By James Boice
Theme: The Psalm’s Petition
In this week’s lessons we learn how to approach God in prayer, how to address evil, and the need for thanksgiving.
Scripture: Psalm 28:1-9
The central stanza of this psalm, the one that contains three verses rather than two, is the second. It expresses David’s actual petition (vv. 3-5): “Do not drag me away with the wicked, with those who do evil, who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts. Repay them for their deeds and for their evil work; repay them for what their hands have done and bring back upon them what they deserve.”
This is an example of the many places in Psalms in which David or another writer asks God to judge the wicked, a feature of the psalms which troubles many people. At the very least, it is opposed to the more accepting spirit of our times. But, more than this, it is a problem for Christians who have been taught by Jesus not to judge others, lest we be judged (Matt. 7:15), and to pray, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). We looked at this problem briefly when studying Psalms 5 and 7, and we will be looking at it again as these studies continue. A few things need to be said about this problem here.
1. David is not self-righteous in these statements. That is the problem we feel in statements asking God to judge others. It is what Jesus was warning about in the command not to judge, since he went on to speak about trying to take a speck out of another’s eye when we have a beam in our own. That is a real problem for us, and a common one. But it is not the case with David here. David has already approached God on the basis of his mercy, that is, acknowledging his own sinfulness. But even more to the point, he begins his petition (in vv. 3-5), not with an appeal to God to judge the wicked but with the request that God keep him from being dragged along into their evil stratagems. In other words, David is aware that in himself he is very much able to behave exactly like the wicked. He knows that anything any other sinner is capable of doing, he too is capable of doing.
That is why he is so anxious to hear God’s voice and to receive answers to his prayers. Apart from the life-giving, sustaining power of God’s words, he will be swept along with the wicked and will perish with them.
2. David is never able to speak merely as a private citizen, but speaks instead as God’s appointed king, Israel’s judge. A private citizen may choose to forgive another who has done him a personal wrong. It happens all the time, particularly among Christians. But this is not a valid option for a judge, which is what David was. A judge must dispense justice, not waive it. David was responsible for seeing that justice was done and is praying rightly that it might be. This may be why there is a sudden reference to him as God’s “anointed one” in verse 8.
3. Evil should not prosper. Regardless of how we may feel about those who do evil—and we should certainly try to redirect them if we can—evil itself is not good, and we should pray that all evil plans might be frustrated and that all who persist in evil should be stopped and in the end be judged. If we do not feel this way, it is probably an indication that we are not very sensitive to sinful acts and have little concern for those who are victimized by them. There are many who feel that our criminal justice system is floundering because it has erred in exactly this way. It has placed concern for the criminal or wrong doer ahead of compassion for his victim and thereby fails to provide justice for either one.
- The first stanza of this psalm (vv. 1-2) is an appeal for God to hear David’s prayer. What is the second stanza about (vv. 3-5)?
- How do we reconcile David’s petitions for God’s judgment to Jesus’ instruction not to judge others?
Application: Pray for the wisdom to know how to pray in a godly way for people who do unrighteous deeds, especially when evil is done to you.
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