Reflections on Psalm 140

Ps 140
1 Rescue me, LORD, from evil men.
Keep me safe from violent men
2 who plan evil in their hearts.
They stir up wars all day long.
3 They make their tongues
as sharp as a snake’s bite;
viper’s venom is under their lips.

Throughout the chapter these evil men are called violent and slanderers. It is their thoughts, words, and deeds that make them so. But the Psalmist begins with the thoughts. They “plan evil in their hearts…all day long.”

Are we really exempt from this charge? How do my thoughts run? Do I not engage in ceaseless self-justification? Do I not judge other people’s behavior as unjustified and cruel? Are not slanderous words about others spoken in my own heart, even if they never leave my lips? Evil men need not be self-consciously evil; I may easily put on the habits of self-justifying slander.

But what about violence? Surely, I am not the man. Ours is an age of passive aggression, not overt aggression. Do we not spin the narrative to make our enemies out to be ugly or unwise? Do we not indirectly fight for their ruin or humiliation? Rescue me, LORD, from myself.

Ps 140
9 As for the head of those who surround me,
let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall upon them!
Let them be cast into fire,
into miry pits, no more to rise!
11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
12  I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Prov 25
21 If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
22 for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Psalm 140 calls for protective judgment with a confidence that God will execute justice. Proverbs 25 specifies what sort of action this confidence inspires.

Quotable: Warfield, on Jesus Rage

“Why did the sight of the wailing Mary and her companions enrage Jesus? Certainly not because of the extreme violence of its expression; and even more certainly not because it argued unbelief—unwillingness to submit to God’s providential ordering or distrust of Jesus’ power to save. He himself wept, if with less violence yet in true sympathy with the grief of which he was witness. The intensity of his exasperation, moreover, would be disproportionate to such a cause; and the importance attached to it in the account bids us seek its ground in something less incidental to the main drift of the narrative. It is mentioned twice [Jn. 11:33, 38], and is obviously emphasized as an indispensable element in the development of the story, on which, in its due place and degree, the less of the incident hangs.  The spectacle of the distress of Mary and her companions enraged Jesus because it brought poignantly home to his consciousness the evil of death, its unnaturalness, its ‘violent tyranny’ as Calvin (on verse 38) phrases it. In Mary’s grief, he ‘contemplates’—still to adopt Calvin’s words (on verse 33),—‘the general misery of the whole human race’ and burns with rage against the oppressor of men. In extinguishable fury seizes upon him; his whole being is discomposed and perturbed; and his heart, if not his lips, cries out,—

‘For the innumerable dead
Is my soul disquieted.’
                       -John Hutchison”

B.B. Warfield, “On the Emotional Life of our Lord,” Biblical and Theological Studies, 60-61.

Lamentations, 2:7-12

Given into the hands of the enemy
The Lord has forsaken his altar—abhorred his sanctuary
And they give shouts of celebration, absurdly
In YHWH’s house, as in the day of festival

He decided to shred the breastworks of daughter Zion
YHWH set a line to survey their ruin, planned their fall
He did not withdraw his fist from seizing it, ripping it
He caused rampart and wall to howl with crashing languish

Into the dead earth, her gates have sunk
He busted and broke to bits her bars
Her king and chiefs are adrift among the nations
There is no Torah.
Her blind prophets see no visions from YHWH.

Judicious elders, struck dumb, sit down in the dust
Daughter Zion’s wise heap it on their heads
Carelessly, thoughtlessly, emptily, in rags
Virgin daughters abase their faces to that dust

Knotted and knifed my bowels erupt
The bile of my bitterness spews dusty lines of grief
My eyes have spent their tears
On account of my broken daughter, my broken people
And Feeble children fainting in city streets

Loudly bawling for vacant mothers
Where is food? Where is drink?
Like their wounded fathers, they faint in city streets
And breathe out their souls on mothers’ dry breasts