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Justice and Judgment

The imprecatory psalms raise so many questions in the minds of believers and skeptics alike, that it may be wise for us to spend one more post reviewing some of them and trying to understand another of God’s purposes for these prayers in the sacred text.

Psalm 83:2-3, 16-18

See how your enemies growl, how your foes rear their heads.

With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.

Cover their faces with shame, Lord, so that they will seek your name.

May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord— that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.

This is a psalm of Asaph at a time when several of Israel’s neighbors (Edom, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Assyria and others) had conspired together and were threatening to destroy Israel. Notice that Asaph doesn’t call them his enemies, but God’s. He begins by asking God to defend his own name and he states that the end goal is not retribution, but acknowledgement by these enemies that the God of Israel is the almighty God who rules the earth.

Psalm 109:8-12

May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes. May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.

Here David refers to an extremely hurtful enemy – a person David had once tried to befriend. We can understand how that betrayal would cause pain and anger. Earlier in this psalm, David asks God to put this man on trial so his true nature can be exposed. It seems he’s hoping he will be found guilty and this list of woes would be pronounced as God’s judgment. If you read the entire psalm, you find that David is particularly angry about this person because he had mistreated others, and now he sees the retribution he prays for as justice for all the wrongs he has committed, not just those against himself.

Psalm 137:7-9

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!” Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us.

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.

We don’t know the author of this psalm, but we do know the setting is Babylon where thousands of Israelites were held captive having been brought there from Jerusalem when the Babylonians defeated them in battle. There is sadness as they remember that day and the taunts coming from the people in neighboring Edom as they were marched away from their homes and lands.

I always cringe at verse 9. How can the people of God ask for babies to be dashed against the rocks? It seems that killing infants in that manner was business as usual for the Babylonian conquerors. Most likely the writer of this psalm had witnessed that horror and is now saying that he hopes Israel’s enemies would experience the same kind of pain they had inflicted on others. He sees that as justice.

Thinking about it:

In our last post, we realized the imprecatory psalms show us that we should take our anger to God. We express our pain to him, ask for vengeance or retribution, and leave it there.

A second truth, as we see in the psalms we reviewed today, is that God can be trusted to defend and protect his people. That doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen to us, but God’s Word tells us that someday recompense will be made for all injustices, and judgment will be meted out against those who rise up against the people who bear God’s name.

It’s not our job to render this ultimate justice and judgment – it’s God’s. We are better off putting it in his hands now and accepting that we may not see the retribution we want in this lifetime. That’s where faith comes in. And that kind of faith will bring us peace.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” – Romans 12:19

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