striving and quiet ourselves; “Like a weaned child rests against his mother,” (our) souls will be like a weaned child within us (Psalm 131:2).

We wait upon You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because we have no one else—You alone have the words of Eternal Life—and besides You, there is none else that we desire. Our flesh and our hearts may fail, but You are the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (Psalm 73:26). Amen.

Our sermon text this morning is Psalm 76. Let us hear the Word of God.

* Psalm 76

1 <<For the choir director; on stringed instruments. A Psalm of Asaph, a Song.>> God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. 2 His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion. 3 There He broke the flaming arrows, The shield and the sword and the weapons of war. Selah. 4 You are resplendent, More majestic than the mountains of prey. 5 The stouthearted were plundered, They sank into sleep; And none of the warriors could use his hands. 6 At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, Both rider and horse were cast into a dead sleep. 7 You, even You, are to be feared; And who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry? 8 You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; The earth feared and was still 9 When God arose to judgment, To save all the humble of the earth. Selah. 10 For the wrath of man shall praise You; With a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself. 11 Make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them; Let all who are around Him bring gifts to Him who is to be feared. 12 He will cut off the spirit of princes; He is feared by the kings of the earth.”

Let us pay particular attention to the first half of verse ten, from which our sermon title is taken: “For the wrath of man shall praise you.”

1 God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. 2 His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion.

The Psalmist sings of the tender mercies of God towards His Church which, in these times of Old Testament history, was one with the Jewish nation. Judah, Israel, Salem (another name for Jerusalem), and Zion do not simply own a soft spot in His heart; they are His house, the place where His Name and reputation dwell.

3 There He broke the flaming arrows, The shield and the sword and the weapons of war. Selah.”

What able-bodied man would allow an enemy to overthrow his homeland without standing to defend her? Even more, his own tabernacle and dwelling place? Just so, God stood to defend His Name, His Glory, when flaming arrows, the shield and sword, when the weapons of war came against her. And He was mighty in battle, breaking their implements of war Himself, by His Own omnipotent hand.

As Moses and Miriam of old sang of the horse and the rider thrown into the sea, so Asaph sings a song of triumph—God’s triumph over His Own, Israel’s, enemies:

4 You are resplendent, More majestic than the mountains of prey. 5 The stouthearted were plundered, They sank into sleep; And none of the warriors could use his hands. 6 At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, Both rider and horse were cast into a dead sleep.

Asaph rehearses the mighty acts by which the Only True God has vindicated His Bride. He has won a glorious victory.

And what is the lesson to be learned?

7 You, even You, are to be feared; And who may stand in Your presence when once You are angry? 8 You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; The earth feared and was still 9 When God arose to judgment, To save all the humble of the earth. Selah. 10 For the wrath of man shall praise You; With a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself.

That God is to be feared.

That no man can stand in His presence when once He has been angered.

That He is not soft, lacking in resolve to deal with those who dishonor His Name that dwells in righteousness among His People, but that He will send forth judgments from His Heaven before which man, no matter what his weapons or numbers, cannot stand. That the earth properly fears and is still in this judgment’s presence.

That the judgment of God is not in behalf of the proud, but the humble.

And that God works out all things for His Own glory, even causing the wrath of man to give Himself praise.

And what is the application of these truths?

11 Make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them; Let all who are around Him bring gifts to Him who is to be feared. 12 He will cut off the spirit of princes; He is feared by the kings of the earth.”

What a glorious statement of the providence and awesome sovereignty of God: that, according to verse 10 , “the wrath of man shall praise (Him).”

It is the teaching of the Word of God, reinforced again and again from Genesis through Revelation, that God is sovereign over all things, and that there is nothing which happens which has not passed through His will, and through which He will not receive glory. As the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this Biblical teaching:

* Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5; On Providence

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.

The first words of Scripture in Genesis 1:1 demonstrate for us God’s sovereignty over creation:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

And at the beginning of the Gospel of John we read:

All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3).

Yet as delightful as modern man finds the natural world with its almost infinite variety of forms and beauty, he finds it difficult to acknowledge that the One Who created nature is nature’s God and has absolute sovereignty—perfect authority and power—over that creation, including the power to consume it with the fire of His wrath when it defies Him.

