Yes, Seek Justice and Vindication
Christians should pray the imprecatory psalms:
While divine justice will fully and finally be meted out in the next life, Christians can and should seek to see justice carried out in the here and now. Indeed, that is what I often seek. In my prayer walk this morning I held up a friend who has been going through a horrific miscarriage of justice, costing him his career.
For a year now he has been prevented from working and properly feeding his family, all because he spoke biblical truth that offended the powers that be. So I pray for him daily, that somehow God’s justice would be realised now, and not later. See his shocking story here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/03/30/the-big-brother-purge-of-conservative-christians-in-australia/
And I also pray for vindication. That term simply means “proof that someone or something is right, reasonable, or justified” as one website puts it. My friend needs vindication, and it is right and proper to pray for that. Even more, it is fully biblical to pray against enemies of ourselves and of God who are pushing wickedness and injustice.
When innocent people are being ripped off, harmed, harassed and treated unjustly, especially by evil rulers, then we certainly should pray that God would take action. Just yesterday I wrote about the terrible suffering in Victoria, largely brought upon us by our derelict and dysfunctional leaders: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/08/03/a-spiritual-take-on-the-victorian-disaster/
In that piece I mentioned the imprecatory psalms, and how they are something we should be praying today. I have written often before about these themes. See these pieces for example: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2020/05/28/praying-against-enemies/
And here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/05/jesus-justice-and-vindication/
After writing yesterday’s article I went out and did what I will soon no longer be able to do in lock-downed Victoria: I bought a few new books. But that will end in a day. This entire state is turning into one massive internment camp, and I for one sure am praying for some justice and vindication here.
One of the volumes I picked up yesterday was a new expository commentary on the Psalms by Richard Phillips: Psalms 42-72 (P&R, 2019). As I was reading what he had to say on one imprecatory psalm (58), I thought I needed to write a follow-up article to my previous piece.
I have written before about the imprecatory psalms, saying this for example: “We find many psalms containing harsh words about enemies, with calls for their destruction and so on. An imprecation is a call for divine judgement, or an invocation of curses, upon enemies or upon the wicked.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2012/02/02/the-imprecatory-psalms-part-one/
Psalm 58 certainly fits the bill, so let me quote from some of the comments made by Phillips. He starts by noting how many Christians today are all very squeamish about such psalms and want nothing to do with them. Indeed, “in 1980 the Church of England exempted its members from having to read Psalm 58 in worship”!
He continues: “Such a condemning attitude for this and other biblical rebukes is misguided, since David’s anger is a reflection of God’s own wrath and as such presents a vital warning to the wicked. Psalm 58 therefore ought to be required reading, not an optional extra.”
And yes, Christians can fully run with such psalms:
A balanced approach to the imprecatory psalms will realize that David’s prayers against the wicked are not, in fact, opposed to the ethics of Jesus. One way to see this is to note how vehemently Jesus spoke against corrupt rulers of his day, using language every bit as violent as David’s. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Jesus cried (Matt. 23:15), referring to them as “child[ren] of hell,” “blind guides,” and “whitewashed tombs.” Jesus concluded his diatribe with language right out of Psalm 58: “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matt. 23:15-23). Another way to make sense of Psalm 58 is to note that David was not acting in personal retaliation against the wicked but instead was praying for God’s just retribution….
The heart of Psalm 58 is David’s cry for God to act against his wicked enemies. It is undeniable that David uses violent terms in this imprecatory prayer. It is helpful, however, to note the two general categories in which he is asking God to act. The first category of David’s plea consists of requests for God to destroy the ability of the wicked to harm their victims. . . . David’s second category requests that God would remove the evil effects of the wicked and eradicate their corrupt legacy….
David is not acting in violence against the wicked but praying for God to oppose them. David is appealing to God’s retributive justice, not committing sins against his foes. . . . David’s imprecatory prayer is consistent with Jesus’ angry denunciations of wicked leaders. We should also note that his appeal is ultimately fulfilled in the triumph of Christ over evil. . . . We can be sure that Christ’s continuous intercessory prayers in heaven for his people include appeals to the Father to thwart the designs of those who oppose the gospel and seek to advance the cause of evil (see Rom. 8;34).
Sober reflection shows that we have no grounds for standing in judgment on David’s imprecatory prayers. To the contrary, David’s prayers against the wicked may effectively accuse Christians today. His example challenges us to explain why we are not similarly outraged against the corrupt and deadly actions of ungodly powers.
He looks at some of those great social evils, such as the wholesale slaughter of the unborn and the war on marriage and family, and then says this:
The problem today is not that Christians continue to tolerate imprecatory prayers such as Psalm 58 but that we do not pray similarly against the same kinds of evils that surround us. If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, Christians today are taking violin lessons while a once-Christian civilization goes up in flames….
All Christians should be praying with broken, burning hearts for God to intervene against corrupt leaders who, in David’s words, “devise wrongs” in their hearts and use their hands to “deal out violence on earth” (Ps. 58:2). Whereas Psalm 58 rebukes the “silent ones” of Israel – corrupt rulers who refused to speak out against injustice – the reading of the psalm today rebukes the self-absorbed and indifferent Christians whose voices are silent in prayer while injustice and evil reign all around them. Alongside the moral outrage of our time is the spiritual scandal of Christians who are too busy to labor in prayer for God to cast down the wicked and give strength to the gospel.
