Psalm 140 (NIV)
1 Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
protect me from the violent,
2 who devise evil plans in their hearts
and stir up war every day.
3 They make their tongues as sharp as a serpent’s;
the poison of vipers is on their lips.
4 Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
protect me from the violent,
who devise ways to trip my feet.
5 The arrogant have hidden a snare for me;
they have spread out the cords of their net
and have set traps for me along my path.
6 I say to the Lord, “You are my God.”
Hear, Lord, my cry for mercy.
7 Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
you shield my head in the day of battle.
8 Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord;
do not let their plans succeed.
9 Those who surround me proudly rear their heads;
may the mischief of their lips engulf them.
10 May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise.
11 May slanderers not be established in the land;
may disaster hunt down the violent.
12 I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
13 Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence.
Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.
Many of the principles of our contemporary legal system find their roots in Old Testament law. For example, the Old Testament law accords more value to human life than to property or economic considerations. Therefore, there is a greater punishment on harming or killing a person than on stealing someone’s property. One could be put to death, for example, for murder, kidnapping, or adultery, but the death penalty never accompanied any violation of someone’s property.
The Old Testament also made a major distinction between an act of evil that was premeditated and that which was not. For example, Deuteronomy 19 sets forth the hypothetical situation of a man out working with his neighbor. While chopping wood, the head of the ax comes off, strikes his neighbor’s head, and kills him. In such a situation, the action was not premeditated and, therefore, the person was permitted to flee to a city of refuge, where he would be protected from vengeance. On the other hand, if someone “hates his neighbor and lies in wait for him, assaults and kills him” (Deut. 19:11), he was not allowed to flee to a city of refuge and, in fact, must be put to death.
Psalm 140 is a prayer of deliverance from a series of premeditated acts of evil by David’s enemies. The text specifically emphasizes the language of premeditation (italics added): They “devise evil plans” (v. 2) and they “plan to trip my feet” (v. 4). They have “hidden a snare for me” and have “spread out the cords of their net.” The enemies have “set traps for me along my path” (v. 5). The strong language against his enemies that David uses in his prayer to God demonstrates the full force and array of evil that is against him. It is not merely that some people stand apathetic or generally opposed to the things of God. Rather, there are multiple, premeditated, actively planned plots and carefully considered schemes formulated to undermine and thwart the extension of righteousness.
As Christians, we have basked in the warm sunlight of cultural congeniality toward our faith and commitment to biblical revelation for so long that we find it very difficult to imagine the full force of evil arrayed against us, and which actively plots our demise. We must be savvy and wise as serpents (Matt. 10:16) in our relationship with the wider culture. Jesus soberly warned us that people would insult, persecute, and put out fake news about us (Matt. 5:11). But even in the midst of this, Jesus teaches: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27–28).
For Christians, the message of this psalm is twofold. On the one hand, we allow it to awaken us to the true forces of evil arrayed against us. We can and should pray honest, vigorous prayers against that evil. On the other hand, we filter all of our responses to evil through the lens of the cross of Jesus Christ. We call out to God, like the psalmist, “Do not let their plans succeed” (Ps. 140:8). Through the lens of the cross, it becomes a prayer asking God to transform the wicked into plan-makers for the kingdom. We cry out for God to “let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into . . . miry pits, never to rise” (v. 10). Through the lens of the cross, those burning coals fall upon Jesus. He has endured the pit for a lost world. As we kneel, praying prayers of imprecation, we find, through God’s grace, a new prayer stumbling forth from our lips, asking God to awaken the wicked to the depth of God’s love for them and, through the power of the cross and resurrection, rescue the wicked from their own evil intents, just as he has rescued us.
Evil men and women may plot and scheme, but God is the greater plotter and schemer. He outmaneuvers evil and, in the end, he does defeat it, “never to rise” (v. 10). Beautifully, this happens first through the power of love and forgiveness.