Just as Scripture is clear in presenting the historical record of God’s creative acts, it is equally clear in presenting His judgments.

God created the Garden of Eden and gave it to Adam and Eve for their blessing. But when Adam sinned, God cast Adam and Eve out, posting an angel wielding a flaming sword at the Garden’s entrance to bar them from ever entering it again. And to this day man continues to be barred from Eden. Almighty God has spoken and what He decrees no man may oppose. Judgment fell upon the earth from the hand of our Creator and we suffer the consequences down to this day, as will our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren after us—as long as the earth remains.

As God’s creation of the heavens and the earth did not bring to an end the dispensations of His grace and mercy, so the curse of that creation and the casting of Adam and Eve out of Eden did not bring to an end the dispensations of His judgment.

Adam’s descendants rebelled against their Maker and they were so evil that this is how God spoke of them:

(T)he LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart (Genesis 6:5-6).

Thus it was His sovereign will that they would be judged, and He decreed:

The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them (Genesis 6:5-7).

Then God sent a flood which wiped out every living creature except those safely gathered inside Noah’s Ark. True to His Word, He fulfilled what He had promised and blotted out man whom He had “created from the face of the land…”

Scripture records for us the history of God’s work among man, and we find that work characterized by promises and threats, blessings and curses, life and death, mercy and judgment. Both the Old and New Testaments declare that it is God’s sovereign will and decree that “the just shall live by faith” while the wicked die in their sins, and the hand of God is hidden neither when He showers His kindness on man, nor when His wrath and judgment break in, carrying men away in a flood.

And it is this theme, the sovereignty of God, which is struck again by the title of our sermon this morning:

* Psalm 76:10 For the wrath of man shall praise You; With a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself.

But this statement occurs in a context which is opened up in the full text of the seventy-sixth Psalm. Here we have a Psalm written by Asaph, addressed to the choirmaster with the direction that it be accompanied by stringed instruments. All this we read in the Psalm’s preface.

Who is this man, Asaph, and what is the context for this Psalm?

Look with me at the previous Psalm, seventy-five, and again we see this name Asaph in its preface. Asaph wrote a number of Psalms, including that sublime and intimate statement of love for God found in Psalm 73:

Psalms 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Twelve Psalms are called “Psalms of Asaph.” Asaph was “one of David’s chief musicians.” In 1Chronicles 15:16-19 we are told that it was Asaph who led the music for the processional when David brought the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem. Both he and his sons were leading music at many of the great ceremonies recorded for us in Scripture, and his descendants are mentioned—even as late as the time of Nehemiah—as those who led the people in their celebration of the rebuilding of the temple.

There are two notable characteristics of Asaph’s Psalms:

1.  the theme of God judging the wicked, and

2.  the theme of God being the Shepherd and His People being His flock.

It is in this context—the judgment of God against the wicked and His protection of the righteous—that Asaph, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes:

* Psalm 76:10 For the wrath of man shall praise You; With a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself.

Is there any indication what wrath in particular Asaph might have been referring to when he spoke of man’s wrath praising God?

Undoubtedly he was referring to a mighty victory for the People of God.

It may have been in the time of King David—we know there was a man named Asaph who served as one of the chief musicians during King David’s reign.

More likely it was during the time of Sennacherib, King of Assyria.

When the Old Testament was translated into Greek during the second century B.C. by around seventy Jewish scholars, those scholars added to the text of this Greek translation, the Septuagint, a note at the beginning of Psalm 76 which labeled this Psalm, “An ode against the Assyrians.”

So it is likely that it was not the Asaph of King David’s time who wrote this Psalm, but another Asaph—one who lived in the time of King Hezekiah and saw the defeat of the Assyrian hordes outside the walls of Jerusalem by the hand of God. (Let us remember, though, that this explanation of the origin of Psalm 76 written by the translators of the Septuagint is not the inspired text of Scripture—any more than any of the footnotes of your own study Bible.)

