In Psalm 10, which we looked at in this past week’s sermon, we heard the psalmist call for God to act in vengeance against the wicked. “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer!” (10:15). This sort of vengeance often both appeals to us and unsettles us. What is important to notice is the fact that in praying thus the psalmist is actually relinquishing his desire for vengeance to God.
Commenting on Psalm 109 (which is far more vindictive than Psalm 10), Walter Brueggemann addresses the call for vengeance. First, he notes that it is fitting because it is based on God’s character:
Such rage is not only brought into Yahweh’s presence. It is submitted to Yahweh and relinquished to him. In the end this psalm shows the way in which free, unrestrained speech of rage is given over to the claims of the covenant partner. And that may be done just because Yahweh is known to be the God of vengeance, who will work his way with such destructive people. This is not a soft, romantic god who only tolerates and forgives, bu tone who takes seriously his own rule and the well-being of his partners. The raw speech of rage can be submitted to Yahweh because there is reason for confidence that Yahweh takes it seriously and will act.
But he goes on to suggest that the act of expressing the desire for vengeance and relinquishing it to God is an essential part of our own processing of the evil.
Now in submitting one’s rage as this speaker does, two things become clear. The submission to Yahweh is real and irreversible. It cannot be tentatively offered to Yahweh, and then withdrawn if Yahwe does not deal as we had hoped. Such a submission carries with it a relinquishment, a genuine turning loose of the issue. When God is able to say, “Vengeance is mine” (Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:19), it implies “not yours.” The submitting partner is no longer free to take vengeance–may not and need not. So the submission is an unburdening and freeing from pettiness and paralysis for praise and thanksgiving.
So calling God to act in retribution and judgment for sin, turns it over to him and frees us spiritually for praise. However, Brueggemann suggests that it also implies a trust in God’s action and methods rather than an insistence on God’s judgment submitting to our approval.
The second fact is that submitting to Yahweh is submitting to God’s free action. Yahweh will avenge, but in God’s own way and in God’s won time–and perhaps not as we would wish and hope. Yahweh is not a robot. Yahweh does not implement our violent yearning, but passes it through his sovereign freedom, marked by majesty, faithfulness and compassion. Thus what could have been a barbarian lashing out against a neighbor becomes a faithful activity in which the venomous realities are placed securely in God’s hands. God is permitted to govern as he will. And the speaker is again free to start living unencumbered.
I wonder if our hesitancy to pray in this way is due to the fact that, like Jonah, we desire revenge and worry that God will instead grant our enemies the grace of repentance. What we fail to appreciate is that when he does so, he strikes a decisive blow at THE Enemy.
(Quotes taken from Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, 85-86).