Vengeance is Mine – Psalm 5:9-10

Psalm 5:9-10 (For the first three installments of this study, click here, here, and here.)

On May 2, 2011, the United States announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in a military operation.  The orchestrator of multiple terror attacks that resulted in the deaths of several innocent people, bin Laden was considered Public Enemy #1 by a majority of the American populace.

Not surprisingly, this news was received by many Americans with celebration and shouts of triumph.  Perhaps surprisingly, many other Americans remained somber at this same announcement, and frowned upon the glee and celebration which others expressed.

How could anyone, and Christians specifically, celebrate the death of another human being?  For many Christians who proclaim they support and value life, this seemed like an immense contradiction.  On top of all this, it says in the Bible that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1 Tim. 2:4).  Shouldn’t we desire the same?  And if so, why are we celebrating the fact that someone seemingly missed out on that eternal opportunity?

Insights from the Septuagint

9Because there is no truth in their mouth;

            their heart is empty;

   their throat is an open grave;

            they have deceived with their tongues.

10Judge them, God;

            they must fall by their own counsels;

   cast them out according to the great number of their transgressions,

            because they have rebelled against you, Lord.

Even with all that is going on in these two verses, there is very little interpretive insight to be gleaned from the LXX.  It essentially says they same thing the English translations say.

The one thing I’d like to point out is that the word translated “open” in “open grave” is a perfect participle.  If you remember from previous posts, the perfect tense denotes past action with lasting results.  It could be stated that the repeated sins of these people’s past has lead to the depth of the spiritual death they are experiencing right now.  That will be important in just a few moments, when we talk about hardness of heart.

Law & Gospel

The anger and frustration of David at his enemies should be apparent.  He has had enough of them.  And so he prays for God to take action.

I see much of the situation with Osama bin Laden expressed in the words of this Psalm.  Americans were sick of the terror attacks.  They were most definitely sick of the war.  And so many prayed for judgment.  And when that judgment came, they celebrated.  But is this appropriate?[1]  It certainly seems so, but as always, we need to dig deeper into this text before we come to a conclusion.

Verse nine describes the nature and depth of the depravity of David’s (and God’s) enemies.  But there’s more to this verse than just face value.  Paul cites this verse in Rom. 3:13 as evidence of the sinful condition of all people.  In fact, to introduce the passages he quotes, Paul writes, “What then?  Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all.  For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,” (Rom. 3:9).

Thus, verse nine becomes a bit more convicting to our own souls when we realize it is also a description of our sinful natures.  Apart from God, there is no truth in our mouths; our inmost selves are destruction; our throats are open graves; we all flatter with our tongues.[2]

In verse ten, David prays for the condemnation of his enemies.  How does this apply to us, who firmly have our own sinful natures front and center?  The answer to that question is redemption.

We must remember that even though we are studying the Psalms one section at a time, the Psalms themselves are complete units.  This causes us to look back to verses seven and eight (see link above), where we once again encounter the “abundance of [God’s] steadfast love” and pray that God would lead us “in [his] righteousness.”

The way I see verse ten is that David’s enemies have encountered the righteousness of God through David’s own life at the very least.  The have seen a life redeemed, and yet they continue their rebellion and opposition toward God.  David is at his breaking point with the opposition, and so he turns them over to God.  We cannot and should not overlook the fact that David does not exact vengeance on these evildoers.  He leaves that up to God, which is entirely consistent with Scripture (Rom.12:19).

I like the thoughts from the note in the ESV Study Bible, and I will use them to summarize.  “The request, then, is for God to vindicate his commitment to his people, here in this life for all to see. Prayers of this sort generally carry the unstated assumption that the evildoers will not repent and seek forgiveness.”[3]

David isn’t so much focusing on the punishment for evildoers as he is the faithfulness of God to His people.  At its most basic level, David’s prayer is asking God to remain consistent with His character.  I believe that’s something we should all be praying for and thanking God for.

Finally, we should recognize the possibility of hardness of heart.  Pharaoh was punished for his hardness of heart.  The Israelites repeatedly hardened their hearts against God as they wandered in the wilderness.  The author of Hebrews uses an appeal from Ps. 95 and applies it to us all: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” (Heb. 3:7-8).  He follows this statement up with application in verses 12-13, saying, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.  But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

The thought of final judgment that God promises should not only comfort us as a reminder that God is faithful to His people, but it should also drive our missionary efforts to those who are even the most resistant to the Gospel.  It should also serve as a constant reminder to us for the need of daily repentance in our own lives.


[1] I do not consider this post to be the be-all, end-all to this discussion.  That is simply not possibly.  I am merely trying to relate the present situation with Osama bin Laden to the past situation that caused David to pen Ps. 5:9-10.

[2] I really like the interpretive distinction made in the LXX: “deceived” instead of “flatter”.

[3] ESV Study Bible, online edition, note on Ps. 5:10.

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  1. #1 by LXX Guy on September 5, 2011 - 2:09 pm

    Shall we celebrate when nominal Christians die as well?

    • #2 by Jason on September 6, 2011 - 11:06 am

      First of all, thank you for commenting on the blog.

      I’m going to assume that you believe I am advocating that it was proper to celebrate when Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces. I actually tried to leave that open to the reader in the post, as I try to keep the Bible studies focused on the passage at hand, but apparently did not do an adequate enough job of communicating that. I merely hoped to illustrate the similarities of the situation with bin Laden and the situation David was facing in this Psalm.

      To answer your question: no, I do not believe we should celebrate when a nominal Christian dies. The reason behind that has a lot to do with the potential reason for celebrating someone like bin Laden’s death.

      Much of what I’m going to attempt to demonstrate falls into the Reformation doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. I’m not qualified, nor prepared, to elucidate that teaching point by point. If you want a decent primer, check out this post (http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/the-latest-post/2010/9/2/a-two-kingdoms-primer.html)

      I believe that when Osama bin Laden was killed in that military operation a few months ago, he was receiving justice and being punished as a criminal, especially as a criminal against the United States of America, of which I am a citizen. I believe the Bible prescribes that type of action for secular governments in passages like Rom. 13:1-7. It’s clear to me that the Bible allows for civil punishments of lawbreakers. So, in this case, bin Laden was being punished not only as an enemy of war time, but also as a criminal of the U.S. Justice was served, and to that end I celebrate.

      In the case of a nominal Christian, or even a peaceful, law-abiding (civilly, not spiritually speaking) unbeliever, I do not believe any sort of celebration would be appropriate, as there is no action needed by the state. Insofar as every sinner is an enemy of God (Rom. 5:10), we, as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, are given the Gospel message of reconciliation to bring to them (2 Cor. 5:17-21). Their unbelief (or false belief, or however you want to classify it) is a spiritual matter, and not in the least a civil matter, and as such, not the responsibility of the government.

      I am saddened that Osama bin Laden did not repent and come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. However, as a Christian, I am pleased that God is in control of not only my spiritual life, but of all civil governments as well. He has given them the authority to punish crime. As a citizen of the U.S. I am happy that justice was served. As a citizen of the Kingdom of God, purchased by the blood of Christ, I am also happy that God is and promises to be faithful to his children.

      I hope that clears some things up. Again, thank you for stopping by the blog.

      I would like to point out what I tried to communicate in the post. I think our first reaction to any type of sin (whether civilly criminal or not) should be an internal self-examination and confession on our parts. Realizing that we, too, are sinners and coming to a daily repentance before God is crucial to our spiritual lives.

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