Revenge to Redemption

Scripture Focus: Psalm 109.16-20
16 For he never thought of doing a kindness, 
but hounded to death the poor 
and the needy and the brokenhearted. 
17 He loved to pronounce a curse— 
may it come back on him. 
He found no pleasure in blessing— 
may it be far from him. 
18 He wore cursing as his garment; 
it entered into his body like water, 
into his bones like oil. 
19 May it be like a cloak wrapped about him, 
like a belt tied forever around him. 
20 May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers, 
to those who speak evil of me. 

Reflection: Revenge to Redemption
By John Tillman

Vengeful-sounding songs in the Bible make some people uncomfortable but we seem comfortable with revenge songs in general. Many genres have them but perhaps the most famous ones come from American Country music. If you’ve ever heard a crowd begin shout-singing along to, “I dug my keys into the side of his pretty, little, souped-up, four-wheel drive…” (Before He Cheats — Carrie Underwood) you’ve glimpsed the gusto with which our hearts cry for even a semblance of justice. 

True justice eludes most revenge songs. They celebrate revenge in justice’s absence. When there is no justice, revenge is what we settle for. If we don’t trust in God, revenge may be all we think there is to justice.

David trusts God and cries out for vengeance from God’s hand, not his own hand. David’s curses are requests for God to act and he draws a contrast between himself and his accuser. His adversary loves pronouncing curses. He hounds the poor to harm them, not to bless them, wearing curses like a garment. 

Like David’s adversary, our culture proudly wears the garment of cursing others, blaming them, doxxing them, pursuing them to exhaustion, destruction, or even their death. These curses seep into our hearts. The spirit of our age is one of wrath and revenge. The Spirit of Christ is one of radical redemption. 

This past Monday, we read one of several “eye for an eye” passages in the Law. Despite how some people interpret these passages, God never intended for humans to stand around, poking each other’s eyes out. “Eye for an eye” and the Golden Rule aren’t in conflict, but cooperation. They are two sides of the same coin. Reactive justice points to preemptive grace. 

Imperfect forms of human justice may involve doing to others what was done to you. Jesus comes to complete and perfect that law with something better: doing to others what you wish would be done to you.

We can still pray with imprecatorial honesty, crying out for justice, not just for ourselves but for all pursued and crushed by evil.

Our cries will be answered by Jesus, the one to whom all judgment is entrusted by the Father. In him alone all harm will be healed and all evil destroyed. All evil and lies will be cut down. Jesus alone can turn revenge into redemption.

Music: “Better tell that long-tongued liar…
Tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down.” 
— Johnny Cash (God’s Gonna Cut You Down — Video)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. — Psalm 31.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 21 (Listen – 3:33)
Psalm 108-109 (Listen – 4:28)

Read more about Abandon Human Vengeance
In a culture in which vengeance drives a machine of violent rhetoric which leads to physical violence, Christians have a responsibility to break the machine.

Read more about The Maddest Prophet, The Saddest Prophet
Jonah doesn’t want a savior. He wants a weapon. God will not be made into a tool for us to destroy our enemies.

Stories of the Redeemed

Scripture Focus: Psalm 107.19-22, 43
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, 
and he saved them from their distress. 
20 He sent out his word and healed them; 
he rescued them from the grave. 
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love 
and his wonderful deeds for mankind. 
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings 
and tell of his works with songs of joy

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things 
and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord. 

Reflection: Stories of the Redeemed
By John Tillman

Psalm 107 commands those redeemed by the Lord to tell their stories. Then the writer tells about several groups of the redeemed. One might expect stories of glorious kings, great moral leaders, righteous prophets, and powerful warriors. If that’s what we expect the stories of the redeemed to be, this psalm would be highly disappointing. 

The psalmist chooses to highlight the losers, the castoffs, the unwanted, and the condemned:
There is a story of migrants wandering in a desert, looking for a country to settle in…
There is a story of prisoners sitting in darkness because of their rebellion against God…
There is a story of foolish rebels who suffer illness and affliction because of their sins…
There is a story of wealthy and powerful merchants confronted with their own mortality and powerlessness…

What is the point? Why should we care for stories of the vagrants, the vagabonds, and the vanquished? We are listening for the turnaround point. Each of these stories has one and these stories are our stories too.

We are redeemed by a God who turns situations around. God turns rivers into deserts and deserts into flowing streams. He makes possible cities and gardens where before there were only wastes and wilds. He lovingly pursues those who run from him. No matter how far we run, whenever we turn around to return, God will be standing right there to receive us.

