Lord Convert Me: A Response To Psalm 35

Psalm 35 is one of those powerful psalms that epitomises for us one of the great challenges of the whole psalter. How are we to read those psalms in which the psalmist, suffering deep injustice, calls on God to act on his behalf and to bring swift justice against his oppressors? So this psalm opens:

  1. PLEAD thou my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: and fight thou against them that fight against me.
  2. Lay hand upon the shield and buckler: and stand up to help me.
  3. Bring forth the spear, and stop the way against them that persecute me: say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
  4. Let them be confounded and put to shame, that seek after my soul: let them be turned back and brought to confusion, that imagine mischief for me.
  5. Let them be as the dust before the wind: and the angel of the Lord scattering them.
  6. Let their way be dark and slippery: and let the angel of the Lord persecute them.

This is tough stuff. Are we to throw up our hands and say, ‘we are Christians now, we can’t possibly pray this sort of thing, for we have been commanded to love our enemies’? That is true of course, but hidden in such a  response is the comfortable assumption that we are with the psalmist, that we are the good guys, and that these enemies and oppressors are always someone else. But supposing it is the other way round? Supposing right now there are people praying this psalm to God who, with some justice, regard us as the oppressor and are calling for God to deal with us. After all this psalm was prayed, and still is prayed, by devout Jews whom Christians were persecuting, and in some places still are persecuting. This psalm was prayed by African Americans from slavery days through the civil rights movement and even today, when their oppressors were, and sometimes are, fellow Christians. Is it prayed today by Christians in minority groups here in England and all over the world who are being in one way or another being exploited or marginalised? What if it turns out that we are on the wrong side of this psalm, that it is on us, and not on others that some desperate person is calling down God’s justice?

I think we must respond in two ways. As far as we have enemies or are mistreated ourselves then we must complain to God but also ask for mercy on our oppressors, knowing that in Christ God has already dealt with the sin and suffered the punishment that our oppressors deserve. But we must also seriously and soberly ask God to show us if we are the oppressors here, and seek his forgiveness, and beg him to convert us, to change our hearts, to teach us to join with him in his solidarity with the poor.

When I came to write my poem in response to this psalm I found myself praying exactly that prayer and I am glad that this sharp piece of scripture taught me to do so.

As usual you can hear me read the poem by pressing the ‘play’ button if it appears, or else by clicking on the title. For the other poems in my psalm series type the word ‘psalm’ into the search box on the right.

XXXV Judica, Domine

The poor cry out, Oh help them speedily

And plead their cause, though it may not be mine

The psalmist here is sure in crying ‘help me’!

 

But he was poor himself. Help me divine

How these sharp psalms call out for change in me

Lest I should be an ‘enemy of thine’,

 

And find the poor, who cry to you for mercy,

Have cried against me too! Oh let me not

Be numbered with these scoffers, Lord convert me,

 

Show me with whom I ought to share my lot,

For whom I ought to put the sackloth on,

Whom you remember, whom I have forgot,

 

That having wept with them and helped them on

To better things, we may rejoice together

As pilgrim souls on whom your light has shone.

 

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12 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

12 responses to “Lord Convert Me: A Response To Psalm 35

  1. David C Brown

    My – dispensationalist – understanding of a psalm like this is that we are in the day of grace, marked by the Lord’s word, “Father, forgive them”; but in His time God will rightly act judicially, and His people can take up the words of psalms like this in consonance with His mind.
    We do have plenty of internal enemies to be dealt with: “envy, jealousy, malice and pride” as the old song says – and many more – and we need to deal with them duly!

  2. How often we forget that scripture is a two edged sword.

  3. eleanor h prugh

    Your reflection is very helpful to a “student” of the Psalms. Sometimes there are serious questions. Although one appreciates the beauty of the language, we might feel confronted or repulsed by what we read (not always soothed or comforted). How to deal with humanness and history?

  4. As some who blogs about the prayers in the Bible and an occasional poet, I applaud heartily what you have done on both counts in this post. I especially like your observation that we should ask God to help us discern if we are the oppressors. I look forward to your poems. I just posted a poem of prayer myself in response to Psalm 139:9-10 today.

  5. Grant

    May we not also see these (imprecatory) words as being in some way the words of Christ Himself, being directed against the Enemy and his agents?

    • Grant

      It strikes me as difficult to read and interpret these psalms without making some type of redemptive-historical connection to the life of Christ, who was constantly pursued and ultimately betrayed by wicked men.

      • malcolmguite

        Yes there is a strong sense in which, prophetically Christ is the persecuted person here. But he is also the persecuted person wherever the poor are oppressed or neglected as he makes clear in the Parable of the sheep and the goats

    • malcolmguite

      Yes, provided we also understand that he chooses to bear the punishment himself on behalf of even those who persecute him

  6. janlakermsncom

    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

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