When we read the psalms and the prophets (including the NT writers) we might wonder how they can speak so positively and confidently about life when everything around them is in complete chaos.
Well, it seems, that in certain places in their writings to accomplish this they use what is called the “prophetic perfect” tense! And it is “a literary technique used in the Bible that describes future events that are so certain to happen that they are referred to in the past tense as if they had already happened.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prophetic_perfect_tense)
The psalmists use it often, including in Psalm 9:3-6 as follows:
“My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.
4 For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
5 You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
6 Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.”
So, as per the Wikipedia definition above, here the psalmist “describes future events [upholding his cause and bringing judgement on his enemies] that are so certain to happen that they are referred to in the past tense as if they had already happened.”
It is interesting, in that, as we read this whole psalm we certainly don’t get the impression that this is yet the case as the psalmist still cries out to God for help against those who oppose him. He says in verses 13-14, 19-20:
“Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
14 that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.
Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
20 Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.”
So how can the psalmist be so confident “that [these things] are so certain to happen”? I believe, it is because of what the Word of God teaches him (and us) about God’s character, sovereignty and the history of God’s “wonderful deeds” in the past, and also from the psalmist’s own experience of God and his ways. So, he acknowledges in verses 7-18:
“The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8 He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
9 The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted…
16 The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
17 The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.
18 But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”
I wonder, despite what might be happening in your life or mine, are we able to talk so confidently of the future in the same way the psalmist did? Are we able to use the “prophetic perfect” tense with complete faith that it will actually happen?
The Apostle John did in Revelation 11:15 when he quoted “loud voices in heaven, which said:
‘The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
and he will reign for ever and ever.’”
How we look forward to that day, when faith will become fact, not with just a hope-so attitude, not with just some religious optimism, but with true confidence in God. As it says in the Message:
“What you [God] say, goes—it always has.” (Psalm 93:5)
Father, we do not want to deny all the suffering and injustice that is happening around us in our broken world. We can’t deny our own pain. But we do know you well enough to acknowledge that it won’t always be this way. You will have the last word and for that we are extremely grateful. Help us to live in the light of this truth. Amen.