If, though, they are correct and this particular Psalm was written as a cry of victory against the Assyrians, it is likely that the occasion for this Psalm was the defeat of Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah. Here is a thumbnail sketch of the details of that war.

Shortly after King Hezekiah took the throne in Judah (the Southern Kingdom which included Jerusalem), Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, made war against the Northern Kingdom, called Israel. And due to the wickedness rampant among the People of God up north in Israel, after two years of siege the Assyrians were allowed by God to be victorious and they took the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity. We read in 2 Kings 18:12 that God sent this judgment on his people who lived in the Northern Kingdom of Israel…

2 Kings 18:12 …because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed His covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded; they would neither listen nor do it.”

After his conquest of Israel, Shalmaneser was succeeded as King of Assyrian by Sennacherib, and this new Assyrian king turned his attention toward the Southern Kingdom, Judah, which was still under the reign of King Hezekiah.

What kind of a man was King Hezekiah?

He was a righteous man who, because of the courageous reform he undertook in Judah, received the blessing of God:

2 Kings 18:2-7a (Hezekiah) was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Abi the daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. 5 He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; wherever he went he prospered.

This new king of Assyria, though, had his eye fixed on Judah and, eight years after the his predecessor carried the Northern Kingdom of Israel into exile, Sennacherib invaded the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Initially, his army was quite successful; rolling across the countryside they captured fortified city after fortified city.

Apparently lacking faith in God’s protection, King Hezekiah watched their advance and sued for peace. We see his pitiful plea for peace recorded for all posterity to read in 2Kings 18:13:

2 Kings 18:13-37 Now in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them. 14 Then Hezekiah king of Judah sent to the king of Assyria at Lachish, saying, “I have done wrong. Withdraw from me; whatever you impose on me I will bear.” So the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold. 15 Hezekiah gave him all the silver which was found in the house of the LORD, and in the treasuries of the king’s house. 16 At that time Hezekiah cut off the gold from the doors of the temple of the LORD, and from the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and gave it to the king of Assyria.

If King Hezekiah was hopeful that his bribes of temple gold would appease Senacharib, he was soon disappointed to learn that they had only served to inflame his passions, and soon Senacharib’s army was camped outside the walls of the capital, Jerusalem, demanding the keys of the kingdom. The story picks up with 2Kings 18:28:

2Kings 18:28 Then Rabshakeh stood and cried with a loud voice in Judean, saying, “Hear the word of the great king, the king of Assyria. 29 “Thus says the king, ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand; 30 nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD, saying, “The LORD will surely deliver us, and this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria…

33 ‘Has any one of the gods of the nations delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? 34 ‘Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they delivered Samaria from my hand? 35 ‘Who among all the gods of the lands have delivered their land from my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem from my hand?’”

Following a few other developments, King Hezekiah turned to God in prayer.

2Kings 19:15 Hezekiah prayed before the LORD and said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, who are enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 16 “Incline Your ear, O LORD, and hear; open Your eyes, O LORD, and see; and listen to the words of Sennacherib, which he has sent to reproach the living God. 17 “Truly, O LORD, the kings of Assyria have devastated the nations and their lands 18 and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. 19 “Now, O LORD our God, I pray, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, O LORD, are God.” 20 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent to Hezekiah saying, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Because you have prayed to Me about Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard you.’ 21 “This is the word that the LORD has spoken against him: ‘She has despised you and mocked you, The virgin daughter of Zion; She has shaken her head behind you, The daughter of Jerusalem! 22 ‘Whom have you reproached and blasphemed? And against whom have you raised your voice, And haughtily lifted up your eyes? Against the Holy One of Israel!

* * *

32 ‘Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, “He will not come to this city or shoot an arrow there; and he will not come before it with a shield or throw up a siege ramp against it. 33 “By the way that he came, by the same he will return, and he shall not come to this city,”’ declares the LORD. 34 ‘For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’” 35 Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men rose early in the morning, behold, all of them were dead. 36 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and returned home, and lived at Nineveh. 37 It came about as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son became king in his place.”

