The Slaying of Rahab the Sea Dragon (Psalm 89)

O LORD God of hosts, 
     who is mighty as you are, O LORD, 
     with your faithfulness all around you? 
You rule the raging of the sea; 
     when its waves rise, you still them. 
You crushed Rahab like a carcass; 
     you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. 
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; 
     the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.

—Psalm 89:8–11

The steadfast love and faithfulness of God’s covenant is sure to endure forever because the might of God lies behind it. That might is spoken of here using the most striking of metaphors. In order to grasp it, it may be helpful to take an inventory of all the elements laid before us. We have sea, heaven, and earth, that is, we have creation as a noun. We also have creation as a verb, as an act. And then there is the might of God and the defeat of his enemies. But most uniquely, we have Rahab. The might of God that lies behind his forever steadfast love is that which crushes Rahab. Surely this doesn’t mean crushing a Canaanite woman. What is Rahab here?

Awake, awake, put on strength, 
     O arm of the LORD; 
awake, as in days of old,
     the generations of long ago. 
Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, 
     who pierced the dragon? 
Was it not you who dried up the sea, 
     the waters of the great deep, 
who made the depths of the sea a way 
     for the redeemed to pass over?” 

—Isaiah 51:9–10; emphasis mine
“The pillars of heaven tremble 
     and are astounded at his rebuke. 
By his power he stilled the sea; 
     by his understanding he shattered Rahab. 
By his wind the heavens were made fair; 
     his hand pierced the fleeing serpent” 

—Job 26:11–13; emphasis mine

This is very similar to the language used of Leviathan in Psalm 74.

“You divided the sea by your might; 
     you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. 
You crushed the heads of Leviathan; 
     you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness. 
You split open springs and brooks; 
     you dried up ever-flowing streams. 
Yours is the day, yours also the night; 
     you have established the heavenly lights and the sun. 
You have fixed all the boundaries of the earth; 
     you have made summer and winter”

—Psalm 74:13–17

Piecing our clues together, it appears as though Rahab is a sea dragon, as in the Mesopotamian myths; a creature associated with chaos. For example, Marduk is said to have defeated the primordial sea goddess Tiamat and to have made heaven and earth from the rent carcass. Thus it is that some accuse the Bible of appropriating pagan mythology at this point.

But earlier in Isaiah we read this, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty; therefore I have called her ‘Rahab who sits still’” (Isaiah 30:7; emphasis mine). Rahab is also clearly a nation in Psalm 87:4.

What are we to make of this? Back up. Take in the big story. When God delivered His people from Egypt in covenant faithfulness he did so with signs and wonders, with a mighty arm judging not only Egypt, but her gods (Exodus 12:12). Egypt is likened to a sea monster of chaos and by defeating her, by crushing the serpent’s head, a people are formed and brought into a land of milk and honey.

Listen to Isaiah 59 again: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the LORD; awake, as in days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over?” (emphasis mine). At the Red Sea, Rahab was slain. The serpent crushed. The people of God delivered. The chaos stilled.

And here, all this is being reflected on in reference not to God’s covenant faithfulness to Moses, but to David. And of the King the psalmist will soon say, “I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers” (89:25). Here is anticipated the serpent-crushing Seed of the woman who calms the chaos of the seas cursed with the serpent. One cannot but think of the Anointed One, the Christ, who after rebuking the tempest on the sea of Galilee then rebuked the Gaderene demoniacs so that the demons went into the pigs who then rushed down a steep bank and into the sea and drowned (Matthew 8).

Behold the Christ, the Son of David whose hand is on the seas and whose foot is on the serpent’s head. At the cross, when it seemed the King was forsaken, it was then that God’s steadfast love and faithfulness were most manifest as it was there, that the pierced foot crushed the dragon’s head.

A Spiritual War with Human Meat Shields (Psalm 17)

There is an emphasis by some on spiritual warfare today, but most of it should be tossed into the looney bin. Many would have us flailing our spiritual fists wildly in the air praying against territorial demons and rebuking the evil spirits in hurricanes.

There is another contingency that thinks we’ll win by niceness. Love can be a potent weapon in war, but niceness is a limp-wristed way of handling a Scottish claymore that’ll result in hurting more friendlies than enemies. Love will make a man throw his body over razor wire so his platoon can escape enemy fire. Niceness will politely hold the wires apart for your allies while signaling the enemy, “We’re over here. Please come to our side.”

Then there are the Westboro militants. You get the impression that the only thing that keeps them from using Satan’s more gruesome weapons is the law of land. They say they’re building God’s kingdom, but they’re using the devil’s tools.

