Psalm 69 [Redacted]
by Jared Adams
Friday, February 26 – Psalms 95, 69:1–23(24–30)31–36 , 73; Gen. 43:1–15; 1 Cor. 7:1–9; Mark 4:35–41
(BCP Readings for today)
I am convinced that if Psalm 69 were written today, it would look like a declassified government document, with a big section redacted. Verses 22-28 would be nothing but a mass of ugly black lines.
Try reading the Psalm without those verses.
Now isn’t that just pleasant?
Verses 1-21 deal with the Psalmist (David here) crying out to God for help in his great trial. Then we take a little hop over the offending verses to 29, where he asks God to save him. After that, it’s all uphill. David (quite rightly) is certain that he will be heard in the proper time. “The LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners,” he says. “God will save Zion.”
The redacted version of the psalm has this wonderful progression from strife to peace. It’s like a nice warm blanket.
Now go back and read the offending verses, the ones you just skipped.
Whoa! David is one vindictive guy. He should really be ashamed of himself, shouldn’t he? “Add to them punishment upon punishment”? “Let them be blotted out from the book of the living”? Come, come, David. Be reasonable here!
What about praying for your enemies? What about turning the other cheek? Surely this is one of those “Old Testament things” that we can disregard with a shake of the head, a shrug, and a sage remark about it being a different time.
So why didn’t the Holy Spirit redact this? Why didn’t the Holy Spirit whisper in David’s ear “not your best work,” and have him cut it from the psalm?
The short answer: because God is more complex than AAA roadside assistance. God doesn’t exist simply to help us out of jams. Mercy is an important part of his character, especially for us beneficiaries of it. But it is not the only part. God is perfectly holy and hates that which is not. In his beauty, he hates all ugly things. In his clean-ness he hates that which is dirty.
And God’s hate is like his love. It’s not an action-less emotion that causes him to frown and nothing more. No, when God hates, he does something about it. The Bible (both Old Testament and New) is full of curses for those whom God hates, and they are often bloody, violent things. Furthermore, this is a wonderful part of his character. Because a God who simply frowns at ISIS beheadings, the systematic murder of the unborn, or human trafficking, would not be worthy of any kind of worship.
Yes, God is love. But, he is not just love. When God revealed himself from the burning bush, for instance, he didn’t say “I am love.” He said “I am,” a title which hints at his eternity and the fact there is none like Him.
Would this multi-faceted God, who hates sin, balk at David’s cries for justice? I don’t think so. It is not the only prayer one could pray regarding one’s enemies (“Forgive them for they know not what they do” comes to mind). But David’s call for justice is a prayer we can pray, if we come in the same humility as David.
And David does come humbly, even though his words are bold here. He admits his sin twice in the space of this psalm. Verse five reads “O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.” And again in verse nineteen, “You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor.”
I think it is safe to say that David did not know at the time (he does now, of course) how exactly God would reconcile his holy judgement with his promise to be merciful to those who call on him. But David did know in the general sense. We see it in verse eighteen: “redeem me, ransom me.” He knew for it to work, God would have to pay the price himself.
In the violent, bloody execution of Jesus, God satisfied his justice while also extending his mercy. There, God’s hatred was displayed alongside his love. To redact the hatred is to miss not only an important aspect of God’s character, but also to strip that love of its wondrous depth. God’s love is not some trite painting made entirely of pastels, but one with a rich palette of darks and lights.
So praise Him, our God of light and dark, our multifaceted Father who does not suffer sin, evil, or any uncleanness lightly, but will, in the acceptable time, destroy it utterly so that only beauty and right-ness remain. And praise him even more, because he arranged a loving ransom for us in Christ, that we would not be swept away with the rest of his fallen creation. Then a third time, praise him, for imbuing us with his Holy Spirit, who is even now working this destruction of evil inside our own hearts and preparing us for glory.
Powerful! Helpful. A keeper.