The writer reflects on the first destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion which followed (9:1-3). The title of the psalm is εἰς ἔλεγχον, translated as “For Proof” by Wright (OTP 2:660) but as “For Rebuke” in the Lexham LXX. The noun can have the sense of proving something to be true (in contrast to faith in Hebrews 11:1), but it is also an expression of strong disapproval, reproof or correction (BDAG; 2 Tim 3:16).
The psalmist acknowledges Israel was scattered among all the nations as a result of the righteous judgment of God. Israel had “neglected the Lord” (an articular infinitive, ἐν τῷ ἀποστῆναι). The verb can refer to a revolt (Acts 5:37) and the related noun (ἀποστασία) is often translated as a religious falling away, an apostasy. This is the sense of the word in the LXX (Deut 32:15; Jer 3:14). The writer is therefore acknowledging Israel’s guilt when they were sent into exile in 722 B.C. and 586 B.C. In Jeremiah 16:13 the Lord declared “I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known.” The writer of this Psalm is on the other side of that long exile and confesses the Lord to be righteous, and Israel to be lawless (ἀνομία, v. 2).
This is a significant admission from the author of this Psalm. Although it is impossible to be certain of the date of composition, the writer likely lives under Roman rule, sometime between 63 B.C. and A. D. 70. The first three verses of this Psalm are therefore evidence Jews living around the first century thought of themselves as living in a continuing state of exile. Daniel 9 expresses the idea that the exile would last not seventy years, but “seven times seventy years” (Daniel 9:20-27). N. T. Wright has promoted this idea in many of his writings and it has almost become the consensus opinion in New Testament scholarship (although see the essays in Exile: A Conversation with N. T. Wright edited by James M. Scott). Unlike Psalms of Solomon 17, there is no hint of Jewish nationalism in this particular Psalm.
It is only the Lord who can cleanse the soul from sin (9:4-7). This section of the Psalm is important for understanding the use of righteousness (δικαιοσύνη) in the first century, especially in Romans and Galatians. Psalm of Solomon 9:5 says the one who does righteousness stores up life for himself with the Lord (ὁ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην θησαυρίζει ζωὴν αὑτῷ παρὰ κυρίῳ), and the one who unrighteousness (ἀδικία) causes his own life to be destroyed. Daniel Falk observes this verse is often cited as the “clearest example of God’s mercy earned by conduct” and he cites Mark Siefrid, “the destiny of the individual can be said to be contingent on behavior” (Justification and Variegated Nomism, 1:41).
Falk however argues Psalms of Solomon 9 intends just the opposite, only the repentant sinner will receive mercy from God. In the very next verse the psalmist describes the repentant sinner calling on God and being cleansed and restored. Verse 7 specifically states “your goodness is upon those that sin, when they repent.” The first three verses acknowledges the rebellion of Israel resulted in the exile. For the writer of this Psalm, the only solution at the present time is to pursue righteousness while recognizing even the righteous still sin and need to call upon their Lord.
Therefore the Israel of the psalmist’s day ought to recognize they are still God’s people and put their hope in God’s covenant which he made with their ancestors (9:8-11). The writer grounds this in God’s character (he is both faithful and compassionate). Israel was chosen as God’s people and God has put his name on them.
The writer does not consider the possibility God has finally rejected his people since he is confident that even after the dispersion of 586 B.C. Israel is still God’s people. Assuming the Psalm was written after Israel came under Roman power in 63 B.C., the Psalm encourages people living under yet another foreign oppressor that they are still God’s people even if they are still living in the exile.