< What I Learned Teaching Sunday School: Studying the Psalms Part 6 – Psalm 139

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Studying the Psalms Part 6 – Psalm 139

In finishing up the article called Who Am I, Lord, by Ray C. Stedman, we come to the final paragraph. It seems to take a rather abrupt turn:

O that thou wouldst slay the wicked, O God, and that men of blood would depart from me. (Psalms 139:19 RSV)

Many have asked: Why did this psalmist seem all of a sudden to interject these bloody thoughts? Why this sudden word of passion, “Lord, kill the wicked!” This has troubled many because it seems so far from the New Testament standard, “Love your enemies.”

First, we need to recognize that everything that is declared in the Psalms is not necessarily a reflection of God’s will. In the Psalms we are listening to the experiences of believers and they do not always reflect God’s truth. They honestly mirror man’s viewpoint and we need to understand these passages in the light of their context. In this paragraph the psalmist, having been impressed by his close relationship to God, now, naturally, comes to the place where he asks God for something. That is also what we do.

When we are aware of being near to God, being dear to him, we tend to ask God for something. That is what this man does.

He asks for two things:

First, he asks God to take care of the problem of the wicked. His suggested manner of handling it is, “Lord, wipe them out,” as though such a simple remedy for human ills had never occurred to the Almighty. “Lord, wipe them out, that’s all. That will take care of them.” Have you ever felt that way?” Mel Trotter, the famous American evangelist, said, “There are a lot of people I know who are wonderful people. They’re going to go to heaven some day, and, oh, how I wish they’d hurry up.” One of the refreshing things about these psalms is the honesty they reflect.

There are several things we need to note about this: For one thing, this psalmist’s requests falls short even of the Old Testament standard. It is the Old Testament that first says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Leviticus 19:18 KJV). The New Testament and the Old Testament are not opposed to one another in this matter of moral standards. But this man has not yet learned this. In his honesty, he says, “Lord, it seems to me the easiest way for you to handle this problem of evil would be to slay the wicked. Why don’t you do that?”

And notice he does not say, “Why don’t you let me do it?” He recognized that vengeance belongs to God and that if anybody is going to do it, and do it right, God alone must do it. So he is not saying, “Lord, let me handle this.” That is what many are saying today: “Lord, I’ll wipe out the wicked; just turn them over to me. I’ll take care of them.” But this man does not say that; he is saying, “Lord, it’s your problem; why don’t you do it?”

We can understand why he is so upset by this; because Verse 20 points out he is not concerned about what the wicked do to him but what they do to God. “They maliciously defy thee.” In the Hebrew it is even clearer. Literally he is saying, “They speak of thee for wickedness.” In other words, these are religious hypocrites. The sharpest words Jesus ever spoke were against the religious hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were using Gods name for evil.

Here is the case of a man who has felt the hatred of God against sin, but not yet the love of God for the sinner. That is why, I think, he concludes with these words:

Search me, O God and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalms 139:23-24 RSV)

Isn’t he saying, “Lord, I don’t understand this problem of evil. It appears to me the easiest way is for you to eliminate the evil man. But Lord, I also know that I don’t think very clearly, and I don’t often have the right answer. I have often found, Lord, that my thoughts are not right. So, Lord, in case I don’t have the right remedy for this problem, let me add this prayer: "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! See if there be any way of wickedness in me, and lead me in the truth, the way that leads to everlasting life!”

What a wonderful prayer. We should all pray like this! “Lord, I don’t understand what’s going on around me, and my solutions may be quite inferior, may even be wrong. But, Lord, I’ll trust you to lead me. Show me the wickedness that may lie undetected in my own heart, and guide me in the way that leads to fullness of life.”

Prayer: Father, we thank you for this revelation of the humanity of these men of old, and how it fits our own situation today. How desperately we need to be led through the complexities of our age. Help us not to settle for simple yet wrong solutions, but to be willing to let you work out your own purposes, knowing that you have taken all the factors into consideration for you know us so intimately. We thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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