We are in a spiritual war that uses human meat shields. The meat shield shouldn’t keep one from using the imprecatory psalms. They enlisted for their own agenda. The psalms are not a dead language meant primarily for reflective reading and not for active singing.

How aware are we of this war? I think the pathetic nature of our strategies and tactics display that we don’t get it. While some are off playing Dungeons and Dragons in a virtual world, others think we’re in a Nerf gun fight with friends. There are real evils in this world, human and demonic. We must take refuge in God and we must call in heavenly artillery.

Jesus is a King and He is an opposed King. If you think Uncle Sam can draw a line down the middle of the back seat so that we kids play nice and get along, you’re as naive as a five year old. The agenda of the enemy isn’t to maintain space, but to advance space. Jesus said we’re sent out as sheep among wolves. We have all the tactical brilliance of thinking we are sheep among cows. Sure, they’re big and they may hurt us, but we can coexist, grazing peacefully in the same pastures.

Our fundamental confession is “Jesus is Lord.” All the pastures are His. That’s His grass. Repent and bow the knee to Christ as Lord. Persist in your hatred of Him and His bride, and know there is a judgment. 

Let us love our enemies, but let us also sing and lament all rebellion against our King, certain of His glorious judgment to bring us into the fullness of salvation and peace.

Stars and Sucklings (Psalm 8)

Yahweh’s name is majestic in all the earth. It is no surprise that God who set His glory above the heavens is also majestic in the earth, but it is surprising how He magnifies His name on earth. From stars David turns our attention to sucklings. The God who sustains the sun at 53 thousand degrees Fahrenheit establishes strength and stills His foes using babes.

Some have gone to pains to argue how it is that children do this. Who are these toddlers and sucklings? Not simply children, but God’s children. When Jesus responded to the priest’s indignation at the children crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, by quoting this psalm, it was not so much their age, but their act that made them “children.”

God magnified His name over the Egyptian gods by redeeming Israelite slaves. He defeated a giant using a shepherd boy. Once barren Hannah sang,

The bows of the mighty are broken,
but the feeble bind on strength.
Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger.
The barren has borne seven,
but she who has many children is forlorn (1 Samuel 2:4–5 ESV).

Hannah’s song was taken up and amplified in Mary’s,

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever (Luke 1:46–56 ESV).

God’s people, His children, are the toddlers and sucklings through whom God stills His enemies, as they proclaim the most surprising twist of all, Jesus Christ, crucified, thereby defeating His foes, drawing men to Himself, and magnifying His Father. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:27–29 ESV).”

The God who created UY Scuti—a star so big that if it replaced the Sun it would swallow up Jupiter—stills His enemies using sucklings. How majestic is His name in all the earth!

Poetry and Masculinity (Psalm 7)

I’d wager that if you asked a large number of evangelicals what their favorite books of the Bible were, a significant percentage, would include the Psalms among them. And, I’d wager, that just as large a number as said so, are unfamiliar with the Psalms.

I would want to ask them, “Have you ever really read the Psalms?” Sure, they love the 23rd Psalm, and that verse on their coffee mug; they enjoy their devotional literature with excerpts from the psalms, and they “like” those picturesque memes with psalm references making their rounds on Facebook—but have they ever studied the Psalms.

It’s like a person who encounters a pet tiger, and as a result, concludes that tigers are the most wonderful of animals and that everyone should have one as a pet. How many tigers have you met? Do you really know tigers?

The reason I conclude that evangelicals are largely ignorant of the Psalms is this, evangelicalism is effeminate and emasculated. Doubt me? I dare you to walk into a Christian bookstore with open eyes or look around the average evangelical church observing the programming and try to continue deluding yourself.

This is to say nothing against femininity, for femininity not only complements, but encourages masculinity. To be effeminate is against both the masculine and the feminine—it is a marring of both. When men act like women, you’ll find women acting like men, and the result is that you have neither true masculinity nor femininity.

Oddly to some, a cure for this limp-wristedness is poetry. Not poetry like that which you see coming out of the Romantic period, so bent on emotion, but something closer to the Iliad and the Odyssey or Beowulf. David would retch to see his lyrics associated, nearly exclusively, with floral prints and pristine scenery. Not that such imagery is always inappropriate, but that it fails to capture the sweat, blood, fear, and war of the Psalter.

If you could juice the psalms you’d readily know a chief ingredient to be tears, sweat, and blood.

A clear indication of the effeminacy of the church is her refusal to face up to the reality of the psalms. When we come to the imprecatory psalms, those which speak a curse upon enemies, we’re altogether uncomfortable. We’re confused. Thus, we either ignore, them, perhaps naively brushing them off as Old Testament and irrelevant, or, we reject their inspiration altogether. One theologian, J. Sidlow Baxter, has written, “To some minds, these imprecatory passages are perhaps a more difficult obstacle than any other in the way of a settled confidence in the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures.”

