Posts Tagged ‘Vengeance’

Questions about the psalms of David?

January 19, 2010

What do David's Psalms tell us about David, and us?

Question 1:

The Psalms of David seem to bounce back and forth between praising God for taking out his enemies, and then asking God where he went when his enemies are defeating him.  Who was attacking David?

Answer 1:

Like most people throughout the course of their lives, David experienced highs and lows.  There were times when he felt like he was victorious and things were going well, and there were times when it seemed like the whole world was crashing in around him.  David’s first attacker was King Saul.  David had been hired by Saul as a musician in his courts.  But following Saul’s rejection as King by God and David’s famous defeat of Goliath it slowly became clear to Saul that David would be a rival to his throne because he was so loved by the people.  David became a fugitive and was pursued by Saul (1 Samuel 19 see also 2 Samuel 3:1).  It was in the midst of this that David wrote many Psalms that spoke both of his triumphs and his defeats (see intro to psalm 18).

David was also a great warrior king, in fact David spilled so much blood during his reign that God would not allow him to build the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.  The primary enemy was the Philistines, but also included the Moabites, the Edomites, and other enemies of Israel.  David was victorious in almost everything that he did but he had trials too (see intro to Psalm 56)

Sadly, one of David’s final enemies was his eldest son Absalom, who rebelled against David to take the throne (see Psalm 3).

Question 2:

How should the Psalms be viewed? David comes off as prideful and unloving at many times. Building himself up in the sight of God. My thought was that they should be viewed as a study of how stress and constant anguish can take its toll on a person, and how humans cry out for vengeance, while God cries out for love. What’s the dilly?

Answer 2:

There is a bit more going on in this question.  The first issue “how should the Psalms be viewed?” is a question about interpretation.  It is important that we view the Psalms for exactly what they are, poems.  Some of them are songs, some of them are prayers, others are expressions of wisdom, while others are liturgies used for worship services.  Just like songs today, they capture the most raw emotions of the human spirit, and they run the range of human emotion.  One of the great things about the psalms is that they can help us find words for our own circumstances today.  If David seems prideful in one psalm and depressed in another, this does not advocate these feelings as virtues, rather, it speaks to issues and feelings that all people experience, and it reminds us that we can go to God as we are.

I would not be too quick to say that the psalms of David are a commentary on human anguish or a cry for vengeance, nor would I want to suggest that humans are all about vengeance while God ‘cries out for love’.  The narratives in 1 & 2 Samuel help us with the commentary of the psalms.  In 1 Samuel you see that David actually had mercy on Saul (his greatest enemy), sparing his life on multiple occasions (1 Samuel 24 & 26).  David never murdered Saul, Saul killed himself.  Similarly, David asked that his son Absalom not be hurt when David’s army went out to meet him (2 Samuel 18:12), and David grieved over his loss when Absalom was killed (2 Samuel 18:31-33).  So it must be more than a simple commentary on the vengeful nature of humans.  Likewise, it is God who is enables the victories of David (see 2 Samuel 5:9-10) so we cannot make such a simple commentary that God is love and humans are vengeful because God helped David win some bloody battles.  While God certainly is a loving God, he is also a God of justice, vengeance, and wrath (see post on Atonement).  Those are the ones that no one ever wants to talk about.

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What is the significance of Genesis 4:23-24?

January 5, 2010

23 Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.

24 If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.

These two verses in Genesis 4 make up what is referred to as Lamech’s “Song of Vengeance”.  There is literary and theological significance that comes from Lamechs words, I will list some of them as follows…

1. Lamech is the end of Cain’s line of descendants.  His behavior as a murderer shows the depth of curruption that had come from the line of Cain who himself was the first murderer.

2. There is a parallel here with the line that came from Cain and the line that came from his brother Seth.  Cain’s descendent named Lamech represented murder, death, and the end of Cain’s line.  But with Seth’s descendent named Lamech the line did not end, rather was the father of Noah who would be God’s instrument to save humans from the flood.

3. We know that only death can come from Cain’s line, because we know from Genesis chapter 6 that all people on earth, except for Noah’s family, will be wiped out.

4.  Finally, there may be some literary tie via the Gospels.  Lamech represents vengeance, murder and unforgiveness.  He says “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.”  But Jesus came with a very different paradigm, one of grace in which he says just the opposite of Lamech.  Matthew 18:21-22 says:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Clearly there is a juxtaposition taking place in the texts, not only between the line of Cain and the line of Seth, but the world view of Lamech and the world view of Jesus.