Crying Out for Vengeance
(1) Yahweh, God of vengeance, God of vengeance, shine forth! (2) Rise up, judge of the earth! Repay to the proud what they deserve. (3) How long, Yahweh, (will) the wicked, how long will the wicked exult? (4) They pour out arrogant words. All the evildoers boast. (5) They crush your people, Yahweh, and afflict your inheritance. (6) They afflict the widow and the sojourner and murder the fatherless, (7) and they say, “Yahweh does not see. The God of Jacob does not discern.”
Two verses in this opening segment of the psalm contain repetitions used for rhetorical emphasis. First, the psalmist addresses Yahweh twice as “God of vengeance” (vs. 1). Then, he repeats the phrase, “How long will the wicked,” to emphasize that God’s vengeance, though it may be delayed, will surely appear (vs. 3). Note the synonyms: “pour out arrogant words” and “boast” (vs. 4), “crush” and “afflict” along with “your people” and “your inheritance” (vs. 5), “kill” and “murder” (vs. 6), and “see” and “discern” (vs. 7).
I. What we pray for: Yahweh's avenging us (1-3)
II. Why we pray: because evildoers cruelly oppress us (4-7)
Those whom the wicked oppress cry out to Yahweh for vengeance.
The desire for fair treatment runs deep within the human heart. Before most of us can read or write, we demand to be treated equitably. If a sister or brother is shown favor by a parent, we demand the same treatment. If a neighbor hurts us, we want to see them hurt in return. If someone takes advantage of us, we want them to be paid back with interest. “Dish out to others what they have dished out to you” is the law of the playground, the urban ghetto, the worldly credo with which we have grown up and that lurks deep within our beings.
Paul’s command to believers, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom. 12:17), directly challenges this very human desire for retaliation. When Paul continues with “Do not take revenge, my friends” (Rom. 12:19), we find ourselves asking, “Could he really have meant this?” The rest of the verse answers our skepticism: “But leave room for God's wrath, for it is written, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). In other words, we who belong to God are not to seek vengeance for ourselves but rather trust God to right the wrongs done to us.
This is precisely what the opening segment of Psalm 94 communicates. With great emotion and eloquence, the psalmist pleads with God to bring justice to bear (vss. 1-3) by avenging all the wrongs done to Israel by her enemies (vss. 4-7). Such a prayer is entirely appropriate for believers. In fact, this is how we can make sense of Paul’s commands in Romans 12. We escape being ensnared in the escalating tangle of seeking to avenge the wrongs done to us if we count on the promise that Yahweh will someday repay all those who have hurt us. We can leave everything in his powerful hands, trusting that Abraham’s comment regarding the judge of all the earth who will certainly do what is right applies to us as well (Gen. 18:25).