Our culture tells us in a thousand ways that money and might prevail. In an election season, we are being given highly politicized polls from both political sides promising that each will prevail.
While studying Psalm 65 this past week, my soul gravitated toward one word in one particular verse: prevail. Since then, I have been unable to unravel my thoughts from it.
“Praise is due to you, O God in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you all flesh shall come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions” (Psalm 65:2-3).
The English word prevail literally means “to prove more powerful than opposing forces.” The Hebrew word gabar, translated prevail in the verse above, literally means to exceed or to put on more strength.
The image that comes to heart and mind is that of a mounting, rising wave of sin and its consequences of guilt and shame. I have never experienced a tsunami, but I have been boogie boarding with my boys and watching what felt like huge waves growing before my eyes, filling me with fear.
In this season of unknowns, many of us feel anxiety, fear, shame, and the sins that they tend to spawn mounting up around us, seemingly ready to prevail against our hope, our perspective, and our faith.
When Mercy Prevailed over Prevailing Waters
The same word gabar is used repeatedly in Genesis 7 in which the sins of humanity have become so pervasive that God decided to mostly start over by cleansing the earth through a massive flood. As the unprecedented flood is described, the writer the phrase “the waters prevailed” four times. The waters exerted themselves, rose, grew strong, and seemed to prevail. The situation seemed utterly hopeless. Until the beginning of chapter 8 when the writer pivots on two powerful verses.
“But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided” (Genesis 8:1-2).
God showed mercy to Noah and his family by warning them, by commanding them to create a floating zoo of sorts. They humbled themselves under the Word of God and believed His promises of restoration despite the odds and all the evidence of their senses. God’s mercy prevailed over the prevailing waters.
In a similar way, in Psalm 65, David senses the mounting power of his sin and its consequences exerting themselves against him, threatening to drown him in guilt and despair. But then David records that God atones for the mounting sins. The Hebrew word kaphar translated atone here literally means to cover, to pacify, or to make propitiation.
When sin, guilt, and shame seem to be so strong that seem invincible, when they seem to prevail against us, we have the Cross that reminds us that God’s mercy prevails. The wave of the wrath of God against all that is unlovely, unfaithful, and unjust in and around us crested and crashed on the perfect Son of God. It overwhelmed him. As he laid wrapped in death linens, the enemy seemed to have prevailed.
But our Christ rose and walked out of the tomb. He prevailed over the shadow of death that had prevailed over humanity since the tempter prevailed upon our foremother and forefather. He pacified the roar of death. He covered our transgressions.
Mercy Still Prevails
The once-barren Hannah who felt that infertility would always prevail against her knew something of the prevailing mercy of our God. After years of pouring her heart out and feeling hopeless, God provided her a son. In her song of thanksgiving that mirrors Mary’s Magnificat about another promised child, she penned the following verse.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9).
Because the One who was fully faithful had his feet bound to the cross, our feet our now guarded. We prevail, but not in the ways world prevails. We prevail through the presence and power of our merciful God.