I have lately been making my way through the Psalms, and have sometimes found myself reading cries and petitions that don’t seem to have a great deal of immediate application to me. I’m thinking of those psalms in which the psalmist groans for deliverance from his enemies. These 'rescue psalms' (as we might call them) are wonderful psalms! And yet, what to do with them when I don’t really have a great many earthly enemies? What does an American, living a pretty easy life, do, for instance, with verses like the following?
Lord, how long will You look on?
Rescue my soul from their ravages,
My only life from the lions.
I will give You thanks in the great congregation;
I will praise You among a mighty throng.
Do not let those who are wrongfully my enemies rejoice over me;
Nor let those who hate me without cause wink maliciously.
For they do not speak peace,
But they devise deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land.
They opened their mouth wide against me;
They said, “Aha, aha, our eyes have seen it!”
You have seen it, O LORD, do not keep silent;
O Lord, do not be far from me.
Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right
And to my cause, my God and my Lord.
Judge me, O LORD my God, according to Your righteousness,
And do not let them rejoice over me.
Do not let them say in their heart, “Aha, our desire!”
Do not let them say, “We have swallowed him up!”
What do I do when there is no one (seemingly) “open[ing] their mouth wide against me”? A few thoughts on how to make good use of these psalms:
1. Remember our brothers and sisters who do have such enemies. Persecuted Christians in places like North Korea, or the Middle East. Christian business owners in this country, under fire for trying to work according to their consciences. Abused women and children. And so on. There are those for whom the words of such psalms are very immediately relevant. So use the psalms to pray for them!
2. Remember these psalms for when you do need them. Life is not always easy! And a time may come when someone does set him or herself up as your enemy … either because of your faith, or perhaps for some other reason. Gossip, slander, persecution, abuse, unfair lawsuits. These sorts of things can happen. And we’ll need the likes of Psalm 35 then! So remember that they are there! Keep them in your back pocket, as it were, and pull them out when the tough times come.
3. Remember that you do have enemies. Maybe not in the form of other people who desire to “swallow [you] up” … but your own sin is a mortal enemy! And so are the devil and his minions. And so, when sins, or doubts, or temptations, or the devil’s accusations are laid before you like snares, the rescue psalms can be taken up then, too. “Rescue my soul from their ravages, My only life from the lions.”
4. Remember the Messiah. Two of the seven statements Jesus uttered from the cross are direct quotations from the sorts of psalms I have in mind in this article (see Psalms 22:1 and 31:5), and a third is closely connected with Psalm 69:21. So Jesus was thinking of these sorts of psalms when under the thumb of His enemies! And that means, I would say, that we should be thinking of Him when we read them!* No one ever suffered like Jesus! And He repaired to the psalms in the midst of His suffering! And so when we read the suffering and the cries of the Psalms, let us think of this ultimate Sufferer, and praise God that His cries were heard … and that, in Him, so also will be the cries of His people!
*Not to say that everything in the rescue psalms has a correlation in Christ’s suffering and cries. But there are correlations – some more general, others more direct – that you will notice if you are looking for them. So look for them! Think about how what you are reading in the Psalms compares to the sufferings and/or cries of Christ. And, if your Bible contains cross-references, use those to help you! Not every correlation may be listed in the cross-references (so do some comparative thinking on your own, aside from the cross-references). But some such correlations (especially the more direct ones) may be noted in the cross-references. And so it would be a good exercise, when reading the rescue psalms, to scan down through those cross-references, looking to see if they call attention to any correlations between the psalm and the life of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Doing this with Psalm 35, while working on this article, the NASB cross-references informed me, for instance, that Psalm 35:19 is quoted in John 15:25 in reference to the sufferings of Jesus: “They hated me without a cause.”