A number of years ago I was asked to read Psalm 139 at a friend’s wedding. I’ve always loved this psalm, it really is just so beautiful. I remember though feeling a little uncomfortable about reading verses 19-22 aloud. They just didn’t seem to fit in. Well, in the first chapter of God is Enough, Ray Galea ponders the same thing. He writes,
At this point, the psalm appears to make a 180-degree turn. You would be excused for wondering what has happened to David. Has he lost it?
Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain!
David is clearly upset with “the wicked”—those who speak of God with evil intent, thinking he will not hear them. They do not understand that God is all-knowing and ever-present. They blatantly defy this God, thinking they can take him on. David is so upset that he actually wishes God would “slay” these people. What do we make of David’s change in tone? It would be easy for us to dismiss this section by putting it down to David’s sin, but the language used here is not unique to Psalm 139. At the very least, David’s reaction betrays a jealousy for God and his glory—a jealousy lacking in the modern Christian.
Recently, I saw the lovable Oprah Winfrey on YouTube answering a question about her spirituality. She explains that around the age of 27, while attending her Baptist church one Sunday morning, she was listening to the preacher talk about how God is all-knowing and-ever present. She was happily in tune with the message until the preacher spoke about how God is jealous for his honour. Oprah did not like this, and it was a key moment in her decision to leave mainstream Christianity.
I think the passage Oprah heard was very likely Psalm 139. How ironic it is that she is not interested in a God who cares about his honour, when surely Oprah cares for her own honour. If you misrepresented Oprah, I have no doubt that she’d send her lawyers to take you to task— and rightly so! Why do we treat God so differently from how we like to be treated ourselves?
In an age where the religious zeal of many is condemned, I think that most of us Western Christians are in danger of exactly the opposite. We’re not zealous enough!! Am I jealous for God’s reputation, for his name? How do I feel when I see people worshipping the gods of this world (whether they be religious gods, money or power)? To my shame, I realise that I’m not zealous. I’m comfortable...lukewarm…respectable. Probably like many others, I don’t want to appear intolerant. I guess though, we have to be careful that our desire to be gentle and non-offensive doesn’t weaken our conviction that any path other than Christ alone is detestable to God.
What do you think?