The Refuge of God’s Righteousness
About ten years ago, when Melissa and I lived in south Minneapolis, and I had this little part-time job at an inner-city after-school program. The idea behind this program, like I think with most after-school programs, was mainly to help keep these kids out of trouble. A lot of stuff can go down from 3pm to 5pm, and so my job with this program was to show up and help lead in good, alternative activities, and it was a cool gig; we had a lot fun; we did a lot of urban hiking. And throughout the year I talked a lot with these students and heard their stories — and some of these students had some hard stories. And there was this one story in particular that I’ve probably thought about a thousand times since I heard it — Psalm 7 brought it back to mind this past week.
One of the students, kind of like the leader of the other girl students, told me that a few years earlier her younger sister had died, except she didn’t say it like that — she just told me what had happened. It was that her toddler sister was in their home and had wandered down the steps to their basement, and that the basement was where they kept their pit bull, and the dog attacked this little girl.
It was one of those stories that just gets stuck somewhere in here. And I have imagined over and over again in my mind what it must have been like for this defenseless, little toddler to innocently step into a space where an animal would attack her, and nobody was there to stop it — every fiber of father-ness in me just wants to do something.
I cannot stand it. None of us can stand that sort of thing — it’s the thought of an innocent person being completely vulnerable to an evil attacker.
That image evokes so much emotion in us. And it’s what David is doing right away here in Psalm 7, verses 1–2. Here in Psalm 7 David starts with this image:
O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge;
save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,
2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart,
rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.
This is what we can call David’s Realism.
David is being honest about his situation, and he uses graphic imagery. He says God, I’m hiding in you, and you’ve got to save me from my enemy because, if you don’t, my enemy will be like a lion and they will tear my soul apart.
Actually the word for “soul” here is the Hebrew word that means “life” or “breath” or sometimes it’s translated “neck” or “throat” (see Psalm 69:1). The idea is that this is where the life is, and that’s the image David means gives to us. Life is what the enemy wants to tear away. And David, of course, used to be a shepherd. He knows what a lion can do. He has seen what a lion can do.
And so he understands that if God doesn’t deliver him — if God doesn’t show up and save him — he is by himself, all alone, and he’s got nobody to stop the lion that is coming for his throat.
That’s the image in verses 1–2, and it’s connected to a historical event in David’s life.
The Historical Event
We can see that in the superscript. Notice that right above verse 1 there are those little words in small caps:
A ‘Shi-gay-un’ of David, which he sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite.
Now that first word “shiggaion” is a musical term that’s meant to signal some type of ancient melody, and we don’t know exactly how that sound goes, but it’s the sound that fit with David as he “sang to the Lord concerning the words of Cush, a Benjaminite.”
And this is interesting because we don’t know exactly what his is talking about. (In Psalm 3’s superscript we saw that it was written in the context of when David fled from Absalom, and we can go back in the Old Testament, to the book of 2 Samuel, and we can read all about that time in David’s life.) But here Psalm 7 it’s a little different because in the story of David we can’t find a man called “Cush, a Benjaminite.” So we don’t know exactly who that is and we don’t know exactly the words he said to David. But although we don’t know exactly what this is talking about, there’s still enough here to figure out what’s going on.
Whoever Cush was, we know he was a Benjaminite. And well King Saul was also a Benjaminite. Now remember that King David had assumed the throne of Israel after God stripped it away from Saul, and we can read in 2 Samuel 16 that the extended family of Saul, his fellow Benjaminites, were very bitter about this, even years later.
There’s actually one guy named Shimei — Pastor Joe told us all about this guy a few weeks ago — but when David was fleeing Jerusalem because of Absalom, Shimei publicly cursed David and threw dirt and stones at him, and in 2 Samuel 16 David refers to him as a Benjaminite (see 1 Sam 16:11). And so Psalm 7 could be about him (or it could be about another Benjaminite we don’t have the story of), but either way the accusations and the attack from Shimei are basically the same as what we see here. It’s that the Benjaminites did not like David; and they set themselves as his enemy. They accused David of evil against Saul. They said that David had wrongfully became the king over Israel, and they were intent on making him pay.
And David gets it. He understands what’s going on. He knows what they’re trying to do, and so he says it. We can see David’s realism here historically and at the level of imagery.
