The text for the sermon today is Psalm 28. These are the words of God:
1 To you, O LORD, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the LORD!
For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Psalm 28 breaks down into 2 or 3 divisions: a cry for God to hear and deliver (v. 1-6) followed by praise of God’s deliverance (v. 6-8) along with a final petition for God to deliver all his people (v. 9)
Though we don’t know the exact occasion for this Psalm, the need of the moment is clear: David, the king, is being persecuted and God appears to be silent to his cries. (v. 1)
David wasn’t sinless, but he knows his own innocence. His hands are lifted up in a sign of need and surrender to God. (v. 2)
The king, though innocent, is being treated as an evildoer by those who pretend innocence. (v. 3)
Instead, God ought to be repaying their evil with commensurate justice. (v. 4)
David isn’t being persecuted by those who are ignorant of God, but by those who flagrantly mock him. (v. 5)
The Psalm does not tell us whether v. 6-7 are anticipatory or reflective, but regardless, we are being shown the proper posture of those who feel God isn’t listening: praise him anyway.
He is your strength whether you feel it. He is your song whether you would sing it or not. (v.6-8)
David ends with a final request that God save his people. Why? Because David knows that if he does down, the people go down with him. If the king is killed, the people are next in line. (v. 9)
We are in the same boat as David.
To you, O LORD, I call;
my rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if you be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit. (Ps. 28:1)
We all cry to the Lord in dire straits because we all inhabit a sinful and broken world. The problem with our world (Rom. 1) is not that we don’t know God, but that we don’t want his rule. And any time you substitute the prerogatives of the creature for the creator bad things happen.
This week I listened to a podcast discussing major a corporation who intentionally sold faulty products knowing they would pay fines— they made promises they knew were false knowing that they’d clear enough profit to pay their fines and retire in luxury. And one of the hosts asked, “When did this kinda thing start happening in our country?” To which every Biblical Christian should answer: “It’s been like this since Genesis 3.”
Secular naturalism holds that “evil” is just a label we attached to anything disadvantageous to our species’ evolution. The Eastern pantheistic monk argues that evil is simply an illusion. But the Christian says there is a moral lawgiver, and all of us have broken his laws. When asked what’s wrong with the world, we can say, like Chesterton, “I am.”
Because evil is an objective reality, the Saints are to pray for the destruction of evil and of evil-doers. And I know that in saying this, I’ve just offended everyone’s social sensibilities. Verse 4 presents us with a prayer request that isn’t what you’d call Sunday School-friendly: “Give them what’s coming to them.” Psalm 28 is an imprecation or a prayer that seeks God’s punishment, not just on evil as a theory, but on evildoers as persons.
How do we square the many instances of imprecation with the New Testament’s calls to “love our enemies.”
First, we recognize that the New Testament is full of imprecations. Anyone who says the New Testament disagrees with the Old Testament has read neither.
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. (Matt. 23:13-22)
22 If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. (1 Cor. 16:22)
Second, imprecations are not a declaration of the Psalmist’s intent to take vengeance into his own hands. Rather, they are prayers, which means the Psalmist is bringing his concerns to the Lord and leaving them there with him to adjudicate.
Third, imprecations express holy or righteous moral outrage at evil. They are a right longing for vindication and justice.
Finally, there are no Polly Anna prayers in the Bible. There are only realistic prayers for the real world. When we love and pray for the triumph of truth, we are praying for all that accompanies that triumph.
In the battle of good and evil, there are no win-win compromises. You don’t get to pray that good will win but get to exempt yourself from all that is required for that victory. When you pray that truth conquers you are at the same time asking God to do everything it will take to secure the defeat of evil.
These are specific prayers over specific evils, and we ought to pray the same way. We ought to pray for God to humble the pride of our nation, for God to close down abortion clinics, and for God to break our idolatry of money and success.
SAVE YOUR PEOPLE
One of the questions that should be growing in your mind by now is this: “What gives us the right to pray such bold prayers for justice when we ourselves are not innocent?” Good question.
When we turn from the Old Testament to the New Testament we see how this Psalm is fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Look back at the final petition: “Save your people.” David knows that the life of his people is connected to his own life. His people will be saved if he, the king, lives. But unlike David, the only way we are saved is if our King, Jesus, dies in our place.
We are not innocent. We stand under the imprecation and malediction of God. We deserve every ounce of holy justice that is coming our way, and Jesus took our place. Though he lived a perfectly holy life, he was treated as if he deserved punishment. His cries weren’t heard. He was dragged off with the evildoers.
And this means that God, through Christ, has made a glorious new way of destroying his enemies: he destroys them by making them his friends. He buries them with Christ so that he can raise them up to new life. And therefore, our prayers against the enemies of God are that they would first and foremost be destroyed and remade in the wounds and grace of Jesus.