Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Psalm 35

Psalm 35, a psalm for when you are hated

Adding Insult To Injury

      Have you ever gone through a time of great pain or adversity, only to find it increased by the gloating of others?  As you suffer, they rejoice. While you struggle to keep your head above water, they are praying for you to drown.  You cry out to God to deliver you, but they cry out, perhaps even to God, for you to be crushed under the trial.  What if they even claim that the suffering you are going through is from the Lord, a consequence or punishment for past wrongs you are guilty of?  They solemnly affirm that not only is this present chastisement well deserved, but that they are actually looking forward to your resulting misery and humiliation in it.
      Ring a bell?  Have you ever had an enemy, a real old fashioned enemy, who desired to see you fail? Who, when you were swirling and smoking in the sky, looked up with pleasure at the expectation of watching you crash and burn? I have. There are those who, for whatever reason- deserved or undeserved- hate me. They literally hope I will "get what's coming to me." And you know what? Sometimes I have.
      God is so merciful to me that when there is an area in my life that is not bearing good fruit, He cuts it off. And believe me, dismemberment is bloody. It is painful. But when the part is diseased or already rotten, it needs to go. That is His tough love, and once I heal from the chastisement, I am all the better for it. Yet sometimes, the hatred will still continue after the discipline, and that is hard. When God has forgiven us, we naturally hope men will, too.
       But there are also those times that there is not a shred of truth to the accusation and no grounding for the hate. Gossip and spiritual warfare have a way of perverting our view of others, and without humility and honesty before the Lord, any one of us can be deceived. Relationships can be destroyed, families broken, and churches ripped apart by one little lie.  I have been the subject of such lies before, and the accompanying ill-wishes of other people. This honestly is the worst: when you know you are not guilty, but still you are hated. Have you ever been there? It's rough.
     David knew this kind of double pain. The trial, already difficult to bear, topped by the curses of his enemies, who gloried in his suffering. David also experienced both types of hatred: deserved and undeserved, throughout the course of his life. Saul hated him without cause, but Bathsheba's family members hated him for his adultery with her and subsequent murder of her husband. In both, however, David appealed to the Lord's mercy. Let's look at a time when David was hated without cause, and see what the Lord may have for us in His Holy Word for when we experience similar trials.

Psalm 35

"Plead my cause, O LORD, with those who strive with me; fight against those who fight against me.  Take hold of shield and buckler, and stand up for my help.  Also draw out the spear, and stop those who pursue me.  Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” (verses 1-3)

     At this point in his life David is being pursued by Saul and his army.  This Psalm lines up with the time period referenced in 1 Samuel...  David is no longer the popular national hero who slew Goliath of Gath, nor even the celebrated king's son-in-law, a prince of the realm, but rather an outlaw and desperate fugitive hiding in caves in the mountains.
     David begins this psalm with prayer, as he knows that help, if it is to come, will not be from man, but God himself. In verse one, David asks God to "plead his cause", which is a judicial term, but the next portion of the text reveals the "court" in which this plea is to be tried- the battle field. Not too long ago, duals were considered a fair way to end a dispute over honour. When a man was accused or insulted, he could challenge his accuser to a fight to the death. Both were given a weapon and an opportunity to kill the other. "May the best man win" was the idea behind it. It was generally accepted that, like drawing lots in Bible times, God would be the decider of life and death in a dual. The "better man" would inevitably win, even against great odds. Good would be victorious, and evil slain. David pleads that God would do the same for him on the battle field; that his innocence would be proven by the sword: "Fight against those who fight against me."
       David continues allegorically to emphasize this request by mentioning the various armaments of war. Beginning with defensive weaponry, the "shield and buckler", David asks for God to defend him from those who were marching against him, perhaps even as he wrote this.  Then he asks God to also "draw out" His spear from His armoury, and actively prevent the pursuing army from gaining any more ground on him. David, at this point, is merely asking God to protect him from his attackers.
     In verse three, David also asks the Lord to speak to his innermost being, his soul, perhaps which was in a state of fear and tumoil, and to speak words of comfort and assurance to him: "I am your salvation." David knew God was his salvation; that is why he so implicitely trusted in Him and turned to Him in his times of need. But even though we may know something to be true, when our heart is overwhelmed and our emotions are frayed, sometimes a word of strength and encouragement is what we need to keep going. David asked it of the Lord, and we can ask it as well. When we are afraid and overwhelmed by the trial we are going through, we can pray these words of David, "Say to my soul, O Lord, 'I am your salvation.'"

