When I read a psalm such as Ps. 35, I can’t help but wonder – how do passages of Scripture filled with cries for vengeance line up with Jesus’ New Testament teaching to turn the other cheek? (Matt. 5:39)
Here’s an example. In Ps. 35 David hopes his enemies:
- are put to shame & dishonor (vs. 4,20a)
- are confused (vs. 4b, 20b)
- are chased by God’s angel (vs. 5, 6b)
- find themselves in treacherous places (vs. 6)
- find destruction unexpectedly (vs. 8)
- fall in their own traps (vs. 8b)
See what I mean? David isn’t exactly generous with his enemies, is he?
So who are David’s enemies? Here’s a description:
- they strive against him (vs. 1)
- they pursue him (vs. 3)
- they seek to kill him (vs. 4)
- they seek to entrap him without cause (vs. 7)
- they are guilty of injustice (vs. 10)
- they are fierce witnesses (vs. 11)
- they reward evil for good (vs. 12)
- they rejoice in adversity (vs. 15)
- they band together to attack (vs. 15)
- they do not know when to stop (vs. 15)
- they gnashed their teeth (eager to attack) (vs. 16)
- they do not speak peace but deceit & trouble against the weak (vs. 19)
- they rejoice in the suffering of others (vs. 26)
Hundreds of years later, Jesus also encounters such evil men.
Consider Jesus’ enemies. They were all these things:
- they sought to kill him (Luke 22:1)
- they tore at his clothes (Luke 23:11, 34)
- they gnashed their teeth and screamed crucify him (Luke 23:21)
- they plotted for evil over what they perceived as weakness (Luke 23:10)
- they sought to ensnare him with false witness (Luke 20:20)
- they rejoiced in his adversity as he was beaten and mocked (Luke 22:66; 23:1,11, 36-37)
- they banded together to attack him (Luke 22:67)
Yet, Jesus’ response to his attackers differs from David’s response in Ps. 35:
- Instead of “plead my cause” (Ps. 35:1), Christ says “not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-42)
- Instead of “stand up for my cause” (Ps. 35:2), Christ lets them infer his guilt or innocence (Luke 22:67-71; 23:1-3)
- Instead of asking for his enemies to be put to shame, confused, chased away, or to meet destruction, Christ says “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)
- Instead of asking God to save to his soul (Ps. 35:3), Christ willingly sacrifices himself to bring us salvation.
Having trouble reconciling the responses of David and Christ?
Remember 3 things when trying to reconcile vengeance with turning the other cheek:
1) David is talking about evil people.
The people to whom David refers in Ps. 35 are not simply annoying or disgruntled individuals pestering a king. These men tormenting him are wicked, and they are willful enemies of God.
2) David is acting on behalf of the weak.
David knew God had proven himself to be a God concerned for the weak, oppressed, and poor. God promised that those who preyed on the weak would be destroyed. David’s cries fall in line with God’s heart for society’s cast-offs.
3) David is crying out against terrible injustice.
When David cries out for vengeance, he is NOT saying he is perfect or undeserving of God’s wrath against sin. Rather, David is seeing evil and injustice around him, and his first reaction is to claim God’s ancient promise to intervene.
The life of death of Jesus Christ is God’s answer to the injustices and evil in the world. When God poured out centuries worth of vengeance against wickedness on Christ, a single man became the ultimate form of Justice for all mankind. Like David, Christ faced evil men and defended the weak.
But ultimately, Christ is God’s answer to wickedness and injustice. Christ is God’s answer to David’s cries for vengeance.
And it is only because Christ is God’s justice for the world that you and I can turn the other cheek and love the unlovable of the world.
So, now that we live on this side of the cross, what are we do with David’s cries for vengeance? Should we throw them out or write them off as unenlightened?
We should do as David and continue to champion the weak and oppressed in the world.
We should do as David and celebrate the hope that is found in our ultimate form of Justice – our salvation in Jesus Christ. Both can be done with the spirit of humility given to us by Christ.
Dear Jesus, thank you for being the world’s ultimate form of Justice. Thank you for empowering me to live the kind of life that David describes in this song – a life empowered by your Spirit to walk in those good works you appointed for me before I was born. Give me your eyes, Lord, to see those who are hurting around me. Give me your hands, Lord, to serve the world’s unlovable instead of pushing them away. Thank you for your peace, your love, your activity in my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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