I don’t think any commentary on the book of Psalms will actually have a section entitled Revenge Psalms, but they exist. I decided to memorize one last year. Mind you, I didn’t realize at the time that it was a revenge Psalm. It starts out so innocently, so sweetly: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.”
Yes, I thought, that’s a Psalm for me. I had underlined a few other verses further down such as “He makes my feet like hinds feet/And sets me upon my high places.” Well, who wouldn’t want to memorize that verse? Or how about “The LORD lives and blessed be my rock/And exalted be the God of my salvation.”
Great! So I settled down to memorize Psalm 18. Except, the strength David was talking about and the salvation he was referring to were quite literal. He wanted physical strength to overcome his enemies and he wanted God’s intervention to save him from people who wanted to kill him. If I’d read the intro, I would have realized this.
For the choir director. A Psalm of David, the servant of the Lord, who spoke to the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. And he said…
I think verse 3 encapsulates the Psalm: “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised,/And I am saved from my enemies.”
No doubt about it. David had enemies and he needed to be saved from them. But the Psalm gets pretty graphic later on:
I pursued my enemies and overtook them,
And I did not turn back until they were consumed.
I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise;
They fell under my feet.
For You have girded me with strength for battle;
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.
You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,
And I destroyed those who hated me.
They cried for help, but there was none to save,
Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.
Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind;
I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.
I don’t know about you, but I confess to having problems with the not turning-back-until-they-were-consumed part, the shattering-so-they-were-not-able-to-rise, the destroying-those-who-hated-me, the beating-them-fine-as-the-dust-before-the-wind, and the emptying-them-out-as-the-mire-of-the-streets. It’s all so vengeful.
It reminds me of the modern Middle East with the ongoing battles between Jews and Palestinians, Sunnis and Shiites, insurgents and government forces. People are hating and fighting and praying for rescue, only to turn around and destroy those who were trying to destroy them.
I get that, when we’re talking about peoples who haven’t heard of the love of God, I ought not expect them to act according to the grace and mercy God gives. But when the same kind of attitude crops up in the Bible, it throws me. It’s one thing for God to exercise His just judgment against sinners, but when David talks in such unforgiving tones, I feel a little shocked.
But then I remember the short verse tucked in the midst of all the shattering and destroying: “They cried for help, but there was none to save,/Even to the LORD but He did not answer them.”
I find that verse shocking on a different level. People cried to God for help, but He turned away from them! The Psalm starts out with David being the one who called for help. God didn’t turn a deaf ear to David:
In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.
The next verses describe God acting, as a result, on behalf of David to rescue him. But those enemies who later cried for help, God didn’t answer.
I’ve got this impression of God that He’s always there for us, that He’ll always answer the cry of the needy, but apparently there are needy wicked who He will ignore. I mean, how could he hear and answer David and at the same time hear and answer those who were trying to kill him? Apparently God takes sides.
David, in this same Psalm, credits his righteousness with bringing God on his side:
The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all His ordinances were before me,
And I did not put away His statutes from me.
I was also blameless with Him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.
I emphasized the phrase “in His eyes” because that’s what I think is significant for today. In God’s eyes, those of us covered by the blood of Jesus Christ are righteous. It seems then, that we can call upon the Lord to save us from our enemies.
Except, Paul says our enemies are not flesh and blood:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)
So I’m thinking, maybe a revenge Psalm for the Christian wouldn’t be so shocking if we had a clear idea of who the enemy is. What if we prayed for God to rescue us, our families, churches, communities, states, countries, from Satan and his schemes, in the same way that David prayed for physical rescue? I think that would necessitate us viewing God in the same way David did:
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.
My God, my rock in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.