Observe: Psalm 94:1-3 begins with a cry for help to God as judge against the wicked. 4-7 describe the condition of society: the wicked are arrogant, they oppress the innocent and weak, and they think God doesn’t see them. 8-11 is a warning to anyone who thinks that God neither sees what we do, nor has any power to punish. 12-15 uses wisdom language to describe the righteous who follow God’s law, and who can therefore count on God’s protection, faithfulness, and justice. 16-19 expresses grateful confidence in God’s care and protection. 20-23 is a coda that repeats the themes of the psalm: God will judge powerful oppressors, and a final expression of trust.
Interpret: Psalm 94 prays to “The Lord is a God who avenges, O God who avenges, shine forth.” Is vengeance part of God’s nature? Or is it that God’s nature is to be just, and so the powerful wicked can not be left to oppress the weak? The Psalmist also asks, in effect, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
There is no easy answer to that age old question. We live between God’s promises and fulfilment, in the already and the not yet. Knowing that God is a just judge, who cares for the victim more than he cares for the wicked, is a basis for all law derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Faith and ethics combine here: our justice is based on God’s justice. The wicked will get their due from God, therefore we who believe in God can not sit idly by while injustice is being done.
Application: Even atheists base their sense of justice on preventing people getting hurt, and that requires systems of law that favor the weak. For Christians, who know that there is a higher and more final justice than our own, we should tremble to apply vengeance against wrongdoers, yet knowing that “God sees” means that we must work on behalf of the poor, the weak, and those wronged by the powerful who are a law unto themselves. In short, our public human justice must at least try to be a mirror of the Lord who avenges, who is the Judge of the whole earth. However, we as individuals living in the new covenant must leave vengeance against our personal enemies to God.
Romans 12:17-21 is pretty much the last word on the limits on our own desire for personal vengeance. Yet Paul in the very next verses of Romans 13 leaves a lot of room for justice to be dispensed by public authorities; in Paul’s case, the Roman Empire! In the meantime, if we are hard pressed by injustice, we can cry out to God for relief, until, as it says in Psalm 94:13, “a pit is dug for the wicked.”
Prayer: O God of all justice, protect the powerless from wicked people, while we work and wait for a justice that bows down to your final judgement, brought to us through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hymn: O God of Earth and Altar (G.K. Chesterton)
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.