" />

The Avenger

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 13, 2008

Psalm 94:1-23

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 94, as we continue to work our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms. That Fourth Book runs from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106. We have studied several of these Psalms already. We have said repeatedly that the Psalms show us the anatomy of all parts of the Christian soul, and that the Psalms express for us the whole range of Christian experience.

Psalm 90 is a prayer for refuge. Psalm 91 is a prayer in time of danger. Psalm 92 is a prayer for worship, and Psalm 93 is a song about God himself. Now what does a believer, a new covenant believer, a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, learn from these Old Testament songs about refuge and danger, and about worship, and about God himself?

Well, we’ve learned a number of things from these Psalms. In Psalm 90, for instance, we learned that the believer finds his or her home, or refuge, in God himself; that the believer sees the root of all human misery in sin (that is, that there is no misery in this world that does not ultimately find its root in original sin). And the believer urgently prays for God’s grace. Those are some of the things that we learned in Psalm 90.

In Psalm 91, we learned from this song in time of danger that believers find their trust in God and in His providence in their times of danger. In Psalm 92, we learned that believers delight in God himself and in His day.

And then, the last time we were together, in Psalm 93, we said as we meditated about that song that focuses on God himself that one very important message, one important application of Psalm 93 for us as believers in our Christian experience is simply this: You do not read God in light of your experiences in this life; you read your experiences in this life in light of who God is. Psalm 93 focuses on the person and power and character of God himself, and teaches us that we learn who God is from God in His word; and we read our experience in this life in light of what God has taught us about himself in His word. We do not deduce who God is from our fallible reading of our experiences, but we read our experiences in light of what God has taught about himself in His word.

Well, that brings us to the passage we’re reading today, Psalm 94, and it is a prayer for vengeance. But that’s Old Testament, right? Vengeance isn’t something that has anything to do with the new covenant believer, is it? Well, yes, it does. There is something that we too can learn from an Old Testament prayer for vengeance about the living of the Christian life, and we’re going to learn some of those things today.

Before we read God’s word, let me suggest that you look at the passage. This Psalm could be outlined a number of different ways, but let me outline it for you in six parts. First is a prayer to God for vengeance on the wicked. You see that in verses 1-3. Then the psalmist gives the reason why he is asking for God to visit His judgment and punishment on the wicked – see verses 4-7. This is the second part of the Psalm. It gives an account of the deeds of the wicked, and in that passage you will notice in the negative the things that Isaiah exhorted Israel to do in the affirmative in Isaiah 1:17, especially.

The third part of this Psalm you’ll find in verses 8-11. It is actually a warning against the wicked. The wicked are being warned here that God sees what they’re doing, knows what they’re up to, and He knows what their end will be if they do not repent.

Fourth, if you look at verses  12-15, you see the psalmist meditating on the blessing that the righteous enjoy, even in this fallen world where sometimes the righteous fall prey to the wicked. And so it is, as it were, an affirmation of faith in God even though those who trust in Him live in a fallen world and sometimes fall victim to those who are wicked.

Then, fifth, in verses 16-19, there is a declaration of consolation where the psalmist acknowledges that God himself in His love and providence consoles him in his deepest trials.

And then finally, sixth, in verses 20-23, we see something of the certainty of God’s judgment. In this passage the emphasis is on the certainty of God’s condemning judgment, but it is also true that God’s judgment will both condemn and vindicate. It will condemn the wicked; it will vindicate the righteous. And the certainty of God’s judgment is emphasized in verses    20-23.

Now before we read God’s word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, we know that it is Your design in Your word to set forth who You are, to set forth Your way of salvation which is by faith in Christ Jesus. But we also know, O God, that it is Your design in Your word to show us how to live in this world. Heavenly Father, as we contemplate this ancient Psalm, grant that we would learn something of all three of those things: that we would learn about who You are and what You’re like; that we would learn about the way of salvation; and, that we would learn how we are to pray and to live. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God, Psalm 94:

“O Lord, God of vengeance, O God of vengeance, shine forth!

Rise up, O judge of the earth;

Repay to the proud what they deserve!

O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?

They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.

They crush Your people, O Lord, and afflict Your heritage.

They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;

And they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’

“Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise?

He who planted the ear, does He not hear?

He who formed the eye, does He not see?

He who disciplines the nations, does He not rebuke?

