What About ISIS?

Psalm 109

C S Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, The Cursings:

“At the outset I felt sure, and I feel sure still, that we must not either try to explain them away or to yield for one moment to the idea that, because it comes in the Bible, all this vindictive hatred must somehow be good and pious. We must face both facts squarely. The hatred is there – festering, gloating, undisguised – and also we should be wicked if we in any way condoned or approved it, or (worse still) used it to justify similar passions in ourselves. Only after these two admissions have been made can we safely proceed.”

The sorts of people in view here: those who” have rewarded me evil for good, And hatred for my love.” This from the lips of one who genuinely fears God. “Evil for good is devil-like. This is Satan’s line of action, and his children upon earth follow it greedily: it is cruel, and wounds to the quick.” says CHS. Those who behave this way – willing tools of Satan, practicing evil for its own sake and because they enjoy it. Once they get a taste of it, refuse to be turned away from becoming more evil and violent. Like a dog that once runs a deer and brings it down, can never be “rehabilitated”.

Supremely evil people of this kind not limited to David’s day (he is credited with writing this last of the “imprecatory psalms”). They exist today in various parts of the world. Some get attention because of their numbers, because of the vile nature of their actions; others fly under the radar because other things overshadow them. Rather than address all different scenarios, let’s pick one, likely the most outrageous, and strive to answer two questions:

How should those directly in the sight of the likes of ISIS pray? – How should we pray on their behalf?

Bear in mind that we shouldn’t ask or expect God to not be God; he must act consistent with his character. The conclusions we reach will shape our response to evil in other parts of life.

A. plea for help v. 1-5

because of the wrong done the Psalmist by his enemies; in this case, psalmist speaking as the one offended, injured

important to note that David intended this strongly worded poem to be sung publicly, in church, as an integral part of worship

not his private musings, not something only between him and God; was to be the prayer of the church on behalf of the afflicted

cry for help addressed to the Sovereign Creator God, the one who has and exercises right to “judge all the earth”

is a plea for God to act on the basis of his character: just, righteous, omnipotent – to respond to the cries of the righteous on basis of right and wrong; yes, he is God of the covenant (14, 15, 20, 26, 27, 30) but character is emphasized before relationship

even though God seems silent, his people need to persistently cry to him for his help; God has promised to answer, but in his time and way that we may not immediately detect

easy for first response to injustice to be: respond in kind; if love is met by accusation, accuse in return (might be justified, but…)

“they repay with accusations but I continue to pray” (4) – this is the attitude, state of mind and heart, that shows C S Lewis to be wrong; what follows is not expression of “vindictive hatred” but rather righteous judgment

the one who praises God and continues to pray sincerely does not give room to vindictiveness

in spite of persistent right response and ongoing prayer, the evildoers go right on practicing evil and refusing to repent

if life has any value in God’s eyes, he must act on the pray-er’s behalf; his life in danger, God must act to preserve it

even though accusations are false, say it convincingly long enough and it will be believed; David knew given enough time and no intervention by God and he could lose his life

a serious plea for God to act because situation was dire

B. prayer to God v. 6-20

imprecations against his chief enemy in the form of a cry for God’s judgment; how does David pray that God would deal with this evildoer?

– appoint judge and prosecuting attorney as evil as he is; Matt. 7:1-2“Judge not, that you be not judged.For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (6)

unlike scene in Zech. 3:1-2 where God rebukes Satan and his accusations which were unjustified, here Satan can accuse and probably accurately

why would Satan consent to do that? Satan’s desire is to destroy, not just his enemies but also his allies

– make sure he is found guilty, and if he cries to God for help without repentance…hold it against him (7)

don’t allow a crafty lawyer help him avoid judgment for his evil deeds; and his last-minute prayer confirms he knew what was right all along, just rebelliously refused to do it; no prayer uttered under those circumstances can be heard – true faith is absent

– move quickly; “wheels of justice turn slowly” must not apply here; when the evil is this serious, injustice is this profound, God should move quickly to guard both his character and his people; and…make sure his replacement is upright (8)

