Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy.
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.
The problem of evil haunts humanity. Why do the evil prosper? The question is as contemporary in the 21st century as it was 3,000 years ago. Unlike some of the other Psalms there is no indication when in David’s life it might have been written. Maybe David was king, theoretically in charge, but like many leaders since he was realising the limits of his power, tearing his royal hair out at those who thwart his purposes – in this case criminals who evade detection.
David’s complaint covers verbal assault (v. 3) and physical violence (v. 4). If the arrows are taken literally then his enemies hold life cheap and are prepared to murder to get their way. These evildoers conspire and plot in secret (v. 2). Their gifts of inventiveness, intelligence and ingenuity are not used for the good of their communities but simply used to further their own wicked ways at the expense of others (v. 6). They act with impunity thinking that no one sees (v. 5) and that they will get away with all their scheming.
The reality though is different. God is love (1 John 4:16) and because he is love he will judge the world in his righteousness, a theme that occurs throughout the Psalms. God allows evil to have a say but evil will not be allowed to have the final say. We may feel as uncomfortable with the idea of God as heavenly archer as we do with the burning lakes of Revelation and it may be wise not to press the imagery too far, but the message that God triumphs over evil is at the heart of the gospel: it is the message of Easter Sunday when Christ rose triumphant.
It is a message of hope and encouragement to those who suffer injustice, that their suffering does not go unnoticed, that there is a God in heaven who sees. A previous Psalm spoke of how God recorded the misery of the oppressed and collected their tears in a jar (56:8). This message of God’s judgment however should not make us complacent. The divide between good and evil does not just lie between ‘us and them’ but runs through our own hearts and we need to think on our own lives. Do we treat others unfairly? Maybe only few of us are shooting arrows from the shadows but are there cruel words that have been said, characters that have been assassinated? In the New Testament James has strong words about those who praise God with one breath and curse others with the next (James 3:9, 10). We need to reflect on our own lives: are there times when we are all too good at seeing other peoples’ faults and yet are completely oblivious to our own?
The Bible is really one long call to repentance, not to feel sorry or sad but to turn around from paths of destruction, from ways of living that harm ourselves and others and to embrace a better way, to find fullness of life, abundant life, in the triune God who has come to us in Christ.
This Psalm is an encouragement to those who are going through tough and difficult times and, if we’re not in that number, it’s a reminder to pray for those who are, particularly for our sisters and brothers around the world who are in need God’s protection from conspiracy and plotting.