Monday, September 14, 2009
psalm 139 takes a strange twist at verse 19...
It has been said that if Psalm 139 finished at verse 18 it would be the most beautiful psalm of all. However it doesn't and it does leave us with some really challenging verses to deal with.
19 If only you would slay the wicked, O God!
Away from me, you bloodthirsty men!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD,
and abhor those who rise up against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
At verse 19 the psalm takes a strange twist. The psalmist talks about his hatred of those who reject God. Maybe he has his accusers in mind and he sees these people opposing the very God whose presence and knowing the psalmist finds so precious. Maybe it is just an outburst of misplaced zeal. But when he sees the wonder and the love of the God whom he serves, he is aware of the great travesty of sin and he wishes that God would destroy the sinners.
It’s as if he sees God’s presence and knowledge like a great tree in the forest, like Tane Mahuta and sees people’s rejection and disregard like someone cutting their initials in the trunk. In the face of all that grandeur trying to say don’t look at the tree, actually it’s all about me.
You’ve got to admit that as he will finish this strope and psalm by asking God to search him and see if there is any wicked way in him that this is not a stance for the faint hearted. Maybe our picture of God is that we are concerned that God knows us so well and sees everything and that we cannot escape from him because we are aware that there is darkness within us. The very words that the psalmist finds comforting are used word for word in the book of Amos, to describe the terrible day of the Lord. The day of judgement, says the prophet, there is no getting away from it. Maybe he had heard David’s psalm being used at religious festivals where there was great rejoicing before God but the poor were being oppressed and says well you say it’s comfortable to know that God sees and God knows and God is everywhere, but God sees beyond our religious observance to how we treat other people, he sees the injustice and inequalities and unless that is changed, the day of the Lord it will be devastating.
While the Psalmist says that God knows him in this pray we see that the Psalmist may not know God as well as he thinks because not only is God all knowing, all powerful, always present but also all loving and full of grace. God does not answer the Psalmists prayer right away with wrath. No lightning bolts turning people into instant sinner burgers, like a cosmic ray gun.
But ultimately, and in God's time, God does answer. The answer echoes in the cry of a tiny babe born in a manger in Bethlehem.
It echo’s and resonates in nails being driven into flesh, not of the sinners and wicked but fixing the hands of an innocent man to a cross.
It echoes and is answered in the pain and anguish intoned voice from the cross saying ‘father forgive them they know not what they do’.
It is answered by grace: The God who knows us who knows all things who is everywhere, eternal and almighty gives his son for us. That as we have confessed our sins and put our hope in Jesus Christ, God searches us and sees not our disgrace but his grace..
Then the Psalmist finishes by asking the all-knowing all present God to come and search his heart. It’s in light of God’s grace we can pray the same challenging prayer. ‘Search me O God and see if there be any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”. At the heart of spiritual renewal is a willingness to be open to the Holy Spirit showing us where the darkness within us that we need to repent of and to be sorry for, and to then confess our sins and look again to knowing and following God anew. It is the truth that sets us free.