In 1946, one year after WW2 ended, concentration camp survivor Corrie Ten Boom went to Germany to speak about Jesus. During the war Corrie and her family had set up their home as a ‘hiding place’ for Jews, resistance workers and others hiding from the Germans. In 1944 a neighbour reported them to the authorities, and her entire family was arrested. Her father died 10 days later, while she and her sister were sent to Ravensbruck, a work camp for women. The conditions were terrible, and many women died under the brutality of the guards, including her older sister Betsie. Amazingly, fifteen days later she was released, though this was a clerical error. One week later all the women her age were sent to the gas chambers.
In 1946, at this gathering in Germany, she spoke on the grace of God and the love of Jesus. When she was done, a man approached her, a man she recognized. He was one of the guards who had been especially harsh toward her sister, Betsie. He told her that he was now a christian, and experienced God’s forgiveness. But he wanted forgiveness from someone he had wronged, so he held out his hand to her and asked her to forgive him.
Imagine the deep pain and emotion and anger boiling within her as she came face to face with the man that had brutalized her much-loved sister, under whom she had died. What would you do? What would you say?
In Psalm 3 we come face to face with the issue of how to respond to someone who has hurt us terribly.
David had become a powerful and rich king, expanding Israel’s borders through military strength and skill, with many nations under his rule. But you may recall how David had an affair with Bathsheba, and arranged to have her husband Uriah killed so that he could have her. Though David repented (see Psalm 51), things in his home began to fall apart. His oldest son, Amnon, raped his half-sister, Tamar. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, took revenge by murdering Amnon. Absalom fled into exile for several years, but later was permitted to return. After his return, David refused to see him for two years. Absalom’s resentment built and he began to gather disgruntled people in the kingdom, offering himself as a more sympathetic leader than his father. Finally, Absalom led a rebellion. David had to flee the capital immediately with all of his supporters and their families. With his servants and remaining supporters, they took off towards the wilderness. David followed them, weeping, and walking barefoot with his head covered in shame. To add insult to injury, a man named Shimei, from the family of David’s predecessor King Saul, came out as David passed by. He cursed at David, threw stones at him, and accused him of being a worthless man who had brought about his own downfall by being a man of bloodshed.
This was a traumatic, humiliating experience for him. Many he considered allies and friends abandoned him and sided with his rebellious son. And the most painful wound of all was the treachery and betrayal of Absalom. It brought home to David his own failure as a father. One son was murdered, a daughter was raped, and the murderer was now after his own father’s life in addition to his kingdom. Life was falling apart for David.
What about verse 7?
Most of this Psalm makes sense to us, especially as we understand the context. David honestly expresses his feelings and fears, but ultimately decides to keep trusting God for deliverance. I can see praying all of these words in similar circumstances; I can imagine Corrie Ten Boom praying them too.
But look closely at v.7. The question I want to ask is this: is v.7 something we should pray as Jesus followers? Should Corrie and Betsie have prayed v.7 towards the terrible camp guards?
Praying for justice!
There was a time in centuries past when the world was a violent, lawless place. There were no courts, and the ‘law’ of the land was vengeance and violence. If someone wronged you, you attacked and killed them. There were no limits to vengeance, you did whatever your strength and imagination could do. The Law of Moses made things better by replacing the law of vengeance with the law of just return: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth. In other words, justice means that the punishment fit with the crime.
David is praying for justice. He wants God to punish those who have turned against him: “Strike them all on the jaw… break all of their teeth!” Make them pay for what they have done.
Justice is a good thing. We all agree on that. But there is on problem. Do you recall how David killed Uriah to have Bathsheba? In this case, David did not demand justice for himself but pleaded for mercy. Is it fair for David to receive mercy from God, and yet demand justice for others?
Did Jesus pray for justice?
Like David, Jesus knew what it was like to be betrayed, treated unfairly and cruelly. He knew what it was like to be struck and tortured – by the soldiers and by the religious leaders. If anyone had the right to demand justice, it was Jesus. But listen to what Jesus said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:38-48)
And notice how Jesus acted:
“Then they (the religious leaders) spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?” (Matthew 26:67-68)
“Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus, justice, and mercy!
Jesus did NOT preach justice, He preached justice AND mercy! Jesus did not pray for justice, He prayed for justice AND mercy. Jesus the Son of David takes us beyond OT justice and shows us NT justice and mercy. It is not that Jesus is opposed to justice. But Jesus knows that justice will not help us. Justice by itself will condemn us all – the Davids and the Absaloms – because who can say they are innocent?
Justice demands that sin be punished, and the curse of sin be fulfilled. When Jesus dies, every sin is punished and the full curse of sin is fulfilled. But because Jesus Himself did not sin, death could not stick to Him. Jesus meets the requirements of justice, but more than that, it satisfies the heart of mercy.
The good news is that God does not settle just for justice. The love of God moves beyond justice to mercy, and does what He must to rescue us from justice through mercy.
Be careful how you read the bible.
