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   Praying for Deliverance from Slander Psalm 7

 

All the quotations below are from James W. Sire’s book, “Learning to Pray through the Psalms” published in 2005.

 

     Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will kill your spirit. That's not the common wisdom, of course, but it's true. Words have the power not only to lift the spirit and send it soaring but to sear the conscious mind, plunge beneath its protective rationality, invade the central chambers of the self and poison the soul. All of us have at one time learned that someone we know and love has broken a confidence, revealed an intimate detail, or gone behind our back to destroy our character with lies.

     The villain Iago in Shakespeare's Othello was right about one thing, though he scarcely lived by his best lights.

 

Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;

But he that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which not enriches him,

And makes me poor indeed.

 

     Plays on Broadway can close after one performance when the viperous pen of a vitriolic critic releases venom on the arts page of next morning's paper. Reputations are destroyed by gossip. Jobs are lost. Credibility lies in shambles.

     What are honest men and women to do when this happens? Fight back? Return slander for slander? Or keep quiet? Often, so it seems to me, keeping quiet, making calm responses that may slowly put things right---these seem the better response. Jesus, for instance, did not reply to false accusations at his trial. When he was arrested, he told Peter to put away his sword. Of course, Jesus was on the way to the cross, and he had a mission to accomplish that prevented him from calling legions of angels to his side. But what should we do?

     Psalm 7 presents for us one way David responded to such a situation. Scholars hesitate1 to say for certain what specific events are indicated by the phrase "concerning Cush the Benjaminite," but Cush may well have falsely accused David of treason. In any case, David has been seriously maligned and is fighting back, not by carrying his case before King Saul but by bringing it to God. Since Cush is never mentioned in any extant historical account, we know neither who he was nor how David responded to him either in public or private. We have, however, something better. We have David at prayer.

Before we attempt to pray David's very personal prayer, we need to empathize with David, to get inside his head and heart. That should help us discern how we might make David's words something of our own answering speech when we face a similar situation.

 

INITIAL READING OF PSALM 7

     As with all the psalms we will pray, we start with multiple readings, some in silence, some aloud. We let the text present itself to us while we listen to its tone and tenor, attend to those words and phrases that pop out at us, and absorb its pattern of thought and emotion.

 

Psalm 7 (NRSV)

     A Shiggaion [musical form?] of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjaminite.

 

O LORD my God, in you I take refuge;

     save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,

or like a lion they will tear me apart;

     they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.

 

0 LORD my God, if I have done this,

     if there is wrong in my hands,

if I have repaid my ally with harm

     or plundered my foe without cause,

then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,

     trample my life to the ground,

     and lay my soul in the dust.

                                  Selah

 

Rise up, 0 LORD, in your anger;

     lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;

     awake, 0 my God; you have appointed a judgment.

Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,

     and over it take your seat on high.

The LORD judges the peoples;

     judge me, 0 LORD, according to my righteousness,

     and according to the integrity that is in me.

 

0 let the evil of the wicked come to an end,

     but establish the righteous,

you who test the minds and hearts,

     0 righteous God.

God is my shield,

     who saves the upright in heart.

God is a righteous judge,

     and a God who has indignation every day.

 

If one does not repent, God will whet his sword;

     he has bent and strung his bow;

he has prepared his deadly weapons,

     making his arrows fiery shafts.

See how they conceive evil,

     and are pregnant with mischief,

     and bring forth lies.

They make a pit, digging it out,

     and fall into the hole that they have made.

Their mischief returns upon their own heads,

     and on their own heads their violence descends.

 

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,

     and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

 

GETTING AT THE MEANING OF PSALM 7

     Other than the setting, which, while mentioned, remains obscure, the psalm is straightforward and poses few problems to our understanding. But it is important to understand the flow of ideas and their emotional counterparts.

 

Rational Structure

 

Plea for deliverance from slander

O LORD my God, in you I take refuge;

     save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,

or like a lion they will tear me apart;

     they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.

 

Declaration of innocence

0 LORD my God, if I have done this,

     if there is wrong in my hands,

if I have repaid my ally with harm

     or plundered my foe without cause,

then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,

     trample my life to the ground,

     and lay my soul in the dust.

