1 Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh. Awaken your might; come and save us.
3 Restore us, O God; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
4 How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
6 You have made us an object of derision to our neighbors, and our enemies mock us.
7 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
Salvation comes up in this Psalm in verses two, three, seven, and nineteen. And verse seventeen tells us who’s doing the saving: “the son of man” at God’s right hand.
So we’re talking Jesus saving us so we go to heaven here, right?
Well…yes…sort of…but nothing could have been farther from the psalmist’s mind. The previous psalm makes it perfectly clear he’s writing about being saved from invaders who had reduced Jerusalem to rubble and fed its people to beasts and birds.
The Hebrew word for “saved” here is “yasha” (יָשַׁע). It occurs in the Bible 206 times. It means to be delivered, win in battle, avenge, be liberated, freed, spared, but it never, ever means to go to heaven or avoid eternity in hell.
As Christians, we’re inclined to see verse 17’s “son of man” as a messianic title, but it’s not…yet. Here it’s “ben-‘adam” (בן–אדם), a Hebrew idiom meaning “human being”—as in not God, not an angel, but a dude the psalmist hopes will save his people from aggressors, but it didn’t happen. Israel fell to Assyria, Judah fell to Babylon, and in the process people got fed to birds and beasts. Assyria’s kings bragged about it. Jerks.
So why bring up the depressing backstory? Because we’re not wrong to see Jesus in this psalm. Jesus is everywhere redeeming everything. But if we extract him from our ancient Scriptures and stick him in a Bible-tract we miss that the Bible is also not wrong—we do need redemption from war and feeding each other to beasts here on earth, and Jesus shows us the way for that too.
Christmas is God’s wildly poetic maneuver to enter into our mess, redeem it all, and give deep new meaning to everything. If you think you’ve wrapped your mind around the salvation Christmas harkens, remember that God’s plan is bigger, and open yourself to that.
Action Steps // Accept your own personal, eternal salvation as a given. Now make a list of things in yourself, your family, community, nation, and the world, that God would need to redeem for things to be on earth as it is in heaven. Refer to your list throughout this Advent season, and make it a point to take specific action—however small—alongside God, in a distinctly Jesus-looking way, in each of those categories. Record those actions, and on Christmas morning, offer them back to God in prayer.[/call_to_action]
by Paul Darilek