The Golden Rule Upended
(11) Malicious witnesses rise up. They ask me things of which I know nothing. (12) They repay me evil for good to the grief of my soul. (13) But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth. I afflicted my soul with fasting. I prayed with my head bowed on my chest. (14) I paced to and fro as if it had been my friend or brother. I bowed down in grief as if in mourning for my mother. (15) But at my stumbling they rejoiced and gathered together. They gathered together against me. Attackers I did not know tore at me without ceasing. (16) Like profane mockers at a feast, they gnashed at me with their teeth. (17) Lord, how long will you look on? Rescue my soul from their devastations, my precious (life) from the lions. (18) Then I will celebrate you in the great congregation. In the mighty throng I will praise you.
Three repetitions characterize this segment. First, “my soul” occurs three times indicating how deeply David felt about the abuse of his enemies (vss. 12, 13, & 17). Twice we find the word, “know,” once in the phrase, “of which I know nothing” (vs. 11), and again, “I did not know” (vs. 15). Both show how blindsided David was by the depth of the malevolence he was facing. Finally, the author twice emphasizes how “they gathered together” against me (vs. 15). We should also take note of the vivid synonyms David uses to describe those who were troubling his life: “malicious witnesses” (vs. 11), “attackers” (vs. 15), “profane mockers at a feast” (vs. 16), and “lions” (vs. 17).
Two “un” words describe how these attacks particularly caused David pain. Their onslaughts were both unexpected and undeserved. David captures the essence of this mistreatment with the statement, “They repay me evil for good” (vs. 12). Although he had responded to them like a family member when they were in need of his help (vss. 13 & 14), “they gathered together against me” (vs. 15). When we are ambushed by the malice of those with whom we have shown grace, we feel it acutely. William Blake phrased it well: “It is easier to forgive an enemy than a friend.”
I. My predicament: evildoers rise up against me. (11 & 12)
II. My puzzlement: I receive mistreatment in response to grace. (13-16)
III. My petition: rescue me from their devastations. (17 & 18)
When those whom we have treated graciously shock us with undeserved abuse, we have no recourse but to seek Yahweh’s intervention.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave his disciples a standard for living which we call the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Mt. 7:12). While this principle may serve as an effective guideline for how we should treat others in most of life’s circumstances, it does not specifically show us how to respond to those who repay us evil for good. We could call this the Golden Rule upended.
David experienced this kind of injustice during two specific periods of his life. The first occurred while jealous King Saul was unjustly pursuing him through the desert of Judea in order to destroy his young rival. Much later, Absalom, David’s firstborn and heir, was unwilling to wait for his father’s death to inherit the throne. Instead, he rebelled and nearly succeeded in overthrowing the king. In neither case did David seek to defend himself nor exact revenge on those who had sought his destruction. Instead, he committed himself to God’s care and keeping and ultimately experienced divine deliverance.
David lived by the Golden Rule even when others failed to do so. This kind of commitment should guide our response to undeserved abuse. Whether or not others follow this standard in the way they treat us, we are expected to live according to Jesus’ principle if we would call ourselves his disciples. And when we respond to evil with grace, God has promised to hear and answer our prayers for protection and deliverance. By showing good will toward those who treat us with contempt, we bring honor and glory to our gracious God. After all, that is precisely the way God dealt with us: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).