"Let those be put to shame and brought to dishonour who seek after my life; let those be turned back and brought to confusion who plot my hurt.   ​Let them be like chaff before the wind, and let the angel of the LORD chase them.  Let their way be dark and slippery, and let the angel of the LORD pursue them.  For without cause they have hidden their net for me in a pit, which they have dug without cause for my life.   ​Let destruction come upon him unexpectedly, and let his net that he has hidden catch himself; into that very destruction let him fall." (verses 4-8)

     David, in this raw and passionate portion of the psalm, asks for classic poetic justice on those who seek his life: let the trap layer fall into his own trap, let the pursuer be pursued, the destroyer destroyed, etc.  No "turn the other cheek" or "bless those who curse you" here! David's prayer is one for justice. The Old Covenant Law was all about justice; the grace and forgiveness we now associate with godliness is from God's New Covenant with mankind through Jesus Christ. God has always been merciful, but the era of grace we now enjoy and even take for granted is only possible because of the substitutionary death and resurrection of our Saviour. Whenever we read the Old Testament, we have to keep this in mind, and not expect New Testament responses from Old Testament saints.
      David opens up his heart, in all its raw and unprocessed emotion, to His God who he knows will not condemn him for it.  In 1 Samuel, we get a glimpse of what David's experience was during this time in his life and it sheds some light on the passion with which he cries to God for justice on those who seek his life.
     His honour as a war hero, as a nobleman, and as a righteous man has been maligned so severely that all Israel is against him. He has lost his wife and his best friend. His family is lost to him, as is his livelihood as an officer in the army. He is an exile in his own country and an outlaw in the surrounding nations.  His dwelling has gone from a palace to a cave, and even with all this degradation, there were still those who wanted him dead. Former friends at court continued to malign him to the king, fuelling Saul's hysteria, and resulting in attack after attack on David's life. In all this, David knew, before God, that he was innocent of any wrong towards his king and countrymen.
     What we see in this passage is the honest anger of an innocent man unjustly condemned and pursued, and his cry for God to take vengeance upon those who have sought to destroy his life.    

     When we find ourselves in similar shoes, and there are people who are actively slandering us, maybe even openly denouncing us to both friends and strangers, how should we respond? While I don't recommend praying for their destruction as David did, (and we must remember, he was literally going to have to fight these men in hand to hand combat in a "dual" of right vs. wrong, so to speak), I do recommend praying. Our natural inclination is to attempt to "clear our name" by defending ourselves and discrediting the false witness of our accusers. We want to stand up for ourselves and have "our side" be heard. We crave to be understood and inwardly chafe at the knowledge that people believe something horrible and untrue about us.
      But David did not defend himself before men. He took his trouble to the Lord in prayer and only there did he let loose. God can handle our deepest and ugliest thoughts; they don't shock Him. He can handle our wailing and our whining. He does not flinch from our ranting and raving. He listens with a heart full of love for us. He already knows what is in us. Let it out, but let it out only to Him. Don't use your friends or family as sounding boards for your angry, ugly thoughts. When faced with open or subtle accusation, don't attempt to justify yourself to those who suspect you of wrong. Bear it patiently and quietly when in the presence of men, and then when you are alone with Lord, tell Him EVERYTHING. Remember, He can handle it, and only He can fix it.
     This was David's strategy, by the way, used throughout his life. When you are accused unjustly, take it to the Lord for Him to deal with and make all things right. God will set the record straight in His time. There is no point in trying to rush it. If people think ill of you all your life, rest easy. They will know the truth about you in heaven, when it actually matters. Sometimes our names may be cleared while we are yet alive. That is wonderful! but even then, it may take years for it to happen.  Don't stress or strive to be heard, to be appreciated, to be understood. Rest in God's justice and leave the vindication to Him.

"And my soul shall be joyful in the LORD; it shall rejoice in His salvation.
All my bones shall say, “LORD, who is like You, delivering the poor from him who is too strong for him, yes, the poor and the needy from him who plunders him?”  (verses 9-10)

