1Why, O LORD, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor;
let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.
3For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul,
and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD.
4In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him;
all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5His ways prosper at all times;
your judgments are on high, out of his sight;
as for all his foes, he puffs at them.
6He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”
7His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.
8He sits in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places he murders the innocent.
His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket;
he lurks that he may seize the poor;
he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.
10The helpless are crushed, sink down,
and fall by his might.
11He says in his heart, “God has forgotten,
he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand;
forget not the afflicted.
13Why does the wicked renounce God
and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?
14But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation,
that you may take it into your hands;
to you the helpless commits himself;
you have been the helper of the fatherless.
15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer;
call his wickedness to account till you find none.
16The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
17O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
I’m sure we recognize some characters in this passage. Surely you can think of some haughty person either in your own life or in the news. I’m really attempting to not name names but a few faces come immediately to mind as I read the description here of the arrogance of the wicked man. Maybe your boss seems to be like this, not caring for who he harms in his pursuit of power and wealth. Maybe your father or even your husband or an old “friend” or some person you feel you ought really be able to trust is “the hunter” that you feel you (and others) are always just barely escaping.
How was David able to so readily recognize the behaviors of a wicked man, bent on getting vengeance, increasing his power and wealth and abusing his role of authority? Partly because he was personally hotly pursued by such a tyrant, one who had devoted his life to David’s destruction. David saw the fire in his eyes, the spittle accumulating in the corners of his sneering lips, the shaking rage that probably comes just before a spear flies out of the battle-trained murderous hands at high velocity. Like a heat seeking missile, Saul was intent upon David’s destruction and he would sacrifice anything to have his revenge, including disowning and turning on his own children.
David clearly knew what it was to be the hunted. Helpless, seeking refuge, unsure of whom to trust. He understood that to be so pursued felt like God had vanished and removed his hand of protection (v. 11) It felt like death because it felt like abandonment to the unknown.
But you know what else David knew? You know why David was so apparently adept at relating to both the hunter and the hunted? Because in his lifetime he was both. He was the one who once carefully laid a net for his prey, Uriah. He laid in wait to pounce on him. He devised evil in his heart to perpetrate against the innocent, indeed the valorous. He became that “man of the earth” who struck terror.
At the end of the Psalm David declares that there is one true King in whose shadow no other kingdom or authority can stand. Even the most treacherous of oppressors will fall down before him. They will either fall to their end on account of their devotion to sin or they will fall in worship on account of repentance. In verse 15 David asks the Lord to call the wickedness of the oppressor to account until no evil is found in him. He knew from experience that there is one of two ways to be rid of sin in this life: you can either kill yourself, pierce yourself through with it (literally in the case of Saul) and it will be your only eternal keepsake or ask God to kill it in you with the precision of his sword of grace, wherein His own son was pierced through with it, so that life might burst forth from you, which let’s be real… hurts something like labor when it’s being accomplished and feels much like death so much does it call you to surrender up to him so you will be free of its burden forever.
While it’s easy to recognize an evil oppressive dictator from a hundred miles away sometimes, is it as easy to recognize the oppressor within? While I pray for evil in the world to cease, for unjust wars to end, for hands that murder innocents to be cut off, am I as ready to see it for what it is when I let my various desires take over my treatment of others? Am I ready to ask verse 15 for myself?
“Break us oh lord, that we might be born again.”