A Zeal For God’s Glory
A Zeal For God's Glory
This piece is from the Los Angeles Times of August 16 of this year. Headline: Buena Park pastor asks followers to pray for the death of his critics. It reads in part:
/Wiley S. Drake, a Buena Park pastor and former national leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, called on his followers to pray for the deaths of two leaders of Americans United For Separation of Church and State. The request was in response to the liberal group's urging the IRS on Tuesday to investigate Drake's church's nonprofit status because Drake endorsed former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee for president on church letterhead and during a church-affiliated Internet radio show.
Drake said Wednesday he was “simply doing what God told me to do” by targeting Americans United officials Joe Conn and Jeremy Leaming whom he calls the “enemies of God.” “God says to pray imprecatory prayers against people who attack God's church,” he said. “The Bible says that if anybody attacks God's people, David said this is what will happen to them…Children will become orphans and wives will become widows/.”
Here we have the pastor of a congregation who used to be a leader of the largest denomination in America and he is calling for death to his critics. What are we to make of this in light of Ps 139? He uses passages exactly like this to justify his actions. Is this a legitimate use of the Scriptures, that we should be calling for the death of those who do things which we oppose? Or who oppose us?
It is a fact that David's words sound remarkably similar to this pastor's. Let's pick up at Ps 139.19ff: “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!* Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.”
(Psalms 139:19-22 ESV)
How do we handle this passage of Scripture? We began with one pastor's interpretation of it. Is it correct? Is this what we should be doing? Is this what the passage means, that we should be calling curses down, heavenly curses on our enemies?
This is a very difficult passage; let's admit that from the start. While doing research on this passage I came across a post from John Piper. His church was memorizing through Ps 139 together and they came to vv 19-22 and they wrestled with the issue, “shall we memorize it or not?” because the kids were memorizing the same passages. They finally decided that it was just too difficult a passage to explain to young kids, so they skipped it.
The passage raises very difficult questions about the nature of God and of inspiration and of who he is and what he desires. So let's dig in and see what we can find here.
You may recall that we have been going very slowly through Ps 139 which is my favorite Psalm, and that we said the general theme, that David's general theme in the Psalm was a revelation of a God Most Intimate. Here we have revealed a God who is like no other conception of God by any other religion. He is personal. He is present. He is powerful, and all of his attributes he applies personally to me. We first saw that God knows everything about me. Then we saw that God is present wherever I am, that no matter how far I am from God; he is never far from me. Next we saw that God's power is demonstrated in the wonder that is me, that God created me, that he knitted me together in my mother's womb, and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. These are some of the most sublime words in all of Scripture. Last time I spoke we saw that God's thoughts are towards me, that his thoughts toward me are as vast as the sand, and that they are very precious.
So David is going on and on here about the character of God as it touches the individual, in poetry which is transcendent and majestic and glorious, and then all of a sudden he drops this bombshell which explodes in our conscience like someone dragging their fingernails across a chalkboard - back when they used to have chalkboards. What is going on here? What are we to make of this?
Theme: A Zeal for God's Glory
My contention is that David is demonstrating a zeal for God's glory. I said before that we move here from theology to application. In light of all that God is for me, how ought I to act in the world. How does it affect my actions. David's first answer, his first working out of this grand theme of a God Most Intimate is that it gives him a zeal to see God glorified, to see God lifted up and esteemed in all the world by all peoples. The problem is that in spite of all that David has just worked out about God and what he is to and for me, there are people that not only do not believe or worship this God, but they hate and blaspheme him! What are we to do with these people?
David's Zeal Revealed When We Understand Who the Wicked Are
The first point we see is that David's zeal for God's glory is revealed when we understand who the wicked are. Who are the wicked? Who are God's enemies?
Look at the words David uses to describe them. They speak against you with malicious intent (vs. 20). That same word is used in Ps 31.13 in a negative fashion for those who plot against the righteous. When it is used elsewhere in the Old Testament it denotes people who are making evil plans or schemes, especially against the righteous. God condemns these people.
The wicked “take your name in vain.” This is one of the ten words or Ten Commandments at the very beginning of the Mosaic Law. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain (Ex 20.7), The wicked feel free to take God's name in vain.
They also hate the Lord in verse 21 and they are rebels (vs 22).
In other passages of Scripture we find the wicked pursuing the poor (Ps 10.4), attacking the righteous (Ps 11.2), seeking to kill the righteous (Ps 37.32), and denying God. We could go on and on and on here but you get the point. The wicked man has no room for God in his thoughts; no fear of God in his eyes; he hates God; he uses God's name in vain; he is arrogant; he oppresses the poor, widows, orphans, and strangers.
