Lord my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
Lord my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands—
if I have repaid my ally with evil or without cause have robbed my foe—
then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust.
Arise, Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
Bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts.
My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day.
If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
He has prepared his deadly weapons;
he makes ready his flaming arrows.
Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit they have made.
The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
A Psalm for the Wrongly Accused
Have you ever been accused of something you did not do? Where do you turn when your reputation gets dragged through the mud? This psalm seems to be written for such an occasion. In fact, the writer seems to be acting out a protocol described in 1 Kings 8:31-32, where Solomon is dedicating the temple and prays to Yahweh for anyone who would seek out the temple as a place of refuge. A person facing accusation could do that. If they were on the run, their pursuers were not allowed to apprehend the accused once they were in the temple. But once there, the accused was to take an oath and call upon God’s righteous judgment to pass upon the guilty, and vindicate the innocent. That is not an appeal to be made lightly if one is unsure of their own innocence in the matter. But this Psalmist places confidence in God’s character, believing that he will again sing praises and give thanks to the Lord because of His righteous justice. How then should we approach God in such circumstances?
1) Turn to God for Refuge
“Yahweh, my God, I am turning to you for refuge. Please save me and deliver me…” The Psalmist uses the imagery of beasts – a common theme in scripture once you know how to recognize it. Cain was called upon to master the “beast” of sin that was seeking to devour him, but instead, the beast gained mastery over Cain when he “rose up” and killed his brother out of jealousy. Daniel describes the rulers of unjust nations as beasts, trampling and devouring. The Psalmist draws upon biblical imagery to appeal to God: “Sin has had its way, subduing those who were made to have dominion over beasts, causing them to instead become like them, and I am a victim, about to be devoured. I know you take the side of the innocent and the just, so please act on my behalf.”
2) Get Honest
I’m in the kitchen putting away dishes, and one of my kids comes running to me for refuge. Another child is in deadly pursuit. Then comes the story: An expertly crafted tale of woeful injustice on behalf of the pursuer who is out to get the victim… But then the other child speaks up. Lo and behold, there is a large portion of the story that the first child failed to mention. It seems that the pursuer may have actually had a reason for his/her anger. What do I do as a parent? I didn’t witness the events unfold. How do I judge justly? Welcome to parent-hood.
Fortunately for us, God is always just. He sees and knows all. But that means that unlike a fallible parent, He won’t fall for any shenanigans. If I turn to God for refuge, can I pray the prayer of this Psalm? “If I am guilty of any wrong here, let it come down on me. Let my enemies have their way and rip me to shreds.” At times I think we invent a god who is always for us, no matter what – A god who is always on my side… because I can’t be wrong. The Psalmist here seeks refuge not in a god who can be bought or manipulated. No, the Psalmist takes refuge in his surrender to a God of perfect and impartial righteous justice. When we appeal to God as our shelter and vindication, we must be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves and come with a humble heart.
3) Appeal for Justice
The Psalmist seems to be referencing a process in which an assembly of people are to gather and judge the matter. “Let them gather around YOU. Let it be YOU who passes judgment,” he prays. Notice how the Psalmist not only prays for his own vindication but appeals beyond his own situation that God would oppose the violence of the wicked and uphold the righteous in general. Because HE is the righteous judge. The prospect of God as judge is unpopular today. We seem to prefer a God who doesn’t have any teeth Himself. Perhaps this is because the idea of naming someone or something as objectively wrong seems politically incorrect and insensitive. Yet when we are the ones being victimized, running from the lions’ teeth, about to be unjustly ripped to shreds, a God of justice is exactly what we want.
4) Be Reminded of His Goodness.
He is a shield, a righteous judge who displays wrath against injustice. However, most of the time, that wrath doesn’t look like lightning bolts falling from heaven upon our opponents. Instead, “their violence comes down on their own heads.” They reap what they sow, so to speak. For many, this will not be enough. I want God to answer my plea NOW. Ecclesiastes is full of honest complaints about the wicked who seem to prosper in their wickedness. At first glance, this Psalm seems to be calling us to believe that like Karma, what goes around comes around. The wicked will eventually fall into the pit they’ve dug. Unfortunately, sometimes this doesn’t appear to be the case. How do we find it in ourselves to trust when injustice seems to prevail? How can we surrender our lives into God’s hands, not knowing if the outcome we hope for is the one we will receive? Is the Lord good?
5) Give Thanks
I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness… This word for “righteousness” also means “justice.” The psalmist refuses to abandon hope for justice. He trusts in God that justice will come about. He banks this hope on God’s track record. God displayed justice in the red sea. God held to his promises and gave His people land, and rest.
For us today, we can look to the cross. On the cross, we see the ultimate expression of God’s goodness. Justice and mercy kiss. There God displays his ultimate “No” to injustice and sin. There God’s wrath is displayed, and the violence of the violent comes down… but not on their own heads. In His MERCY, Jesus takes our injustice upon Himself. Those who receive this great gift of mercy can be forgiven, while those who refuse it will ultimately be judged justly in God’s timing. In this we can trust, and for this we can give thanks, and receive comfort and peace in our time of trouble.
So to summarize: 1) Appeal to the God of refuge. 2) Get honest with God and with yourself about the situation. 3) Appeal for justice. 4) Be reminded of His goodness, and 5) Give thanks to the one who grants justice and mercy.