Zealous for the Lord
by Jack Wald | August 14th, 2016

Psalm 69

I preached last week from Psalm 22, a psalm of David. Psalm 22 speaks about death by crucifixion. Because this was not something that David ever faced, at least not that we know, and because there are so many details about the crucifixion of Jesus in that psalm, it is viewed as a prophetic psalm. David wrote about what would not be fulfilled for another one thousand years when Jesus went to the cross.

Another factor in viewing Psalm 22 as a prophetic psalm is that David does not write about a desire for vengeance against those attacking him. Today we come to Psalm 69, another psalm of David, and this time we see David’s normal pattern. This psalm has a section where David creatively seeks ways to strike back at those who are attacking him.

In verses 18-21 he writes about how he is being attacked.
Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.
19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.
20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.
21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

There is no indication of what event in David’s life is behind this psalm, but David is feeling alone, suffering disgrace. It could be when his son Absalom rose up in rebellion against him. David was an emotional man and had highs and lows. It could be some other time when the bottom had fallen out of his world and he was feeling vulnerable and disrespected.

So now David sets off on a creative brainstorming session, thinking about how to get back at those who are attacking him.

Verses 22-28
May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and a trap.
23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.
24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.
25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.
26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.
27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.
28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

David wants them to fall into a trap, to be blinded, to be bent over without being able to stand erect. He wants them to lose their home, to have their wives, children, and all other relatives killed. He wants them to be charged with every crime in the book. He wants them to be cut out of God’s plan of salvation, to be erased in the book of life, to have all memory of them extinguished.

That’s pretty thorough, isn’t it? Do you ever pray that way? Do you ever sit down and think of creative ways to make those who hurt you suffer? If so, do you feel good about doing that?

Psalm 69 can be outlined this way:
1-5 David pours out his troubles. “Help! I’m drowning!”
6-12 David details how he is attacked, how he is mocked in his misery
13-18 Once again David cries out, “Help!”
19-21 David returns to his misery. “My life is bitter.”
22-28 David curses his enemies. “So stick it to them for my sake.”
29-38 Here there is a shift and now David praises God from his heart. The bad has been cleared out and now there is room for praise.

This is the pattern in many of the psalms. There is a cry for safety, a description of all the bad things that are happening, an expression of the bitterness or anger that is felt, and then, at the end, praise to God.

So here is lesson one. (There are three lessons from Psalm 69 this morning, this is the first.) When we write a psalm, when we express ourselves in prayer to God, when we write in our journals, the object is not to be nice. The goal is not to be Christian. If our prayer, our writing in our journal or a psalm if we are writing a psalm, if any of these do not begin with what we are feeling in the depth of our being, expressing creatively whatever we are feeling, we will have a superficial relationship with God.

What we are feeling could be anything from intense joy to bitter anger. Whatever emotion we are feeling needs to be expressed fully to God before we can offer the praise to God he wants from us.

We are pretty good at hiding the negative emotions we are feeling from others. We can come to church feeling deep hurt, great pain, and when we see people, put on a big smile. When we are asked, “How are you doing?” we smile and say, “Fine,” and move on. We hide what we are feeling from others and often hide what we are feeling from ourselves.

We do this because we don’t think it is good to feel such things. Jesus said to love our neighbor and turn the other cheek. If we are feeling so angry we want to strike out and physically harm someone, we are ashamed to let someone know that is what we are feeling and thinking.

One day in the early months of my time in Rabat, I was waiting by the Shell station on Mohammed VI for a woman who was going to show me some houses for Annie and I to look at. As I was waiting this guy came up to me acting crazy. He was waving his hands around and bumping me. I put one hand on my wallet in the back pocket and pushed him off with the second. He went away a few steps and then turned around with a grin holding my keys in his hand. I was wearing jeans but he had pulled my keys with a leather attachment that held nine dirham coins out of my front pocket without me feeling it. He gave me back the keys, not knowing perhaps that dirham coins were in the attachment, and went off.

From that day on I have not carried a wallet in Morocco. I keep bills in a money clip in my front pocket along with a coin purse and I walk down the street with my hand in my pocket.

As I thought about this incident in the days that followed, I was filled with rage. I had not lost anything but I still felt violated. I had visions of me knocking him down on the ground with his face smashing into the pavement. I thought about this over and over again.

I had similar feelings in 2005 when two young men came at Annie and me and a friend with the long knives they use to butcher sheep. This happened just two weeks before those long knives were used to kill sheep for the Eid al-Kair and we were on our way to the Christmas morning service at the church in Centreville. They attacked us as we walked through the valley toward the Chellah. We escaped without injury and without loss, but for days afterwards I thought about how I might have been able to get one of the knives and attack them. Or I thought how wonderful it would have been if I had had a gun with me or pepper spray.

Some of us have suffered pain from one or both of our parents. We might have suffered from physical or sexual abuse. We might have suffered humiliation because of the color of our skin. Someone may have taken something from us that is precious and cannot be replaced. We have lots of reasons to be hurt, angry, and bitter.

