O God, do not remain silent;
do not turn a deaf ear,
do not stand aloof, O God.
See how your enemies growl,
how your foes rear their heads.
With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.
‘Come,’ they say, ‘let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.’
This Psalm reminds us that opposition and persecution are nothing new. It is in this context that the Psalmist makes his plea to God to listen to his prayer and to get involved (v. 1). We don’t know the specific circumstances of the Psalm’s composition but raw hurt boils into angry rage and a thirst for divine vengeance (vv. 9–15).
A friend of mine was a Holocaust survivor. All but one of his family were murdered by the Nazis. He couldn’t forgive and that is understandable. Maybe this Psalm can help us as we pray for those who are suffering persecution. It helps those of us who live relatively comfortable lives to empathise with their hurt and with their thirst for justice, and hopefully it also acts as a spur to do something if we can – either to patch up the wounds or to tackle the causes of injustice in the first place.
The gospel message is simply this: ‘Jesus is Lord’. When Jesus’ followers suffered under Nero that claim must have seemed unbelievable. When fire swept through ancient Rome, Nero conveniently dumped the blame on them. Tacitus recorded how ‘mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.’ In the midst of such horror, to confess ‘Jesus is Lord’ must have seemed the emptiest of creeds, a whistling in the dark.
Christians have often lived through troubled times and they still do today in many parts of the world. Some of these verses speak of the enemy’s obliteration but in other verses there is a hint of other possibilities. Verse 16 hints that those who cause horrific evil will eventually come to seek God’s face, that they will know YHWH (v. 18).
‘Jesus is Lord’ was never a naïve confession but a bold declaration of trust in one who himself knew the full fury of man’s inhumanity to man and who stands forever with the victims of that rage. The Jesus who was rejected and suffered the agony of the cross is now risen and his tomb is empty. His resurrection does not magic away evil but is the pledge that the war is won.
We live between D-Day and VE Day. God himself has invaded history, coming as one of us to fight the decisive battle on our behalf. In his death and resurrection Christ has rescued us from the dominion of darkness (Colossians 1:13), he has made atonement for our sin (1 John 2:2) and broken the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – freeing those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Hebrews 2:14, 15).
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The rule of God has come in Christ but that day when the hopes of peace and justice will be actualised is still out there in the future. And the reason why there is still sin, sickness, suffering, death and injustice is because we live in between the ages. We are caught up in a real battle: there are struggles and there are casualties, but the tide has turned and we are not discouraged but give thanks to God who has given us the victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57, 58).