– break the cycle of evil: don’t let him pass along his evil heritage to his children; don’t allow his children to band together and continue his evil; remove all sources of material and personal help (9-12)

psalmist not praying for God to conduct a sniper attack; knows that while evil does not have to be learned, can easily be encouraged; don’t just cut off the root, stop the immature yet poisoned fruit from growing and reproducing

and cut off their resources, their source of support: take away the money, take away the material resources, progress of evil will be significantly slowed

think of that in terms of conflict in Ukraine, ISIS, Arab Spring, Muslim recruiting here and elsewhere, Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions – stop the flow of money, technology, weapons, etc. and “hot spots” would be much cooler

– keep their evil successes from being glamorized; instead, make sure everyone knows crime doesn’t pay (13-15)

major issue with video games, movies, music that make violence and evil attractive: inspire others to copy behavior, cash in on the fun

flip side: think public service announcements about texting/drinking while driving and the like

– harsh justice is reasonable: no mercy for those who refuse to show mercy – opposite of the beatitude – “blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain (will be shown, NET) mercy” Matt. 5:7 (16)

– since individual and his entire family (previous as well as present generations) participated in evil, thrived on it, did all they could to promote it: turn their evil back on them and stop it in its tracks (17-20)

most effect way of stopping wildfire can be judiciously controlled back fire; when evildoers self-destruct, provides safety and relief for rest of community

is good and right to pray for God to address evil – to stop it, punish it, deal with it justly; is a prayer God will answer, perhaps not on our timetable, but on his

remember this: evil does not exist apart from people, is a moral characteristic, right and wrong as it relates to behavior

God cannot punish the idea of evil, he must deal with the perpetrator of it, the evil person; he must also deal with the inciter of evil, Satan himself

same is true when we seek God’s protection from evil: is really protection from the offender, the one who is unrepentantly committed to evil; is why in Matt. 6:13 Jesus instructs us to pray for deliverance “from the evil one

v.20 further indication: not a simple vindictive prayer for payback; expresses trust in God to do the right thing

C. further plea for help and praise to God for his salvation v. 21-31

on the other hand…while you’re dealing with the bad guys…I’m still over here, in trouble, needing your help

focus turns back firmly to God, circumstances fade to background, confidence in God’s righteous character prevails

once again has the Sovereign Covenant God in view – Yahweh Adonai – the one who cares about needs of his people, has power and resources to act on their behalf (21)

also asks God to act on basis of his character and for sake of his reputation: a good, holy, loving, righteous God must keep his covenant promises to his people

is in desperate circumstances, has profound needs

economic (poor and needy, 22a), emotional (heart is wounded, 22b), physical (flesh is feeble, 24), social (become a reproach, 25) – every part of life impacted by circumstances…except spiritual

could make case psalmist’s spiritual life strengthened and more sharply focused because of his need

foremost desire remains: that God alone would receive the glory in what takes place – “that they may know…that you, Lord, have done it!”

does not lose confidence in God on whom he is focused, in whom he trusts: He is worthy of praise because He will deliver; bears repeating – when focus is firmly fixed on God, we will not lack assurance and peace

So…what about ISIS? and other individuals and groups like them? Clearly scope of the problem is far beyond what any individual can cope with; doesn’t even belong to political powers or armies. Solution belongs to realm of God’s governance as King of kings and Lord of lords. He probably will use earthly powers as means to his end, but keep clearly in view who is the real Commander-in-Chief – God himself. That means our confidence must be in God to solve the issue, not in civil authority or armies.

If eternal torment is just future for those who die in their sins, this psalm is appropriate for those same kinds of people in this life. Prayer and attitude must be that God alone receives the glory, whatever the outcome. So long as that is true, we will be asking God to be God, to act as the just, righteous Judge, act sooner rather than later to deal with evildoers. If God has no plans to convert them, allowing them to continue in evil only increases their condemnation!

Look again at v.29ff: “clothed with shame”, “cover[ed]…with…disgrace” – sensing and acknowledging shame can be first step toward repentance. When God humbles someone, puts them to shame, how do they respond? We regularly pray for those experiencing hardship (physical issues, grief, etc.) that they would turn to God for their help and not trust in their own devices. Should also be included in our prayer for evildoers – as God humbles them, puts them to shame, that they “come to their senses” and end their rebellion against God. Pray God would not be required to condemn them but that they would “Praise the King of Heaven…..”

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