“Subversive” seems a strange word to use concerning God, but in reading Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Psalm 34 this is exactly the word he uses. Let me explain.
But, firstly a short introduction to this psalm. This psalm is a song of thanksgiving. “The occasion for the song is that the speaker has complained to God and God has acted in response to the lament. The result of God’s intervention is that the old issue has been overcome. The speech concerns a rescue, intervention, or inversion of a quite concrete situation of distress which is still fresh in the mind of the speaker.” (Brueggemann)
So, this particular song of thanksgiving is written by David, “When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left”, as the heading suggests. This particular incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. At this time David was a refugee running from King Saul who was trying to kill him. So here he refers to himself as this poor man [who] called upon the Lord [who] saved him out of all his troubles (verse 6). And he writes it to those who find themselves in similar circumstances, here described as “the afflicted” (verse 2), the broken-hearted and…those who are crushed in spirit (verse 18), but also called those who fear him (verse 7) and his holy people (verse 9).
Brueggemann writes of these ones as “the socially marginal, who no longer expect the dominant society to succour them, and so they look to Yahweh as the alternative source of hope…the righteous are not hated because they are marginal or because they are good, but because they look to Yahweh. They have discovered something remarkable and subversive about Yahweh.”
Brueggeman then explains why he would say this.
Because “Yahweh’s peculiar inclinations are with the broken-hearted and the ones with crushed spirit. That is, Yahweh’s solidarity is not with the ones who go from success to success, but the ones denied success.” (# 2)
So, I guess, subversive, in this context, means “intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system”, i.e. to undermine the world’s way of thinking and acting which too often allows for the exploitation of the poor and marginalized and the glorifying of the rich and powerful. All this being contrary to God’s ways, the God of justice and compassion.
Maybe this helps us to understand Jesus’ Beatitudes when he said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted…
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, (Matthew 5:3,4, 10-11)
I think that the Jewish religious leaders of his day may have thought Jesus was “subversive”, seeking to undermine their comfortable positions in Israel. Therefore, they used their influence and power to seek to destroy Jesus and persecute his followers.
And basically, nothing has changed over the last couple of millennia. Persecution of the followers of Jesus continues to this day.
Just recently I read in a Barnabus Fund magazine concerning the tough life of the majority of Christians living in Pakistan, the land where my family and I served for 11 years. In this magazine, found online at:
there is an article titled, “Danger, Discrimination and Dhimmitude”. Here one Christian leader describes Pakistan as the “second most dangerous country in the world for Christians to live”.
One issue described in this article was related to the introduction of Blasphemy Laws which too often are used against “minorities” such as Christians. One particular Christian lady has spent the last 10 years in solitary confinement having been accused of blasphemy. Others have been killed.
Secondly, there is the kidnapping of young Christian (and Hindu) girls to be then married off to men of the majority population. Often their families are then told they have converted to their husband’s religion. There is little the families can do to receive justice.
And thirdly, there is what is known as brick kiln bondage, when Christian (and some Hindu) families are basically bonded for life (over several generations) to brick kiln owners related to an unpayable loan. Unpayable because the wages for making bricks by hand for long hours is never high enough to cover the loan repayments.
Basically, Christians (and Hindus) in this nation are “second class citizens” and the legal system acknowledges this in that the word of a minority person is considered of less value than that of a majority person.
A pretty tough situation for the followers of Jesus in Pakistan!
But God sees and cares and not only do the Psalms and O.T. prophets confirm this, but also the teachings of Jesus and Apostles.
David says in this psalm:
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
And Jesus promised:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
But, the Bible also teaches that we, as God’s people need to be playing our part. For example, consider the words of Isaiah chapter 1:17
Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
And Micah 6:6
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
And James 1:27
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
There are many Christian organizations seeking to do just this, including Barnabus fund.
To help go to:
Father, thank you for your heart for the oppressed, for those who are broken-hearted and have a crushed spirit, and for those persecuted for your Name. Thank you that you see and hear and have promised “rest for our souls”. Thank you for those who seek to help oppressed brothers and sisters in other nations. Enable us to serve you by also serving the poor and oppressed and persecuted of this world. Amen.