# 138 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 35 (6) This too we must take seriously.

sheep and goat

We all love a good story. In reality, we spend much of our lives telling stories and if not telling them, then reading them or listening to them or watching them on TV. When I was living overseas I discovered that Middle Eastern people are great story tellers. In fact, where we, “Westerners”, would try and explain something with facts and figures they would illustrate it simply with a story.

Jesus was such a “Middle Eastern man”! The Gospels are full of the stories of Jesus. Not stories to entertain, but stories with a purpose. They are called “Parables” and many are well known and appreciated. But some are also somewhat disturbing!

Consider the one found in Matthew 25:31-46 titled “The sheep and the goats” in the NIV.

The first part is surprising and challenging. Jesus said:

31 “When the Son of Man [meaning Jesus himself] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

It is the second part though that is really surprising and disturbing.

Jesus continued:

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

I don’t know about you, but if I was there listening to Jesus when he told this story I would have been lost for words. Maybe that was the case for his listeners on that day long ago because the Gospels have no record of people’s responses.

The third of six “suggestions” that Wilcock has regarding what we can learn from this Imprecatory Psalm 35 concerns the fact that, “David is in illustrious company – Moses, Isaiah, Paul, Jesus – both in his prophetic status and in the object of his denunciations. There are, alas, those who have wilfully and finally rebelled against the loving plan of God, and these mouthpieces of the voice of God tell us plainly that such willing instruments of Satan not only are, but ought to be, doomed to destruction.” Referring then to the words of Jesus above (in bold type), he continues, “not even David goes as far as the ‘gentle Jesus’ does in such an imprecation. This too we must take seriously.”

Father, enable us to “take seriously” the truth as expressed by Jesus in this challenging parable. May our lives be pleasing to you, seeking to do good to all, and in serving them we recognize that we are serving you.  Amen.

# 137 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 35 (5) Right anger and proper hatred.

angry tiger

I felt really very angry! These people did not deserve the treatment they were receiving right before my eyes, and I said so. It was the early 1990’s and whenever the Hindus in neighbouring India did something to upset the minority Muslims then the reciprocal activity would take place in Pakistan. I can’t remember what happened in India but in UM, where we were living, the Muslim students were marching down the main road protesting. The minority Hindu shopkeepers, wisely, had closed their shops and were keeping out of the way, but this did not stop the students from looting and burning as they went. Although keeping a low profile, I said angrily to my Muslim friends nearby who were laughing at the student’s activities that only a short time ago these Hindus were their friends and neighbours. It was all so unfair!

So, in a sense, I can understand a little just how David felt as he prayed to God in the words of Psalm 35 when he said:

22 Lord, you have seen this; do not be silent.
Do not be far from me, Lord.
23 Awake, and rise to my defence!
Contend for me, my God and Lord.
24 Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God;
do not let them gloat over me.

Although, in my situation the injustice was not being done to me but to others.

So, can we use this psalm today, in our own personal devotions or in communal worship?

Commentator Michael Wilcock suggests that we can. He says that we can use it “without embarrassment, even with profit”! He then gives “six suggestions” as to how we can do this. We shall check out two of these today.

Firstly, David was obviously and naturally upset about what his enemies were wrongly saying about him and accusing him of, and “even if David did feel vindictive…he would have been doing the right thing with his feelings: not taking the law into his own hands but committing the matter to God in prayer.” Wilcock emphasizes that “both Testaments make this point” quoting the following verse:

Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.  (Romans 12:19 quoting from Deuteronomy 32:35)

Wilcock continues, “All the imprecatory psalms are prayers, in which God is being asked to do what only he, and not the psalmist, has the right and power to do.”

Secondly, David was right to feel angry at the injustice surrounding him, as I think I was also right, on that day in Pakistan, to stand up for those who were being treated so unfairly. Wilcock reminds us that “there are such things as right anger and proper hatred” quoting both the Old and New Testaments as follows:

In your anger do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26 quoting from Psalm 4:4) and

Hate what is evil. (Romans 12:9 quoting Amos 5:15)

“In a world where much really is hateful and where many things, and people, richly deserve our indignation,” says Wilcock, “easy-going Christians could learn something from David’s passion.”

Father, we remember the words of Micah 6:8 – “What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” – and ask you to help us to be passionate towards others who are being treated unjustly that they may be vindicated and delivered from the hands of their enemies.  Amen.