The first time I stood before a judge, I was guilty. Fortunately, it was just traffic court and I’d only been going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit.
I’ve also had my moments of being falsely accused. Mostly they were no big deal. Just minor wounds to my reputation and ego that I could withstand. Thankfully, I’ve never needed the legal system to intervene on my behalf.
But I’ve seen others need justice to come to their aid. The first time I had to testify in court, it was on behalf of a friend whose former lover was harassing her and she needed to be protected from him. And I’ve watched others be flayed by the court of public opinion — one even had his photo on the front page of a major newspaper — before being fully exonerated by their judges.
Psalm 7 is a call for the Judge to get busy, vindicating and protecting the innocent and victimized. It’s a David psalm. And though we don’t know who Cush the Benjaminite is, I assume he’s one of King Saul’s advisors who turned the king against David, causing David to flee for his life. In any case, he’s someone David feels the need to be protected from, someone whose accusations David is in danger from.
“Help!” is our most common prayer. We are weak and we need someone strong to come to our rescue. We can’t secure our lives or the lives of others we love, and we need protection.
So, the first two verses are a Help! prayer. “I’m in danger. Save me! Without help, I’ll be ripped apart.” Sharp wits aren’t enough. Friends and family are good, but still not enough. Money can’t help. Physical strength can’t cut it. No resource will do but God alone. Help!
Perhaps David is wise enough to go to God first. I’m afraid, I too often resort to asking God for help when all my other resources have failed. But whether first or last, here is David standing before God, asking for aid.
But the way he approaches God isn’t as some divine super hero who acts outside of the law. The Lord is no vigilante is above the law because the law doesn’t work. No, he’s the author of the Law and its greatest expert. So, David appeals to God legally.
In verses 3-5, David lays out his innocence. This is no blanket innocence, as if he’s never sinned in his life. This is innocence in relation to his oppressor. “If I’m guilty, then let me get what I deserve,” he prays. “Let my oppressor finish me off and toss my lifeless body to the side of the road.”
When we appeal to God as our Judge, we have to be ready to receive his verdict — even if it goes against us.
David is confident of his innocence, so he calls on God to be Judge.
Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice. (Ps. 7:6)
David calls on the Judge to match the passion of his enemies with God’s passion for justice. Anger and wrath in this psalm have less to do with the out-of-control emotion you and I feel when things in our lives spin out of our control — out anger almost always is the presenting emotion for powerlessness. Here and elsewhere in the Scriptures, God’s anger/wrath are an aspect of his justice, a passion for setting right what has been turned to wrong in the world and with the people he so lovingly created. And this is what David taps into.
But there’s an implied question here as well. David calls on God to arise, to awake. Does he think God has fallen asleep on the job? No, but he feels that way.
The lack of justice and equity around us can make us feel like God has fallen asleep, that God is being slow when he really needs to get busy right away. When we feel that way, we are in good biblical company. And Psalm 7 gives us words to articulate our pain and frustration with the unknown plans of our unseen God.
Verse 7 moves us into the courtroom, as the the court of the King becomes the court of the Judge. Here and elsewhere in the Psalms, when we see God sitting on his throne, it’s God as Judge. The throne is the seat from which judgments are pronounced. So, when we see “throne,” we need to be thinking legal, not royal. And in this verse, all peoples gather round the Judge to hear his verdict.
Starting in verse 9, we get the plea. “Vindicate me! Judge me. Test me.” He appeals to his righteousness, which is the ability to stand upright before the King. Righteousness and justice are overlapping concepts in the Hebrew mind and the word really ought to be translated with a ridiculously hyphenated phrase like this: “Vindicate me, Lord, according to my personal-moral-character-which-is-reflected-in-my-just-behavior.” This is matched by integrity, a basic truthfulness and relational wholeness that keeps a person’s life a consistent unity. In other words, “God, let the truthfulness of my words and deeds prove my innocence.”
Justice cannot turn back the clock, returning everything to how it was. But it does have two main goals: ending oppression and securing the lives of those who have been oppressed. It falls short of true shalom, but violence stopped and restoration begun is a good start.
So, David pleads for these two elements of justice in verse 9. And then he adds an element that is present in God’s justice but absent in human justice. God’s perfect righteousness/justice arises from his ability to probe minds and hearts.
I used to think I was good at filtering out truth from lies. But then I met individually with couples who were getting divorced and discovered my perceptiveness wasn’t nearly as keen as I’d believed it to be. Their emotions so clouded the situations that I couldn’t tell what was true, what wasn’t, and what was a mixture of both. Real judgment and real justice requires inside knowledge, and only God has that. He sees our schemes and motivations. He knows even our self-deceptions, something Psalm 139 deals with.
Knowing that God knows — really knows — sets the upright in heart (remember, he sees the heart) at ease. For if God really knows, they can be confident he will be their shield, protecting them.
God judges justly. Again, his wrath isn’t human anger. It’s true judgment. It’s treating oppressors as they deserve. In fact, as verses 12-13 point out, if God were to give oppressors what they deserve, it’d mean God going to war against them.
Having prayed all this has set David’s heart at ease. In fact, he’s so confident in his outcome that the psalm shifts from prayer mode to wisdom mode, with verses 14-16 similar to what we’d find in Proverbs.
He begins with a fascinating metaphor. Those who are pregnant with evil conceived it in trouble and will end up giving birth to lies, to empty words. As with most of our injustices, falsehoods are almost always a significant part of them.
And then another image: If you dig a hole to trap someone, don’t be surprised to find yourself looking up from the bottom.
Our sins have a nasty habit of boomeranging on us.
But not only does sin rebound, so too does goodness. And David ends the psalm by looking forward to giving thanks to God for his justice.
Our trouble + God’s justice = Worship
It’s a beautiful equation. For when all is said and done, God’s justice will not only vindicate us, it will wipe away every tear, erase every lie, and bring the shalom we all long for.
Questions for reflection
- Where do I need God to intervene on my behalf for justice?
- If I’m not needing justice for myself, who is? Am I aware of those who need this psalm prayed on their behalf?
- Where might I be the cause of injustice?
- Am I able to say to God, “Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High”?
- How does the justice of God inform and shape my worship?
Bring an end to the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure. We trust you, the righteous God who probes minds and hearts. Amen.