219 - A Prayer for the Justice of God (Psalms 33-35)
As believers, our lives should be filled with love for God and thanksgiving for His goodness to us. But to follow the Lord also means hating sin and desiring that sin be dealt with justly. Psalms 33–35 reveal these two emphases.
The book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, and it is filled with emotion. One of my favorite Bible teachers, G. Campbell Morgan, wrote many years ago that whatever your changing mood might be, you will find a psalm to express it. Are you sad? You can find a psalm that will help you cry. Are you glad? You will find a psalm to help you sing. But in every one of these psalms, whether in a major or minor key, the singer is very conscious of the Lord.
Now here in Psalm 33, we are not told who the author is, but one thing is for sure—this is written in the major key as the songwriter sweeps us up into joyful praise of God. The author calls for this psalm to be accompanied by the lyre—the forerunner of the guitar—and also a harp with ten strings. And with them playing the melody, the songwriter sings in verse 3, “Sing to him [the Lord] a new song.”
He praises the Lord as the great Creator in verse 6: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their hosts.” And in verse 12, He makes a powerful statement that can be applied to every nation on earth: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
That is true to this day. The nation that follows God is blessed; and the nation that rejects God is going to pay the penalty in a thousand different ways: confusion, disillusionment, dissatisfaction, and despair.
Psalm 34 is more of the same, but it is anchored to an event in the life of King David. The heading of this psalm says, “When [David] changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.” You will find that event recorded in 1 Samuel 21, where David was running for his life from King Saul. David fled to the gate of his own personal enemy, King Abimelech, no doubt thinking, The enemy of my enemy (Saul) will be my friend. Well, that was not the case at all, and David pretended to be insane in order to get away.
David realized his life had been spared by God, and he writes here in verse 3, “Oh, magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt his name together!” And in verse 8, he adds, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” David also sings here in verse 18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
How are you feeling today? Joyful? Then sing along with David, “Let us exalt his name together!” Are you sad or crushed in spirit today? Then sing along with David, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.” He delivers those whose spirits are crushed by the weight of sorrow.
You might even be angry at those who have hurt you. Maybe somebody has done something to you that is so wicked, you are praying that God’s justice will show up and make things right.
This next psalm, Psalm 35, is one of those moments for David. Verse 1 sets the stage for us: “Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!”
David is pleading with the Lord to take these enemies and toss them out of his way. David describes their evil actions in verse 7: “Without cause they hid their net for me; without cause they dug a pit for my life.” And in verses 11-12 we readthat “malicious witnesses rise up” and seek to repay him “evil for good.”
I don’t know who these people were, but they were not very nice at all. In fact, they were downright wicked. David wants the Lord to fight against them on his behalf.
He writes back in verse 6, “Let their way be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!” In other words, David wants their path to be slippery so they will eventually get caught.
Then in verse 8, he says:
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! And let the net that he hid ensnare him; let him fall into it—to his destruction!
This type of psalm is called an “imprecatory psalm.” Such psalms call out for divine judgment on one’s enemies.
Does that rub you the wrong way? Didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies”? Yes, He did. But don’t forget that one day every enemy of God and righteousness will face the wrath and judgment of God.
Let’s make sure we pause long enough to understand the context of these imprecatory psalms so they are not so confusing to us. Remember, these psalms are in the Old Testament, and they are going to relate to the covenant God made with Abraham and the nation of Israel. In that covenant back in Genesis 12, God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you [that is, Abraham and his offspring], and him who dishonors you I will curse.” So, judgment against wickedness, expressed here as a curse, originates with God.
The Lord also expanded that covenant with David and his offspring in 2 Samuel 7, giving them a special role in God’s plan. The Lord said to David there in verse 16, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.” Now that covenant ultimately will be fulfilled one day through Jesus, the legal descendant of David, when He reigns on David’s throne forever.
And by the way, don’t forget that David lived under the law of Moses, and, as king, he was responsible to rule his kingdom by the law. The law contained the eye-for-an-eye principle, given back in Exodus 21:23-24: “If there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Justice is the purpose of this law, and justice includes punishment that matches the crime.
Now all these covenant promises provide a basis for the imprecatory psalms, where you find David or some other author calling for literal judgment against the enemies of Israel. Now you might read one of these imprecatory psalms and think the author just wants personal vengeance. No, he is actually defending Israel in relation to the covenant promise of God’s protection.
Now let me give you a principle in Bible interpretation: “the first mention of any given subject provides the key to [understanding] it.” And the first imprecatory verse in Psalms is Psalm 5:10, where David calls for God’s justice to fall on his enemies:
Because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you [God].
Here is the message I want you to remember, beloved—and it’s not a popular message today—God hates sin and will one day judge the unrepentant sinner with perfect justice.
Now God is not immediately acting in judgment on the enemies of the church today, as He did in the Old Testament with the enemies of Israel. The apostle Paul tells us in this dispensation of the church age, God’s wrath against sinners is being stored up all the way to the final day of judgment.
Well, back here in the Old Testament, in this imprecatory psalm, David wants God to be honored. David wants the law immediately upheld here and now. Imprecatory psalms ask for that judgment to fall on the enemies of the righteous.
Let me put it this way: Suppose as a child you face a bully on the school bus. Every time you get on that bus, he beats you up or takes your lunch money. What are you going to do about it? Well, if you have a big brother, you are going to ask him to get on the bus one day with you and take care of that bully.
That is what David is doing here. The justice of God is that big brother. And David wants him to get on the bus, so to speak, and take care of his enemies.
This psalm is also an invitation to make sure you have hidden your life in your big Brother, Jesus Christ, who suffered the just wrath of God on your behalf. And now that you are forgiven, you can actually love your enemies and also leave them to God. He just might take care of them now; but remember, if they do not repent and come to Christ, they will suffer more than you can imagine, on that coming day of judgment.
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