Sometimes we want God to kick some ass.
When I translate the psalms, I make ’em rhyme because I can. Iambic octometer, anyone?
Psalm 3 KWL
- 0 David’s psalm, while fleeing the presence of his son Absalom.
- 1 My enemies—ten thousand, L
ORD!—have multiplied and charge at me!
- 2 The myriads say of my life, “God’s rescue? Not for he.” Selah.
- 3 But you, L
ORD, are my shield and honor, granting my authority.
- 4 I call the L
ORD, who from his holy mountain answers me. Selah.
- 5 I lay my head to sleep, and wake because the L
ORDhas strengthened me.
- 6 Do I fear opposition from ten thousand circling people? Nah.
- 7 You rose and saved me, L
ORDmy God. Face-punched my every enemy.
- Broke evildoers’ teeth. 8 You bless your own with rescue, L
Psalm 3 is Adonái me-rabu (Latin, Domine, quid multiplicati), “L
It’s a vengeance psalm. One of many. David liked to write ’em, and he’s not the only one; a lot of the prophets wrote vengeance poetry too. Because the psalms are some of the better-known passages of the bible, it creates a lot of problems for Christians: We read this stuff, and have the darnedest time reconciling it with the way Jesus and his apostles describe his Father in the New Testament. In the
From The Simpsons episode 14.10, “Pray Anything.”
The title of this article comes from an episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets ahold one of those lenticular photos—a 3D image, some of which will change when you tilt ’em. One image is of God (or at least the old guy from the Sistine Chapel ceiling) looking wrathful. The other is of God giving a thumbs up. “Vengeful God… loving God,” Homer comments.
Bipolar God, apparently.
But is he? Nah.
So where do we get this idea? Simple: We’re overlaying our own bad attitudes onto God. We’re vengeful, so when we read the Old Testament and see God righteously judging the nations, we presume he’s vengeful. We confuse God’s righteous anger with our own far-from-righteous anger. We even use it to justify doing likewise. But we’re too corrupt to act in anger without sliding into evil. God has self-control. We don’t.
King David’s vengeful God.
David ben Jesse is described as a man after God’s own heart.
Because the L
Didn’t help when David established his own capital in his own tribal territory, and moved the tabernacle there. Then he had his general Uriah whacked so he could steal his wife. Then he let his eldest son Amnon, his heir, get away with rape. Raping his daughter, no less… well, until Absalom killed Amnon.
So when Absalom staged his coup, David wasn’t exaggerating about the numbers. If you just count the men—and David’s general Joab later did—Judah alone had half a million.
David may have loved God like crazy, and wrote him a bunch of songs, but he nonetheless had some serious defects. That’s why many of his people didn’t at all mind the idea of the more stable-looking, more accessible, more popular
We can see David’s defects all over his psalms. He always had a lot of enemies—both political and military, from the time he entered the army onward. He regularly cried out to God to kill these foes. Seriously, kill them. Kill ’em painfully, too. Break their jaws. Knock some teeth out.
A lot of Christians read these violent psalms, and struggle to reconcile this idea of God with what we know of him through Jesus. And a lot of us honestly don’t know how to. In fact we wind up spreading a popular myth that the bible portrays God with dual personalities: In the Old Testament he’s ready to smite anyone and everyone. But by the time of the New Testament, he’s way less ragey and smitey. He used to be bloodthirsty, but now he loves everybody. After Jesus died for our sins, it calmed him down a whole lot. The cross worked on God like heavenly Risperdal.
Some Christians just couldn’t reconcile the two. In the mid-100s (yes, that early in church history) Marcion of Sinope decided the
But unofficially, a lot of Christians take Marcion’s route. They don’t throw out the
Yep, they’re wrong. King David’s God is the very same God Jesus proclaimed. So why’s there a difference between God in the
Vengeance psalms: David venting his spleen.
God wants to save everybody.
Here’s the thing. When God’s smiting away at those who are doing evil against us, how do we typically respond? “Oh, how sad for those evildoers that they never repented,” or “Kick ’em in the balls, God! Kick ’em harder!”
Yeah, it’s that second one. God’s compassionate. Us, not so much.
That’s what we see in the vengeance psalms. Not David saying, “My enemies surround me; L
The problem is we read how David felt, and we use it to justify how we feel. “David wanted his enemies laid waste. Guess there’s nothing wrong with wanting my enemies laid waste.” Yes there is. Jesus taught us better than that. Just because David was being brutally honest with God, doesn’t mean God wanted him to think that way. Or wants anyone to think that way.
It’s why, you’ll notice, a lot of the vengeance psalms begin with David wanting his enemies to be killed in nasty ways… and often end with David no longer talking like that, but praising God. Venting to God calmed him down. ’Cause God does that. Pour out your cares on him, and he’ll take care of you.
So no, David didn’t get God wrong. But he did get himself wrong, and we Christians had better learn the difference.
Does God wanna destroy people? Absolutely not. He wants people to repent and turn to him.
Does God wanna break jaws? No, but he will. Sometimes directly; sometimes not. When David broke Philistine jaws with his sling, he figured God had broken their jaws through his sling. He credited God with his victories. Sometimes that’s true; but sometimes God doesn’t intervene, and leaves a battle to the stronger, or even to chance.
Does God think like David does? No. But that was never the point of David’s psalms, was it? These are his prayer requests. These are the thoughts going through David’s head. David was full of wrath and sorrow and vengeance and mayhem. Is God?
Well, if you wanna know how God thinks, you need to read what Jesus says. Not David.
Nonetheless, keep reading David. Yep, even his vengeance psalms. He’s a good example of naked honesty before the L