In 2010 when the government of Morocco abruptly deported the parents of the children of the Village of Hope, I was crushed. I grieved. I was angry. Because my negative emotions were so strong, Annie and Tracy, the associate pastor at the time, were anxious about what I would say when I preached on the Sundays in those weeks. But I wanted to model how to deal with intense grief and one of the things necessary for me was to express to God all the emotion I was feeling. It was necessary for me to express it fully, as creatively as possible. It was because I did not hold back in my expression of all the negative emotions I was feeling that I was able to preach sermons in those weeks that held truth that lifted us to God and that encouraged us to put our trust in God.

This is the first lesson from Psalm 69. In your prayers, in your journaling, don’t skim the surface of what you are feeling. Go deep down, unleashing whatever is simmering and allow it to come to the surface where the Holy Spirit can bring healing, hope, and trust and then you will be released to offer genuine praise from your heart.

Lesson two is that the desire for vengeance is an honest emotion, but not a New Testament option.

The desire for revenge, for vengeance, is so sweet, so delicious. If we give into it, we can spend hours thinking about how to get back at those who have hurt us.

The Count of Monte Cristo was written in 1844 by Alexander Dumas. It has been a popular book ever since. In the sixteen years of this century, 172 years after it was written, it has been made into a movie in 2002, musicals in 2008 and 2009, a soap opera in 2007, and a video game in 2014. There is a long list of books, movies, plays, and TV series that have adapted this story.

Why is it so popular?

It is a great story of revenge. A young sea captain on the verge of great success and fortune returns to France with a letter to deliver. The man who receives the letter realizes the letter would get him into trouble with the government so he falsely accuses the young man who is sent off to a prison, leaving his fiancee and all his rising prospects behind. After fourteen years in a harsh prison he escapes. The man in the cell next to him had confided the location of a buried treasure and he makes his way to this island. He returns to France as a mysterious, wealthy man and begins to plot sweet, delicious, revenge against all those who had betrayed him. He creatively makes each person who betrayed him suffer in the way that hurts them most.

It is a richly satisfying story. The Count of Monte Cristo and a host of other books, movies, and TV shows make good use of our desire for revenge.

A singer I like, John McCutcheon, wrote a song titled “The Red Corvette”

This morning as I read my paper
In search of a new set of wheels
My newspaper had a most curious ad
In its listing of automobiles

I smiled with suspicious amusement
At what looked like a great stroke of luck
Corvette – it said – low mileage, bright red
Ninety-four model, sixty-five bucks

I’m used to my newspaper’s errors
But I called up the number straightway
About the Corvette – have you sold the car yet?
She said, No, you’re my first call today

I said, There’s been a mistake in the paper
They printed the price wrong somehow
No, they haven’t, said she, They got that from me
I said, Don’t sell – I’m leaving right now

Her home was in part of the city
Where I’d ventured just one time or two
Where doctors, bank presidents, lawyers were residents
And the houses were massive and huge

As I pulled up the half mile of driveway
There, in the heat of the day
In the sunshine it gleamed, the car of my dreams
Only sixty-five dollars away

The interior was done in red leather
The engine a massive V8
A white cabrio top like new from the shop
And the hi-fi sounded just great

There was chrome on the chrome on the chromium
There was an aerodynamic design
It had a bar, a TV, and – amazing to me
For sixty-five bucks it was mine

I thought that woman was crazy
Selling the car at that price
As we walked down the lane she seemed perfectly sane
She was charming and really quite nice

And she smiled with great satisfaction
As she handed me papers and keys
I said, I’ve just got to know why you let this thing go
What’s wrong with the car, tell me please

She said, I’ll be sixty on Tuesday
I’ve lived here with my husband Earl
After thirty years wed without a word said
He’s run off with some silly young girl

But he left his credit cards behind him
So I knew that he wouldn’t get far
Last night, from Capri, he faxed this to me
I need money, dear, sell the car

That is great revenge. If you look on the internet you can find sites devoted to stories of how people were wronged and how they got revenge.

We love the idea of getting revenge so much; the desire for revenge is so deep in us. David delighted in thinking of creative ways to make his enemies suffer, but that is not the way of Jesus.

Verse 21 of Psalm 69 comes just before David launches into his creative desire for vengeance.
“They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” We recognize that as a reference to Jesus on the cross who said, “I thirst,” and then we read in John 19:29
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

So while David strikes out in a search for creative, delightfully satisfying revenge, we are pulled to contrast how Jesus handled suffering at the hands of his enemies. What did Jesus say about those who were mocking him, causing him to suffer on the cross? (Luke 23:34)
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

The Law of Moses was very specific about how to deal with those who wronged someone else.
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.

Exodus 21:22–25
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. 23 But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

This is the Old Testament pattern of justice. (Leviticus 24:17–20)
“ ‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. 18 Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. 19 Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury.

But Jesus changed that. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught (Matthew 5:38–42)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

In the New Testament, because we have received such great mercy and grace from God, we are called to forgive, not to seek revenge. Paul wrote in Romans 12:14–21
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We forgive and leave justice to God. We are called by Jesus to forgive, not to seek vengeance. We put those who have wronged us in the hands of Jesus who will bring perfect justice.