For a current day example here is Richard Dawkins in his book, The God Delusion, describing God. He writes: The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
To that description of God I simply put my hand to my mouth and pray that Richard Dawkins will get radically saved before he has to face the God whom he has so disparaged.
God's Glory Revealed in Perspective He Takes on Wicked
That is the wicked. Scripture is pretty clear on who they are and what they are doing. The second way that we see David's zeal for God's glory revealed is in the perspective he takes on the wicked. “Why is David speaking this way about them?” Is it not true that Jesus himself said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 'But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”
(Matthew 5:43-44 ESV). What is going on here? Is Christ repudiating what David wrote? Is the Bible contradicting itself? Can we speak the same way about the wicked that David speaks? Why does he speak in such a seemingly harsh and brutal way?
Look at the words David uses. “Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies!” There is no getting away from the words that he uses here. The word “hate” really means hate, that is a good translation. So is the word “loathe.” We might better translate the last verse as I hate them with perfect hatred. David doesn't leave us any wiggle room here. We can't get away from the strength of his words. We cannot explain them away.
This kind of reference is common in the Psalms. “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”(Psalms 58:10 ESV) O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalms 137:8-9 ESV).
Don't think we escape it in the New Testament either. Paul says in his letter to Corinth “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!”
(1Corinthians 16:22 ESV) That word could probably better be translated “be damned.” Let him be damned.” And Christ himself uses a very strong word in condemning the cities that saw his works and did not repent, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida!” Woe is a word of condemnation in the context there.
So why does David speak this way? We must understand the differing outlooks of the Hebrew writers as contrasted to the writers of the New Testament. In general the writers of the Old Testament and especially the Psalms wrote from a framework of interest in God's justice. Again and again in the Psalms David sets his life before the bar of justice and asks in essence, “am I not acting rightly? You are the righteous judge, God, you bring justice to bear and tell whether or not I am acting in a righteous manner.”
Here is how C. S. Lewis notes the difference: The ancient Jews, like ourselves, think of God's judgment in terms of an earthly court of justice. The difference is that the Christian pictures the case to be tried as a criminal case with himself in the dock; the Jew pictures it as a civil case with himself as the plaintiff. The one hopes for acquittal, or rather for pardon; the other hopes for a resounding triumph with heavy damages.
Let me illustrate what Lewis means here. When it came to meal times at my house when I was growing up the diction was “Murphy's eat what is set in front of them and are grateful for it.' Admittedly sometimes the gratefulness was forced, but it was a good life lesson for me to have that attitude. So with my kids I have insisted that they eat vegetables and salad whether they like it or not. I usually give them a chance to serve themselves and if they don't then Dad gets to serve them. Usually they would prefer to serve themselves. One night we were at the dinner table and my oldest son, Badger, hasn't taken any salad. I haven't had the salad either, so I want some salad to serve myself so I say, “Badger, can you pass me the salad.” He knows he's guilty and thinks I am going to dump bucketfuls of salad on his plate. So he takes a handful and puts it on his place in order to escape Dad's wrath. So I say, “Badger would you pass me the salad?” He thinks he hasn't taken enough so he dumps another handful on his plate. I'm still waiting for the salad, so I say a third time, “Badger just give me the salad,” so he dumps another handful on his plate and I'm like, “just give me the salad. I want some salad! He thought I wanted salad in order to serve him, which is a legitimate interpretation of what was occurring, but I just wanted salad to serve myself, which was an equally legitimate interpretation of my request. It was two frameworks looking at the same thing with different perspectives, equally valid. Unfortunately, for him, he ended up eating a lot of salad because he did not correctly interpret what I wanted at that moment.
This is what is going on in the Old and New Testaments. They are two different frameworks for approaching the same subject. Both equally valid. So it is as if David is the plaintiff in a court case in which the wicked are on trial for their blasphemy and opposition to God and David is saying, “ God as a righteous judge, how can you let these guys off?” And the answer is that God cannot because he is a just judge.
A couple of years back we had a break-in at church here by a not very intelligent criminal. He managed to steal one of the church's credit cards. When Mike came in on Monday morning and began a simple investigation he found out that whoever had stolen the card had used it to buy mail-order goods over the weekend. He got them shipped to his house. When Mike asked what the address was, the company happily complied, so by Monday morning we knew where all the snowboards and computer gear had been shipped and the criminal was rapidly caught.
