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Psalm 35 feels like two totally different psalms merged into one. This stark contrast ends up teaching us incredible depths about prayer in a world full of struggle.
Verses 1-10 are incredibly triumphant. Verse 10 speaks about God rescuing the poor and needy from their oppressor as if it has already happened. The theme of verses 1-10 is of God leading. The psalmist speaks of weapons of warfare, but it’s God holding them, not the psalmist or the warrior. God is the warrior. We don’t know the exact context of the struggle described in these verses, but you get the feel of physical danger and oppression. There is a real enemy doing real oppression. Once you get to verse 10, it feels like the oppression is over, the war won by God, and now it’s time to worship him for it. The end.
We love these pretty red bows in our contemporary sermons and ideas of prayer. But the psalm does not stop here. The transition from verse 10 to 11 feels like taking a stick shift automobile from 5th gear to 2nd. One minute the psalmist is extolling God for rescuing the poor from their oppressor, the next he is writing about his ongoing, brutal oppression. Verses 1-10 paint the picture that God has throttled the oppressors and the poor (and the psalmist, written as one of the poor) are free. Verses 11 and following take us down the dark road of the real, daily, in-your-face oppression that the psalmist is still currently under.
False witness ruthlessly accuse him of lies.
His good is repaid with evil.
The people he showed love to have abandoned and betrayed him.
The people he showed love to when they were ill now laugh and mock him when he stumbles.
People have slandered him and rallied against him in secret.
Verse 16 gives a hint that these are other believers. For they are acting “like the ungodly,” meaning they are not in the camp of the “ungodly” themselves. This makes the personal pain even worse that his oppressors are coming from within God’s people!
Verse 17 shifts to prayers to God. Asking God how long he will look on. Pleading with God for rescue from the ravages of these lions. This is a far cry from the triumph of verse 10!
The prayer rolls on as the psalmist lays out more of the acts of his oppressors and pleads with God to stop them. These prayers are mixed in with praise and thanksgiving to God in the midst of the oppression and pain.
The psalm concludes with the tone of justice. The entire psalm has laid out an unjust situation. The innocent being punished by the guilty. Those who cheer on the guilty are to be put to shame (verse 26), but those who delight in the vindication of the innocent shout with joy and gladness (verse 27).
In the final verse, the psalmist’s tongue proclaims God’s righteousness, a very similar concept as justice.
This psalm is bookended with God’s justice. Justice is in his nature. The wicked will be punished and the innocent will be set free. There’s always an undertone message in these psalms of “so live as the innocent!” But what’s in-between this bookend message of justice is a bunch of unending injustice! There is a deep theological truth here that God is just, righteous, all-powerful, and ultimately wins the victory over sin and death. To say he is all of these things right now this moment is 100% true. We also live in a world marred by sin and its cataclysmic consequences. Sin broke the beautiful creation that God made and has inflicted all of creation with injustice, suffering, pain, and brokenness. God sometimes breaks through this brokenness with a glimpse of his eternal kingdom. Sometimes we pray for cancer and it miraculously goes away. Sometimes we pray that the oppressed see freedom and justice and it happens. Other times, just as the psalmist describes in verse 13-14, we pray and they return “unanswered.” Our response to this isn’t to curse God or to call him unfaithful and unjust. As the psalmist models, the response is to mourn and lament a fallen world. To mourn, weep, and lament what sin has done to this world. It is to grieve that things are not the way they are meant to be. We live in an “already but not yet” reality of God’s kingdom. The “not yet” part is what still leaves us in mourning. The “already” part is what allows us to rejoice in our salvation, rejoice that God has delivered us from all this pain, evil, and hardship, and rejoice in the character of who God is that he did not leave us in our destitution, but came and saved us and defeated evil! Evil still has a hold on this fallen world. There are layers to this that we as created beings simply cannot understand and we need to be careful to remain humble in our efforts to do so. But we can rejoice in the mercy and grace we get to experience in God every day. We can rejoice that it won’t always be this way, that evil and sin and death and mourning will one day be no more (Revelation 21:1-5)! We can rejoice that God cares about the oppressed, the poor, and the suffering. We can rejoice that there is a greater victory than anything this world can throw at us.
Praise God that he is a God of justice. Cry out to him for justice. Thank him for his mercy and grace.
Invitation to reflection:
Prayer for the day: God, fight my battles for me. Go ahead of me with sword and spear and attack the evil that is attacking me. Be my protector and comforter. Deliver me. Deliver those around me who are suffering injustice and oppression. Deliver refugees and immigrants who are suffering grave calamities. Deliver people of color who live every day under the weight of racism and who are trying to unbury themselves from what centuries of racism did to them. Deliver the unborn. Deliver the hungry. Deliver the abused. Deliver those trapped in slavery. Thank you that you care for the oppressed. Thank you that you care for the poor. Thank you that you care for me. Help me to care for the poor and the oppressed the way you do. Help me to care about justice the way you do. Use me as your agent of justice and freedom in this world. Use me to bring more of your kingdom here to this world. Help me to live as the innocent before you. Help me not to get sucked into the deception, lies, and fantasies of the wicked. Help me to resist the allures of that road and align myself to your ways. Bring healing to me for the ways I have been hurt. Bring healing to me for the ways I have been hurt within your church. Heal your church. Heal your bride. May we shine your light to this broken world.
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