When it comes to history, David’s enemy was a family member of Saul who spoke a false narrative about David’s kingship and wanted to punish him.
When it comes to imagery, David’s enemy was a like a lion that wanted to rip out his throat.
That’s what is happening in Psalm 7. This is David’s realism, and so if this is what is going on, what is David going to do?
That’s what the rest of this psalm shows us: right after David’s Realism, we see David’s Appeal, and then we see David’s Hope. And those are the three points of the sermon:
We already have one point down; and so now we just have two points to go. But before we get there, I want to tell you a little bit about the structure of this psalm.
Meet the Chiasm
This is a special psalm because this psalm is written in what’s called a chiastic structure.
A chiastic structure is basically this ancient literary technique that arranges texts in a very symmetrical order, and typically the center of the text is the main point. Sometimes larger writings can do this, but often it’s in smaller passages. And it goes kind of like this: the first part and the last part go together, and then the second parts go together, and then the third, and it keeps going until you get to the middle, and the middle is like the bull’s eye. It’s the central message. And the Psalms sometimes do this, and you can see it in others places throughout the Bible, but Psalm 7 is a perfect example. Psalm 7 goes AA, BB, CC, and then DD — which is the central message.
And this is a genius literary technique, because it’s artistic and poetic and beautiful.
Or you could just think about it like a cheeseburger. Imagine a cheeseburger for a minute. The middle of the burger is where you find the meat. That’s the good part. All the other stuff basically accessorizes the beef. They are there to feature the meat. That’s kind of how it goes with a chiastic structure. If you could imagine that.
It looks like this:
So A is verses 1–2 and verse 17 (pretzel bun), then B is verses 3–7 and verses 12–16 (double lettuce), and then C is verse 8 and verses 10–11 (double cheese), and then the center is verse 9. Verse 9 is the main point of the passage. It’s the beef. This is where we see David’s hope.
O Lord my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands,
4 if I have repaid my friend with evil
or plundered my enemy without cause,
5 let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it,
and let him trample my life to the ground
and lay my glory in the dust.
So verse 9 is the main point, but I want us to end there with the sermon. We’re going to end in the middle. But first, let’s look at David’s Appeal.
This starts in verses 3–7, and then we see it paralleled again in verses 12–16. And in both parts, David is appealing to God for justice. Look at verse 3:
This is pretty straightforward. David is saying: Lord, if I am guilty of these accusations — if I have done the things this person has brought against me — then, yeah, let him destroy me.
David is asking for God’s justice because he is confident about his innocence. The boldness of his appeal matches the cleanness of his conscience. He knows that God does what is right. It would be unjust to punish an innocent man, and so God won’t do that — now we don’t know that people won’t do that — but we do know what God won’t do that, and so David is appealing to God with this knowledge of God.
We see the same idea in verses 12–16, except it’s the other side. It’s not about innocence, it’s about wickedness. David knows that God’s justice requires his vindication, and then his enemy’s judgment.
Look at verse 12:
If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword;
he has bent and readied his bow;
13 he has prepared for him his deadly weapons,
making his arrows fiery shafts.
14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil
and is pregnant with mischief
and gives birth to lies.
15 He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
16 His mischief returns upon his own head,
and on his own skull his violence descends.
The wicked — the unrepentant — those who persist in opposition to God and his people, they will not make it.
Because that is right.
It is right for the innocent to be vindicated, and for the wicked to be destroyed. And there are two parts to the destruction.
In one part, in verses 12–13, God is the active avenger. He is described like a warrior, and he has his bow drawn, and he’s ready to unleash wrath on the unrepentant. And then there is the other part, in verses 15–16, and this is basically the self-imploding of the wicked.
So there’s what God does to the wicked, and then there’s what the wicked do to themselves. Look at this in verse 15: the wicked fall into a pit that they themselves have dug. The wicked do wicked things, and then it falls back down on their own heads.
This is kind of like the old cartoons of Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. These are old school, but if you guys remember, the entire carton is just the Coyote trying to destroy the Road Runner, but everything he tries ends up coming back on him. You remember these?