Imagine if this crook's court case came before a judge and the judge heard the case; it was open and shut, the guy was obviously guilty and the judge declared him guilty, so at sentencing the judge has the guy stand up and says, “Son, you are guilty of grand theft, so as punishment I am setting you free and you can keep all the stuff you bought.” Has justice been served? By no means. It is not right for a judge to act in such a manner, he must act in a just manner. When David sets the wicked on trial in the context of God as the just judge, he says, “these guys are guilty and should be punished. They oppose you and all that you stand for.” And before we leave the illustration, notice that I can love that crook, I can say he needs rehabilitation and he needs to get his life squared away, and yet still be unhappy that the judge acted unjustly. I can both love that person and call for justice to be done to him.
Notice also that David calls for God to avenge sin against God, not against David. These are God's enemies, not David's and that is of utmost important. If I am using the Bible to bring condemnation on people who I perceive are against me, I am using it in a radically unbiblical and God-dishonoring way.
Whatever else we can say about Wiley S. Drake we must condemn him in the strongest terms for taking a biblical example and applying it to those who oppose him personally. Those two guys whom he wants killed are saying nothing about God, they are accusing Mr. Drake, and not God of wrong doing. We are not to call God's condemnation for our own personal use. That is fundamentally wrong.
Notice also that in the Scriptures of both Testaments there are two reactions towards opposition from the wicked. One reaction is as one writer put it, “the characteristic virtue of love shown by God and his people.” The other reaction again by the same writer is, “the other ethical response is for extreme instances, used when God's people face sustained injustice, hardened enmity, and gross oppression.” It appears to me that David is referring to the latter case here, to people who oppose God and all that he stands for. These people are saying, “It is either God or us.”
David speaks as an inspired writer of the Scriptures and his focus in this case is on God and his justice, and he is calling for God to act justly. In the context it is good and right for him to do this.
[Application] - First, God is not only love and gracious; He is righteous and holy and he abhors sin. He must act righteously. He must judge sin. If you persist in sin, and are unrepentant God will deal justly with you. That should make you tremble in fear. It does me.
I want to end with a question for us. If David could speak this way of God's enemies in his zeal for God, can we speak this same way? Can we call God's condemnation down on the wicked, on those who oppose God, on those who are his enemies?
Remember first of all that in the New Testament, Christ himself gives us a command to love our enemies. We must set that before our eyes first if we are to answer the question correctly. We ought to err on the side of love because that is what Christ has called us to do.
If we ought to love our enemies, is there a sense in which we can both love and hate them? Can we do both? I believe this is absolutely possible. There is a very powerful scene in the movie Lonesome Dove where Robert Duvall catches his good friend who is kind of a ne'er-do-well, stealing horses. In the west a horse thief was punished without mercy because if your horse was stolen it put your life immediately at risk. So Duvall's character, Gus, has this dilemma, does he act justly despite the fact that he must punish his friend? He does and the moment when he has to hang his friend for being a horse thief is one of the more powerful moments in all of cinema. He likes the guy. He loves the guy, but justice must be served.
Martin Luther captures the balance better than anyone else. He writes: We should pray that our enemies be converted and become our friends and, if not, that their doing and designing be bound to fail and have no success and that their persons perish rather than the Gospel and the kingdom of Christ."
It is profoundly glorifying to God to say, “O Lord, do thou draw my enemies to faith, but if they are so hardened and so stiff-necked and hate you so much that they will not come, if they want to force a choice between the Gospel and themselves Lord, then may they perish and may the Gospel succeed.” I think that is what David is working out in Ps 139.19.
So can we speak the way David does about the wicked? John Piper seems to put things in the proper perspective. He writes: We will grant to the psalmist, who speaks, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as the foreshadowed Messiah and Judge, the right to call down judgment on the enemies of God…We would do well to leave such final assessments to God, and realize our own corrupt inability to hate as we ought. Let us tremble and trust God, lest we fail, and find ourselves on the other side of the curse.
Do you see what the danger is there. Piper is saying that because we are fallen and sinful we just cannot hate in a biblical manner, so let's leave it to the biblical writers to call curses down on those who hate the Lord and oppose all that he is and does.
Three end notes
1. God is a just God.
2. God perfectly balances justice and love. He never lets justice slip away for the sake of love, and he never tosses love aside in the desire for justice. He perfectly balances them. One of the struggles of my own life is to do the same. It takes great wisdom and compassion on my part to love with unconditional love and yet to still call people to live lives of holiness. I constantly fail towards one thing or the other, and for me it is usually towards justice.
3. Third, David has a zeal for God's glory. He writes this passage because he cannot understand how anyone can see God for who he is and not be absolutely, completely, and radically in love with Him. How shocking it is to consider that people see God and blaspheme and disparage him. Let us take David's example and have a radical zeal for God to be glorified, for God to be lifted up, for God to be worshipped as the highest being.