     Here is true hope. And hope is what we need most. When in the midst of our greatest struggles and fiercest trials, if we have hope, we can certainly endure them. No matter how dark the tunnel is, nor how long, just knowing there is light at the end of it... that there IS an end to it, is enough to make it through. David had such hope. He knew His God, and that was hope enough. His God is the God who delivers His servants. His God is the God who favours the cause the of the poor and needy and hears their cry. His God is the God of the Bible, the worker of miracles and creator of everything. His God is sovereign, all powerful, loving and merciful. David knew his God and thus David had hope.
      We have the same hope, for we have the same God as David did.  He is the eternal God, the Creator of heaven and earth, as revealed to us in His Holy Word. And there are precious promises in His word that we can hold onto in times of trouble. None is more precious, though, than the promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Whatever may befall us in this life, there is always that light at the end of the tunnel. We have a living hope that the world cannot comprehend, nor destroy. Even if our very life is lost, we can hold onto this hope, for it is greater even than the grave.
      Christians for the past two thousand years have clung fervently to this hope and overcome all that came against them. For who can kill one who will live forever? Jesus said, "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. " (Matthew 10:28) and "Most assuredly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death." (John 8:51) Jesus is speaking of our living hope- a life immortal after this body is left in the dust. We never need to fear. No matter what happens in this life, our souls can be joyful in the Lord, for He has saved us from something far greater than mere physical death on a battle field. He has saved our souls from hell and offered us life eternal in glory with Himself.
     Rejoice, dear Christian! Our hope is greater than all our trials. As Paul said, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

"​Fierce witnesses rise up; they ask me things that I do not know. They reward me evil for good, to the sorrow of my soul. ​But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled myself with fasting; and my prayer would return to my own heart. ​I paced about as though he were my friend or brother; I bowed down heavily, as one who mourns for his mother.
  But in my adversity they rejoiced and gathered together; attackers gathered against me, and I did not know it; they tore at me and did not cease; with ungodly mockers at feasts they gnashed at me with their teeth." (verses 11-16)

      Have you ever been rewarded with evil for doing good? You were loyal, but are now accused of betrayal. You were selfless, but now you are called greedy. You were humble, but now others believe that you are ambitious. It is unfair, unjust, and it just plain hurts! It hurts especially when your accusers are people whom you have loved, trusted, and been vulnerable with: friends, family members, brothers or sisters in Christ, church leaders, etc.
      David experienced the same hurt. The very people who now pointed the finger at him and demanded his execution were people whom David deeply loved. He describes how he was there for them in their trials, feeling their pain as if it were his own, fasting and praying for their healing; but in his own time of trouble, they joined forces to crush him.
     What are we to do when those we love turn against us? When they betray us? The answer is simple, and yet not easy. We are to forgive them. Plain and simple old fashioned Christianity in action. Remember, forgiveness is not for the one we forgive. It is for us. When we allow the sin of another to embitter us by holding onto it, refusing to pardon their offence, we actually poison our own soul. Friend, what they did to you is nothing compared to what you will do to yourself if you withhold forgiveness simply "because they don't deserve it." Of course they don't. No one really ever does.
     Sins are technically unpardonable without punishment of some sort to pay for them. We instinctively know this, which is why we have such a hard time offering forgiveness, and why sometimes we can't even forgive ourselves. The answer is not to try harder to feel forgiveness, but to remember that all sin, theirs and ours, was actually paid for. It was punished in full. The full punishment for all the evil that I ever did and all the evil that was ever done to me was taken by Jesus on my behalf. The enormity of what He actually did is staggering, and yet sometimes so quickly forgotten. When I live in light of His sacrifice, I am compelled to forgive and to receive forgiveness because the sin WAS punished in full. God, in His mercy, took the full circle of crime and punishment upon Himself, acting as Judge while yet standing in as a criminal in our place.
     Forgiveness is what sets us free from the sin that was done against us. It unfetters our soul from the lasting effects of betrayal and cruelty, and allows us to live and flourish in spite of what happened in the past. Forgiveness is the door to emotional healing and deliverance.

"Lord, how long will You look on? Rescue me from their destructions, my precious life from the lions. I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people. Let them not rejoice over me who are wrongfully my enemies; nor let them wink with the eye who hate me without a cause. ​For they do not speak peace, but they devise deceitful matters against the quiet ones in the land. They also opened their mouth wide against me, and said, “Aha, aha! Our eyes have seen it.” (verses 17-21)

