Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Psalm 109

Psalm 109 is one of the imprecatory, or cursing, psalms, along with Psalms 69, 137, and several others. They make people pretty twitchy, because they're quite toughly worded, so folks find all sorts of ingenious ways to explain them away.

Jesus and the apostles were very comfortable with them and quoted them often, so if we're going to follow Jesus and follow the teaching of the apostles, we'd better get to like them, too, instead of trying to explain them away.

I was reading Psalm 109 last week, and I noticed that the key to the whole thing is in what we do with the first four verses, which read like this:

O God of my praise, do not be silent!
For they have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me;
They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
They have also surrounded me with words of hatred,
And fought against me without cause.

Here I recalled Luke 18:9-14, in which the Pharisee prays with himself saying, "Thank God I am not like other men." If you read these first four verses in that spirit, knowing that they apply to someone else, everythig else in the psalm will come wrong, but the problem is in the reader, not the psalm. If we recognize our own behavior in these first four verses, like the tax gatherer saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner," then everything else comes right. Haven't I done all these bad things to other people myself? I can read Psalm 109 and see the sort of thing I have to depart from in my life, before I want it judged in others, and then it makes great sense.

It's very much what Jesus taught concerning the woman caught in adultery. Sure Moses taught to put such sinners to death, but only if you've repented first yourself, and by then you show mercy on a fellow transgressor. That's a lot different from being OK with his transgression. There are people that are OK with adultery, but Jesus was not, even though to the Pharisees it looked like he was.

Moses also taught that those that worship idols are supposed to be put to death,but if God had put the idolaters to death at the time of the golden calf in the wilderness, those guys around Jesus that wanted to put the woman to death would not have ever been born so that they could make that case. They were standing against their own lives.

Sitting in Beaumont last night and waiting for the school board meeting to start, I was reading Psalm 85, and saw much the same thing. Psalm 85 begins with a prayer for God to turn away his anger, to cause it to cease. I noticed that it doesn't make a lot of sense to pray that way unless we're aiming to turn away from our own anger, to cause it to cease. If I seem to be running into a lot of God's anger in life and I don't like it, maybe it's time to fall out of love with my own anger against other people.

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