Pastor Sherry’s message for April 30, 2023
Scriptures: Acts 2:42-47; Ps 137; 1 Peter 2:19-25; Jn 10:1-10
I. Chuck Swindoll relates the following humorous stories (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing,1998, p.493):
A man went to see his physician about some strange symptoms he was having. The doctor examined him and then told him that he had rabies. Immediately the guy set about writing a list. Thinking the man was writing his will, the doc hastened to inform him that he would not be dying because there is a successful treatment. The man then told the doctor he knew rabies wasn’t fatal but that he was making a list of all the people he wanted to bite.
In the 2nd story, a newborn is held up by her feet and smacked on the fanny to get her to breathe. Instead of crying, the baby girl screams angrily, “I want an attorney!”
Both of these stories are about the very human desire for revenge when we perceive we’ve been wronged. Our Cancel Culture today demands retribution and deliberately sets out to ruin whoever and whatever they target. We know this is not the perspective of our God. As far back as Genesis 50:19, we have the example of Joseph forgiving his brothers for having sold him into bondage. In Proverbs 20:22, Solomon, in his wisdom writes Do Not say, “I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and He will deliver you. Nor was revenge ever advocated by Jesus.
Remember, Jesus forgave His murderers from the Cross. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-44), Jesus taught You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ’Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….’ In Romans 12:14, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. He continues in verses 17 and 19: Do not repay anyone evil for evil….Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.
So then, we might ask, “What’s with the so called, ‘Imprecatory Psalms’?” These are a group of 10-14 Psalms that invoke or call down curses on enemies. They are a plea for God to avenge the psalmist for serious wrongs done to him or her.
1. Psalm 5:10 (a Psalm of David) says (Peterson’s The Message, p.915 Pile on the guilt, God! Let their so-called wisdom wreck them. Kick them out! They’ve had their chance.
2. Psalm 35:4-8 (another David psalm, MSG, p.952) When those thugs try to knife me in the back, make them look foolish. Frustrate all those who are plotting my downfall. Make them like cinders in a high wind, with God’s angel working the bellows. Make their road lightless and mud-slick, with God’s angel on their tails. Out of sheer cussedness they set a trap to catch me; for no good reason they dug a ditch to stop me. Surprise them with Your ambush—catch them in the very trap they set, the disaster they planned for me.
3. Our psalm today is another particularly bloodthirsty example (Psalm 137:7-9, MSG, p.1079-1080) God, remember those Edomites, and remember the ruin of Jerusalem, that day they yelled out, “Wreck it, smash it to bits!” And you, Babylonians—ravagers! A reward to whoever gets back at you for all you’ve done to us; Yes a reward to the one who grabs your babies and smashes their heads on the rocks! Yikes! These examples seem extreme, don’t they? Human enough, but not very Christian; and not much different from what our culture advocates today.
Let’s consider then why God has allowed them a place in the canon [the standard or tenets] of Scripture:
1. First, they are not just emotionally hot and irrational expressions of unchecked temper. They are instead passionate, emphatic requests for divine justice. Since they are included in the Bible, you can even make a case that they are divinely inspired.
2. Second, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28, the Israelites call down blessings upon their nation for godly behavior and curses upon their nation for idolatry and other serious offenses against God. They thereby pronounced imprecations upon themselves–and their children, in advance–for abandoning God’s commands. No wonder the Jewish people have had such a hard time of it over the ages!
3. Most of the imprecatory psalms were written by King David. They are not really calls for personal vengeance, but rather requests for God’s justice. David was a mighty and a successful military general. However, he also demonstrated remarkable restraint. He spared King Saul’s life several times when he could have easily slain him. He did not exact revenge on Nabal or Shimei (who both disrespected him), nor even on his beloved son Absalom who led an insurrection (palace coup) against him. In each case, he asked God to vindicate him, but was not personally vindictive.
4. Additionally, imprecatory psalms are human prayers asking for God to carry out His divine promises. Notice Jesus says, in Matthew 7:23 that on Judgment Day, He will say to hypocrites who claim to love Him but don’t I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers. This is a prayer based on God’s promises to meet out His justice at the end of times. Furthermore, our God hates sin. Jesus expects the Father to address sin.
5. The motivation behind imprecatory psalms is zeal for justice and righteousness. It’s like the difference between gossip and truth: Gossip seeks to run a person down, to build up self at the expense of others. Truth-telling may be just as negative, but it describes what actually is going on. Both may look and sound the same, but the motives are different. The psalmist is not asking God to destroy an individual, but rather to address and heal the harm done.
6. Usually the imprecations are aimed at a group, a class of persons—Edomites or Babylonians–“the wicked,” or those who oppose God.
7. And often the call for divine judgment comes after many efforts have been made to get the hateful group to repent. Paul urges us to pray for those who persecute us (Romans 12:20, quoting Proverbs 25:21-22) If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you. But he also says in 1 Corinthians 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord—a curse be on him. Come, oh Lord! In other words, by our grace-filled behavior, we may be able to transform an enemy into a believer; nonbelievers, however, have already condemned themselves.*
*(Ideas borrowed from Sam Storms at www.samstorms.org, April 28, 2023, article entitled, “Ten things you should know about the Imprecatory Psalms,” which I have collapsed to 7.)
8. Finally, I think they also provide a model for how we should respond to those who attack or harm us, verbally or otherwise: Rather than running down an enemy in person, or on line (which is so cowardly), or—in some cases–in the courts, we should present them to the Lord and pray for Him to respond to them with His just verdicts and judgments.
Now, let’s return to Psalm 137. What are the Israelites saying in this imprecatory psalm?
First, they have been captured and enslaved by the Babylonians. God allowed this to happen to the Northern Kingdom (by the Assyrians) in 722 and the Southern Kingdom (by the Babylonians) in 586. They were being disciplined by God for their idolatry. They had abandoned the Lord. They were living sinful lifestyles. God sent prophet after prophet to warn them, but they didn’t listen and repent.
So the Judeans find themselves in Babylon, most likely digging canals from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to irrigate this dry land. They are despondent and depressed. They see no reason to celebrate in song. The Babylonians, however, had heard that they worshipped their God with songs and psalms, and now torment them to sing again for their entertainment.
It is said that over 100,000 worshipers would sing together in the Temple during the high feast days. That must have been glorious! But these despondent captives cannot be persuaded to sing. They miss Jerusalem.
They miss their home.
Instead, they beg for God’s justice against the Edomites, descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Jacob went on to become the patriarch of the Israelites, while Esau’s descendants were Arabs from Edom. In other words, they were extended family members who rejoiced over Jerusalem’s fall. They also beg God’s justice against the the brutal Babylonian army who no doubt killed children too young to work, perhaps by bashing in their skulls on rocks. They would have also cut down the elderly and anyone with a handicapping infirmity.
The imprecatory psalms are a cry for God’s justice. Our God is able to do what we cannot. This is why we call upon the Lord to redress the problems with our greedy and corrupt leaders in Washington, DC. This is why we pray faithfully every Sunday for God to bring about a national turnaround in our government, our justice system, our communities, our schools, and in our families. We don’t call for the Lord to destroy those who are inspiring havoc and lawlessness in our country, but to change their hearts.
Come, Lord Jesus. Heal our land and heal our hearts!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams