Imprecatory Psalms versus Love your Enemies?

Q. Jesus taught us that we should love and pray for our enemy. Mt 5:44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Why is it that in Ps 109 David curses his enemies before God?

A. Imprecatory psalms and prayers invoking curses on ones’ enemies are a problem to many Bible readers, who find it difficult to reconcile these passages with Jesus’ command to love your enemies. And it’s not just David being vindictive, but involves other people such as prophets as well, who are God’s spokesmen and ought to know better e.g.

Jer 18:21 Therefore, give their children over to famine
And deliver them up to the power of the sword;
And let their wives become childless and widowed.
Let their men also be smitten to death,
Their young men struck down by the sword in battle.

It is especially problematic in view of God saying, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) What were these people thinking? Don’t they know what God said? Some therefore consider such passages as sub-Christian and shouldn’t be in the Bible. How do we reconcile them as they are indeed part of Scripture?

Rather than consider those who call upon God to judge their enemies as being mean-spirited and beneath what a Christian should do, my opinion is that it is us who are not as close to God as the imprecatory psalmists were, who were more concerned about God’s name being profaned by their enemies than seeking revenge for themselves. David did evil in the sight of the LORD when he committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11:27, 12:9) and when he ordered a census of Israel’s army (1 Chron. 21:7), but God never faulted him for his imprecatory prayers. That should alert the critics that they overlooked something.

The LORD called David a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). David knew “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully (Ps 24:3-4). He was not afraid to call upon God to “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me,” (Ps 139:23-24a). I would not dare to do so unless my heart was totally free from personal motives and 100% pure before God.

And his actions vindicated his thoughts. David had the opportunity to get back at those who wronged him, but he did not take matters into his own hands, instead leaving it to the LORD to exonerate him e.g. sparing Saul’s life twice (1 Sam 24; 1 Sam 26).

My conclusion is that unlike us who often view things through jaundiced eyes tainted by self-interest, David saw things in sharper contrast of right vs. wrong, conformity to God’s character or against it, positive or negative impact on God’s name etc. He therefore called upon God to deal justly with His enemies and give them the punishment they rightly deserved. Notice that in v 6-20 all the righteous judgment are taught elsewhere in the Bible, including doing unto his enemies what they did to him, and David had not gone overboard in retaliation against his enemies. He left the “settling the scores” entirely in God’s hands.

My last comment is that biblical ethics is a progressive revelation. While there is continuity between OT and NT ethics, with the coming of Christ in the age of grace, people receive a fuller understanding of what God requires of us than in OT times. We should therefore not read back NT standards into the OT and expect full compliance.

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Forgive & Forget?

Q. In Mt 5:24 What if the brother does not want to make peace? I was going to tell my friend that he is not sincere enough when he was trying to make peace with his co-worker who insists on not accepting his apologies. Should he go on trying to make peace with different methods?

In Mt 18:21-22 A sister in Christ says to forgive because God would revenge for us (Rom 12:19). I think when we forgive, we do not want God’s wrath to be on that person either, right? But I imagine eventually God would avenge because He is just. That means our blessing and prayer would not be effective, unless things happen like in Jobs 42?

Lk 6:27-28 Is it right to forgive but not to forget? I think when we forgive, we should try to forget. It would make it ridiculous to ask us to give an example from our experience in following Jesus’ advise to forgive (in a group meeting?

A. In Mt 5:23 the brother has something against you, i.e. you have offended him, so the onus is on you to make reconciliation. If he does not want to be reconciled, then the procedure in Mt 18:15-17 kicks in, but with a difference. The difference is that there your brother sins against you and he is at fault. You are not the guilty party but nonetheless take the initiative to make peace. First it is just between you and your brother in private (v 15). If that fails, then take one or two with you to try again (v 16), not to gang up on him, but as witnesses so that everything would be fair. If that fails, tell it to the church, starting with the elders (v 17). They have the discretion as to how to treat the grievance, whether keeping it low profile or bringing it to the open, depending on what is at stake. If that still does not work, then the brother who sins will be excommunicated (v 17).

Now, in Mt 5:23 you, not the brother, is the one giving offense. You wanted to reconcile but he refuses. He is not acting graciously in this case, but since you cannot force someone to forgive you, there is not much you can do if he keeps on refusing after repeated attempts. However, because you were in the wrong in the first place, he won’t be excommunicated. There remains a stain on him because of the lack of grace, but it also reflects poorly on the church. So be gracious as much as you can, It is in short supply these days.

Yes, when we truly forgive, we don’t want God’s wrath on our enemy. The context of Rom 12:19 is v 17-21:
17. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
18. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.
19. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
20. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”
21. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Some misinterpret “heap burning coals on his head” as wishing something bad on your enemy. No, three times Paul said “never pay back evil” (v 17), “never take revenge” (v 19), and “do not be overcome by evil” (v 21), so how can he wish evil on anyone? Heaping coals on his head is not to burn him, but to keep him warm, to allow him to prepare his meals. It is overcoming evil with good (v 21). God will repay because He is just. We don’t need to take matters into our own hands.

The expression “forgive and forget” is actually not in the Bible. When we say to forgive and forget, we mean we no longer hold the perpetrator who wronged and harmed us responsible. We choose to move on with our lives instead of being stuck in the past. It does not mean we wipe our memory bank and can no longer recall the evil done to us as if it never happened. Human nature being what it is, we can forget a lot of mundane details, but not the way people treated us, both hurts and acts of kindness. We remember and can give glory to God as to how He delivered us from holding a grudge and remain bitter years after the evil happened. We got over it and won’t dig it up again. In this sense we have “forgotten”.