When we run to wealth, when we run to empty philosophies, when we run to addictions and distractions, even when we run without a destination, God patiently waits for our turnaround point.

In each of the psalmist’s stories, the people reached a crisis before reaching out to God. We don’t have to wait for a crisis to find a turnaround point but we often do. All followers of Christ have a story of redemption with a turnaround point. 

Which of these stories is closest to your own? 
How did you reach the point where you “cried out to the Lord” in your trouble”?
How was your life different after your “turnaround point”?

Prayerfully recall your story of redemption. Thank God in prayer for his patience and persistence in pursuing you. Prepare yourself and ask God to give you the chance to share your redemption story.

What is your story of redemption? Tell it to someone who needs a turnaround.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115.1

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 20 (Listen – 2:55)
Psalm 107 (Listen – 4:12)

Read more about Waking Up With Pigs
God deals with hard-hearted people throughout the Bible. God is consistently calling, pleading with the hard-hearted to return to him.

Read more about Unobligated God
Thank God that he pays debts that he does not owe. He is a God who gives when he has no obligation.

Justice of God

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 19.16-21
16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, 17 the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, 19 then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. 

Reflection: Justice of God
By John Tillman

Sometimes when we find penalties in the Bible harsh, it is because we have been fortunate enough to never suffer serious harm or experience evil first hand. Shockingly light sentences today for rapes, police shootings, or deaths caused by negligence or drunk driving often lead to outcries from victims. When we have been harmed, pity is the last thing on our mind. 

Miroslav Volf writes that In order to maintain non-violence, we need a belief that God will act in vengeance on behalf of victims.

“One could object that it is not worthy of God to wield the sword. Is God not love, long-suffering and all-powerful love? A counter-question could go something like this: Is it not a bit too arrogant to presume that our contemporary sensibilities about what is compatible with God’s love are so much healthier than those of the people of God throughout the whole history of Judaism and Christianity?

In a world of violence it would not be worthy of God not to wield the sword; if God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make the final end to violence God would not be worthy of our worship.

My thesis that the practice of nonviolence requires a belief in divine vengeance will be unpopular with many Christians, especially theologians in the West. To the person who is inclined to dismiss it, I suggest imagining that you are delivering a lecture in a war zone (which is where a paper that underlies this chapter was originally delivered). Among your listeners are people whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit. The topic of the lecture: a Christian attitude toward violence. The thesis: we should not retaliate since God is perfect non-coercive love.

Soon you would discover that it takes the quiet of a suburban home for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence corresponds to God’s refusal to judge. In a scorched land, soaked in the blood of the innocent, it will invariably die. And as one watches it die, one will do well to reflect about many other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind. If God were not angry at injustice and deception and did not make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.”

*Excerpt from Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation by Miroslav Volf.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Morning Psalm— Wait Upon the Lord
Wait upon the Lord and keep his way; he will raise you up to possess the land, and when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.
I have seen the wicked in their arrogance, flourishing like a tree in full leaf.
I went by, and behold, they were not there; I searched for them, but they could not be found.
Mark those who are honest; observe the upright; for there is a future for the peaceable.
Transgressors shall be destroyed, one and all; the future of the wicked is cut off.
But the deliverance of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
The Lord will help them and rescue them; he will rescue them from the wicked and deliver them, because they seek refuge in him. — Psalm 37.36-42

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 19 (Listen – 3:04)
Psalm 106 (Listen – 4:52)

Read more about The Promise of Justice
Those who deny moral absolutes cannot show that they lack anything. Without a moral ideal, no complaint regarding justice can be made.

Read more about Miscarrying Justice
The calls of the prophets about bloodshed echo in our halls of justice too. We cannot dismiss bloodshed or violence as a legal problem. It is also a spiritual problem.

Father of Fathers — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Psalm 103.13-18
13 As a father has compassion on his children, 
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 
14 for he knows how we are formed, 
he remembers that we are dust. 
15 The life of mortals is like grass, 
they flourish like a flower of the field; 
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, 
and its place remembers it no more. 
17 But from everlasting to everlasting 
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, 
and his righteousness with their children’s children— 
18 with those who keep his covenant 
and remember to obey his precepts. 

Reflection: Father of Fathers — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

We pray together today, using words from today’s Psalm, seeking the face of the Father who loves us and knows us as his children.

