In Acts chapter one after the ascension of Jesus, the disciples entered a ten-day waiting period for the coming of the Holy Spirit. During those days (Acts 1:15), Peter stood before the disciples to explain the need to appoint another apostle to fill the place of Judas who had betrayed the Lord. Peter spoke of the traitor’s awful death and then quoted Psalm 109:8 as justification for the selection of a replacement (Acts 1:20). This is a truly amazing exposition of the psalm as no one before could have interpreted this verse in this way.
If we care to investigate this Old Testament reference, we find ourselves immersed in one of the most perplexing of the psalms. Psalm 109 is perhaps the chief imprecatory psalm in which vengeance is asked against the enemies of David in particular and the enemies of God in general. David’s attitude does not seem to support Jesus’ teaching that we are to forgive our enemies.
I have read several explanations for the harshness of David’s words and how we might excuse him for what seems to be the opposite of a Christ-like spirit—but is it really unlike the Lord our God? I am convinced that God wants us to see the side of Him most people ignore or just completely dismiss. This side is God’s wrath. This is His commitment to justice in His condemnation of sin. I do not believe we need to make excuses for David because he asked God for vengeance. When he made the statement in verse 8 which was quoted by Peter in Acts 1:20, the link was established that what was spoken is the mind of God. This is not a repudiation of His love and mercy in the forgiveness of sin. It is confirmation of the awful consequences of the rejection of Christ.
My thoughts are drawn to Jesus’ words on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” They did not know He was the Christ for if they had they would never have crucified Him (1 Cor. 2:8); but perhaps of equal importance, they would not have crucified Him if they knew the wrath of their coming judgment. Without repentance and faith, the blackness and darkness of an eternal hell were their destiny.
The modern pulpit rarely broaches the subject of God’s wrath. Sin and its consequences are negative and depressing, while the prevailing opinion is that church services should be positive and uplifting. Trevin Wax made this enlightening statement: “Hell is full of people who think they deserve Heaven. Heaven is filled with people who know they deserve Hell.” Churches are unwittingly confusing people and making far more of the first category than of the second. The first part of the quote is the problem of the “God loves you” pulpit. God’s love for people is never juxtaposed to His disgust for their sin. All of us deserve hell because we are guilty of sin. We do not have a few faults that need to be corrected. We have not made minor mistakes, but at heart, we are basically good people. No, we are nasty, vile, wicked, and disgusting. Such descriptions do not play well in the pulpit.
Psalm 109 is a reminder of what we deserve. David’s inventive mind in suggesting different punishments for his enemies cannot touch what God has planned. David’s imprecations only go as far as humans understand. No one knows how deeply God is offended nor how capable He is of satiating His vengeance. “God is love”—yes. John wrote this in his first epistle. Jesus came to save deeply offensive hell-deserving sinners which prove it. However, John also wrote the wrath of God abides on those who do not believe. Turn past 1 John to Revelation to see page after page of examples of God’s execution of wrath. Read chapter 19 and see Jesus in the thick of it as He wields the bloody sword of vengeance.
Heaven is never sweeter than when we understand what would have been if not for Jesus Christ. God’s wrath accentuates His deep love. We must preach it or else confuse people about what they deserve. “Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy.”
Pastor V. Mark Smith