A Prayer of Anger – Psalm 94
(Reposted on September 11, 2011 – in memory and response to the events and aftermath of 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania in 2001. A lot of people are still seemingly angry…)
I believe that I would be right in saying that most of us here have prayed. Whether in joy and happiness; or in sadness and grief; in need or in want; in praise or in worship or in confessing sin, or in other ways we have prayed. But how many of us have prayed in anger, following the example of the writer of Psalm 94. Have any of us prayed out of anger to a God who is a judge? Have we cried out in anger to a God who punishes evil? By anger I do not mean that short burst of temper when something happens to us against our will. The kind of anger that rises when somebody does something against you, and you retaliate against them.
No, the type of anger I am talking about is the anger we should feel inside us that occurs when we see injustice being done; when we see sin being done to assist in the systematic abuse of other people. The sort of anger that the church should have felt in Germany during the 2nd World War when the creatures of the Nazi regime held mock trials of so-called criminals such people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer for opposing the ungodly views of the state.
The type of anger we should feel when we face today on our television screens when we see the pictures of the innocent victims of war in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq or any region where people abuse people for the sake of their own power and glory. The sort of anger that should make us cry tears of sadness and humility when faced with the utter poverty of the families living on the streets in the cities of the world such as New Delhi, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo. George Bernard Shaw once described poverty as the greatest of crimes.
That deep seated anger that should be amongst us as Christians when we see the oppressed and the poor being used and abused by those who are in positions of power to help them. We are all quite comfortable with the God of Psalm 93, the God of majesty, strength and magnificence who is from everlasting to everlasting. The God who is mightier than the greatest seas! The God whose glorious holiness covers his house eternally! Yet something, somehow, makes us uncomfortable about praying to God for justice. Perhaps our view of God is too small. For sure our God is a God of mercy but he is also a God of justice. Our God is a God of love, but He is also a God of wrath.
His written word affirms all these things. So the writer of the Psalm calls and prays to God for justice to be done. That He, the judging God might be glorified. Has the writer made this up? No, because God has described Himself as Judge and Avenger (Genesis 18:25; Deut 32:35). How many of us here, have prayed for justice to be done? Perhaps we should pray on occasion for burden of injustice to be lifted off the poor and oppressed peoples of this world. But, before we go any further on this thought, let us consider together 3 things about Psalm 94.
1. Whom is the writer praying to (Vs. 1-3)?
The obvious answer to this question is God. But what sort of God is He? Let’s look at all the various descriptions given to us about God in this Psalm. A God who avenges (v. 1). To avenge is to seek revenge on behalf of somebody else. Here God is asked to avenge for the poor and innocent against the wicked and guilty people A God who judges (v. 2). To judge is to decide which is right and which is wrong. Here God is asked to judge the wicked and guilty people for their wrong doing. A God who created and creates (v. 9), disciplines (vs. 10, 12); teaches (vs. 10, 12). A God who knows all things (v. 11) through omniscience. A God who relieves (vs. 13), assists (vs. 14, 17, 18), loves (vs. 18) and supports (vs. 18). He is a God who consoles (vs. 19), and who is incorruptible (vs. 20). A God who is strong and dependable (vs. 22) and a God who is a refuge (vs. 22). But he is also a God who repays and destroys (vs. 23) evil men for their wickedness. Is your vision of God still too small?
2. Why is the writer praying (Vs. 4-7)?
The writer js praying because he has seen the wickedness of mankind and has a deep inner anger against the brutality and evil deeds of the wicked. These people may not be foreigners, since many Jewish leaders were also brutal, for example the evil King Manasseh or the cynics of Isaiah (Is. 5: 18ff). What sort of things are these evil people doing, and what sort of people are they? Arrogant and boastful (vs. 4), crushing (vs, 5), oppressing (vs. 5), slaying widows and foreigners (vs. 6) murdering orphans (vs. 6).
The people who do this sort of thing are the object of the writer’s anger. They are not only content to do evil deeds, but also add hard speeches, boasting, threatening and insulting the saints of God. The insults are used so often that they become a natural part of the language. That is the idea behind the phrase “pour out” in vs. 4. Words often wound more than swords, they are as hard to the heart as stones are to the flesh; and they are poured out by the ungodly against the godly. According to verse 4, they even talk to themselves, and of themselves, in spiritual arrogance, as if they were doing some good deed in crushing the poor and killing the widows, orphans and foreigners.
Their error is that they believe that God cannot see their doings, and even if He could see, He wouldn’t do anything about it any way. These evil people, who grind the people of God with oppression, crush them with contempt claim that God cannot see them, and so therefore reason that there is nothing to stop them from doing their evil works.
There is no limit to the pride and arrogance of these wicked people, as they have lost their senses (vs. 8 ) and lost all common sense. It is natural for them to boast, just as it is natural for godly men to practice humility. The God of Jacob heard him and led him throughout his life and said concerning Jacob “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”, yet these proud and arrogant people proclaim boldly that God neither sees nor knows what we do. It is true that those whom God will destroy, He leaves to the madness of their corrupt hearts. What is God going to do?
In verse 14, is the answer to verse 5. The Lord has not rejected his own people. He has not forsaken those who are his. To do this, would go against God’s very nature. As his inheritance, God has marked out all those who are his saints. God takes a peculiar interest in their well being and delights in them; He has an eternal covenant with them. I will be your God, and you will be my people. Will God not defend his people? In verse 14, we have the answer!! The Lord will not withdraw His love or leave people totally on their own against the evil persecutors. For a little while, He may leave them with the design to benefit them, yet he will never utterly destroy them. He will discipline His people, but never destroy them. In vs. 15, the great Judge will come, the reign of righteousness will begin, justice will be done and then all the godly will rejoice.
