Vengeance is Mine
Surrounded by enemies, we ended yesterday’s psalm on a note of confidence in the Lord to act against the enemies. In today’s psalm we hear the psalmist’s prayer for his enemies to be avenged.
There is no doubt that on this occasion the psalmist is David, and he has one or more particular individuals in mind. Ahithophel or Doeg are the two most likely objects of David’s righteous indignation, on account of their betrayal of David (see 2 Sam 15 & 1 Sam 22 respectively).
It is in these words we find a prophesy concerning a greater betrayal; when one of the twelve, Judas Iscariot, would betray the Lord Jesus Christ for 30 pieces of silver. This prophecy is made clear by the Apostle Peter in Acts 1:20.
Prayer in Gethsemane’s Garden
‘Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise … the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue … For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer. And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.’ (v1-5)
These first five verses transport us from the Upper Room to Gethsemane’s garden.
We remember those hopeless words concerning Judas in John 13: ‘He then having received the sop went immediately out: and it was night’ (v30). There followed precious moments between the Lord and his faithful followers. Knowing all that was about to befall him, the Lord gave instruction to these fearful men and in a memorable way, taking bread and a cup, asked them to ‘do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).
Through all of this, the Lord’s eye was on Judas as he went to put his plan of betrayal into action. How it must have lain heavy on Christ’s heart, and yet as they leave that Upper Room to cross the Brook Kidron, they are singing.
It is precious that even in this darkest hour, the psalmist and Christ show it is still possible to find an object to praise, when we look up unto ‘the God of my praise’ (v1).
The group move onwards up the slopes of Olivet, and into the garden of Gethsemane. I wonder if the heart of Christ mused with sadness upon all the love He had shown to Judas: calling him to be one of the twelve, giving him responsibility for the money bag … yet even now, Judas was rewarding him ‘evil for good, hatred for .. love’ (v5).
Christ’s response is as David’s: ‘I give myself unto prayer’. Of course there was more on Christ’s heart than just the betrayal, but can we separate the two? It would indeed be through betrayal that Christ would suffer for the sins of the world. Nevertheless, the little we know about that heartfelt prayer impresses us with it’s balance. Indeed there is an intense depth of feeling, yet at the same time a submissive meekness, and there is much for us to learn in this.
Prayer at Golgotha’s Hill
As we come into the main section of this psalm we move onwards to Golgotha’s hill, and to the cross. There we are struck by the difference between David’s cry for vengeance, and our Lord’s prayer for forgiveness: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34).
Now that we are in Christ, and indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, we find it difficult to comprehend David’s vehement imprecations. We remember the exhortation to render to no man ‘evil for evil’ (1 Thess 5:15), but rather to ‘love your enemies, and do good to them that hate you’ (Luke 6:27).
But, before Christ came, Israel lived in a different dispensation, with a different spirit. Luke 9:54,55 shows us that the disciples themselves struggled to adjust from the old spirit of a righteous law (‘eye for eye’ Exo 21:24) to ‘the Spirit of grace’ (Hebs 10:29). And so, it was absolutely appropriate for David to request that righteous vengeance be poured out upon such evil.
‘Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few; and let another take his office …’ (v6-20)
It is interesting to note that while the Lord Jesus had a heart of gracious forgiveness, these words were in fact precisely fulfilled in Judas Iscariot. The betrayal of the God’s Son by the son of perdition was avenged, but it’s important to note the distinction, for there was no thought of vengeance in the heart of Christ Himself, and we must learn from that.
‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ (Roms 12:19-21)
Prayer for Glorious Results
The Psalm ends with the psalmist beseeching God for deliverance.
‘But do thou for me, O GOD the Lord, for thy name’s sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me … I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads. Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy: That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it … I will greatly praise the LORD … For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor.’ (v21-31)
As we consider the deliverance of Christ, our thoughts turn to Hebrews and we marvel: ‘when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from out of death, and was heard in that he feared’ (Hebs 5:7).
We marvel that while there was ultimate deliverance for the Son, He first had to become a reproach, suffer and die for sins. Yet, the Lord, knowing ‘the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross’ (Hebs 12:2).
Indeed, Christ knew that while initially His being lifted up upon the cross would be shameful, it would be followed by a glorious lifting up. That is why He would say to the Jewish people: ‘When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am’ (John 8:28).
This is born out in Acts 5, when even the highest Jewish authorities had to concede at least the possibility that this was God’s hand at work: ‘But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.’ (Acts 5:39)
Turning over two chapters further, we rejoice that the One who Himself was poor, who knew the Father at His right hand throughout His earthly life, is now seated and glorified at the right hand of the Father. Yet He has not forgotten His own, for in the hour of Stephen’s need, we can see the Saviour standing at Stephen’s right hand, while Stephen sees Him standing at God’s.
Many, in their moments of deepest need, have similarly been strengthened by the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ at their right hand. And if you are going through a dark experience today, do what Stephen did: ‘look up steadfastly into heaven’ (Acts 7:55).