If only you would slay the wicked, O God! Away from me you bloodthirsty men!Psalm 139:19
Why do these psalmists seem all of a sudden to interject these bloody thoughts? Why this sudden word of passion,
If only you would slay the wicked! This has troubled many because it seems so far from the New Testament standard,
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). How shall we understand these things?
We need to recognize that everything the psalmist asks for is not necessarily a reflection of God's will. We are reading the experiences of believers, and their thoughts are not always reflections of God's perfect will. At times, the Psalms earnestly mirror the human viewpoint, and we need to understand these passages in their context. In this paragraph, the psalmist, having been gripped by his close relationship with God, now naturally comes to the place where he asks God for something. That is also what we do. When we are aware of being near to God, being dear to Him, we tend to ask God for things, but those things are not always in keeping with God's best for us. That is what this psalmist is doing.
He asks God to take care of the problem of the wicked. His suggested manner of handling it is rather naive. He says,
Lord, wipe them out, as though such a simple remedy for human ills had never occurred to the Almighty. Have you ever felt that way? One of the refreshing things about these psalms is the honesty they reflect.
There are several things we need to note about this: For one thing, this psalmist's request falls short even of the Old Testament standard. It is the Old Testament that first says,
Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18). The New Testament and the Old Testament are not opposed to one another in this matter of moral standards. But this man has not yet learned this. In his honesty, he says
Lord, it seems to me the easiest way for You to handle this problem of evil would be to slay the wicked. Why don't you do that?
Here is the case of a man who has felt God's hatred against sin but not yet God's love for the sinner. That is why, I think, he concludes with these words:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Is he not saying,
Lord, I don't understand this problem of evil? It appears to me the easiest way is for you to eliminate the evil person. But Lord, I also know that I don't think very clearly, and I don't often have the right answer. So Lord, in case I don't have the right remedy for this problem, let me add this prayer: 'Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Father, how desperately I need to be led through the complexities of my life. Help me not to settle for simple yet wrong solutions but to be willing to let You work out Your own purposes knowing that You have taken all the factors into consideration.
How much of our prayer time is occupied with petitions formed by our finite understanding? Is there a better way to pray? Have we yet felt God's love for sinners?