The vehicle of right will be driven down the streets of evil, and all those upright in heart will follow it in joyous procession. Are we as the people of God today, following the path of righteousness or are we trampling somehow on the poor and oppressed? Are we keeping silent when we should be speaking out? Some governments of this world, have for sometime been using their power to oppress, but the cry of this prayer will bring back righteousness to the throne of government, and then every upright heart will proclaim loudly with joy!
3. What is the writer praying (vs.8-23)
a) Help!!!! (Vs 16-19). The writer is praying for God to judge injustice, and avenge the oppressed (vs. 2). But not only that, as he is also crying out for help (vs. 16). Who is going to rise up against the evildoers? He obviously needs help, and his friends are not there for him, so he calls out to God for help, The soul is safest and at rest, after calling all others to assist and no one comes, when total trust for help is upon God. Today the church sees error and evil coming into her, and faithful godly leaders seem to be a minimum, and fewer still are bold enough to stand up and defy the enemies of truth.
Our great hope is that the God of the Bible is with us, and He will call out his champions to defend Him. Are you one of God’s champions? Is your foot slipping, are you feeling weak at this moment in time and need help? Take courage, we feel our weakness, and see our danger, and in fear and trembling we cry out. Our inbred sin is dragging us down and we need help. God, in His supreme mercy and love, helps us and our joy is that His mercy endures forever, and is always available to help us in times of danger to support us. From my sinful and proud thoughts, my thoughts of sorrow, my cares, my conflicts, I will hurry to the Lord. This is a cry of the writer, yet are we the same? The Lord alone is consoling, and yet not only consoling but delighting in me. How sweet are the comforts of God the Comforter, the Holy Spirit? Who without feeling joy, can think about eternal love, trustworthy promises, the coming to earth of the Redeemer in Jesus Christ, the risen Saviour and his next coming again. The little world within us, that is full of confusion and strife becomes calm when we rely upon Jesus to say “Peace be with you!”
b) Can a corrupt throne be allied with you? God enters into no promises with those governments who are corrupt, and He gives no help to unrighteous laws. No assistance does He give. They might legalize robbery and violence and then say in defense, it is the law of the land, yet it is still evil and wicked. No injustice is permanent, for God will not set His seal upon it, nor have any fellowship with it, and therefore one day it will fall.
An example of this was the slaughter of the Jews during the 2nd World War. The German church in general, allied itself along with the laws and decrees of Hitler, and changed its theology to that of white supremacy. We all know that the plans of the Nazis failed. Or take for example South Africa, which up until recently had a policy of separating whites and others. For a long time the mainstream Church held as its theology that this was true. Since then, the walls of apartheid have fallen, and the church has confessed this sin to God. No evil regime lasts very long. The unrighteous join together, in order to attack the righteous. The guilty join each other to attack the innocent. No crime is too great for them. Yet there is good news. Let the ungodly join together, the Psalmist is not afraid, but sweetly sings that the rock upon which he stands his the Jehovah God, Yahweh who is his fortress and refuge. Firm is the rock of God’s love, and in Him we go for shelter. He is indeed a tremendous lover. As if in answer to his own question of verse 16, “Who will rise up for me against the wicked and evildoers”, the final verse gives us an answer. The natural result of oppression, against the innocent, the poor, or the righteous is the total destruction of the ungodly. The great God who is judge, will repay their sins, and destroy their wickedness. While the bread and food they have stolen is in their mouth, God’s wrath will slay them. God himself, visibly and noticeably, visits them and reveals His own power to them.
To go over what we have seen so far. Firstly we have seen that God can be and indeed is both a lover and judge. Secondly we have seen the type of people that the writer faced in his battle against evil. He constantly called upon them to wake up and see sense, and repent of their sins before God destroys them. Thirdly we have seen that we should by faith, read the present in the light of the future, and end the song with a powerfully strong note.
So now what can we say in conclusion.
Firstly, our vision of God should not be too small. We need to acknowledge him as a great lover, but also as a terrifying Judge. Remember, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). To quote John Stott – “God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is ‘the God of Peace’, of inner tranquility not turmoil. True we may find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time.”
Secondly, can we rightly pray, in the light of the New Testament, for the vengeance of God to come down against the ungodly? No, we cannot, for then we would be no better than those who do not know Him. The vengeance of God has already come down upon one man. One day his judgment will fall, and it is from this terrible event that this man is our deliverer. This man, the Lord Jesus Christ when He died on the cross, for you and me and all our enemies, took upon Himself the full vengeance of God. He took the anger of God upon himself, so that no-one may face the judgment of God without first having the opportunity to turn to Jesus in repentance of sins. We should be praying for the governments of this world that abuse the widows, orphans and innocents of today, that they will see their errors and turn away from them. And not only that, we should pray that the members of these governments will turn to God in awe and wonder to worship Him. One day all men and women will be called upon before God to give an account of themselves to Him. If they do not know this Jesus as their Saviour, then God will cast them from His holy presence. We should also pray that godly men and women will become members of the governments of the world to help protect the innocent and the righteous, that leaders will be raised up, who know God personally to stop the abuse of the innocent.
Thirdly, even in the face of abuse and persecution, we should turn to the living God for comfort and help in our circumstances. Too often we rely on ourselves or others for strength in times of trouble. It is God alone who can help us, and it is God alone who will destroy the evil in the world. The judgment of evil, according to Psalms, is a time for universal rejoicing. Ps. 67:4; 96:12-13; Ps. 35:24. Let us rejoice together when good overcomes evil in this world.
Finally, let us pray and cry out in anger against the suffering and evil in this world. And not only pray about it, but do something about it. We, as Christians, should be as light and salt to the world of darkness and evil. What will you and I do about being light and salt to a world where the innocent suffer, the widows and orphans are abandoned and murdered?