Tag Archives: Revenge

Letting Go

Letting Go (CaD Gen 31) Wayfarer

It was also called Mizpah, because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” 
Genesis 31:49 (NIV)

The holiday season is just around the corner and I’ve already begun thinking about updating my wish list for the family. Wendy and I have already made a few purchases to try and get ahead of the rush given the current smattering of supply and shipping issues.

I can’t help but think of my childhood when I would scour the Sears “Wish Book” catalog for hours and hours. It was in those pages that I first came across a Mizpah necklace. It’s actually two necklaces that each have one-half of a medallion onto which the verse I quoted from today’s chapter is inscribed: “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other.” This verse is also used sometimes as a benediction to end a worship service.

While the sentiment of Laban’s words, taken at face value, may sound like a heart-warming desire between loved ones, that is definitely not what Laban and Jacob were communicating.

Jacob and Laban have spent twenty years in a passive-aggressive battle of deceits. Even in today’s chapter, the mutual distrust is palpable. This is true not only of Jacob and Laban, but we find that Leah and Rachel also feel cheated by their own father. He has treated his own daughters contemptuously.

Thus, when Laban says, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other,” he is stating a sentiment built up from twenty years of injury, greed, deception, and broken promises. Laban is saying of Jacob, “I can’t trust you out of my sight, so I’ll have to trust God to hold you accountable and judge you.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I found myself journeying through the sense of disappointment that a verse that appears to be so encouraging and reassuring actually springs from distrust and suspicion. Then, I continued to meditate on it, and I came to the conclusion that there is wisdom in Laban’s Mizpah covenant.

Along my life journey, I’ve had a number of relationships with individuals who injured me relationally. There are individuals who gave me very good reasons to distrust them. As I write this, I’m even recalling individuals for whom I know I could have made trouble. I could have confronted their deceits or turned them into authority. I could have gotten certain individuals fired or in trouble with the law. In a couple of cases, every part of me wanted to do so.

But, I didn’t.

I chose not to because to do so would have been acting out of anger and retaliation. I chose not to because Jesus tells me to bless those who curse me, and sometimes that blessing includes withholding personal judgment, vengeance, and the perpetuation of injury to one another. Jesus also said:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

At Mizpah, Laban lets Jacob go. He gives up trying to control, avenge, and get even. He surrenders his son-in-law to God. He stops trying to be detective, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in the relationship. He trusts God to handle those roles from this moment on.

Along my life journey, I’ve found this to be a spiritually healthy step to take.

Come to think of it, a Mizpah necklace in the Sears catalog might have served as a good reminder between Jacob and Laban that sometimes relational feuds need to end by surrendering them and entrusting them to God.

Note: Mizpah necklace on the featured photo is from Gathering Charms on Etsy.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Surrounded and Slandered

Surrounded and Slandered (CaD Ps 59) Wayfarer

You are my strength, I sing praise to you;
    you, God, are my fortress,
    my God on whom I can rely.

Psalm 59:17 (NIV)

Today’s chapter, Psalm 59, is fascinating in that the liner notes reference something we don’t have a record of anywhere else in the Great Story. In earlier podcasts, like two days ago, when David finds himself with the opportunity to kill his antagonist and father-in-law, King Saul, in a cave, the whole story is well documented. The story referenced by David in today’s song is nowhere to be found.

According to the brief superscription, King Saul sends his goons to hang out around David’s house and keep an eye on him. I have to assume that this happened early in David’s life when Saul is growing jealous and suspicious of David’s success. Perhaps David is married to Saul’s daughter at his point so Saul uses the pretense of keeping an eye on his daughter. I can’t help but think of The Godfather. It would be like Don Corleone sending Clemenza’s men to watch Carlo and Connie’s place.

David, however, is no Carlo. He’s feeling insulted and dishonored that the King and his men are so disrespectful and treating him unfairly. What’s interesting about this song in contrast to yesterday’s imprecatory psalm calling for the gruesome death of his enemies, David is dealing with his own people, his own fellow citizens, and people whom he will rule if and when he ascends the throne. This isn’t people from another nation seeking to kill him, but people of his own nation targeting him with insults, slander, and spiteful words intended to publicly belittle him.

Does that sound familiar? And people say the Great Story isn’t relevant today.

David specifically writes in his lyrics that he doesn’t want God to kill them, but rather he asks God to make sure that their pride, their lies, and their slander will be revealed for what it is. David wants them to live, so that people will see and remember when the circumstances are reversed and David is the king and these goons no longer have any power over him.

In the quiet this morning, I am once again amazed at how the more things change the more they stay the same. The lyrics of David’s songs stand as testimony to the personal, spiritual playbook he used his entire life and career from being a young man and newlywed son-in-law within Saul’s court, like today, to when he was an old man facing a coup by his own adult son, like Psalm 55. He took his plea to God. Whenever he was powerless, he went to God. He expressed his emotions. He consciously and willfully trusted God to be his shield, his defender, his advocate, his avenger, and his judge. His lyrics are a permanent record of his faith.

