Why Does Psalm 139 All of a Sudden Shift From a Sweet, Best of all Time Psalms to a Vicious Tirade About Enemies?

Psalm 139

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

There is a reason that many selected Bible readings such as the Lectionary stop at verse 18. What is going on here? It seems hateful. How do you jive this up with the sermon on the mount, with love for enemies, and prayer for those who persecute you?

There is one word in Hebrew that might just give us a clue. Verse 24 literally says, “See if there is any idolatrous way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” All of a sudden we get a clue into the possible situation that drove the psalmist to pen these words. If he has been accused of worship idols, it only makes sense that he would plead his case before the Lord, appealing the omniscience and omnipresence of God…that God really knows exactly what has gone on. While people make their accusations against him, he and God know the truth. That comforts him.

When you post your thoughts in a public forum like this or when you preach or teach you open yourself up to criticism, attack, and accusation. It is in those times that we rest on the knowledge that at the end of the day God knows. God will judge my heart. It isn’t a contest. It isn’t an exhibit in who can whip the other in a scriptural tug of war. It is about humility and kindness and honesty. It is about that tension I talked about yesterday that runs between grace and truth. God knows and I take comfort in that fact. If I am wrong, God and scripture will prove me wrong and I am okay with that…that is the way that it should be. So I pray for God to open the eyes of my heart. I pray for God’s mercy and patience to be present and I pray that we all imitate Christ in our conversation whether we are in agreement or in disagreement.

So God, “search me and know my heart…test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

One Response to Why Does Psalm 139 All of a Sudden Shift From a Sweet, Best of all Time Psalms to a Vicious Tirade About Enemies?

  1. Mark says:

    It is better to pray G-d deal with his enemies than take the law into his own hands. I’m thinking “vengeance is mine, saith The Lord, I will repay.” However, please hurry up.

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