Father of Fathers
Jesus, you taught us to call God our Father.
We praise you, Lord, today as the Father who loves us and lifts us up.

You are the Father all fathers should be.
Gentle. Caring. Loving. Righteous. Just.

Your justice, our Father, is not destructive and violent.
You “work” righteousness, O Lord. 
You repair. You set right. You maintain.

“The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.”

You hear the cries of all children.
You see the cruelty of those who abuse.
You see the callousness of those who abandon.
You see the selfishness of those who allow harm to children to benefit themselves.
You cry out for the children of this world, “Let them come to me.”

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.”

Our nation and our culture profane the name of “father.”
We do not deserve love and mercy from you, God our Father.
But you provide it through your Son, Jesus.

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”

North and South meet at the poles.
They are separated by a finite distance.
One can only travel so far North before traveling South.
But East and West never meet.
They are separated by an infinite distance.
Thank you Father for removing our sins an infinite distance from us!

“As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children.”

Though we are but dust, Lord, you care for us.
You promise your presence not only to us,
But to generations afterward.

Bless our lives that we may build a faith that endures past our lifetimes.
When we lay down our lives as seed, may generations yet unknown take root in you.

“Praise the Lord, my soul.”

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
Jesus taught us saying: “I have loved you just as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my own joy may be in you and your joy complete. This is my commandment: love one another, as I have loved you. No one can have greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.” — John 15.9-13

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 16 (Listen – 3:25)
Psalm 103 (Listen – 2:07)

This Weekend’s Readings
Deuteronomy 17 (Listen – 3:24), Psalm 104 (Listen -3:37)
Deuteronomy 18 (Listen – 3:08), Psalm 105 (Listen – 4:02)

Read more about How He Loves Us
Doubting God’s love, they showed little love for him in return and little love for the poor and needy around them.

Read more about The Naked Emotion of God
This shows us a God unashamed of shame, nakedly confessing his love for the unlovable.

Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor

Scripture Focus: Deuteronomy 15.4-5, 7-11
4 …there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God …

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. 

Matthew 26.11
11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.

Reflection: Deuteronomy’s Dream for the Poor
By John Tillman

Matthew 26.11 is just one phrase of many words of Jesus that have been misquoted, taken out of context, or abused in history. People have used this to imply that poverty is intractable and action against it is ineffectual at best and against God’s will at worst. This false teaching is one of the more damaging ones to spread in the history of the church.

Jesus never implied opposing poverty means opposing God’s sovereignty. Instead, Jesus directly referenced Deuteronomy 15.11, including its command to be openhanded toward the poor.

Deuteronomy makes an extraordinary promise that “there need be no poor people among you” (Deuteronomy 15.4) but follows it up with realism, saying, “There will always be poor people…” (Deuteronomy 15.11)

God proclaims the possibilities of generosity while acknowledging the grim reality of greed. Through following God, we can open our hearts and hands, maintaining idealistic visions and actions without losing sight of ugly realities. Christians can look the darkest realities of poverty in the face and confidently say, “It doesn’t have to be this way.” 

“If only you fully obey the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 15.4)

The dream of Deuteronomy 15.4 was fulfilled (for a short time) in the early church. It was said of them, “God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4.33-34) These Spirit-filled believers fulfilled Deuteronomy’s proclaimed possibility about the poor.

All systems controlled by humans eventually become corrupted and the Acts 4 church is no exception. Racism slips into the distribution of food and the highest levels of the church leadership must get involved (and get honest) to solve it. Corruption in systems run by humans is inevitable. If the church’s own system faced accusations of inequity, how much more can we expect inequity to be a concern in secular systems? However, these concerns are not a reason that we should abandon our calling in this area. 

At the heart level of each individual and at the highest levels of our churches, denominations, and governments, Christians must acknowledge that the poor are our responsibility and are one way that God will judge how well we are helping his will to be done “on Earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6.9-10)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me. — Psalm 69.6

 – Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Deuteronomy 15 (Listen – 3:20)
Psalm 102 (Listen – 2:45)

Read more about Spiritual Indicators
God holds his people responsible for the welfare of the poor, the foreigners, the widows, and the orphans.

Read more about He Became Poor
The reasons God gives for his just acts of judgment against Israel and Judah…always include offenses related to oppression of the poor.

Spur a spiritual rhythm of refreshment right in your inbox
By joining this email list you are giving us permission to send you devotional emails each weekday and to communicate occasionally regarding other aspects of the ministry.
100% Privacy. We don't spam.