Just last night as we lay in bed I expressed to Wendy that all it takes is for me to glance at any social media app right now and feel misunderstood, slandered, belittled, and dishonored. I have to believe I’m not alone in that. I found David’s song to be a timely spiritual antidote. I needed the reminder and the attitude adjustment:

But I will sing of your strength,
    in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
    my refuge in times of trouble.

The Impotence to Respond

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living.

Psalm 52:5 (NRSVCE)

David was hiding in a cave in the middle of a desolate wilderness with a rag-tag group of outcasts and mercenary warriors. He may have been God’s anointed king, but the throne was still tightly under the control of his father-in-law, Saul, and Saul had made David public enemy number one. That left David scratching out a meager existence in the middle-of-nowhere as he hid from the powerful mad-king who wanted David dead.

In an act of desperation, David sneaks in to visit God’s priest, Ahimelech. Like an enemy soldier seeking sanctuary in the protection of a church, David went to the place where the traveling tent sanctuary from the days of Moses was set up and serving as the center of worship. David sought God’s divine guidance through the priest. David begged for help and was provided food as well as the sword of Goliath that was still housed there like a trophy.

It just so happened that a servant of Saul name Doeg was there and witnessed David’s visit. Doeg goes to King Saul and tells him of David’s visit and the assistance Ahimelech provided David. Saul confronts Ahimelech who attempts to argue that, as the king’s son-in-law, the priest felt an obligation to assist David as an act of faithfulness to Saul. Saul rewards Ahimelech by telling Doeg to kill him, and all of God’s priests living in the town, along with all of their wives and children. Saul has Doeg massacre an entire village of his own people and his own priests because one priest showed kindness to David.

One of Ahimelech’s son’s survives and seeks David in his hide-away cave He tells David of Doeg’s visit to Saul and subsequent massacre. David, realizing that his visit to Ahimelech started the chain of events leading to the massacre, feels the weight of responsibility for his actions.

David, as he always did with his intense emotions, channels his feelings into a song which is known to us as Psalm 52. It’s today’s chapter.

David’s song is fascinating in its structure. The first verse is David addressing Doeg and calling out his wickedness, arrogance, treachery, and deceit. The third and final verse is the contrast, with David claiming his standing in the right, trusting in God, and proclaiming that trust directly. In between the two verses is the central theme in which David hands Doeg over to God for God’s judgment. He relinquishes vengeance and retribution to God.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but put myself in David’s shoes. David was in a position of impotence. He’s hiding in a cave in the wilderness. He has no status. He has no standing. At this moment there is nothing that he can do in his own power to right the wrong that resulted from his actions. His only option is to cry out his emotions and ask God to right the wrong he is powerless to address himself.

What a powerful word picture. In this life journey I have found myself impotent to address and correct wrongs. Thankfully, the wrongs are trivial in comparison to the massacre of innocents David was dealing with. Nevertheless, I find in David an example to follow. Pouring out and expressing my rage, frustration, accusation and consciously handing over that which I am powerless to do to God.

As I contemplate David’s story, and his lyrics, this morning I find myself with two connected thoughts into the day ahead:

First, Paul writing to the followers of Jesus in Rome, who were impotent agains a Roman Empire that would throw them to the lions in the Roman Circus and watch them being devoured for entertainment:

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Romans 12:17-29 (MSG)

Second, the simple prayer of serenity:

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Amen.

Just Appeal

Just Appeal (CaD Ps 17) Wayfarer

From you let my vindication come….
Psalm 17:2a (NRSVCE)

Years ago, I found myself the object of unfair criticism by an individual who I thought was my friend. He was unhappy with me, though instead of confronting me and discussing his concerns, he decided to take his grievances to the court of public opinion. I confess that I was both sad and angered by his actions. My friend proved to be my enemy.

As luck would have it I found myself, sometime later, in possession of information regarding improprieties this person had committed. I had the opportunity to act with vengeance against the person who had injured me. I had a smoking gun that would pay back my enemy’s injuries with compounding interest. He would be out of a job and would be publicly humiliated.

I ignored the evidence. I let it go. I made a conscious choice to continue treating the person with kindness and deference whenever I run into him. Which, I still do on occasion.

Today’s chapter is yet another song penned by King David. The fascinating thing for me was not something I found in a particular line or verse, but the song itself as a whole. David structured this song like a legal appeal one would make to a King. As king, David would have heard a million legal appeals brought to him, and to King Saul while he served as a court musician, by people wanting their case decided. King David, however, is making his appeal to God, whom he places in authority above his own royal position.

It starts with a formal appeal to God to listen to his plea. He then establishes his position of innocence. He reiterates his request to be heard and praises God for his goodness and mercy. He then lays out his case against his enemies and asks God to vindicate him by judging and righteously punishing his enemies. He ends with a statement of confident trust that God will do right by him.

Sometimes in this life we find ourselves wronged with little or no position with which to get justice. Sometimes, we find that the only justice at our disposal is the justice we take into our own hands.