He who teaches man knowledge—the Lord—knows the thoughts of man,

That they are but a breath.

“Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord,

And whom You teach out of Your law,

To give him rest from days of trouble,

Until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage;

For justice will return to the righteous,

And all the upright in heart will follow it.

“Who rises up for me against the wicked?

Who stands up for me against evildoers?

If the Lord had not been my help,

My soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.

When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’ Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many, Your consolations cheer my soul.

Can wicked rulers be allied with You

Those who frame injustice by statute?

They band together against the life of the righteous

And condemn the innocent to death.

But the Lord has become my stronghold,

And my God the rock of my refuge.

He will bring back on them their iniquity

And wipe them out for their wickedness;

The Lord our God will wipe them out.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

So what can Christians learn from a song about vengeance? There are many things that we can learn from this Psalm. Let me direct your attention to six things at least that we learn in this great Psalm.

I.  God’s people are to hate sin.

The first is simply this: this prayer for vengeance teaches us to hate sin. The psalmist in the most emphatic words – look at verses 1-3 – expresses his desire for God to bring vengeance on the wicked.

Why? Because he thinks that God is an irrational and capricious God? Not at all! Because he thinks that God is a God that burns with anger about things for which there is no moral incorrectness to be accounted for and judged?  No. But precisely because God is a righteous God, a holy God, a just God, and when the psalmist looks out at injustice in Israel being perpetrated by Israel’s leaders, he is angry. He hates that sin, and he desires God to bring His judgment on that sin – not because God is capricious, but because God is just. Not because God exercises His might any way He pleases, but because God always exercises His might in judgment in accordance with what is right. Look at his words:

“O God of vengeance…O God of vengeance, shine forth! Rise up, judge of the earth; repay to the proud what they deserve! ...How long shall the wicked …exult?”

The struggle here is seeing those who are wicked prospering, and those who are wicked harming God’s people; and so the psalmist prays for vengeance. It is a prayer for God’s justice to be visited on evildoers. And, my friends, those who love God will love righteousness; and because they love God and because they love righteousness, they will come to hate sin like God hates sin.

God grant to us to truly care about sin. The psalmist burns within him as he sees injustice being perpetrated amongst God’s people, and he asks for God to visit His judgment on that sin. And we, too, ought to truly hate sin.

I don’t know a better way of fostering hatred for sin than to look at misery in this world and trace the line of misery back to sin, and to say to the Lord, ‘Lord, help me hate sin like I hate misery.’ It’s not [hard] to hate misery, is it, when you see someone you love suffering? It’s not hard to hate that suffering, is it? And so when you draw a line from that suffering back to sin….

I’m not saying that all human suffering is caused by an individual’s sin. Jesus makes it clear, for instance, in the case of that man who was lame from birth that it was not his sin that caused him to experience the suffering that he knew.

But all misery in this world is the result of Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin in the garden plunged us all into an estate of misery, and so every time we see a misery in the world, we can draw a line back to sin and we can say, ‘Lord, help me hate sin like I hate this misery.’ Think about it.  When we see friends and loved ones experience suffering and misery in this world, say, ‘Lord, help me to hate sin like I hate it when I see my friends and loved ones suffering.’ God grant to us to truly hate sin. That’s one thing that we can learn from this prayer for vengeance.

II. Believers are to deal justly with those who are poor and weak.

Another thing you’ll see in verses 4-7. Look with me there. In this passage we learn that we as believers are to deal justly and generously with those who are poor and weak. Now this is especially important for us as a congregation because the Lord has given us so much, and we have an obligation to be careful in this area precisely because of the generosity of the Lord to us. The psalmist here identifies several sins of the wicked. Look at verses 6-7:

“They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless;

And they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”

Now it’s fascinating to me that those who are being prayed against in this prayer, those on whom God’s judgment is being prayed down, are actually part of the visible family of God in the Old Testament. These are people who are citizens of Israel. There is no indication in this Psalm that the wicked here are anybody other than maybe even people who are prominent leaders within Israel, and yet God’s judgment is being called down on them. Why? Because of their sins against [widows], foreigners who live in the land, and orphans.

Now if you look at those categories, they’re the categories that Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 1 as he exhorts the children of Israel to do good. And what is common with all of them is that they are people who are powerless, comparative to those who have much, to those who have influence, to those who are in authority in Israel. And so those who ought to be caring for them, instead of caring for them are actually harming them.

