In Psalm 139 the psalmist, King David, magnifies a few of God’s attributes. Even though God knows Himself better than we will ever know Him though we spend an eternity with Him, David extols these attributes to God as a means of worship. How blessed we are to be allowed a peek into David’s understanding of, and love for God.
I see three main ideas being communicated in this beautiful work of Hebrew poetry. The first idea is that God knows Man. As we’ve discussed previously, Yahweh thoroughly knows each one of us. The second idea is the omnipresence (everywhere at once) characteristic of God. The third idea is actually a petition David submits to God.
Unlike a human child who might butter up his dad just before asking for something, David’s praise is genuine. As I read through this Psalm it at first glance seems to me verses 19 through 24 don’t belong here. This petition seems to be an abrupt departure from the praise and adoration eloquently expressed by David in the previous verses. Wasn’t David lost in praise as we often are when we read these verses? How could he suddenly be concerned with earthly matters? Let’s take a look at the verses.
19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20 For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24 And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.
Maybe it’s just me, but hopefully you see the sharp contrast between the praise in verses 1 through 18 and the petition in verses 19 through 24 as I do. I have always understood a christian should be loving, compassionate, forgiving, patient. Not violent or vengeful. And yet look at what David asks of God. What is going on here? Let’s take a momentary diversion. Maybe it will help us understand this conundrum.
Scholars argue about how many different classification of Psalms exists. It ranges from three to ten, maybe even more. Regardless of how many different types of Psalms there are, there is one that stands out, called the Imprecatory Psalms. A quick internet search for the definition for imprecatory yields the following.
“Imprecatory Psalms, contained within the Book of Psalms of the Hebrew Bible (תנ”ך), are those that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.”
You may be surprised to discover a full 18% of the Psalms are classified as imprecatory! How is it that the Psalmist can be praising God and calling for God to invoke judgment, calamity or curses upon someone at the same time?
I think there are two more attributes of God that are crucial to our understanding of this Psalm. One is the absolute Goodness of God. It may be hard for us to comprehend but God is utterly and completely good. And He offers His goodness to man by inviting man into relationship with Him.
The other attribute of God needing consideration is God’s justice. God’s justice is tied to His goodness. He is perfectly just. Absolute justice requires judgment when a wrong is committed. One does not become an enemy of God because of something God has done. One chooses to ignore all that God is and all that He offers in order to become His enemy.
So in my opinion, when David spent concentrated time in the praise and worship of God, he came into alignment with the rest of the attributes of God. Even though not explicitly expressed, David become aware of God’s justice. Through spending time with Him, David is able to come into agreement with how God should deal with His enemies, and calls for it in this prayer.
What can we learn from this Psalm, both its praises and its imprecatory components? We need to be careful that we do not anthropomorphize God. In other words God is not defined by human properties, but rather His own. We need to allow the scriptures to tell us what God is like. We need to conform to Him, not He to us. Let the final word on God be the Word of God.
As we learn more and more about God through His word, our sense of awe becomes intensified as well as our sense of reverence. God is truly worthy of all praise and worship.
All Bible Quotations take from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.