Responding to Persecutions (2 of 2)

(Continued from yesterday)

How will they make the charges stick? With lies (Ps 119:86)! Sometimes it is even without cause (Ps 119:161), as society has descended to lawlessness:
Ps 119:86 All Your commandments are faithful; They have persecuted me with a lie; help me!
• Ps 119:161 Princes persecute me without cause, But my heart stands in awe of Your words.

What should the Christians’ attitude be?
First, remember ultimately God will deliver us and punish those who persecute us:
Deut 30:7 The LORD your God will inflict all these curses on your enemies and on those who hate you, who persecuted you.
• Ps 31:15 My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.
• Rom 12:9 “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY”, says the Lord. (Also Heb 10:30)

Secondly, our response to the oppressors should be to bless:
Mt 5:44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
• Rom 12:14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

What should Christians do? That depends on how far the persecution has gone. If it is possible, flee (Mt 10:23). It is no heroism to wait around and be caught. If we can’t escape, endure and persevere (1 Co 4:12; 2 Thes 1:4; 2 Tim 3:11):
Mt 10:23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.
• Mt 24:15-16 Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains.
• 1 Co 4:12 and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure;
• 2 Thes 1:4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
• 2 Tim 3:11 persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!

If we have the opportunity, witness for Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit:
Mk 13:9-11 But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. (Also Mt 10:18-20; Lk 12:11-12)

One final warning. If you are a shallow Christian, like the seed sown on rocky places, you will fall away when persecution arises:
Mt 13:21 yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. (Also Mk 4:17)
So develop firm roots before it’s too late. Otherwise the consequences are fatal.

Turn the Other Cheek (2 of 2)

turn-the-other-cheek-3

(Continued from yesterday)

What about shirt & coat? The shirt is the inner garment, the coat the outer cloak, to keep warm while a person sleeps. In Jesus’ days a lender could legally keep a borrower’s shirt overnight as collateral, but must return his coat during the night so he can use it as a blanket:
Ex 22:26-27 If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in?
• Deut 24:12-13 If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. When the sun goes down you shall surely return the pledge to him, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you;

This was not the laws of the country, but Mosaic law in the Torah, & definitely not lawlessness. By asking a borrower to let the lender have his coat also, Jesus was asking us to give up our rights & go beyond what the law required.

Paul understood this principle very well, for he taught in
1 Co 6:7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

Regarding going two miles, under military law any Roman soldier can conscript a Jew to carrying his burden for a distance of up to one mile. This was the case when they pressed Simon of Cyrene into service to carry Jesus’ cross (Mt 27:32, Mk 15:21, Lk 23:26). By asking His disciples to go two miles, Jesus was again asking them to go the extra mile freely, not under compulsion.

Finally, with respect to giving & lending, Jesus was not asking us to be manipulated by panhandlers & acquaintances who want to take advantage of us, because we are supposed to be shrewd:
Mt 10:16 Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.

The principle is in:
1 Jn 3:17-18 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

Paul learned this well:
Rom 12:17-21 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

So all cases in fact relate to not insisting on your rights, not taking revenge in your own hands, but giving up rights and going the extra mile because you are now a child of God, for the sake of your testimony. Roman rule applies only to Mt 5:41, so the first commentator you quoted generalized too much. Besides, no one except those who are indwelt & filled with the Holy Spirit can do these. To require that of the lower social strata, who may not be Christians, is to ask for the impossible, which Jesus didn’t do. The second commentator caught the essence of what Jesus taught better, though he did not explain it enough.

As to your own observation, there are only two parties in Mt 5:38-42 – you & the second-party, be it an evil person, your creditor, a government authority, or a brother in need. There is no third-party peacemaker as in Mt 5:9. While it would be nice to have a reconciler to act as go-between, you do not have that luxury here. So Mt 5:9 does not really apply. Hope this helps.

Dealing with Insults

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Q. People around us are continually criticizing us, with words which are insulting. I don’t know whether it has to do with racial discrimination or not, but it is very difficult to bear. What should we do?

A. First, distinguish who you are dealing with. Are they scoffers or mockers? To scoff or scorn is to show contempt by insulting words or action. It combines bitterness with ridicule. The inner emotion is a sense of superiority, which outward expression is to scorn or mock. If you are dealing with a scoffer, do not descend to their level. Ignore them. Don’t give them fuel:
Prov 9:7-8 He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you.

Second, listen to what your critics are saying. Although you do not like to hear them, is there any truth in what they are criticizing you? If there is, correct those things. They are doing you a favor by pointing them out to you, although with hurtful words.

Third, discern why are they so critical? It could be racial discrimination as you surmised, which is never justified. Or they may be jealous, so they try to put you down to prop themselves up. In these cases the problem is with them, not you, so don’t worry. Or it could be because of your stand for the Lord, in which case you should rejoice and be glad, because you are considered worthy to suffer shame for Him, and your reward in heaven is great.

Mt 5:11-12 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
• Lk 6:22-23 Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.
• Acts 5:41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.

Fourth, consider the how. Positively, learn to:
• cast all your anxiety on Him,
• be content, and
• give a blessing instead, because
o He cares for you,
o when you are weak and rely on the Lord, then you are strong because He is strong,
o we will inherit a blessing.
Negatively, never take your own revenge. Never return insult for insult. The world’s way is to retaliate, give them their due, but that’s not the way for Christians. Leave it in God’s hands. He will repay the scoffers.

Rom 12:19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
• 2 Co 12:10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
• 1 Pet 1:7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
• 1 Pet 3:9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

Hope this helps.