The Book of Psalms is central to the prayer life of the Christian church, and it has been since they were written for temple worship and individual prayer by King David and others in ancient Israel. The Psalms help to teach us how to pray through the inspired prayers written therein.
Scholars classify the psalms into various genres, the number and character of each classification depends on which scholar you ask, however. There are Psalms of lament, of repentance, of thanksgiving, of wisdom, of the king, and of praise. One of our shirts quotes a line from Psalm 28, “The Lord is my strength and my shield.”
Psalm 28 is very similar to a Psalm of lament. Lament Psalms usually have these elements:
Psalm 22, which Jesus quotes from the cross, may be the most famous complaint Psalm. It flows like this:
In Psalm 22, the author prays extensively about the terrible problems he faces. His enemies wound him, deride him, surround him, and they threaten to destroy him. Then he asks for salvation for himself.
Psalm 28 works differently from the traditional lament Psalm:
This prayer doesn’t focus on personal or national pain. Instead, it prays for justice against evil doers and for the innocent. The Psalmist asks God to give evil doers what they deserve and to protect those who are innocent, namely the Psalmist himself.
The United States of America is working through a conversation on justice. In response to the terrible shooting in Florida, pundits and commentators have taken up the question of how to create justice in the U. S. A. How can we protect the innocent while punishing the guilty?
National questions of justice aren’t the only situations in which we look for justice from God. Everyone has experienced undeserved pain or scorn. People blame us for things we didn’t do or things over which we have no control. They hurt us for their own reasons even though we don’t deserve it. How can we get justice?
Psalm 28 looks to receive justice from God. In verse five, the psalmist writes:
“Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more”
The petition of the Psalm does not ask for God to give the Psalmist strength to fight the evildoer. It does not ask for power to overcome wickedness in the world. Instead, it asks for God to do his work, and it trusts that God will come through.
Verse seven and eight say something similar:
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
The Psalm tells us to trust in God’s justice, waiting for him to do his thing. God is the active party, and the person does nothing. He is strength. He is the refuge. He is the shield. We can only wait for him to save us.
Waiting for justice can be hard, because God’s justice doesn’t look like the justice we want. We are quick to judge evil and call for punishment. We see it in the savagery of social media. People gang up on each other, threatening extreme violence against people they hardly know.
We see it in ourselves, when our own hurt causes us to lash out at family or friends like wounded animal. How quick we are to cut people out of our lives when they hurt us. How quick we are to judge, to contemn.
But true justice only comes from God. We can see that in how Jesus received justice. When he was nailed to the cross, he could have called down fire and lightning on his persecutors. He could have called on his Father to open the ground beneath their feet and engulf them in a burst of flame. He could have cursed all who put him there. But then he would have cursed us, too. Because our sin put Jesus on the cross.
Instead, Jesus waited for God’s justice, and the Father raised him from the dead three days later. And by waiting for God’s justice to come, Jesus brought salvation to the whole world.
Waiting for justice also means that the people who persecuted Jesus received salvation through him. When Peter spoke to the crowd at Pentecost, he said to them, “ Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Peter told them that they crucified Jesus. Our justice would have called on them to be punished, but God’s justice brought forgiveness and eternal life to 3,000 people that day.
That kind of justice is good for us, too. Human justice would condemn us for every error, every sin, and every hurt. But God’s justice brings forgiveness, life, and salvation through Christ. That’s why we wait for God’s justice to come to others. He knows what each of us we receive, and he knows how best to give it out. Our job is to wait for the Lord, our strength and shield.
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