Thus it is that this Psalm, 76, is a celebration, not of the power of man or the sophistication of his weapons, but of man’s God who directs all things toward the end of His Own glory, and Who jealously guarded His own flock tenderly, completely wiping out the mighty Assyrian army with not a finger lifted by Hezekiah or his Judean troops.

Psalms 76:1-4 God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel. 2 His tabernacle is in Salem; His dwelling place also is in Zion. 3 There He broke the flaming arrows, The shield and the sword and the weapons of war. Selah.

It was Jerusalem that God had chosen for His dwelling place, and there alone He commanded that the People of God bring their sacrifices and worship. Thus an attack upon Jerusalem was an attack upon the House and People, the Bride of God.

And thus it was that God caused the nation and King of Assyria to bring Himself glory, as in days of old, God caused the wrath and pride of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, also, to bring Himself glory:

Exodus 14:4, NAS95 “4 “Thus I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD.” And they did so.”


What then is the application we may make today?

First, that there is a firm connection between God and the corporate affairs of man, whether families, cities, or nations—both in judgment and mercy.

For judgment, consider God’s judgment of the people as they build the Tower of Babel, Pharaoh and the Egyptians as they oppressed the Hebrews, Israel (and later Judah) as they were taken into exile.

Consider the families of Aachan, Eli, Saul, and Ananias.

Consider the church in Corinth, where because of their not discerning the Body of Christ in their celebration of the Lord’s Supper, some were cast by God onto the sick bed and others died.

For mercy, consider here the account of Judah, later the forgiveness of Ninevah, and the family of Lydia and Cornelius.

Psalms 33:12, NAS95 “12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, The people whom He has chosen for His own inheritance.”

Proverbs 14:34, NAS95 “34 Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.”

Zechariah 7:1-14 In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. 2 Now the town of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regemmelech and their men to seek the favor of the LORD, 3 speaking to the priests who belong to the house of the LORD of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, “Shall I weep in the fifth month and abstain (fast), as I have done these many years?” 4 Then the word of the LORD of hosts came to me, saying, 5 “Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? 6 ‘When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? 7 ‘Are not these the words which the LORD proclaimed by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and prosperous along with its cities around it, and the Negev and the foothills were inhabited?’” 8 Then the word of the LORD came to Zechariah saying, 9 “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; 10 and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.’ 11 “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. 12 “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts. 13 “And just as He called and they would not listen, so they called and I would not listen,” says the LORD of hosts; 14 “but I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate.””

1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Ezekiel 7:26 Disaster will come upon disaster and rumor will be added to rumor; then they will seek a vision from a prophet, but the law will be lost from the priest and counsel from the elders.” 

* Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, God’s Purposes in Affliction

“Why does God let his people be in the house of bondage or in an afflicted state?...(2) for purgation; to purge our corruption. Ardet palea, purgatur aurum. ‘And this is all the fruit, to take away his sin.’ Is. 28:9. The eye, though a tender part, yet when sore, we put sharp powders and waters into it to eat out the pearl; so though the people of God are dear to him, yet, when corruption begins to grow in them, he will apply the sharp powder of affliction, to eat out the pearl in the eye. Affliction is God’s flail to thresh off our husks; it is a means God uses to purge out sloth, luxury, pride, and love of the world. God’s furnace is in Zion. Is. 31:5. This is not to consume, but to refine. What if we have more affliction, if by this means we have less sin” (p. 30)!

“If Israel be sometimes in the house of bondage, in an afflicted state, think beforehand of affliction. Say not as Job (29:18), ‘I shall die in my nest.’ In the house of mirth think of the house of bondage. You that are now Naomi, may be Mara. Ruth 1:20. How quickly may the scene turn, and the hyperbole of joy end in a catastrophe! All outward things are given to change. The forethoughts of affliction would make us sober and moderate in the use of lawful delight; it would cure a surfeit. Christ at a feast mentions his burial; a good antidote against a surfeit. The forethought of affliction would make us prepare for it; it would take us off the world; it would put us upon search of our evidences” (p. 33).

(Hebrews 3:7-14) 7 Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, 8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, 9 WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. 10 “THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, ‘THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS’; 11 AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, ‘THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.’” 12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end...