There’s this one where the Coyote takes some bird seed and mixes in some steel pellets, and he puts it out on the road, and the Road Runner comes by and he stops to eat it — because it’s bird seed — and then he runs off, but the Coyote has this giant magnet he gets out and the idea is that this giant magnet will pull Road Runner back and catch him, because he ate the magnetic steel. And so the Coyote holds this giant magnet up, and he’s grinning, waiting for Road Runner to get sucked back, but guess what happens? The magnet doesn’t attract the Road Runner, it attracts a giant stick of dynamite and of course it was lit and then boom! It came back on him. That’s basically every cartoon every time. It’s Psalm 7, verse 16.
That’s what is going on here with the wicked. The harm they intend on the innocent will be the anvil that crushes their own head. And this all gets at a larger category that is just part of reality in this world.
Our World’s Moral Order
This is the category that, by and large, in most cases, people tend to reap what they sow. Now this is in the Bible — in Galatians 6:7, the apostle Pauls says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” — so this truth is in the Bible, but it started as just an ancient proverb.
This is really just conventional wisdom about how the world works: it’s that we tend to harvest our investment. If your oven works, and you have all the ingredients, and you follow all the steps, you will reap a good creme brûlée — if you don’t, you get an egg bake.
This is our normal expectation as humans who live in this world. We all have this inner sense that people are supposed to get what they deserve. It’s our sense of justice and causality. If we do certain causes, it will have certain effects.
And this is so normal, and so expected, that anytime it doesn’t happen, we do not like it. And so we have words for it — words like injustice and suffering. That is when the wicked flourish and the righteous are afflicted. And that does happen — Ecclesiastes 9 tells us that happens; the Psalms tell us that happens; you know that happens — and it just means that sometimes, too many times, “the way it is” is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Injustice and suffering are common in this world, but they are not natural. They are common in a world corrupted by sin, but they’re never natural to the moral order of God’s design.
Within God’s moral order, in the normal way of doing things where there is right and wrong, in that world, by and large, you sow bad, you reap bad; you sow good, you reap good.
Now of course that’s not the whole story, but that is normal reality — and so much of our lives is based on this reality. Think about this: so much of what you do every single day is because you expect what you do to have a certain outcome. And we get this. This is why you brush your teeth. This is why you go to school. This is why you do your job. This is the reason for a thousand different things we do everyday because it’s how the world works.
And David gets this too. This the nature of his appeal. Within God’s moral order, David wants and expects for God to treat him in accordance with his righteousness and for God to treat his enemy’s in accordance with their wickedness. David is asking for that.
Two Important Details
But now wait a minute. I don’t know about you, but when I see David talking about this own righteousness in verse 8, it makes me uncomfortable. We’re good Protestants around here — the Bible teaches that we are saved because of Jesus’s righteousness, not our own righteousness. Self-righteousness — our trying to be good enough for God to save — that’s just garbage. We don’t want that. We don’t believe that. So then what’s going on here with David?
There are two important details we need to know for Psalm 7. It’s that David’s appeal is particular not universal, and there’s a difference between personal integrity and self-righteousness.
Particular, Not Universal
First, remember that David is responding to a historical event here. This Benjaminite has said untrue things about him, and he wants it rectified. David is not making this appeal before the judgment seat of Christ on the last day. David would not stand before God, bringing the totality of his life under God’s review, and say: judge me according to my righteousness. David would never do that.
Remember this David. This is the same David who says in Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
And then there’s Psalm 130, verse 3 where the psalmist says: “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”
So at the end of the day, David is not trying to bring his righteousness to God so that God will save him. David needs the mercy of God. When it’s all said and done, David’s only chance is mercy.
But in this particular instance in Psalm 7, the mercy of God looks like justice concerning these accusations, and justice looks like vindication because David was innocent. He did not do the things his enemy has accused him of — and we know he didn’t. We can read about it.
In 1 Samuel 24, God has already decided to strip the throne away from Saul and give it to David. David was anointed king in 1 Samuel 16, and he defeated Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, and by 1 Samuel 18 Saul is jealous of David — because “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam. 18:7). And Saul starts trying to kill David several times, and he eventually runs David out of Jerusalem, and David and his little band of fighters are just on the run. Saul is coming after him, trying to kill him, and there’s this one scene in 1 Samuel 24: David has been hiding out in a cave, and Saul is searching for David with an army of three thousand men, and they approach this cave, but they have no clue that David is hiding in it, and Saul decides that the cave is a great place to use the bathroom.
