This is the seventh post about the Psalms in a series I started several years ago. It’s taking me a lot of time, but I’m going through each Psalm as a way of coming back to the Bible. Thanks for reading as I pick the series back up again.
1 Lord my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
2 or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 Lord my God, if I have done this
and there is guilt on my hands—
4 if I have repaid my ally with evil
or without cause have robbed my foe—
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground
and make me sleep in the dust.
6 Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
8 Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.
10 My shield is God Most High,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
a God who displays his wrath every day.
12 If he does not relent,
he will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
13 He has prepared his deadly weapons;
he makes ready his flaming arrows.
14 Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
(New International Version)
Honestly, I’m not crazy about Psalms like this, that ask God to rise up against my enemies in rage. I find it hard to reconcile this almost revenge style language with Jesus’ turning of the other cheek. I don’t want God to rage against my enemies. It boggles my mind sometimes, but I truly believe God loves all his people, even the ones who seem to be against me or completely unlike me. Who am I to ask God to rage against my enemies, when my enemies are his people too?
But I do believe in justice. I think about it often, at least in terms of earthly justice. I see how unjust our world can be and it breaks my heart. It breaks God’s heart, too. I see a lot of injustice these days honestly, mainly in our societal and political systems, maybe what the Bible might be called “powers and principalities.” I see people, poor and oppressed and cast aside. I see people work hard, but still unable to get ahead because of systems that privilege the rich and powerful. I see my own privilege, white and middle class, that affords me many things simply because I was born this way, not because I deserve it more or have even worked harder for it.
Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands (v. 3), forgive me. Forgive me for the ways I have contributed to the injustice in the world. For the ways that I have used my own privilege without regard to how it may disadvantage someone else. For the times that I have not used my privilege to make the world more equal, more just. For all the ways I haven’t even realized my privilege is helping me and hurting others.
Decree justice (v. 6), Lord.
So I read this Psalm, and I focus on the verses that cause me to repent. Because I do want justice; I want systemic injustice wiped out, but I see my own participation in it, my own need to repent.
And I hesitate to use language of violence and wrath when I hope there is a better way. I turn away from violent Old Testament metaphors and toward a more merciful “Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34) sentiment. I look to Jesus. I know there are people who uphold the current systems because they benefit from them (I am surely among them sometimes). There are people who appear to be enemies of justice. And Jesus overturned the tables of those who benefited by oppressing others, but I don’t know that he called on his father to prepare deadly weapons against them (v. 13). Anger toward injustice is certainly warranted, but is violence? I’d like to think there is a better way, so I struggle with Psalm 7.
The Psalm ends in praise, because in the end, God will bring justice. That is a hope I can hold onto, while I search for the ways I can help bring justice in the here and now.