Sunday, November 05, 2017

Above Our Pay Grade

David, doing a Q&A in Psalm 15:

Q: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

A: “[He] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord.”

That’s interesting, don’t you think?

The Vile Person

David says the man or woman who maintains consistent fellowship with God in this life is the sort of person who despises vile people and honors those who fear the Lord, and I think he has a particular sort of “vileness” in mind.

I don’t think he’s talking simply about moral vileness. He’s not talking about con men, addicts, thieves, racists, cowards or inveterate gamblers. He’s not talking about people who can’t be trusted, fail at father- or motherhood or make themselves burdens on their families and on society. He’s not talking about the brother who begs for our forgiveness but commits the same sin against us repeatedly. We might quite reasonably find all these behaviours offensive, and they may well be, but they’re not “vile” in the sense it’s used here.

No, David’s talking about the sort of person who has no respect for God; the sort who actively thumbs his nose at heaven.

Thumbing the Nose at God

If we’re looking at the Hebrew usage throughout the Old Testament, a “vile” person is not just despised, but is himself a despiser. He or she is the sort of individual who looks straight at God’s blessings and cries, “Why did we come out of Egypt?” The sort of person who looks at the land of Canaan and turns up his nose. The sort of person who rejects the kingdom of God, and who, confronted with the commands of the king himself, would have replied, “We do not want this man to reign over us.”

My enemy is the guy who hates me and tries to do me harm. He may or may not be a “vile person”. It’s even possible that he has good reason for hating me; I may have given him one. Or perhaps he’s trying to get ahead in life and I’m in his way. Maybe he’s jealous of the blessings I have. Maybe he was born disadvantaged in some way, and resents me just for being alive, healthy and happy. Who knows? But he’s MY enemy. His quarrel is with me.

God’s enemy? Different story.

Slay the Wicked

David speaks of God’s enemies in Psalm 139:
“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.”
These are men who speak against God, not just David. They “speak against YOU” with malicious intent, not just me. They “rise up against YOU”. David’s concern is God’s glory here, so he can add “I hate them with complete hatred” without being the least bit petty, vindictive or personal. His hatred of these men is a consequence of their expressed hatred toward his God.

Offenses Against King and Kingdom

David was the right guy to put pen to papyrus on this subject. He practiced what he preached. He never treated other men as enemies merely because they attacked him or bore a grudge against him personally, but only when they attacked his nation, his God or the government his God had instituted.

Saul tried repeatedly to kill him, but David refused to respond in kind. When his own son betrayed him, David tried to have Absalom taken alive rather than slain in battle. When Shimei cursed him, he would not permit his servants to defend his honor. Offences against David the man were summarily ignored. He “loved” his enemies in the most practical way possible.

God’s enemies? Not so much. Those who resisted God took their lumps. He had the Amalekite who claimed to have killed the Lord’s anointed struck down in front of him. He had Ish-bosheth’s murderers killed and hanged. Joab was forgiven his disobedience and bloodshed during David’s reign, but was executed when he committed treason against Solomon. During his lifetime, those who defied David personally got a pass, but when they acted against the kingdom, it was game over.

“This Sin”

Of all men, the Lord Jesus most clearly recognized the difference between hatred directed at him personally and hatred directed at his Father. Thus the prophet could say of him, “the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”

And Stephen seems to have had this same distinction in mind as he was martyred. He forgave his own murderers, crying out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He could do that: it was one sin, and Stephen was in a position to forgive it. The mob’s sins against God are another matter entirely.

We need to think carefully, therefore, about how we apply the New Testament command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. After all, it’s OUR enemies we are supposed to love and pray for, not God’s enemies. It is those who sin against US that we are to forgive.

Forgiving God’s enemies might be a bit above our pay grade.

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