So imagine this: David and his team are in the innermost part of the cave, in the shadows, and Saul — of all people! — comes walking into the cave completely oblivious that David is there, and Saul squats down or whatever to use the bathroom and he’s just a few feet from David. In terms of dramatic irony in the Bible, this is incredible! And David’s men say, David, here’s your chance. There he is. Just one swing of the sword. You got this.
And David sneaks up a little closer to Saul (which is kind of awkward) and he cuts a piece of his robe off, but David’s convicted, and he says, I’m not going to kill Saul. God forbid that I should lift my hand against God’s king. If God wants me to be king instead of Saul, God will take care of that.
And a little later, Saul finds out that David spared his life and he says to David, You are righteous!
Personal Integrity Is Not Self-Righteousness
Because David was righteous. David did the right thing. So for this Benjaminite to accuse David of wronging Saul, for him to say that David was unethical, or that David had sinned against Saul — it’s just not true. David has walked with integrity.
Which is not the same as self-righteousness.
Self-righteousness, again, is when we think we can earn God’s salvation by our performance. You can’t. God saves us only by his grace, because Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That is the gospel. God’s salvation is a gift. And personal integrity is living in a manner that is fitting to the gift. It’s walking “in step with the truth of the gospel” (see Galatians 2:14).
And the difference here between person integrity and self-righteousness is just assumed in the Bible. It’s why Paul can say in Philippians 3:8, I want to “gain Christ, and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ.” Paul rejects self-righteousness. He needs the righteousness of Jesus.
And he also says in 1 Corinthians 9:27, “I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” And he says in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “[God’s] grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”
So it goes likes this: Only the righteousness of Jesus makes us acceptable to God; it’s our integrity that makes us usable for God; and every bit of it is grace. Grace is the rock bottom, which means there’s never any room for pride.
David is not being prideful in Psalm 7, he’s just saying: God, you know! You hear the words of Cush the Benjaminite, and you know I have walked in the integrity of my heart. So, God, you have judge this thing.
That’s David’s appeal.
And it’s all focusing in on verse 9. This is David’s hope.
First look at verse 8,
The Lord judges the peoples;
judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness
and according to the integrity that is in me.
10 My shield is with God,
who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day.
David says that God is his judge, and he wants God to be his judge, because God’s judgment is the only judgment he can trust. Now here’s verse 9.
This is the center of the passage:
9 Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end,
and may you establish the righteous—
you who test the minds and hearts,
O righteous God!
David is longing for what he knows will one day be. This is not a pipe-dream petition — this is a statement of hope.
See, whatever happens with this Benjaminite, whether or not an earthly court will judge rightly in this particular case, David knows that one day everything will be put right. The entire world will all be put back together in order and righteousness by the righteous God who can read minds and hearts.
The righteous God will have a righteous world, and in that world wicked people will be no more, and righteous people will be established. This is our future hope. Verse 9 is David longing for the new creation, which will be a world of peace.
Peace like we cannot fathom. Like, we can try. The Bible gives us some images. We can use our imaginations. Isaiah tells us that in this new world, in the world where all is right, the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and lion will walk side by side, being led by the hand of a toddler (see Isaiah 11:6–9).
Can you imagine that?
Little babies that crawl will be able to stick their hands into the hole of a cobra. Kids will be able to play with any kind of dog they want anywhere they want. That is a world that is right. Which is not this world yet, but it is the world that God will bring here by his righteousness.
And this is the world we all long for.
Whether you’re a Christian or not, or religious or not, in the same way that we all have this sense of justice in us, we all have this longing for a new and better world. It’s a world that no technology can manufacture. It has to be a world that God makes new.
And the big question for us personally is: Will we be there?
In this new world, will you be “brought to an end” or will you “be established”?
And the answer has to do with whether or not you trust Jesus.
On the last day, when we stand before Jesus and he welcomes us into his kingdom, we know it’s only because of him. It’s only by his grace. Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.
Jesus has made the way for us. Trust him. This morning, trust in Jesus.
That’s what we remember at this Table.
At this Table, the bread represents the broken body of Jesus for you, and the cup represents the blood of Jesus that he shed for you, and when we eat and drink, we’re saying: Jesus is our only hope. We are looking ahead to the new creation, and we know we’re going to be there only because of Jesus.
And so if that’s your hope this morning, if you are united to Jesus by faith, we welcome you to this Table.