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.

“Pilgrim’s Problem,” by C.S. Lewis

By now I should be entering on the supreme stage
Of the whole walk, reserved for the late afternoon.
The heat was to be over now; the anxious mountains,
The airless valleys and the sun-baked rocks, behind me.

Now, or soon now, if all is well, come the majestic
Rivers of foamless charity that glide beneath
Forests of contemplation. In the grassy clearings
Humility with liquid eyes and damp, cool nose
Should come, half-tame, to eat bread from my hermit hand.
If storms arose, then in my tower of fortitude–
It ought to have been in sight by this–I would take refuge;
But I expected rather a pale mackerel sky,
Feather-like, perhaps shaking from a lower cloud
Light drops of silver temperance, and clovery earth
Sending up mists of chastity, a country smell,
Till earnest stars blaze out in the established sky
Rigid with justice; the streams audible; my rest secure.

I can see nothing like all this. Was the map wrong?
Maps can be wrong. But the experienced walker knows
That the other explanation is more often true.

Lamentations 5:12-22

Princes they hung by their hands, respect they stripped from the elders

Young men rattle the millstone, boys stagger under their loads

Wise elders have abandoned the gates, young men quit their songs

Our hearts have abandoned their joy, our bodies that danced now mourn

The crown has crashed from our head, woe to us, sinners

In all these things, our hearts retch, in all these things our eyes swim

Mount Zion is desolate, foxes forage, scavenge its hill

You, YHWH, are enthroned forever, from generation to generation

Why do you forget us forever? Why have you forsaken us so long?

Bring us back to you, so we return, and renew the days of old

Unless you have utterly rejected us, and are settled in your anger