Psalm 70: A Psalm for Shame

Do me a favor and please read Psalm 70.

Sometimes those really short psalms are the ones we find that pack the most punch for us. And this one may be for you that one that hits the mark. Then again it may not. Either way – David has some good words and reminders for us.

Psalm 70 and Psalm 40 are quite similar in nature with similar petitions of help with many people feeling that they were possible combined at one point – but for a liturgical reason they were separated (you can find my blog on Psalm 40 here). Whatever the reason – the quick punchiness of it is felt. David, wherever he is and whatever he is going through, is in need of God’s saving…God’s work…God’s deliverance.

What I find really interesting is that 3 different times we either have the word “shame” or “disgrace”. 3 different times David is seeking the God who delivers to bring dishonor and humiliation to those who simply seek to harm him and his friends.

Honor and shame were a big thing back in the day – and still are for many cultures around the world today. Your name, the value of your word, the actions you took and didn’t take are what made your community function – and for David all of it was based on God and what he taught and expected. For David and those he surrounded himself this was all based on God and what God expected of his people. For David, he fully understood that it was ONLY in God that goodness and whatever is the opposite of shame is found. So it makes sense that David, in his time of need, seeks those who want to harm him to lose face and status. To not only be turned around and fail…but to be humiliated in it as well.

In many cultures shame and dishonor last long after the initial incident…and it’s something that affects your family and all those you associate with. David, for whatever reason, is seeking God to not only turn away those who want to hurt him…but he wants them utterly publically destroyed. Obliterated. Make it so that nobody wants to be around those people, nobody wants to be associated with them, and their whole family cuts them off. In essence – he wants them to have nothing, nobody, and zilch in the way of any public face. To me this feels like probably the 2nd worst thing you could have done (with death being the worst). I think we also have to remember that these cultures, and many today, depend on the community and body as a whole. To be shamed is to be shun. To be shun is to be given death. Maybe this is slightly worse than death – because in death you are removed. In shame and dishonor…you are seen and considered dead.

I want to come to this “seeking” thing we read here – because I think it’s a good reminder then of shame and dishonor. David, in verse 4, asks that “may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for our saving help always say, ‘The Lord is great!’” What I find interesting is that this is in contrast (this “seeking” of the Lord) with those who seek him. For those who seek him (David) he ask that they not find him – and for those who seek God he ask that they rejoice and be glad. But not only that – for those who need God and his saving work ALWAYS say that the Lord is great. To me, that also means that when we seek God and find he doesn’t answer in a way we desire…we still must always say that the “Lord is great!”

Here then is the challenge for you and I (or maybe just me) – even those who seek to humiliate and harm us…they too should have the opportunity to turn to God and praise his name. That even in their shunning, even in their removal from society, even in their dishonored state God is still their refuge should they seek him. And while you and I easily proclaim this and know this – it’s a little bit harder pill to swallow when we’ve been harmed by others.

We proclaim that God is a god of love and grace. Quick to remove his punishment, even quicker to love, and quickest to forgive with unimaginable grace. That is the same God who forgives you and I when we bring shame upon others and seek to harm others with our words and actions. The same God whom you rejoice in is the same God whom all the world can rejoice – should they turn and seek his face.

This psalm, in its generalness, is a good reminder that in times of need we should not seek our own desires of retribution and harm – but simply to seek God. Dishonor and shame only happen when we take things into our own hands because we feel we’ve been slighted or we want to harm someone and thus it backfires on us. No shame and honor can happen when we simply go to God and allow him to respond, allow him to save, allow him to deliver us from our troubles. No shame can be found when God is working and we are thankful.

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