During these past 5 weeks I have been preaching a series on The Psalms. It has been a great time of opening up the prayers and songs of saints from generations ago who in turn give us words to pray and sing in relationship to the Living God even today.
Last week as I was preaching from Psalm 35, I became very aware of David’s boldness and passion in how he prayed for God to take care of his enemies. A portion of the Psalm reads,
“Contend, O Lord with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me; fight against those who fight against me. Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to my soul, ‘I am your salvation.’”
How could David possibly have the audacity to ask God to fight against his enemies and to come to his aid? David ignites imagery here that calls back to mind God as the Warrior King who overcame Pharaoh by delivering the Israelites from under his oppression.
David seems to take it one step further as he prays to God using words that seem to be full of hatred and anger. They sound more like curses than prayers in some ways,
“May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them. Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug a pit for me, may ruin overtake them by surprise – may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin. Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.”
Wow, David, that prayer lacks a bit of grace, don’t you think? May they be disgraced and put to shame? May they be pursued by the angel of the Lord on a dark and slippery path. May they fall under the net and into the pit that was intended for me. Ouch.
Let’s keep in mind that David knew how he was supposed to respond to his enemies. He knew that God’s heart was for us to show mercy and compassion towards even those who hated him. David knew Exodus 23:4, “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him.” We even see his attitude of mercy and grace toward these people how have hurt him within this Psalm.
So, if he knows this, how can he pray a prayer like Psalm 35? As people who know Jesus further teaching on this topic of loving enemies, does a Psalm like this even have any relevance to us today?
I think it does, especially when we consider the topic of seeing Hope expressed to the hopeless and light shone into the darkness.
1. David is asking God to fight. David does not seem to be asking God for permission to harbor hatred towards his enemies, but rather he needs God to move. He has felt that God has called him into this place and that God is doing his work. David spends much of this Psalm searching his heart and proving his case for how he has responded in mercy towards those who have wronged him. Now, He needs God to bring His justice. He needs God to bring God’s vindication. He needs God to back up what God has been doing. He is not looking to be vindicated personally, but rather for God to preserve His Cause.
When we long to see justice come and hope delivered, it is important for us to remember that this is God’s battle, not ours. We have to play the part that God gives us, but ultimately this is His cause and not ours. This is His Justice that needs to come not our feeble human attempts to grab ahold of justice and make it happen.
He fights for justice. He is the Warrior King who delivered Israel from under Pharaoh. He is the Defender who came to David’s aid when he was wronged. And He is the God who continues to fight for justice today. We come in surrender to the One who fights for His cause. We surrender to Him so that His Cause may be advanced and so that He can have the fame that is due to Him.
2. David prays passionate prayers. How often do I pray for the Warrior King to bring His hope into the hopelessness and His deliverance into the oppression. It is easier for me to do the work that He has put in front of me rather than to pray for Him to move. Yet, David prays in a way that it seem like if God doesn’t move, then He is sunk. He is dependent on God to get Him out of this mess. And He prays like it.
What if I started to pray like the cause of justice and hope depended on God to move? What if I realized that this truly is His battle? I think I would better understand my role and also be more responsive to His lead. I wouldn’t be quite so concerned about looking busy for justice and hope’s sake as I would be responding to what He is doing in partnership with Him.
I would more clearly see His sovereign presence even in the darkest of places if I prayed passionate prayers to Him.
3. David prays honest prayers, that keep his actions pure. While David is praying anger filled prayers, he is not acting on them. He is being honest before God about His feelings and emotions toward His enemies. As he is exposing himself to God, he is also permitting God to change his heart and mind. As he is expressing the depth of his pain, he is exposing himself to the healing touch of The Master. As He prays honestly, he is releasing these people who have caused him harm to God.
I think about this in my own life. Where I live, I have no opportunity to turn off the constant barrage of the plight of the poor. They are everywhere around me. I look out my window and they are there. I pass them on the road. I am surrounded by desperate beggars every day of the week. They knock on my door. They come to my office with requests. We are among them day in and day out. They constantly remind me of my own poverty.
And there are times where their stories are painful and fueled by injustice within family structures, religious structures, social structures as well as the brokenness of other human beings. They are continually being taken advantage of. It is not fair. Their pain is on their faces and in their hearts.
It is in this constant barrage that at times makes it overwhelming. Inside I can begin to churn with the injustice and the pain of the situation. Or, I can choose to passionately tell God just how unfair it is and cry out to Him, asking Him when is He finally going to do something about this? When is He going to make it right?
When I am honest with God in this, I sense His Presence and His reassurance that He truly is fighting this fight. This truly is His war that He is engaged in. It is in these times that I am reminded that I am not God, but rather I am one who by His grace has been called me into a partnership with Him. This is not my cause after all, it is His.
The God who is The Defender. The Mighty Warrior King who fights for justice. May we continue to see Him bring His hope into the darkest of places. And may we join Him in relationship, playing our part along the way while praying passionate prayers.