Dale Appleby

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Bible Resources

Psalm 94

Thoughts on Psalm 94

Psalm 94

1O Lord, you God of vengeance,
you God of vengeance, shine forth!
2Rise up, O judge of the earth;
give to the proud what they deserve!
3O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
how long shall the wicked exult?

4They pour out their arrogant words;
all the evildoers boast.
5They crush your people, O Lord,
and afflict your heritage.
6They kill the widow and the stranger,
they murder the orphan,
7and they say, ‘The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob does not perceive.’

8Understand, O dullest of the people;
fools, when will you be wise?
9He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
10He who disciplines the nations,
he who teaches knowledge to humankind,
does he not chastise?
11The Lord knows our thoughts,
that they are but an empty breath.

12Happy are those whom you discipline, O Lord,
and whom you teach out of your law,
13giving them respite from days of trouble,
until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14For the Lord will not forsake his people;
he will not abandon his heritage;
15for justice will return to the righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16Who rises up for me against the wicked?
Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17If the Lord had not been my help,
my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
18When I thought, ‘My foot is slipping’,
your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.
19When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
20Can wicked rulers be allied with you,
those who contrive mischief by statute?
21They band together against the life of the righteous,
and condemn the innocent to death.
22But the Lord has become my stronghold,
and my God the rock of my refuge.
23He will repay them for their iniquity
and wipe them out for their wickedness;
the Lord our God will wipe them out.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

At first sight this looks like a Psalm a modern western person would want to pass over. We are not usually comfortable with talk of vengeance - especially in church.

And yet this Psalm rises from an oppressed people. Like many of the other Psalms in this Book, one can imagine it fitting the people of Israel before the exodus.

The cry is not so much a plea for personal vengeance as it is for God to act to help his own people, especially the weak and vulnerable such as the orphan and widow.  And to act for the sake of his own reputation - they say he does not see.

But the Psalmist knows God sees alright. And that God will act against wickedness.

People who are threatened and suffer wrong look for someone to stand up for them, and the Psalmist knows that the LORD has already looked after him. Indeed he would be dead by now if the LORD had not helped him. And he also knows that although people in power may claim God's backing, he is never the ally of wickedness or injustice.

Is there ever an end to evil? In the end will it bring everything to a dark and terrible end? History suggests that it will difficult to eradicate and that so far no real progress has been made.

The Bible has another point of view. We may struggle and suffer and be unable to overcome evil, but God is able to. That is why we call out to him.

And we also call out to him because we believe in justice. We believe that evil should be overthrown, and that evil doers should be punished. Which brings us back to the question of vengeance.

Why should God wipe them out? Is it because they are our enemies? Is it because they are God's enemies? Or is it just because they are wicked?

That is the bit some have trouble with. Why does not God just leave them alone? Why do they need to be punished?

Put simply, if no one punishes wickedness, then wickedness rules. Why stop yourself killing widows and backpackers and orphans if no one else is going to stop you?

But does it need to be punished? Can't it just be stopped and the evil doers reformed? Possibly that may work for some, especially if one took away any ability they had to disagree with the reforms. But what if evil doers do not want to stop, and do not want to change?

A discussion like this that is confined within the boundaries of human society, may end up in a debate about what is good for the group, and how much the group is willing to tolerate.

But the Psalm is not written in that closed world. It is written within God's world, where a holy and just God expects humans to live in his world according to his way, a way of justice and love and holiness. It is because of that world view that the Psalmist expects and calls on God to right the wrongs, to remove the wrong-doers, to punish the guilty.

It offers hope to all those who long to see a world, and their own lives, freed from wickedness and oppression. Indeed it is only with the LORD that any hope is to be found.