A great deal of clarity can be brought to the issue with this question, “Whose side are you on?” While we herald the good news of Jesus Christ longing for the repentance of all men, we also long for the day of His return and the vanquishing of His foes. Jesus is King. Ultimately, may all who refuse to repent of their rebellion perish. The imprecatory psalms are not Old Testament. They’re so new they’ve yet to fully be.

“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10 ESV).”

Why Delay Checkmate? (Exodus 6:28–7:13)

God isn’t going to do a quick job with the Egyptians; He’s going to take it slow. The point isn’t merely rescue, but renown (Exodus 7:5). God doesn’t just win the game, He shows off, and humiliates His foes. God could’ve had checkmate on the first move, but takes out every other piece before He takes the queen, and leaves the king standing to behold it all.

In all the signs, including the staff being turned into a serpent and swallowing the other serpents, God is mocking their gods. Picture King Tut. Between his head is a uraeus, a cobra with a raised hood. This was part of the headdress of the Pharaohs, a symbol of power and authority, likely associated with the goddess Wadjet, oen of the protectors of Pharaoh and Egypt. One ancient text says of Pharaoh, “His gods are over him; his uraeus serpents are over his head.” A later Egyptian relief says of Pharaoh Shoshenq “Thy war-mace, it struck down thy foes… they serpent-crest was mighty among them.”

Pharaoh asks for proof (Exodus 7:9). Is there a real and legitimate authority behind Moses and Aaron’s talk of Yahweh? The staff, a symbol of God’s authority and power, is thrown to the ground and becomes a serpent. The magician-priests of Egypt do the same, but they are swallowed. The message is clear. Imagine a sorcerer-king came from another nation to the U.S. with demands and as proof of his smaller and “primitive” nation’s superiority, he unleashed an eagle that swallowed all the bald eagles in the States. Something like that is happening. God is not just demonstrating His power, He is shaming their’s. God is shaming their glory.

When God redeems His people He does so in style with glory. His aim isn’t just rescue, but renown. He shames His enemies.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. —Colossians 2:13–15

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. —Psalm 8:1–2

He shames, for His glory in His people’s redemption.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” —1 Corinthians 1:18–31

Why intentionally delay checkmate? Glory!

The Pilgrim: Christ Himself Is the Christian’s Armoury

Christ Himself is the Christian’s armoury. When he puts on Christ, he is then completely armed from head to foot. Are his loins girt about with truth? Christ is the truth. Has he on the breastplate of righteousness? Christ is our righteousness. Are his feet shod with the Gospel of peace? Christ is our peace. Does he take the shield of faith, and helmet of salvation? Christ is that shield, and all our salvation. Does he take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God? Christ is the Word of God. Thus he puts on the Lord Jesus Christ; by His Spirit fights the fight of faith; and, in spite of men, of devils, and of his own evil heart, lays hold of eternal life. Thus Christ is all in all.  -John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Matthew 12:22-32 & Kingdom Conquest

Jesus heals a demon oppressed man and the crowds respond with speculation while the Pharisees respond with accusation. The crowd likely speculates because Jesus doesn’t meet their presuppositions. After all of His strong words and mighty miracles they still ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” What did they expect? Who was the Son of David to be?

The Son of David would be God’s Messiah, that is, His Anointed One. Now all the sons of David who served as kings were anointed, but the Messiah (Hebrew), that is, the Christ (Greek), would be the Lord’s Anointed. They were all only shadows, He is the substance. So they are looking for a greater David, someone to free them from political oppression and bring national prosperity. They say they are looking for the Son of David, but they are really looking for another Saul, a king after their own hearts, not God’s. Don’t miss how Jesus in answering the Pharisees’ accusation answers the crowd’s speculation as well.

Jesus says that if He drives out demons by the Spirit of God, and He is arguing that He does, then they must realize that the kingdom of God has come upon them. Jesus is God’s conquering King, and He is advancing, He is binding the strong man and plundering his house. He defeats our greatest foe. When Jesus says He does this “by the Spirit of God” He is saying He is the Lord’s Anointed; that is why the kingdom has come, it is here because the King is here.

Where does Christ achieve decisive victory? At the cross Satan is cast down (John 12:27-34). How does the kingdom advance today? In the preaching of the cross Satan’s kingdom is plundered as blind eyes see, dead hearts beat, and captives are released. The preaching of the cross is not only the power of God unto salvation, it is also the conquest of Satan’s kingdom.