 

Prayer for judgment of the slanderer

Rise up, 0 LORD, in your anger;

     lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;

     awake, 0 my God; you have appointed a judgment.

Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,

     and over it take your seat on high.

The LORD judges the peoples;

 

Prayer for judgment of the psalmist to show his innocence

     judge me, 0 LORD, according to my righteousness,

     and according to the integrity that is in me.

 

Prayer for judgment for all the righteous

0 let the evil of the wicked come to an end,

     but establish the righteous,

you who test the minds and hearts,

     0 righteous God.

God is my shield,

     who saves the upright in heart.

God is a righteous judge,

     and a God who has indignation every day.

 

Warning of coming judgment

If one does not repent, God will whet his sword;

     he has bent and strung his bow;

he has prepared his deadly weapons,

     making his arrows fiery shafts.

 

Judgment as self-destruction

See how they conceive evil,

     and are pregnant with mischief,

     and bring forth lies.

They make a pit, digging it out,

     and fall into the hole that they have made.

Their mischief returns upon their own heads,

     and on their own heads their violence descends.

 

A resolution of thanks and praise for God's righteousness

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,

     and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

 

     This outline makes the psalm look more rationally structured than it really is. David is disturbed, and the emotional turmoil he experiences spills out in his prayer. Thomas Merton2 says, "The Psalms are all made up of ... cries of wonder, exultation, anguish or joy. The very concreteness of their passion makes some of them seem disjointed and senseless." Psalm 7 is not quite disjointed and senseless, but it is an intense cry with at least the sense of a certain answer.

 

Emotional Structure

     David begins with an urgent plea for refuge, for safety from foes who would tear his flesh like lions. He has been accused, so it appears, of treason and has been threatened with dire consequences. He would gladly take the consequences if he had done what he is accused of, but, he says, he is utterly innocent of any wrongdoing. So he calls on God to arrest his accusers and bring them before the bar of righteous judgment. In his righteousness, David too will stand before the bar, confident and fearless.

     David then pours forth his prayer for God in his righteous anger to punish the wicked and establish righteousness. He calls for people to repent and then pictures God as bending his bow to aim fiery shafts of judgment at those who are guilty before him.

     We should notice here that David does not ask God for permission to wreak his own vengeance on his enemies. Nor does he ask God to forgive him for already doing so. Nor has he "shaken his fist in his pocket," as my grandfather used to urge me to do. Rather he calls on God, knowing that "vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19; see Proverb 25:21-22).

     David's vision of the self-destructive nature of evil is likewise graphic. The wicked conceive evil and lies are born; they dig pits and fall into them; their mischief rebounds on them; they suffer from their own violence.

     Then as quickly and dramatically as his prayer began, it ends. David has made his case, and that's it. God will answer. Only two things are left to do. First, he will give thanks to God, who, because of God's righteous character, he assumes will provide both refuge from present danger and judgment on his enemies. Second, he will sing praise to the most high Lord.

     Can we pray this psalm as it is written? When we feel that we have been maligned, are we so sure of our innocence? Do we have the audacity to call on God to judge those who have done us wrong? We can try.

 

PRAYING PSALM 7

     The guided prayer that follows assumes that as you pray you are responding to a betrayal by someone---perhaps a friend, perhaps not-and are still dealing with the emotional repercussions.

 

0 LORD my God, in you I take refuge;

     save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,

or like a lion they will tear me apart;

     they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.

 

Respond: Lord, like the psalmist I flee to you for safety and refuge, not only from those who have wronged me but from my own anger and frustration. I fear what I might do if you do not save me both from him/her/them and from myself. Tell God what the situation is. Name names. Express to God your anger with you “enemies." Pour out your heart.

 

0 LORD my God, if I have done this,

     if there is wrong in my hands,

if I have repaid my ally with harm

     or plundered my foe without cause,

then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,

     trample my life to the ground,

     and lay my soul in the dust.