This reminds us, doesn’t it, that our sin is not only personal and individual, it is social. That is, it involves others. And thus this prayer for vengeance is against those who take advantage of those who are weak and powerless. God is reminding us here that we not only sin personally and privately, but there are ways that we sin in relationships with others that God will hold us accountable for. And the psalmist here reminds us that we are to treat the poor and weak justly and generously, and so we learn this from this Psalm.

III. God sees everything that we do.

The third thing we learn, you’ll see in verses 8-11, and that is that we are to live this life in light of God’s all-searching eye. There is nothing that God does not hear; He created our ears, after all. There is nothing that God does not see; He created our eyes, after all. There is no thought that we can have that God does not know. And it is that all-searching knowledge of God, the omniscience of God, the all-knowingness of God, that moves the psalmist to pray for the wise man to realize our accountability to God.

We may do things and say things that our friends and even our families do not know, but God knows everything that we do, everything that we say, and even everything that we think. And the psalmist is calling out to the wicked in verses 8-11 and saying, ‘Man, don’t you understand that God knows everything? That you may get by with this in this world, but you will not get by with it with God? Because He knows what you’re up to.’

Look at it again in the words of verse 11: “The Lord knows the thoughts of man.” The psalmist is asking us – those who believe, those who are wise – to live in light of the all-searching knowledge of God, and he is warning the wicked that God sees and hears and knows everything they do, including the deepest thoughts of their hearts. In other words, the psalmist is making it clear that nothing will escape the judgment of God.

You know in criminal cases in the courts, sometimes facts which are not known to anyone in the court exist. There are facts about the case that the prosecutor doesn’t know, that the judge doesn’t know, that the defense doesn’t know. There are facts about that case that perhaps are only known to the guilty, and they may never ever come to light in this life. That will not be the way it is at the bar of God’s judgment, for the Judge and Prosecutor sees and hears and knows everything. Nothing will escape His judgment. He will take into consideration every motivation of our hearts, every word of our lips, every action of our lives, and He will bring His justice to bear on it. And the psalmist is asking us to remember that and to live in light of this.

IV. God will care for His people

Fourth, the psalmist in verses 12-15 makes it clear that even when the righteous are afflicted, and even when the righteous see the wicked prospering in this world, nevertheless the righteous can acknowledge that God has cared for them in their affliction, and will one day put everything right. Look at what he says:

“Blessed in the man whom You discipline, O Lord,

And whom You teach out of Your law,

To give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.

For the Lord will not forsake His people; He will not abandon His heritage;

For justice will return to the righteous,

And all the upright in heart will follow it.”

In other words the psalmist is acknowledging that sometimes the righteous fall prey to the wicked in this world. Does that mean that God has forgotten them? No. Does that mean that God is not caring for them? No. No. He may not be sparing them from tribulation, but He is sparing them in tribulation. He may not be keeping them from tribulation, even at the hands of the wicked, but He is keeping them in their tribulation, even if it is in the hands of the wicked.

Turn with me in your hymnals to hymn No. 363. We were reading and singing and studying this hymn together in staff meeting this last week, and it struck me – Hymn 363. Many of you have been singing this hymn since you were children – We Gather Together. We often sing it at Thanksgiving time…it’s a good Thanksgiving hymn. But if you look down at the bottom left-hand corner of the page, you will notice at the very bottom the word (abbreviated) Alt.1990. That means that the text of this hymn was altered in 1990 when the editors of The Trinity Hymnal were putting the hymnal together.

Now if you scan the words of this hymn, and if you’re one of those people who can sing this hymn with your eyes closed, any place, any time…you can call the words to mind…you’ll quickly find the passage in this hymn that has been altered. It’s in the final stanza, and it’s in the second to last line of the final stanza…the third stanza.  Remember how that hymn used to go? “Let Thy congregation…” [Don’t look!] “Let Thy congregation escape tribulation” is how it used to read. The editors have changed it to “Let Thy congregation endure throughtribulation.”

Now they’re not saying that it’s wrong for the believer to pray, “Lord, spare us from tribulation.” The Lord very often does in His kindness spare us from certain trials and tribulations. But they are very helpfully acknowledging that God does not always spare believers tribulation, and that when they do experience tribulation it is proper to pray to the Lord that we would endure through tribulation. The psalmist is acknowledging that in verses 12-15.

