The Book of Psalms

Tuesday: Man of Sorrows, Part 2


Theme: Another Plea for Help
In this week’s lessons we observe how David expresses himself honestly before God, and see how God hears and understands the great difficulties we go through.
Scripture: Psalm 69:19-36
The second renewal of the plea for help, in verses 22-28, also goes a step beyond the earlier prayers in that it is now no longer merely a plea for personal deliverance from trouble, but is also a request for God’s swift and utter judgment on the psalmist’s enemies. It is an imprecatory prayer that is equal in its fierce power to any of the explicitly imprecatory psalms and should be handled as they must be.
These imprecations build in intensity, ending in the most terrible words of all: “May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous” (v. 28). We pull back from words wishing that someone else might go to hell. But if those others are persistently and ultimately unrepentant, that is the only place they could possibly go and be. If they were taken into heaven, they would ruin heaven.
How do we handle something as explicitly vengeful as these verses? We can repeat some of the things we have said before in reference to similar imprecatory verses. First, although David is calling for God’s swift vengeance on his enemies it is significant that he is asking God to render judgment and not proposing or even wanting to take vengeance himself. Second, it is David, the anointed one of God, who is speaking. Therefore, his enemies are God’s enemies. David’s calls for vindication are therefore never merely an individual matter.
But there is more. We should remember that Jesus told us to forgive our enemies: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:43-45). Jesus, when he was being crucified, even being given vinegar mixed with gall to drink (v. 21), did not curse his enemies but prayed for them instead. He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We are likewise told to forgive and not to take vengeance.
Alexander Maclaren handles the seeming incompatibility of Psalm 69 with these texts by saying, “It is impossible to bring such utterances into harmony with the teachings of Jesus, and the attempt to vindicate them ignores plain facts and does violence to plain words. Better far to let them stand as a monument of the earlier stage of God’s progressive revelation, and discern clearly the advance which Christian ethics has made on them.”1
1Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89 (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 303.
Study Questions:

How does the second renewal of the plea go further than a request for personal deliverance?
How do these verses build in intensity?
What is an imprecatory prayer?
How do we reconcile the imprecations of David and the teaching of Jesus?

Reflection: First, do you allow God to take vengeance on his enemies, or are you only too eager to help him out? Second, are God’s enemies your enemies, or are you making up your own list?
For Further Study: If you would like to add to your library James Boice’s classic treatment of the Psalms, order your three-volume paperback set and take 25% off the regular price.

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