Just because something is in the bible, does not mean it is something God wants us to do. The bible is a book written over time, and in that time there were stages of revelation. The Law of Moses contains both eternal truths and time-limited commands. It was a temporary arrangement, a guardian put in place until the Messiah came (Galatians 3:23-25). “Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” (Galatians 3:25)
Jesus does not abolish the Law of Moses, He fulfills it. That is, He fulfills its purpose. It served as a temporary guardian, not as God’s final truth. Jesus makes it clear that what He says surpasses the Law. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20, Deuteronomy 19:21) But I tell you…”
Jesus is the greatest revelation of God’s heart, and the essence of life and goodness. Jesus is the key to understanding God’s will. Whatever we read in the bible we need to filter through Jesus. In our relationship with Jesus, as we use the bible with Him, we see His perspective and we apply His teaching. The better we know Jesus, the better we will be able to understand and apply the rest of the bible.
Whenever we read a verse in the bible, bring it to Jesus, make it obedient to Him (2 Corinthians 10:5). Ask yourself, ‘what does Jesus teach us about this subject?’ or ‘how did Jesus act in relation to these issues or concerns’. This will not always help us with every question we face in the bible, but it will take us further and closer than just following verses in the bible by themselves.
Think about how you think about others!
Through this Psalm, Jesus challenges us to consider how we think about others. How do we think about the people we disagree with? About those who are living sinful lives? About those who are against us? About those who have hurt us? About those who are being unjust, abusive, violent, mean? Not ‘how do we naturally think about them’, but ‘how does Jesus want us to think about them?’
As angry and hurt as David is, he still sees Absalom as his son. Though this psalm does not mention it, David made it very clear that NO ONE was to harm Absalom – all the others could have their jaws struck and their teeth smashed. Absalom was his son, he still loved him (2 Samuel 18:5). When David heard that Absalom was dead, he cried, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you — O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33) David did not think of the others as his sons, so he was OK to punish them.
But God does. God sees all people as His sons and daughters. God loves all people as His rebellious children. And like David expressed, He was willing to die instead of them, in order to restore them.
If God sees all people as His sons and daughters, doesn’t that mean all people are our brothers and sisters? That bully, that murderer, that sexual sinner, that hurtful friend or family member… they’re our family, and God’s family. He knows that their ways are wrong, or evil, or unjust, or rebellious, or hurtful. He is able to “forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) How about you?
Beware of focusing on justice only!
A word of caution, if you insist on justice for others, you might just get it for yourself too. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2) If you insist that others get what they deserve, can you get any less? David was hardly innocent when he demanded justice for rebels – given his own sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. If God has had mercy on us, should we not have mercy on others who hurt us? This is the whole point of Jesus parable on forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35).
If we want to be “children of your Father in heaven”, we should share that same love and mercy for our neighbors that the Son of David showed us. Our prayer should be “Father, forgive them” and not “Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.”
The good news of God’s mercy!
The good news is not God’s justice, the good news is God’s justice AND mercy! He releases us from our huge debt, He takes the curse of sin from us, for us. God does not treat sinners as they deserve (Psalm 103:10). When God sees us, what does He see? When God sees the terrorist, the abuser, the drug addict, the sexual sinner, the redneck, the pharisaical christian, the opinionated facebook poster, the classroom bully, what does He see?
God has done something! He has personally stood up for all victims and sinners, and received justice against Himself. He has absorbed our judgment, so that we may be pardoned and released. He has thrown open wide the prison doors to let the captives – you, me and everyone – free!
How can we dare shut the door on those to whom God throws open the door wide? How can we look down on those to whom God got on His knees to lift them up? God has mercy on sinners, and you are one of them. No better, no worse – equally not knowing what you were doing.
Do something, Lord!
We are Jesus followers, not David followers. We can appreciate David’s hurt and anger, and we can relate to his desire for justice. But we cannot follow him in it, for it will only get us into trouble. Like David, we should pray boldly, “Arise Lord, deliver me, my God”. But like Jesus the Son of David, we should also pray “Arise God, deliver them, my God!” Please God, do something… do something gracious!
Think of the sinners, the opponents, the hurtful people in your life. Can you join with Jesus in pleading to God that He do something – forgive them, help them, open their eyes, soften their hearts, bring them to repentance and restoration! Grace them Lord, and use me to grace them.
Corrie Ten Boom faced an awful moment when she faced that guard. She said that everything within her screamed NO as she thought about taking that prison guard’s hand. She looked within and found only hate. She looked to God and saw only love. In the end she said to herself – I cannot forgive this man, I do not have it in me; but God can, and God does; may God forgive Him through me, for me! And she reached out her hand to this man to extend God’s forgiveness. And she said when she did, God’s love melted her heart with tears of joy and peace. She stretched out her hand to her enemy and said, “do something, Lord”. And he did!
Will you let the Lord do something gracious for you?
Will you let the Lord do something gracious through You?
Lord, help me to see that justice is not enough. Help me to join You in praying for mercy. Help me to see ________ as a child of God, in need of Your mercy, like me. Amen.