     David has real physical enemies who are devising his destruction and death, and his prayers naturally centre upon this very literal threat to his life. But note that intertwined with his pleas for protection is a word of prophetic faith; a confident statement of hope: "I will give You thanks in the great assembly; I will praise You among many people."  David, in all his terror and anxiety for his own life, still has his eyes set straight upon His God. He may not know the whole future, nor how things will work out, but He knows one thing well: God is with him and God will deliver him. How does he know this?  How can he be so sure?
     Recall with me one particular day in David's youth. He was out tending the family flock, as usual, when from a distance he sees his brother running towards him.  "David! David! You have to come now! The prophet Samuel is at the house and is asking to see you, (though I can't imagine why)."  Sweaty from his run, David slows to a respectful walk as he draws near the dwellings and sees a crowd gathered in front, quietly awaiting his arrival. An aged man steps forward and David senses the presence of the LORD upon him. This must be the prophet. Instinctively bowing his knee, David lowers his head before the man of God. There is silence for a moment before he feels the smooth warmth of oil pouring down his neck and forehead and the words, "For God does not regard the outward appearance, but the heart." David had been anointed as the future king of Israel.
     Everyday since that day, David continued in his daily tasks, whether shepherding as a teenager or making war on the Philistines as a young man, ever with that momentous event in the back of his mind. One day, he would be king. God had chosen him; God had promised. David knew God would deliver him because He knew God would not fail on His promise.
    We may not know, like David, what great or terrible events lie in our futures, but there are precious promises given to us in the Word of God that we can stand upon with the same degree of faith that David had. We can know, for instance, that God will never leave nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He will give us His strength to accomplish His will when we are too weak to do it ourselves (2 Corinthians 12:9). He will give us the words we need to bear witness to Him when we find ourselves thrust into frightening situations (Mark 13:11). He will come back for us someday and bring us home to Him to share in His joy forever (John 14:3). There are thousands more to dig out of the Bible and claim with confidence. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He will not fail us. "For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.​" (2 Corinthians 1:20)

"This You have seen, O LORD; do not keep silence. O Lord, do not be far from me. Stir up Yourself, and awake to my vindication, to my cause, my God and my Lord. Vindicate me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness; and let them not rejoice over me. ​Let them not say in their hearts, “Ah, so we would have it!” Let them not say, “We have swallowed him up.” (verses 22-25)

    Here David pleads with the Lord to not only deliver him from those who are against him, but also to bring them all to justice, both himself and his accusers. Like the innocent man who says, "Search me! Search my house, my files, my internet browsing history, my emails! What you find cannot hurt me, for I am innocent! Your scrutiny will only clear my character in this matter." David's character has been maliciously slandered and lies made up about his actions and motives. Those who used to regard him with honour now believe him to be a scoundrel.
     This is sometimes even more painful to bear than hatred. It is one thing to have an enemy who just doesn't like you for whatever reason. It is quite another to have an acquaintance or even a friend  despise and reject you as an evil doer when you know you are innocent! When truth is overshadowed by a lie, what strong feelings it produces in our hearts. Many powerful stories have been written along this theme, for it resonates deeply within our souls. It also resonates deeply within the heart of God, for it is recorded four times in the just the gospels alone that God will one day set every record straight and let the truth about all be known, "Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known." (Matthew 10:26)
    Jesus Himself was despised and rejected as an evil doer, when He was the only sinless Man in history. He said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also." (John 15:18-20)
     When we find ourselves maligned and misjudged by others, remember that the same was experienced on our behalf by our Saviour, Jesus. He understands the pain, the frustration, and the personal agony of being an object of horror and disgust to others. He knows and understands, and He will one day set the record straight... and all will know the truth. Rest in His love. He has not rejected you. He sees even your genuine faults and still accepts and cherishes you for who you are. Let His love wash your hurting soul in comfort and peace. It does not matter eternally what they think of you. The only One who matters loves you unconditionally, and already knows the truth about your situation. He will not ever cast you out.

"Let them be ashamed and brought to mutual confusion who rejoice at my hurt; let them be clothed with shame and dishonour who exalt themselves against me. ​​Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause; and let them say continually, 'Let the LORD be magnified, Who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.' ​And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long."  (verses 26-28)

     David gives a cursing and a blessing upon two distinct groups of people in the conclusion of his psalm. To those who rejoice at David's hurt and exalt themselves against him, he pronounces shame, confusion, and dishonour upon them. To those who favour David's cause, who are "on his side," he pronounces joy, gladness, worship, and praise to God.  This makes sense in light of the rest of the psalm. David believes that God will deliver him from this present distress, and those who had hoped for his death will find themselves frustrated and embarrassed at their failure. Those, however, who stood by David and believed in his innocence, will rejoice and praise God for saving their honest hero. Good will prevail and evil shall fall. And David prophesies of his own personal response when he is delivered and his enemies confounded, "And my tongue shall speak of Your righteousness and of Your praise all the day long." 
    May we have this response to God's answered prayers as well. When He delivers us, when He heals us, when He guides us, provides for us, teaches and instructs us, uses us, empowers us, ... may we "all the day long" give Him the glory that is due His name. He is the God who saves! Worthy is His name. "Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let such as love Your salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!”" (Psalm 40:16)
    The LORD be magnified!!!
Amen.

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