<A Shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.>
1 O LORD my God, in you I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,
2 or like a lion they will tear me apart; they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my ally with harm or plundered my foe without cause,
5 then let the enemy pursue and overtake me, trample my life to the ground,
and lay my soul in the dust. Selah
6 Rise up, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;
awake, O my God; you have appointed a judgment.
7 Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you, and over it take your seat on high.
8 The LORD judges the peoples; judge me, O LORD,
according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.
9 O let the evil of the wicked come to an end, but establish the righteous,
you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God.
10 God is my shield, who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.
12 If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow;
13 he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.
14 See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies.
15 They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made.
16 Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
17 I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,
and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.
Within the Western church there is a long history where a lot of the focus has been upon the individual Christian’s sins and the way those sins would impact the individual’s afterlife. God’s judgment was removed from the sphere of everyday life and confined to a later time far removed from the actions in question. This has allowed our confession and guilt to be isolated from those who have borne the consequence of our individual or corporate sin, but this is not the world of the Psalmist. The Psalmist expects God to act upon the wrongdoer, to punish the sinful one because sin can never be separated from the victim of the sin. So the Psalmist can appeal to God for deliverance, a deliverance that is not separated from the reality of their oppressor. The Psalmist boldly trusts that, “If God is for us who can be against us.” As Paul states in Romans 8.31 or as Isaiah can state, “It is the LORD God who helps me, who will declare me guilty” (Isaiah 50.9a). The Psalmist appeals to God’s sense of right and wrong, justice and injustice, righteousness and wickedness. The Psalmist cries out from their peril with the LORD standing as the righteous judge between the Psalmist and their accusers. For many Christians the Psalms seem impious, since they come from a different view of reality than most Christians are used to, but the Psalmist dares to boldly enter God’s presence declaring that the punishment they are receiving is far greater than whatever guilt they have incurred.
For a person who was brought up in a tradition of ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’ (paraphrasing Matthew 7.1) it is necessary to also realize that sometimes in withholding judgment I have allowed either the wickedness I have done or others have done to continue to perpetrate harm. As impartial as I may try to be, there are times where I am ill equipped to be the righteous judge and I need a God who can be. I need a God who cares about the victims, the powerless, the oppressed and those wrongly accused and can intervene for them. A God who does act to shield and protect. Who allows the guilty to fall into traps of their own design or who can, in God’s anger, have them put away their weapons whether real or metaphorical.
The Psalms are poetry and not dogma, they are evocative and cry out from the experiences and emotions of the author and they raise as many questions as they may answer. They are songs of faith, a faith that deals with the uncertainties and troubles of life in the hope that God is active and does intervene. Perhaps the Psalm echoes our own experience of being oppressed and crying out for God’s action, or as Rolf Jacobson asks helpfully, “Are there people today who could be praying this Psalm with me as their enemy? Are there victims of my sin who could cry to the righteous judge for recompense?” (Nancy de Clarisse-Walford, 2014, p. 119) But the dynamic of the Psalms is that the bear witness to the active faith of their author who struggles with God, calling forth for God’s action and judgment. There is the trust in a God who does see, does hear, and does act in the world, bringing forth God’s judgment and righteousness even in the experience of torment, oppression and fear.