Psalm 5 (text); Revelation 7:9-17
June 14, 2015 • Big Springs URC
Congregation of Christ: Who among us in this gathered assembly does not have personal enemies? Enemies are a part of life, even as Christians. When God regenerated us by his Spirit, he did not work magic in which all our enemies disappeared. Our enemies surround us on every side. We go to bed at night and get up in the morning with our thoughts on how our enemies oppose and even persecute us. How am I going to remove my enemies from my life? Sadly, enemies are part and parcel of our pilgrim life.
Our text today, Psalm 5, comes after two psalms that King David prayed as he was being pursued by his enemies. Psalm 3 is a morning prayer when King David fled from his own son Absalom who led a successful rebellion against him. Psalm 4 is similar prayer before he lay down to sleep.
Psalm 5 as well is a prayer against his enemies, but this time, David prays to the Lord for the destruction of his enemies. David laments being persecuted by “bloodthirsty and deceitful” men. But, like other psalms of lament, he ends this psalm with confidence that God who is just and righteous hears his prayer. Similar to the contrast between the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1, Psalm 5 proclaims a God who “abhors” and “hates” evildoers, but blesses his righteous people.
Although Psalm 5 is an individual psalm, it can be sung by all believers, because all Christians go through life with sufferings and persecutions. Today, we will consider three things concerning this prayer of lament then trust: 1. The Lord Who Hears Prayer; 2. The Evildoers Whom God Hates; 3. The Righteous Whom the Lord Blesses.
The Lord Who Hears Prayer
David opens his prayer with an appeal for God to hear his prayer, “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry.” His prayer is a prayer of groaning and crying. He says he is praying to the Lord, “my King and my God.” He knows that his God is a living God, not a lifeless, crafted idol who cannot hear, see or speak.
His God not only hears, he is the Sovereign King of the universe. He does what he is pleased to do, without regard for anything else except his own righteous and just character. So although enemies surround him, David is confident that God is perfectly holy, just and righteous that he will not let any wickedness pass. David has choice words for God’s wrathful disposition towards wicked people. He cannot “delight in wickedness,” and “evil may not dwell with” him. He cannot stand the boastful, and hates all evildoers. In the end, the Lord will destroy liars, the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
Prayers, especially in the Psalms, that ask God to destroy his enemies are commonly called “imprecatory” prayers. They often plead that God will judge, curse and bring destruction against wicked people and the enemies of God’s people. The verb “imprecate” comes from a Latin word that means “to call down curses” in prayer. Some of David’s most imprecatory prayers against his enemies are found in Psalm 69 and 109: “May their camp be a desolation; let no one dwell in their tents” (Psa 69:25). “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!” (Psa 109:9).
What do we make of these kinds of prayers? Did not Jesus and Paul teach to love our enemies and pray for them? The Bible says we are to pray for both things: destruction and salvation of the wicked. But how can a Christian pray both prayers?
Firstly, Christians are to pray for God’s justice to be done. Vengeance is the Lord’s (Deu 32:35; Psa 94:1; Rom 12:19), not ours. God will surely punish His enemies, if not in this age, in the age to come (Psa 11:5-6; Rom 1:18; 9:22). Not only are we to pray that God will restrain rulers and men who hinder the preaching of the gospel and persecute our brethren (Acts 26:29; 1 Tim 2:1-2), but we may also pray for God’s righteous vengeance against His enemies, the enemies of His church, as Christian martyrs in heaven are doing right now (Rev 6:9-10).
Secondly, having said the above, we are not to pray for God’s wrath against our personal enemies, but to pray for God’s salvation for them. The apostle Paul exhorts us, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:14, 21). And he put his words into practice in the salvation of the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:16-34).
Thirdly, as we pray for God’s justice and for the salvation of our enemies, we are to rejoice and persevere in whatever circumstances we are in, even in persecution (Matt 5:11-12; 1 Thess 5:16-18). Martyrs throughout Christian history did so. Suffering is, after all, the Christian’s calling in this age (John 16:33; 1 Pet 4:12).
Today we are awestruck when we witness daily thousands of people who carry the name of Christ stand faithful in the face of persecution and even martyrdom under Christ’s enemies. Just as Jesus told his disciples, Christians, beginning with the apostles, will be persecuted by God’s enemies. In 1561, Guido de Bres published the Belgic Confession, and in his introductory letter to King Philip of Spain, he wrote that the Protestant Reformers are willing to “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire.” These martyrs were only practicing what the Bible teaches. Christianity is the only religion in the world that teaches believers to pray for their enemies, leaving vengeance against them in the hands of a righteous God.
But David’s God and King is not only a righteous and just Lord; he is also gracious and merciful. This God is the one worthy of man’s worship. Because of “the abundance of his steadfast love,” we enter God’s house, bowing down before him with reverence and fear. We plead with him to lead us in the righteous path, because he is a righteous Lord (7, 8).
The Evildoers Whom God Hates
But against a righteous God are rebellious evildoers and wicked people. Unlike many Christians today who soften God’s righteousness and justice against sinners, David is blunt, “God hates all evildoers” (5). Who else does the Lord hate? David repeats more emphatically: “the wicked and the one who loves violence” (11:5). Since the psalmists speak God’s Word, what they hate are also what God hates: the assembly of evildoers (26:5); idolaters (31:6); the double-minded (119:113); wickedness (45:7); “the work of those who fall away” (101:3); “every false way” (119:104); and falsehood (119:163).
