Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with 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.” (vv 1 – 3)
New Testament Christians (those whose main reading is done in the NT) encounter a violent plea such as this from the psalmist much differently than those who spend equal time in both testaments. The psalmist—and the psalter—calls for violent retribution on a divine scale from Yahweh against those who would persecute him. Again, our modern ears trouble us. Is it right to call down fire and destruction on our enemies in the light of Christ’s instruction to love our enemies and to offer the other cheek to insults?
Perhaps we read the psalm too literally as an imprecatory piece. In the same way that we may use a journal or even our prayer life to ‘vent’ and release our personal frustration at whatever our current situation might be. The cry for justice softens a bit to seek vindication in the verses that follow.
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. (vv 4-6)
So maybe Yahweh, you don’t destroy them with the Javelin but just chase them away and shame them for their false accusations. David claims innocence to the charges that his enemies are bringing against him. He has done nothing to deserve the troubles that have come his way and asks that Yahweh resolve this. He promises praise in return,
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.
My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” (vv 8-10)
The danger of schadenfreude leaps to mind. Shall I praise the Lord for the misfortune of others? They have fallen into their own trap after all. This is a psalm to consider carefully. It may not be one of our favorites because it raise such an uncomfortable quandary for us but those moments and hours of discomfort ultimately strengthen our bond with God. Take the psalm to Him in prayer and allow the Spirit to search your heart to discover both the right and wrong reasons that exist there.
Photo by Richard the Lyin’ Hearted