Theme: Our Great Adversary
In this week’s lessons we learn how to handle slander and mistreatment in a righteous way, both against ourselves and others.
Scripture: Psalm 35:1-28
Unlike many of our psalm studies, I have saved the application of this one to the end, because it is difficult to apply and because I wanted to get the whole of the psalm unpacked before I did. How should we apply it? Is it right to ask God to judge our enemies, as David did? Can we pray part of what he prayed, eliminating other parts? If so, how do we distinguish between the parts? Or should we reject the imprecatory psalms entirely? Let me suggest the following.
First, we need to remember what I said at the beginning about David not writing as a private citizen but as the king and chief justice of Israel. We are not in that role, of course. We are private citizens, unless perhaps we do serve as a judge or high political figure. The bearing of David’s position as king for us is that, while we must be very careful about asking God to judge those who have offended us personally, there is nothing wrong with asking for justice on behalf of others who have been wronged. In fact, we should be vigorous in the pursuit of such justice. Our problem is not that we are too vindictive at this point but rather than we do not care about justice for other people much at all.
Second, in a more subdued way there is also a sense in which we can pray along these lines for ourselves. It is because we are sometimes unjustly slandered, and it is right for truth to triumph.
But we have to be extremely cautious how we do this. For one thing, we are seldom entirely innocent of wrong ourselves, though we may not see it at the time we are slandered. We must therefore always pray with a humble and contrite heart, asking God to reveal whatever fault may lie in us and so lead us in the way of righteousness. Again, while we properly appeal to God for justice, we are not authorized to take matters into our own hands and so try to do to the other person what he or she has done to us. Judgment is a prerogative of God: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Deut. 32:35). The Apostle Paul quotes this verse in Romans with this application: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).
Still further, although our enemies may be vicious now, it is true that God may convert them. We should never despair of their conversion. The apostle was himself a fierce persecutor of the early Christians, but after his conversion he became the church’s greatest missionary.
Third and last, we can apply the words of this psalm to the devil, for he is described in Scripture precisely as David describes his enemies. He is our great foe, “a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 4:8) and a slanderous “accuser of our brothers” (Rev. 12:10). We are like helpless sheep before this powerful enemy. But, thank God, we have a powerful champion and advocate in King Jesus. It is not wrong for us to pray for his help for the confounding of Satan’s devices and to rejoice in anticipation of the devil’s ultimate and certain fall.
What important things are we to remember if we are going to pray for vindication in response to an evil done against us?
How are we told to withstand the attacks of Satan?
Application: As Christians, we are to care about injustice and mistreatment brought upon other people. How will you uphold the cause of justice and righteousness for someone else in need?
For Further Study: To learn more about how Christians stand secure against attacks, download and read for free the booklet by James Boice, “A Shield for You.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)