Psalm 94 is one of those sections of Scripture that you run across and wonder what to do with it. I mean, it starts with the address, “O LORD, the God of vengeance.”
That’s not usually how I begin my prayers. God of love? Sure. God of grace? Definitely. God of vengeance? Not so much.
Just a wild guess, but I’m thinking I’m not alone in that one.
So if you are like me, what do you do with Psalms like these? Psalms that feel prickly, archaic, and detached from the faith we practice day in and day out?
What do we do with vengeance Psalms? Here are a few things that come to mind as I read Psalm 94.
1. Pray their words.
Yup, I know it sounds crazy, but maybe we need to pray some words like these more often. In my middle class, comfortable, suburban American life, it’s easy for me to lose touch with the groaning of this tired and broken world.
But this world does groan, doesn’t it?
“all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering.” –Romans 8:22-23
And if we are in touch with this reality, shouldn’t we groan, too? Shouldn’t we cry out to our Lord along with the Psalmist,
“How long, O LORD? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? How long will they speak with arrogance? How long will these evil people boast?” –Psalm 94:3-4
In crying out, we lean into our faith that God will one day make things right. And oh, how beautiful that day will be.
2. Wrestle with their words.
There are phrases in psalms like these that make my hair stand on end.
“He punishes the nations—won’t he also punish you? He knows everything—doesn’t he also know what you are doing? The LORD knows people’s thoughts; he knows they are worthless!” –Psalm 94:10-11
But instead of running away from that yucky feeling, what if we move towards it? What if we research what was going on at the time and place in which they were written? What if we looked for threads that could still be true today?
Maybe looking for answers would do more to strengthen our faith than to weaken it.
Most Psalms are not filled with only one emotion. In the midst of frustrated cries for justice and vengeance, the Psalmist still manages to cry out with words of hope.
“I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O LORD, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” – Psalm 94:18-19
I love that picture of God supporting us while we slip. (In fact, it reminds me of what I wrote about last week!)
4. Find God in their words.
There’s an important characteristic of God shown throughout all the Psalms, perhaps vengeance Psalms more than any other:
God’s unconditional love for us can be trusted.
It is safe to bring our whole selves, our honest selves, and our hidden selves, before God.
This Psalm, and others like it, doesn’t clarify the theological accuracy or morality of its requests. But it does clarify the character of God hearing the requests.
God does not shy away from our human emotions, weakness, selfishness, frustration, or anger.
When we cry out, no matter how ugly the words, God leans in. He keeps listening. And He holds our hands. Maybe even tighter than before.
That was my reflection on Psalm 94. Link up with your own reflection below. Or stop back next week with your thoughts on Psalm 95.
Where is Jesus in Psalm 79?
Is Jesus there, somewhere, in the midst of the blood and vengeance and anger that seem so contrary to His teachings? Can we see Him underneath it all if we look carefully for Him?
Is He there as a lover? As One who dies sacrificially on our behalf, because without him, we can’t climb out of the mess of our brokenness?
They have poured out blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there is no one to bury the dead. –Psalm 79:3
Is He there as an empathizer? As One who knows how it feels when blood is spilt and God seems to have turned His back?
We are objects of contempt to our neighbors, of scorn and derision to those around us.
How long, Lord? Will you be angry forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire? –Psalm 79:4-5
Is He there as a companion? As One who is present to love and listen when we are in the midst of our pain?
Pour out your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you, on the kingdoms that do not call on your name; for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his homeland. –Psalm 79:6-7
Is He there as a grace-giver? As One who hears the heart behind our requests, even if the words themselves are ugly?
Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. –Psalm 79:8
Is He there as an advocate? As One who holds up pleas for mercy and help on our behalf when our own arms are giving way?
Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times the contempt they have hurled at you, Lord. –Psalm 79:12
Is He there as a transformer? As One who takes our desire for revenge and tells us to forgive not seven but seventy seven times?
Help us, God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake. –Psalm 79:9
Is He there as an answer? As One who embodies the mercy, forgiveness, and help we ask for, not matter the context?
Is Jesus present in this Psalm, underneath all the raw and ugly words of vengeance, as the Word itself? As One who speaks life back to us when we speak words of death to Him?
Can we find Jesus even here?
Over the weekend, I had the privilege of hearing Greg Boyd speak about how he believes Jesus is the lens through which we should view all Scripture. This is my attempt to put that into practice with a Psalm I would have preferred to skip over if I could.
That was my reflection on Psalm 79. Please link up with your reflection below. Or add a comment: How do you see Christ present in this Psalm? Then, come back next week to reflect on Psalm 80. (Email & RSS readers, click over to my website to add your link or read the links of others.)