The Turn

Psalm 139: 19-24

If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
Search me, 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.

David, the author of today’s passage, is known as “a man after God’s own heart,” but the first several lines of this Psalm are violent and filled with hatred! We might be tempted to wave that off, since his hatred is directed toward “the wicked,” and evil is not something that God loves. But the men who crucified Jesus could easily be described as wicked, and we saw just yesterday how Jesus prayed for them and loved them. So what’s going on here?

There is a common device in poetry known as “the turn.” It’s a point in a poem where the perspective and tone of the speaker changes dramatically, causing the reader to understand the entire poem in a different light. In this poem (all of the Psalms are poems or songs), we see one such turn¾after several lines of rage, the Psalmist says, “search me, God, and know my heart.” As a kid, I always thought that David said this in order to prove to God that he was better than the wicked men he rages against in the rest of the poem. But what if he’s actually experiencing a moment of self-reflection here? What if, even in the midst of his rage, he is recognizing that his rage is not “in the way everlasting”? If that’s what’s happening here, how does that change the way we read this Psalm?