Intro: In Psalm 28, Like Psalm 26, there is a strain heard in this Psalm that will make many in the protestant world uncomfortable. For good reason; we know that we are wretched sinners. So when David calls for the Lord to give the wicked their due, we become squeamish.
The Lord Is My Strength and My Shield
28:1 To you, O Lord, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the Lord!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
David has three main concerns in this Psalm. 1) He seeks the Lords help, and if he does not receive it he will die. So the outcome of his prayer is extremely important, and not trivial. 2) It appears at least partly his situation is due to some “workers of evil” (v.3). He wants the Lord to give them their just deserts so to speak. 3) David praises the Lord for hearing his prayer for mercy.
The psalm teaches us that our lives are in the hands of Lord, and that we should praise him when he blesses us in our time of trouble. But what does it teach us about praying against the wicked?
Now, back to the point that I mentioned at the top of this post. I think most of us would have a very difficult time praying this prayer against our enemies. So the question becomes how do we reconcile this today to our world? Can we pray this prayer?
This passage presents us with problems on a couple of fronts. First, if we are vile sinners who deserve God’s wrath how can we, who have been shown grace, pray for the destruction of sinners? Second most american evangelical christians would be asking “this the old testament, right? This wasn’t written for me right but for the Israelites right?”
So what do I think we should do when we run into Psalms like these? Well, let me start with the last question first. Yes, this was written for the Israelites, but it was written for us too. All of the Old Testament is for us as Christians. I reject a hard dividing line between the Old Testament and New Testament. So did the Apostle Paul evidently when in speaking of the Old Testament narratives he said in 1 Corinthians 10:11
“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction.” (emphasis mine)
So we can see that the Old Testament has great import for us as New Testament believers. I am going to move on now, but if this doesn’t convince you then leave a comment and we can hash it out because I have plenty of other verses that point me in that direction. That one just summed it up best in my opinion.
Now to the more important question, How can we as sinners saved by grace ask for other sinners to be given their just punishment? Or even better, Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-48 to pray for our enemies. For my response I am going to draw on some seminary notes of mine from a class taught by Bruce Waltke.
There are some interesting thoughts out there. Some have claimed that psalms like this were written by non-christians therefore we can ignore it. Please see above. Some have said they are prophetic. Simple saying what will happen to the wicked. However this doesn’t really fit the grammar well. Some have also suggested since this is somewhat of a royal songbook it is only Jesus that can truly pray these prayers being the only truly righteous king of Israel.
Of these solution I think only the last is a good one, but that one I don’t see that either as the complete story. The book was meant for the nation of Israel as a whole and is now meant for us. More importantly it really doesn’t answer the question since and only heightens it since it would have Jesus not following his own instruction.
So how do we come up with a solution to this problem then? The relationship between the Christian and psalms that call for the punishment of the wicked is very complex.
First, we can say that the psalmist is correct to pray this way on a couple of fronts.
- They are asking for the Lord to intervene and are not taking matters into their own hands. This is showing a great faith in the Lord.
- These are not just clueless sinners. These are people who stand against the works of the Lord. So David isn’t just praying against those who have opposed him he is praying against those who oppose the Lord and his Kingdom.
- Not mentioning grace and forgiveness of sinners who humble themselves in individual Psalms doesn’t mean that David didn’t think of it or know that was a possibility. He actually mentions it a quite few times in other psalms. Psalm 32 is a great example. Point being you can’t say everything all at once. There is a time say something one way, and a time to say something another way.
- We as christians should be concerned about right and wrong, and following of the righteous law. We should get upset when people choose the wisdom of this world over the wisdom of the Lord.
- While it is radical for Jesus to call us to pray for our enemies, it doesn’t mean that we are barred from praying that a wicked man receive his consequences for robbing his neighbors, or taking from widows or orphans. We should pray that the Lord be gracious to all men, and that he save them. But we can still pray wicked men receive their consequences.
- In Revelation 6:10 even the martyrs ask the Lord to Avenge them.
Second, we can say that we have to recognize the different times that we are living verses Davids time. David very well might be talking about fellow Israelites who have taken an oath to follow the covenant law as did he. They are not following it, and consequently violating the terms of God’s covenant that they swore to keep. David is simple asking the punishments of that be meted out to them. In this day and age it would be like observing a someone who has joined the Church but yet fails to live up to its practices. When we see hypocrisy I think we naturally pray for God to end it.
And there are even some more significant difference in David’s station as the representative of Kingdom of God and our station, or the differences in how the Kingdom of God was breaking in then and how it is breaking now(it was somewhat more physical, and it now more spiritual.) but I am getting a little long here so I am going to try and wrap up quickly.
My solution is simply this: We can most certainly pray psalms like these in the church that ask for the punishment of the wicked, but we must remember that we have been saved by Grace and should ask that while the Lord is meting out his Justice that he be gracious to our enemies and save them.
This psalm is an interesting one to me. I have a hard time like I think most of us will with the part of God giving the wicked what they deserve. However I love the conclusion when David burst into praise after the Lord answers his prayer. The Lord is the protector of my life. He is the one who shields me from some much. What I take from this Psalm more than anything else is that my destiny is linked to the Lord’s protection and Hand. This does bring great peace. I love the image of the Lord being our Shepard and carrying us. That just makes you relax doesn’t it?“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”