                                  Selah

 

Respond: Now clear your own conscience. Lord, I do not believe I deserve the remarks made about me. I am innocent. But Lord, if there is something I do not know about my character or my actions, I lay myself bare before you, Show me my faults.

     Pause, to let God bring to mind any hidden factors in your receiving the critical remarks of others.

     Forgive me of my secret sins---yes, even the sins I don't let myself know I have committed and am committing. I fear to say as David did, "Let my enemies trample my life to theground and lay my soul in the dust."Lord, both forgive and forget my sin. Butgive me the grace to accept the consequences as you see fit. Still, Lord, bring judgment to my enemies as I do say with David:

 

Rise up, 0 LORD, in your anger;

     lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;

     awake, 0 my God; you have appointed a judgment.

Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,

     and over it take your seat on high.

The LORD judges the peoples;

     judge me, 0 LORD, according to my righteousness,

     and according to the integrity that is in me.

 

Respond: Picture a huge courtroom with God as judge, a great crowd assembled, the enemies in the dock, and the guilty among the people being brought up for judgment, then the psalmist arraigned and found not only not guilty but righteous. 0 Lord, where am I among those arraigned guilty or innocent? Can I be as righteous as David? Only by the blood of Christ. Cover me with the righteousness of my Lord Jesus Christ, and I shall stand in your court without fear but with joy and exultation.

 

0 let the evil of the wicked come to an end,

     but establish the righteous,

you who test the minds and hearts,

     0 righteous God.

God is my shield,

     who saves the upright in heart.

God is a righteous judge,

     and a God who has indignation every day.

 

Respond: 0 Lord, do let the evil of the wicked come to an end. Establish justice. Establish justice not just for me in the face of my accusers but over all the earth. Here list those people and places where you are especially conscious of injustice and evil. Pray for God's justice and mercy to prevail in concrete ways in our world today.

 

If one does not repent, God will whet his sword;

     he has bent and strung his bow;

he has prepared his deadly weapons,

     making his arrows fiery shafts.

See how they conceive evil,

     and are pregnant with mischief,

     and bring forth lies.

They make a pit, digging it out,

     and fall into the hole that they have made.

Their mischief returns upon their own heads,

     and on their own heads their violence descends.

 

Respond: 0 Lord, I can't get the evil of the evil ones out of my mind. Like David, I see them self-destructing. On fields of battle I see them blown up by their own mines. In the boardrooms of corporations, I see their fraud turn their accounts to dust. In robberies, I see the weapons of thieves explode in their own hands. Stop my imagination, Lord. It's getting unhealthy for me. Let me rather praise you for your holy judgment.

 

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,

     and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

 

Respond: Thank you for your righteousness. Hallelujah!

 

SOME FURTHER REFLECTIONS

     I have interpreted this psalm as a response to slander. But it is generic enough in its treatment of this that it can be prayed in response to other acts of "enemies": those who cause us bodily harm, those who hurt our friends, those who tempt us to sin, to name a few.

 

Small Group Study of Psalm 7

     The following comments are directed to the leader.

 

Introduction

     Explain that Psalm 7 may deal with an issue that people in the group may not currently face but almost surely will at some time. So long as we are fallen humans on fallen earth, we will all be subject to our faults and foibles.

 

Group Instruction and Questions

1. Have one person read Psalm 7 in its entirety at an ordinary pace.

2. Before the second reading, explain that concerning Cush, a Benjaminite probably refers to a time before David was king. Cush had perhaps accused him of treason, and David feared for his life.

3. Have another person read Psalm 7 very slowly, with a pause after each verse.

4. Continue with a third reading.

5. Describe David's emotion as he begins this psalm (vv. 1-3). How troubled is he?

6. Assuming that this psalm (or prayer) involves Cush's having accused David of treason, what two things does David pray for (vv. 1-2)? (Protection from his enemies and the restoration of his good name.)

7. David is probably already high up in the government of Israel. So why do you think he is so intent on declaring himself innocent of Cush's charge? What is he willing to do to clear himself of Cush's slander (v. 8)?

