Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Psalms Red in Tooth and Claw

We like our religion tame. Most of us do that is.

When they were with us 10 days ago (or was it 100 years ago?) Alistair and Merryn Appleby left us with a lovely gift - a CD called Shelter by the Sons of Korah.

The opening track really gripped me.

A dark throbbing set of sounds, with various indic instruments blended in reminded me almost instantly of the opening to Apocalypse Now when Jim Morrison crooned 'This is the end, my friend' as the green jungles erupted in flames from the US choppers.

'Contend with those
who contend against me,
fight against those
who fight against me'

starts the vocals - almost at a whisper. You hardly believe what you are hearing.

'Take up the shield and the buckler'

'Brandish the spear and the javelin, against those who pursue me'

Not your normal Sunday school stuff. Not the whole wishy-washy world of 'worship' muzak which seems to be the normal fare for most evanjellyfish.

This is a heart-stopping, pulse grinding cry for justice - and for help - by a man who was on the run.


His cry for a javelin to be brandished comes after he himself had a spear thrown at his head.


I found myself immersed in the music. The unfamiliar strains of a call for true vengeance forcing me to think and rethink. Surely you can't be singing something like that? I mean - its not done isn't it?

And yet there it is in scripture. Psalm 35. Black on white.

The psalmist knows with the crystal clarity that terror evokes - he knows that evil is real. He knows that he is being hounded. He knows that those pursuing him are not people who want to give him flowers. He knows that evil is very, very real.

A quick look around us today tells us that the odd millenia has not changed to human heart too much. Last week's paper tells about a young rag picker who was forced by a policeman to pick up a severed human head from the tracks of a Mumbai train accident. The young boy seems to have lost his mind. There are hundreds upon hundreds of untold stories of rape and sexual abuse that swirl untold around us.

David's voice cries out for vengeance - for the forceful saving of those being hounded - and for the correct repayment to those who are pursuing with the scent of blood driving them on.

This is the stuff of every boy's fantasy. Taking on the bad guys. Blasting them to oblivion. And that is what it would seem at the first listen to David's cry.

But here is the catch. David is not asking God for a glock in his hand. He is not crying out for the opportunity to personally inflict retributional violence on his enemies.

David is asking God to do the work of vengeance. This is one area that humans have no right to encroach on. "Vengeance is mine" says the Lord.

And as I read through the accounts of David's fleeing from Saul, I see that David put his verses into action.

When given the opportunity to kill Saul, he doesn't.


The man who sings 'Brandish the spear and the javelin, against those who pursue me' chooses not to kill when he has Saul at his mercy.

Not to kill when his followers urge him on using religious words "The Lord has given him into your hands" they tell David - urging him to make a swift sword stroke to end Saul. Offering to do the job for him if David does not want to.

David gives Saul a fearful symmetry of grace. Two times David does not let the sword hand slip - for the two spear shots (missed) that Saul had aimed at his own head.

But David's act is just a shadow of the supreme act of vengeance held back.

As the nails were being driven through Jesus' hands - he could have called on the legions of angels to avenge and repay the terrible injustice done to him.

Instead Jesus calls out to Father God saying 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'

As a boy Jesus would have sung Psalm 35, and with his other Jewish friends, they may have dreamed of a land free of the iron shod boots of the Romans, and of the terrible oppression by the Quislings who ran Judea at the time for Rome.

But as an adult Jesus said: "you have heard it said, 'love your neighbours and hate your enemies' - but I tell you love your enemies and do good to those you oppress you."

Harder words have seldom been said. But like David - and even more than him - Jesus puts what He says into action.


Back to the Sons of Korah's version of Psalm 35.

After the initial throbbing lyrics the music soars. "Say to my soul, I am your salvation"

The man on the run is still desperate, he is still on the run, and he is clinging on to hope, and he is desperate to have the courage and faith to cling to that belief.

... you know I'm still running

1 comment:

  1. You know, I have always wondered why the old testament is so full of violence. Your post makes sense! David wasn't taking vengeance into his own hands.

    Here's a link to singer Shaun Groves' website. He has a page called "Bible Stories You WOn't Hear in SundauSchool". SOmetimes you wonder why those stories are even there in the Bible!