Psalm 18 (NIV)
1 Lord my God, I take refuge in you;
save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
2 or they will tear me apart like a lion
and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 Lord my God, if I have done this
and there is guilt on my hands—
4 if I have repaid my ally with evil
or without cause have robbed my foe—
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me;
let him trample my life to the ground
and make me sleep in the dust.
6 Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
7 Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
8 Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
9 Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.
14 Whoever is pregnant with evil
conceives trouble and gives birth to disillusionment.
15 Whoever digs a hole and scoops it out
falls into the pit they have made.
16 The trouble they cause recoils on them;
their violence comes down on their own heads.
17 I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness;
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
This psalm portrays God as the great warrior who stands by our side in the battle against evil in which we are engaged. This demonstrates the great conflict between the way of the righteous and the way of evil. The psalmist is keenly aware that those who oppose him seek to “tear [him] like a lion and rip [him] to pieces with no one to rescue [him]” (v. 2). His only hope is in God. Thus, the psalmist declares, “Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice” (v. 6). His only hope is in God the Judge: “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (v. 11). This means that each and every day, God stands opposed to the endless onslaught of evil in the world. The psalmist portrays God as a mighty warrior going out to battle against the forces of evil: “He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows” (v. 13).
In the contemporary church the very idea of God judging the world and making war on evil has been tragically discarded in favor of a God who is always happy, nonjudgmental, and above all, very nice. But the god of modern sentiment is not the God of the Bible. The God of Scripture stands as a mighty warrior, poised to judge the world and to set all things right. It is no mistake that the Apostles’ Creed declares that Jesus Christ will someday return “to judge the living and the dead.” This is a central article of our faith because without his judgment, we will not be vindicated, nor will there be a proper end to evil.
What the psalmist saw in part, we now see in full. Jesus Christ is God’s great warrior. The church must remember the great cosmic struggle that God in Jesus Christ engaged in on our behalf. He alone has dispelled the principalities and powers that are arrayed against us. He alone has triumphed over sin, death, and hell, as well as all those who have chosen to align themselves in opposition to God’s rule and reign. At the heart of the gospel is forgiveness, but without the judgment of God there is no forgiveness because forgiveness begins by judging wrong and offering Christ, who has borne the judgment of God on the cross.