We often hear many Christians say, “God hates sin, but loves the sinner.” What they are affirming is the common teaching that since God loves everyone, he cannot hate anyone, even the sinner. But this is far from the truth of the above verses. God hates both sin and sinners! So to lessen the impact of this truth, when they read Malachi 1:2-3, “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated,” they say that God loved Esau less, not hated him. Nevertheless, Esau was an unsaved, unrepentant sinner whom God hates. Do not be deceived, all evildoers, not just all evil, will not inherit the kingdom of God. On Judgment Day, Christ will utterly reject all “workers of lawlessness,” because he hates them (Matt 7:23). Hell will be full, not only of sin, but also of sinners whom God hates and abhors!
David describes evildoers in graphic ways, “For there is no truth in their mouth; their inmost self is destruction; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue” (9). The lies, slander, blasphemy and deceit coming out of their mouth and throat lead them and other to death and destruction. Their words reveal the corruption of their inmost self. Jesus explains this radical corruption of the human heart from where corrupt words come, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt 15:18-19). James also points out the destruction in this age and in the age to come that the tongue can cause, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (Jas 3:6). This is why Paul quotes this text when he explains the radical corruption of all fallen human beings, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive” (Rom 3:10-11).
We’re familiar with how words, spoken or written, can cause the church to be engulfed in a fire of confusion, jealousy, division, anger and hatred. Things said behind our backs or written in Facebook can stain our minds, offend brethren, and destroy the church’s peace and community. Our individual testimony, together with our church’s reputation, are stained when we are not careful in what we say, and in the pictures we make public. Let us be mindful that we carry the Most Holy Name of God and Christ, and that others look up to us as salt and light to the world.
David then embarks on an imprecatory prayer against his enemies, Make them bear their guilt, O God; let them fall by their own counsels; because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out, for they have rebelled against you” (10). Notice David’s prays that God will act upon his prayer. He is not the one to execute judgment and vengeance upon his enemies. It is God who will declare them guilty. It is God who will cause their own words to fail. It is God who will cast them out, because they are unrepentant, unregenerated rebels and sinners who persecute God’s own chosen ones. They shake their fists against God all the way to their destruction. His prayer is not only for their destruction in the age to come, but even in this age, so that the world may witness God’s righteous vengeance.
The bad news, even worst news, awaits the wicked, if not in this world, in the next. But the good news awaits the righteous ones.
The Righteous Whom the Lord Blesses
The good news, even the best news, for the righteous is that the Lord blesses them, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. [For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield” (11, 12).
In the midst of persecution and suffering, David is confident that God is his sure Protector and Rewarder. In stark contrast to the wicked whose confidence lies in their own plans, their own resources, their own works, the righteous take refuge in the Lord. The Lord is their refuge, strength, trust and help in times of trouble (Psa 46:1). They are the ones who can sing, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psa 34:8) because they have seen, heard and experienced his goodness.
The ones who worship the Lord with fear and trembling can also rejoice in persecution and trouble (Psa 2:11). Those seek and love God’s salvation can sing, “Great is the Lord!” in suffering (Psa 40:16). Those who meditate on his words (Psa 104:34), as well as those who look forward to “the day that the Lord has made” (Psa 118:24), rejoice, especially on the Lord’s Day when God’s people gather together for worship.
David sings for joy because God protects and helps him, “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” (Psa 63:7). The Lord is like a bird who overshadows his young ones with his wings to protect them from the weather and from predators. This is also a picture of the Holy Spirit hovering over the waters to create living plants, trees, birds and fish. When the Spirit overshadowed Mary the virgin, the Son of God Incarnate was conceived in her womb. This is why the psalmist says that the Lord is like an eagle whose wings are his refuge, “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler” (Psa 91:4).
The righteous can then be confident that God is their refuge, joy, protector and shield, and the Spirit as an eagle covering him under his wings in persecution and in difficult times. This is the blessedness of the righteous. As in Psalm 1:6, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Beloved People of God: Rejoice in the Lord and sing for joy! For we who are wicked before the eyes of God are now counted righteous. Whenever we recite the Apostles’ Creed, remember the line that says, “He descended into hell.” This line is despised by most Christians because of lack of understanding, but dear to us who know what it means. Christ, in his body, descended into the state of death; as to his soul, he suffered the agonies of hell. Without this “descent” on the cross, we will never be counted righteous before God.
In him, God poured out his hate and wrath upon him for the forgiveness of all our sins and our salvation. Therefore Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isa 53:11). He was God’s sacrifice: the righteous for all of us who are unrighteous, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Pet 3:18).
Because of his perfect righteousness all the way to the cross, God the Father blessed him with an eternal reward: he is now the resurrected God and King of all who believe and trust in him. You who trust in him as your Refuge, Strength, Trust and Help will also be blessed and given an eternal heavenly inheritance.
So when you experience sufferings in life and persecution by your enemies, be comforted that it is God, not you, who works all things out for your eternal blessedness. It is God, not you, who exacts vengeance upon those who hate his people.
Therefore, pray every morning and every evening that God will be your Refuge, Strength and Help all day long. Pray this same prayer for yourself, your family, your church, and do not forget, your persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Amen.