Yes absolutely. We need much more, not much less, use of the imprecatory psalms by believers in these dark days. We should be angry with what makes God angry. We should be greatly upset with injustice, corruption and abuse of power. We should plead with God to act, to vindicate, to deal with the unrepentant evildoers.
Far too many Christians are far too cavalier about the great evils taking place all around us. Their hearts do not break with what breaks the heart of God. They do not grieve about what God grieves over. They do not detest that which God detests. No wonder the imprecatory psalms seem so foreign – even “unchristian” – to them.
Let me conclude with quotes from two different notable Christians. I first offer some helpful words written by Dutch-American theologian Johannes Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949). Back in 1942 he wrote a very valuable article on these psalms for the Westminster Theological Journal called “The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms”. In it he said this:
God’s kingdom cannot come without Satan’s kingdom being destroyed. God’s will cannot be done in earth without the destruction of evil. Evil cannot be destroyed without the destruction of men who are permanently identified with it. Instead of being influenced by the sickly sentimentalism of the present day, Christian people should realize that the glory of God demands the destruction of evil. Instead of being insistent upon the assumed, but really non-existent, rights of men, they should focus their attention upon the rights of God. Instead of being ashamed of the Imprecatory Psalms, and attempting to apologize for them and explain them away, Christian people should glory in them and not hesitate to use them in the public and private exercises of the worship of God.
Some 65 years later American Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, coming from a somewhat differing theological perspective, said this about these psalms in his brief book Praying the Psalms. (Paternoster, 2007):
The vengeance of God is understood as the other side of his compassion – the sovereign redress of a wrong. That is, in the Old Testament, two motifs belong together. God cannot act to liberate “his” people without at the same time judging and punishing the oppressors who have perverted a just ordering of life. Vengeance by God is not understood as an end in itself. It is discerned as necessary to the establishment and preservation of a just rule. It is a way God “right-wises” life. Thus Deuteronomy 32:35 speaks of vengeance. But this is linked in v. 36 with vindication and compassion for “his” servants….
Thus these harsh Psalms must be fully embraced as our own. Our rage and indignation must be fully owned and fully expressed. And then (only then) can our rage and indignation be yielded to the mercy of God. In taking this route through them, we take the route God “himself” has gone. We are not permitted a cheaper, easier, more “enlightened” way.
9 Replies to “Yes, Seek Justice and Vindication”
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Thank you for a correct exposition of Psalm 58. I will pray it with you.
Brother Bill – thank yo so much for yet another timely article. I have so much pain and anger inside of me at present – this has really helped me to know how to pray through it. I am part of a class action ATM regarding the government breach of its own bio security act and vaccines. I needed this today! God bless you Bill.
Also help out here:
We’re all with you, praying and fasting, for an end to this absolutely chaotic leadership debacle, especially in Victoria, and we do love Victorians!!! (:
BUT…Where are our Christian leaders, both locally and globally?
Comfortable in their respective lockdown bunkers?
They have had 7 months to exercise their faith and seeking God’s wisdom for direction!
What a very sad state ”the Church” is in right now, almost invisible and deafening throughout our confused and scared communities.
This is the time to pray & fast aginst our enemies of Jesus Christ, and together seeking His will in moving forward, in this time of great opportunity for being His hands and feet throughout the world.
Cheers and blessings to all, stay safe and close to Jesus…
I pray for God’s judgment on America because it is the ONLY thing big enough to wake up the church. It will accomplish two things punishing those who work against God and sounding a clarion call to the church so she can get right with him. For this I am told I am being unchristian and I shouldn’t do it. Too many want to just love people to Christ just be kind to everyone. Just smile daintly at them. The idea of a judging vengeful God is offensive to them. Their Jesus is a wimpy pushover who never gets mad never judges never has a problem with anyone. Hippie Jesus. They seem to think a loving God and a vengeful God can’t be the same person. That love and judgment are polar opposites so if God is love and God is good than God can’t be judgmental because that would be evil. We have let humanistic enlightenment influence us for far too long. So many poo poo any pointing out what happened to ancient Israel because we have a better coventant. Or we are under grace they were under the law so it is apples to oranges.
The church is comfortable and asleep. Make her uncomfortable and awake Lord.
Just a thought -Could the good Doctor you mention take his case to Martyn Iles at Australian Christian Lobby If he hasn’t already done so!
Thanks Jennifer. Yes he has been in touch with the ACL and its legal arm. They have only so much funding to help in such cases, so how much can be done remains to be seen. Pray that justice indeed happens one way or another.
My husband and I pray that God would do whatever it takes to turn this nation around. I have seen a vision of this.
This lockdown seems very bad, but in a way it is an answer to prayer about God shaking the Victorian govt and its leader, for its evil laws it has pushed through and been a forerunner in a bad way for the nation, in opening bad gateways.
A shaking is never comfortable and the fire is hot. I feel very bad for the righteous going through this,but pray that God will comfort you as you are in this furnace, knowing he is with you. It could bring the start of revival, may God’s plans for Victoria come forth and stand and the enemy’s be as naught.