This is assurance to the righteous who are afflicted, so that even when we see wickedness prevailing in this world, even when we experience trials and tribulations, even when we experience oppression at the hands of the wicked, we can acknowledge God’s goodness to us. There is a blessedness to us even in affliction. He has His own reasons and His own purposes in our afflictions; He cares for us even in our affliction, and He will put everything right in the end. And so verses 12-15 is virtually a confession of faith.

V. God’s people should give thanks when He delivers them.

Then, fifth, if you look at verses 16-19, you will see an acknowledgement of God’s help, and an expression of gratitude for God’s help.

In this passage we learn that the Lord protects us from evil, even when we don’t realize it. What do we learn from a prayer about vengeance? The Lord is always protecting His people, even when they don’t realize it. The believer recognizes God’s protecting providence in his life against the wicked. Look at what the psalmist says:

“Who rises up for me against the wicked?

Who stands up for me against evildoers?”

 And here’s the confession of faith:

“If the Lord had not been my help

My soul would have soon lived in the land of silence.”

There’s the confession. The Lord is helping me, even against the wicked. And then, there are these two magnificent phrases:

“When I thought, ‘My foot slips,’

Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.”

Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt like your foot was slipping? You were losing grip, you were about to slip away? And the psalmist says when I thought that, I realized that the Lord was holding me up in His steadfast love.

And then this beautiful confession in verse 19:

“When the cares of my heart are many,

Your consolations cheer my soul.”

Surely, surely, that is a word for many here today, that when the cares of our hearts are many, God’s own consolations cheer our souls. The Lord protects us from evil, and the Lord helps us even when we don’t realize that we’re being helped.

You know, one of the things that I’m certain of is that when we get to glory there will be far more times that we realize that the Lord has spared us and helped us and aided us than we have ever realized in this life. We will get there and we’ll say, “I had no idea.” It will be like one of those old movies. You remember when the character ducks, and the object is flying past his head? It will be like that. We will suddenly realize that there were so many times in our lives when the Lord was protecting us, and we didn’t even realize it. The psalmist confesses this here.

VI. Judgment is certain.

And then, finally, in verses 20-23, what are you to learn from a prayer about vengeance? You learn that judgment is certain…judgment is certain. The believer is absolutely certain of God’s future, final, and just judgment. The Lord will repay. We learn this in verses 20-23:

 “He will bring back on them their iniquity

And wipe them out for their wickedness;

The Lord our God will wipe them out.”

In other words, the psalmist is absolutely certain of God’s just, final, future judgment.

VII. Application.

So what does that mean for us and how we live the Christian life? What does it mean for us that judgment is certain? Well, it ought to mean at least three things. It ought to mean accountability, gratitude, and humility…it ought to mean accountability, gratitude, and humility.

God’s final judgment and the justice of it, and the comprehensiveness of it, ought to make us mindful of our accountability to God. Everything that we see, everything that we think, everything that we say, everything that we do, we are accountable for to God. And therefore, the very knowledge of God’s final judgment ought to make us accountable. We ought to live with the sense of accountability to God.

Secondly, we ought to be grateful. It is in this passage, even though the psalmist is praying against the wicked.We all understand, don’t we,  that were it not for God’s grace, we would be numbered among the wicked?The Lord Jesus Christ, the only righteous one that ever lived, died in our place so that we might be accounted the righteous in God; and therefore, when we think of God’s judgment against the wicked, it cannot but stoke in us gratitude that God has not dealt with us as we deserve, but has dealt with us according to His great mercy.

In Isaiah 1 and in this Psalm, God is called upon as prosecutor and judge to bring His condemnation on the wicked, but the truth is, in God’s judgment He alsotakes the role of judge and advocate in Jesus Christ…Jesus Christ, who bears in His own body the due penalty of our sin, and then serves as our advocate in final judgment. The very realization of that ought to make us all grateful to God, for if God had dealt with us as we deserved, we would be condemned with the wicked. The only question is, will at the final judgment God be our prosecutor or our advocate? He will only be our advocate if we are resting and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel.

And that gratitude ought to lead to humility. If God has shown us His grace and mercy, we ought to be the most humble people on earth. As we come to the Lord’s Table today, as we sing His praises, may God grant us a sense of accountability to Him, and gratitude and humility because of what we have learned as Christians from this prayer for vengeance.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, work Your truth into our hearts, and grant that we would sing with believing of Your wondrous love. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.