There is such powerful wisdom in this, because in the process of seeking revenge, we are harmed. But when we forgive, we are set free. The Count of Monte Cristo learned this. At the end of the book, after he has avenged the injustice that was done to him, he is a broken man, on the verge of committing suicide. The revenge he has had has not been so sweet. It has wounded him. But then he receives a sign that God has forgiven him and ends the book by saying,
“Tell the angel who will watch over your life to pray now and then for a man who, like Satan, believed himself for an instant to be equal to God, but who realized in all humility that supreme power and wisdom are in the hands of God alone.”

Laying down our desire for revenge at the cross of Jesus and forgiving those who have hurt us sets us free. It liberates us and allows us to live. We release the hurt and pain and put it in the hands of Jesus who will judge us all at the end of time. We leave judgment in the hands of the loving, and perfect judge.

Psalm 69 is quoted four times in the New Testament: twice in Romans, once in Acts, and once in John. In the third lesson we will focus on verse 9 which John quoted when he talked about Jesus cleansing the temple of the money changers.

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

The third lesson is a question: Are we zealous for the Lord?

This question makes us nervous. When we hear that someone is zealous, we put up our defenses. We are not sure what to make of such a person.

I read an article titled, “Why People Hate Vegans.” Vegans are people who do not eat or use products that come from animals. There is a lot of legalism in veganism. For example, it is debated in vegan forums on the internet whether it is ok to use horse manure on a garden to make vegetables grow better.

In the article the author quotes Eric Hoffer’s book, The True Believer, and says, “In short, True Believers like to stick their noses in other people’s business and never let little annoyances like logic or observable facts shake their beliefs.  As Hoffer wrote, True Believers are impervious to facts.” The article says that what makes people hate vegans is their criticism of what others eat and their unrelenting proselytizing of others to become vegans.

In an Israeli newspaper there is an article that talks about Israeli zealots who are seeking to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. In their zeal, they inflame the Muslims who also claim the site of the temple as a holy site. Israeli settlers in the West Bank are called zealots because of their unrelenting push to claim more and more Palestinian territory as their own.

We are uncomfortable with the word zealous and especially the word zealot because it has so many negative examples it brings to our mind. You can’t reason with a zealot. There is no room for discussion with a zealot.

So this brings us to Jesus who came into the temple, made a whip from the straw on the ground, drove out the animals being sold to those who wanted to make a sacrifice on the altar in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers. (John 2:14–17)
14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: [Psalm 69] “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

Jesus was zealous for God’s temple. When he saw how disrespectfully the money changers were treating the worship of God, his zeal caused him to respond forcefully.

If you look on the internet to see how people understand this action of Jesus, you will see a lot of creativity to get around the fact that it seems Jesus was angry. This was not gentle Jesus, meek and mild Jesus. This was Jesus who John said in his Revelation will come at the end of time. (Revelation 19:11–16)
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
king of kings and lord of lords.

When Jesus cleared the temple, this was a small taste of what is to come.

What lesson do we draw from this? I don’t have time to go into a discussion of how we respond to injustice. So let me say simply that we need to have a passion for the Kingdom of God that models the passion of Jesus for his father’s house. We need to be zealous for his kingdom. Many times I have heard people tell me that they have three priorities in their life. God is number one, family number two, and job is number three. But my observation is that for most people job or studies is number one, and then family and God come someplace after that. This was certainly my experience at times in my life.

The bible says God is a jealous God. When Moses received the law from God, God told him: (Exodus 34:14)
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

It is not that God does not want any competition, God is so much greater than we can imagine that there is no competition.

God created us to be in fellowship with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we move through life on earth, we are lost, unable to be who we need to be in order to come into his kingdom. So God came to earth and was born as a human. He lived, died, and rose again to eternal life. And because we were created to be in fellowship with him, he promises to take us with him into his eternal kingdom. We are loved so amazingly by the preexisting creator God of the universe.

If this is not the most important truth in our lives, we are lost. We need to be zealous for his kingdom, making his kingdom the center of our lives. Our passion must be for Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus must be more important than any earthly treasure, any earthly joy, any earthly disappointment, any earthly sorrow.

There are times I find myself wishing I was wealthier and more intelligent. I can get drawn into this fantasy and then need to come back to reality and once again put my mind, my heart, and my soul in pursuit of Jesus.

Whenever I talk about this, I find it necessary to say that what we do in this earthly life is important. Your studies, your work are important. Paul said he was an expert church planter. God asked for skilled workmen to build his temple. We need to work hard to do well in school and in our work. Our performance gives us a platform from which we can allow the light of Jesus in us to shine.

I know that studies and work are important, but they cannot be number one on our list of priorities. What we do in life is not as important as we think it is. How we do what we do in life has eternal significance. Every person we meet is someone God loves. How do we view them? How do we treat them? On earth we view who we are relative to who others are. In heaven we will view who we are in relationship to who Jesus is and all those in heaven with us will be our sisters and brothers. They will bow the knee to Jesus just as we will bow the knee to Jesus. Keep an eternal perspective as you move through studies, work, and relationships.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:11
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.

May our zeal for the Lord be unfailing as we serve him together.