As a follower of Jesus, I am called to choose against my human desire for vengeance and vindication. Jesus tells me to consciously turn the other cheek, itself a conscious act of response that he exemplified time and time again as he suffered through the kangaroo court of the high priest, then the religious elders, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Pilate again, the crowds who days earlier had hailed Him as king but now shouted for His execution, and finally His enemies who stood at the foot of His cross and hurled insults at Him.

David’s psalm is a testament to Jesus’ teaching, and to David’s own example when he had multiple chances to take personal vengeance against his enemy, King Saul, while personally ensuring his ascension to the throne. With each opportunity David chose to ignore the opportunity, to let it go, and treat his enemy with deference.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about individuals who, along my life journey, I’ve considered enemies. There’s a whole bunch from childhood who I now consider friends. There are some that the road of life led in a completely different direction, and any hard feelings I may have once felt are as distant as they are. There are others, like the person I described at the top of this post, who remain in my circles of community. Their actions would indicate that they consider me some kind of enemy, but I’ve made a choice to keep treating them as friends.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that pleading my case to the only Just Judge, and choosing to surrender my need for vengeance, frees my heart and mind from toxic emotions and actions which will only perpetuate and escalate circumstances. Turning the other cheek is not a passive response, it’s a conscious choice to make my appeal to God and leave it there.

I know. It sounds crazy. Following Jesus usually leads me to make choices that run opposite my natural inclinations. But, I can’t say I’ve ever regretted it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Vengeance Times Seven

lukodi drawingO Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times
for the scorn they have hurled at you.
Psalm 79:12 (NLT)

A year ago our kids, Taylor and Clayton, travelled to Uganda. Taylor put her Art Therapy education to work with young women and children in Lukodi who had been victims of local terrorists calling themselves The Lord’s Resistance Army. Taylor brought home a stack of pictures drawn by children. Mixed among the very child-like images of a soccer match, a church, or tree there were equally child-like images of their homes burning, giant men with guns hovering over them, and dead bodies lying on the ground bleeding. The reality of the horror these children had experienced drawn by their own hands is heart wrenching. My soft-hearted daughter came home with that soft-heart ripped open and the realization that there was a threshold on what she could handle as an Art Therapist.

I am blessed to have lived a life relatively free of tragedy. I cannot, and hope that I will not, ever experience the horrors like those of the women and children of Lukodi, or the horrors Asaph describes in today’s psalm of those who suffered through and witnessed the seige and destruction of both Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.

Scholars call pslams like today’s an imprecatory psalm. It is the blues on steroids in which the song writer not only expresses their pain, but also their desire for revenge. It is an angry call for vengeance. In Asaph’s lyric scream, he calls for vengeance multiplied seven times. In God’s Message, seven is a special number. It is the number of “completion” and in calling for vengeance times seven Asaph is asking for complete destruction of his enemies. I can only imagine that the hunger for vengeance is a very real, very natural, very human emotion for those who have suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of others.

I can’t condemn victims for wanting vengeance. I think it is a very real emotion that needs to be expressed in healthy ways whether that be a crayon drawing, a poem, or a blues song. Yet, this morning as I read Asaph’s call for vengeance times seven I was reminded of Jesus’ response when Peter asked if he should forgive someone seven times to make sure he had completely forgiven the person. “Not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 35

an eye for makes the whole world blind
an eye for makes the whole world blind (Photo credit: Stefano Lewis)

Wake up! Rise to my defense!
    Take up my case, my God and my Lord.
Psalm 35:23 (NLT)

“Oh, you’re that guy,” the kid said after I’d introduced myself. “I’ve heard about you!”

“Really?” I asked in surprise. “What have you heard?”

Nothing true, as it turned out. I was a bit shocked to learn what the ubiquitous “they” had said about me. It was high school and I was in the stands at a football game. Having struck up a conversation with the stranger from the opposing school sitting next to me, I learned an important life lesson that night. One that I can still remember thirty years later.

I was angry and hurt at what the stranger had told me. I wanted names. I wanted details. I wanted to hunt down those who’s said those things about me and give them a piece of my mind. I wanted to shout from the bleachers my innocence and prove that my accusers were wrong. Mount a defense! Start a campaign!!

And then it sunk in how difficult and fruitless the task would be. How silly would I look? What a waste of my time and energy. I began to realize a hard fact of life. You can’t control what others say about you. You can only control what you yourself think, say, and do. As my fit of internal rage and teenaged angst subsided, I settled in and finished a polite conversation with my new acquaintance.

Jesus taught:

You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

As difficult as I’ve found it when I know an occasional untruth is said about me, I can’t imagine what it’s like for politicians and celebrities who are constantly in the public eye and who face unjust daily attacks from all sides. King David, who wrote the lyrics in today’s psalm, certainly knew the hard fact of life better than I.

Today I’m reminded that vengeance belongs to God. Like David, I’m called on not to return insult for insult, nor even answer my accusers, but to make my appeal for justice to our heavenly Advocate and Judge.