Theme: Is Anyone Ever Innocent?
In this week’s lessons we see how David dealt with the anguish of being unjustly accused, and learn the need to leave our own mistreatment with the Lord, trusting him to act justly.
Scripture: Psalm 7:1-17
Yesterday we concluded by considering the issue of false accusations, and said that there are two surprising features which can create problems for us. The first is David’s insistence on his own innocence, and how this fits with the Bible’s teaching that we are not innocent.
There are three things to keep in mind. First, although David is expressing himself as perhaps we would not, his words do not mean that he is perfect, only that he is innocent of the crime of which he is charged. This is a very important distinction, the kind that is made every day in courts of law. Indeed, it is the kind of distinction David would himself have been called upon to make regularly as head of the nation. The question is not whether David was morally perfect but whether he was innocent of this slander. And he was! David was known for his integrity and for his generous conduct toward enemies. H. C. Leupold says, “Only the man who is sure of his innocence in the sight of God would venture to call for such a doom upon himself in case he had been guilty of the thing wherewith he is charged. David, therefore, represents the cause of the righteous who are unjustly persecuted, as the church always is.”2
The second thing to keep in mind is that David does not take vengeance into his own hands, which he might well have been able to do, being king, but instead submits his case to God, who alone has the ultimate right to judge and who alone can judge perfectly. This is an important example for ourselves. In his exposition of this psalm, Arno C. Gaebelein observes, “The godly in time of trouble always flee to him who gives shelter and has the power to deliver.”3 But do we? Or do take matters into our own hands and retaliate, perhaps doing even more damage to our enemy than he or she did to us?
The third thing to notice is that, although David is pleading for justice in his own case, he does not separate his prayer from the concern that God will also exercise judgment over the peoples of the earth. In fact, the cry “Let the LORD judge the peoples” and the appeal “Judge me, O LORD” are placed side by side in verse 8. This was not a selfish concern on David’s part. It is the personal side of a broader and perfectly proper concern.
The second surprising feature of Psalm 7, which is also a problem for us, is David’s appeal to God for justice, which we find in verses 6-9. Arno C. Gaebelein, to whom I have already referred, suggests that over this psalm should be written the sentence: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” referring to Abraham’s prayer in the face of God’s threatened destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.4 But David is not pleading for Sodom or any other third party. He is pleading for himself. “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity ” is his cry (v. 8).
And his cry is urgent. Look at the imperatives: “arise,” “rise up,” “awake,” “decree” (v. 6), “rule” and “judge” (v. 7), “judge” (v. 8) and, eventually, “bring to an end” and “make secure” (v. 9). We have been taught to believe that only fools ask for justice from God and that what we need from God is not justice but mercy.
In my opinion, this is a point at which the British scholar and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis has made an important contribution. In his Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis begins by distinguishing between two kinds of justice: 1) ultimate or heavenly justice, which is most commonly in the Christian’s mind when he considers justice; and 2) limited or earthly justice, which was the primary preoccupation of the Jew. These two understandings produce two different attitudes toward judgment. On the one hand, the Christian trembles at the thought of God’s judgment, because he thinks of himself as the defendant and knows that he is not innocent. Apart from the substitutionary atonement of Christ, he knows that he stands to be condemned. The Jew, thinking of earthly justice, does not tremble at judgment but seeks or desires it. What is more, he does not think of himself as the defendant. He is the plaintiff. The Christian hopes for acquittal or a pardon. The Jew hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damages.
In helping us to understand David’s assertion of his innocence and the Bible’s insistence that we are not innocent, what three points clarify this?
What is the second surprising feature of this psalm?
Describe the two kinds of justice C.S. Lewis mentions.
Application: What should you do the next time you are tempted to take vengeance in some way for a wrong done to you?
For Further Study: If you would like to add James Boice’s study on the Psalms to your library, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering his three-volume set at 40% off, plus free shipping.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 94.
3Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux, 1965), p. 40.
4Ibid., p. 39.