Lessons learned from the vengeful psalms
Written by Cindy Palin
I was always stupefied when I came across passages of vengeance in the Psalms. Paul, in Romans 12:18, tells us “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Yet these passages were vengeful and violent; peace was absent.
Why were they included in God’s Word? They couldn’t possibly hold anything of value for us, could they? Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Does that mean because Christ is raised from the dead that vengeance in the Psalms should be ignored?
While studying Hebrew poetry and wisdom literature at Briercrest College, I learned a profound truth. Because the victims in passages like Psalm 109 directed their vengeful words about their enemies to God, their words were in fact prayer.
Though many consider vengeance psalms to be “morally inferior and ‘un-Christian,’ they have profound insights to offer about God and ourselves,” according to author J. Clinton McCann, Jr. in his book, A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms (Abingdon, 1993). McCann reports that Psalm 109:6-19 has even been considered by biblical scholars to be a “song of hate.”
I remembered I too had once written a song of hate. I questioned the morality of it for a long time and was ashamed to admit it felt good when I sang it.
McCann explains that vengeance psalms tell it like it is. When someone has been victimized, their reaction of rage should be expected. This reply of rage (when reflected in words) can also be a sign of health. Anger is legitimate and should be appropriately expressed. And expressing our anger to God is appropriate.
I was relieved that, by the grace of God, the words of my song of hate fell on His ears and not those of my accusers. I was grateful to learn that by crying out to God for vengeance upon my enemy I was praying, surrendering, and submitting the outcome into God’s hands. Instinctively, I was trusting the words in Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.”
The feeling I felt when singing the song was actually a physical and spiritual release. I had no need to act out any further, or cause anyone harm. Peace came.
Just as the vengeance psalms written long ago, there are plenty of cries for justice today. The danger we face is having so many platforms available to us on which to share them.
A good rule of thumb is to go to God first. Surrender your plea and expect God to fight for you. If you struggle to express your feelings, find one of the vengeance psalms and pray it out loud. Then put your peace flag at the foot of His cross.
The release will come. He will show you how to move forward in a way that honours Him. Contrary to popular opinion, I believe much of our struggles aren’t meant for public consumption.
However, if you do come across a public cry for justice on social media, in your church, or at your door, ask yourself if you are equipped to help in a productive way. Don’t be too quick to be dismissive, as I was when I read the vengeance psalms for the first time.
Remember, people’s pain is real, and anger is a natural reaction. Look for ways to join the conversation peaceably. But don’t simply join in for the sake of the argument. This is warned about in Scripture (2 Timothy 2:14). Be a peacekeeper (Matthew 5:9) and a healing balm.
Most importantly, I welcome God’s truth and comfort in these words, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).