8. How does David depict the working out of righteous judgment (vv. 5, 6-8, 12-13)?

9. What emotions are attributed to God (vv. 6, 11)? Why would he have indignation every day?

10. What do you think it would mean for God to establish the righteous today?

11. Given God's attitude toward evil and evildoers, what does David see as necessary for everyone to achieve righteousness (v. 12)?

12. Why do you think David returns again to a description of the wicked (vv. 14-16)? What new dimension do these verses add to how the wicked are judged?

13. Why is verse 17 a fitting, though sudden, end to the psalm?

 

DIRECTED PRAYER

     The following script may help the group to pray the psalm.

Leader: Let us pray through Psalm 7. We'll say the first two verses together.

 

0 LORD my God, in you I take refuge;

     save me from all my pursuers, and deliver me,

or like a lion they will tear me apart;

     they will drag me away, with no one to rescue.

 

Leader: Consider these words we have just spoken. Do they reflect your experience now? Have you been slandered or falsely accused or subject of gossip? Are there troubles and troublemakers in your life today? Lay them before the Lord in silence.

     (Pause.)

Reflect on your own role in the troubles you are recalling.

 

0 LORD my God, if I have done this,

     if there is wrong in my hands,

if I have repaid my ally with harm

     or plundered my foe without cause,

then let the enemy pursue and overtake me,

     trample my life to the ground,

     and lay my soul in the dust.

                                      Selah

 

Leader: Are you willing to make these words your own? If not, confess your own culpability in the trouble.

     (Pause.)

     Then call on God:

 

Rise up, 0 LORD, in your anger;

     lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;

     awake, 0 my God; you have appointed a judgment.

Let the assembly of the peoples be gathered around you,

     and over it take your seat on high.

The LORD judges the peoples;

     judge me, 0 LORD, according to my righteousness,

     and according to the integrity that is in me.

 

Leader: Self-reflect carefully here. Picture yourself in the courtroom with God as judge and you, your enemies and your community in the dock---the enemies first, your community second, and you last. Who can stand?

     (Pause.)

 

0 let the evil of the wicked come to an end,

     but establish the righteous,

you who test the minds and hearts,

     0 righteous God.

God is my shield,

            who saves the upright in heart.

God is a righteous judge,

     and a God who has indignation every day.

 

Leader: Now picture your local world free of evil and characterized by righteousness. Can you do this? How hard is it? Why?

     (Pause.)

 

If one does not repent, God will whet his sword;

     he has bent and strung his bow;

he has prepared his deadly weapons,

     making his arrows fiery shafts.

 

Leader: Remember, repentance is the doorway to being declared righteous. A change of character is the realization of that righteousness. Pray for the realization of righteousness in you and your community.

     (Pause.)

 

See how they conceive evil,

     and are pregnant with mischief,

     and bring forth lies.

They make a pit, digging it out,

     and fall into the hole that they have made.

Their mischief returns upon their own heads,

     and on their own heads their violence descends.

 

Leader: Take one last look at the wicked. Realize that the consequences of their evil will itself often be judgment enough. Slanderers will be slandered, though not by the righteous. Tell God that you are leaving to him the judgment of those who have slandered or troubled you.

     (Pause.)

 

Now, let's say together the last verse and so indicate our own confidence that God will work his righteous judgment.

 

I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness,

     and sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High.

 

Leader: Let us close with a song of praise.

 

SOME PARTING REMARKS

     Personal injury such as slander and gossip can be deeply troubling. Be ready to listen to the lamentations of those in the group who feel that they have been set upon unjustly. The counsel of this psalm is to tell God about it and let him take care of the situation.

     Of course, if there is something you can do to act as a go-between and help restore good relationships, be prepared to act as an agent of reconciliation.  [112-127]

 

 

Notes

1. Cush is unknown, but whoever he was, Charles Spurgeon says he probably "accused David to Saul of treasonable conspiracy against his royal authority" (C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David [Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, n.d.], 1:67). Peter Craigie notes that David had problems with other Benjaminites (Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary 19 [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983], p. 99). p. 118   

2. Thomas Merton, Praying the Psalms (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, I956), p. 11

 

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