Week 7 –Lead us not into Temptation and Deliver Us from Evil
Psalms of Deliverance
7, 10, 12, 13, 17, 22, 26, 31, 35, 39, 44, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 64, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 79, 80, 82, 83, 85, 88, 90, 94, 108, 109, 120, 126, 137, 140, 141, 142
I enjoy challenges that push me to be all that I can be, but I don’t enjoy being tested. Holy Week tests us if we are serious about what we are doing. The Scriptures of Holy Week require us to go to the gates of death, walk with Jesus during his final hours, endure all that he endured. There are tests that challenge us, help us grow stronger, and then there are other tests that are from Satan and not to be sought after.
Jesus taught us to pray, put us not to the test. He knew that the spirit was willing but the flesh weak. The apostles are put to the test during the final day of Jesus’ life and failed miserably. None were able to stay awake with Jesus; Peter denied he knew Jesus and all fled out of fear.
Our psalms for this final portion of our Bible study are Psalms of Deliverance. In these psalms God’s people cry out to him to save them, rescue, redeem, deliver and have pity on them. “These psalms are the prayers of the ‘Anawim’ – the lowly ones among God’s people, who, like the Apostles, have learned to depend totally on the Lord for their safety, well-being and their success,” (p. 132) Fr. Murphy tells us.
They make up the largest category of psalms we have considered. It would appear that there were a great many reasons for the Hebrew people to seek deliverance. These psalms recount tales of being unjustly accused, of innocent suffering and the need to rely on God in the face of evil. Deliver us from the evil that surrounds us are the prayers of the people.
As Fr. Murphy tells us, “the seventh phrase deals with remaining in and/or being restored to that union with God as we, in our human frailty, encounter the obstacles and trials which inevitably await us along the path of our lives.” And so we pray, lead us not into temptation, and where that is not possible, keep us safe from evil; keep us close to you, Lord.
While God is first and foremost throughout the Psalms, enemies are in a solid second place. “People who are looking for a spiritual soporific don’t pray the Psalms, or at least don’t pray them for very long. The Psalms are full of unsettling enemy talk,” Peterson tells us. “Evil is encountered. Wickedness is confronted. . . . The people who practice this prayer get excited—they yell and gesture. They are engaged, or soon to be engaged, in an act of war. Prayer is combat.” (p. 95)
Peterson goes on to explain, “When we take the Psalms as our guide, we find that people who pray have a lot of enemies, and that they spend a lot of their praying time dealing with them.” (p. 96) Evil is real and needs to be dealt with, hence the number of prayers for deliverance.
As mentioned in the last section, the early Hebrew people were not burdened with conscience in the same way we are. They readily spoke their feelings, including their hatred for those who harmed them, who destroyed innocent lives, those they considered evil. Perhaps the most problematic verse in the Psalms is the verse I mentioned in the opening section from Psalm 137 – “Happy those who seize your children and smash them against a rock!” (9) Words of pure hatred against an enemy, Babylon, that had taken everything from them, family, friends, property, identity, as they were brought into exile into a strange land. Perhaps what makes these words so striking is that they seem to come out of nowhere.
This psalm starts as a plaintive lament that elicits sympathy for the Israelites in captivity as they are sitting by the waters of Babylon and weeping over all they had lost. This sympathy is smashed on the rocks when we read the vindictive phrase at the end. Many deal with this passage and others like it by editing it out rather than struggle with it. But in doing so, you are missing out on the richness and complexity that is the Psalms. The opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference. Hate is an emotion that needs to be recognized and dealt with, not ignored or pushed down.
“Hate is our emotional link with the spirituality of evil. It is the volcanic eruption of outrage when the holiness of being, ours or another’s, has been violated. It is also the ugliest and most dangerous of emotions, the hair trigger on a loaded gun. Embarrassed by the ugliness and fearful of the murderous, we commonly neither admit nor pray our hate; we deny it and suppress it. But if it is not admitted it can quickly and easily metamorphose into the evil that provokes it; and if it is not prayed we have lost an essential insight and energy into doing battle with evil,” (p. 98) Peterson tells us.
It is hate that lets us know that something is terribly wrong and motivates us to action. It is a sign that we care, we care enough about the world to get angry when we see injustice, to call out in our anger and hatred to our God for justice and to do the work necessary to change the world. This doesn’t mean that we actually act on our hateful feelings. No, we express them and leave the rest to God. As Walter Brueggemann says in regards to this psalm in his book, The Message of the Psalms, “There is no suggestion that the pathos-filled Jews in this psalm take an action against the “little ones” of Babylon. So far as the psalm is concerned, that is left confidently to Yahweh.” (p. 76) We are “to be angry but sin not,” as Psalm 4 and Ephesians 4:26 tells us.
We can trust our deepest feelings with our God, even those dark feelings of hatred. We don’t have to put on a mask before our God, come before him only with praise and thanksgiving. God knows us better than we know ourselves, there is no hiding from God, so trust God even with those feelings we are ashamed of. “It is an act of profound faith to entrust one’s most precious hatreds to God, knowing they will be taken seriously.” (Brueggemann, p. 77)
The writers of the Psalms were angry people, as were the prophets. They were angry because the world was not aligned with God’s will or God’s kingdom. They hated those who hurt the vulnerable and innocent, who did not follow the ways of God and they vented those feelings. Had they loved God less, perhaps they would have hated less, or been subverted by the ways of the world to gloss over wrongs done.
Jesus prays, put us not to the test, with good reason. When dealing with hatred we can begin to feel self-righteous and allow our feelings to rule us. There is nothing Satan wouldn’t like better. If we allow our angers to have sway over us, then Satan has won. We need to express our hatred and give it over to our God for God to handle. Not always easy as hatred breeds hatred, revenge breeds revenge, but this is what we are called to do.
Of course the last word isn’t one of hatred but of love. Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, something unheard of. If we are to love our enemies, we first have to know who they are. Anger and hatred bring them to the surface where we can acknowledge them; then through God’s grace and prayer, we can strive to love them. We do this not in order to change our enemies. If anything love might goad them to greater fury against us – Jesus’ enemies ended up killing him. But we are to seek to love our enemies because it is the right thing to do, it is what Jesus did.
If overwhelmed by the number of psalms in this category, then pick a few to reflect on rather than trying to cover all of them. Of importance during Holy Week are Psalm 22 and 31, both of which are part of the traditional readings of this week. Jesus quotes from them while on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (22:1a) and, “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (31:6a)
Others you might want to focus on are 12, 13, 17, 56, 80, 85, 90, 94, 126 and 142, or chose randomly from the selection at the beginning of this section. Psalm 85 is traditionally used during Advent, a national lament where the people beg for God’s forgiveness, including the beautiful passage: “Love and truth will meet; justice and peace will kiss.” (11) 126 is a lament after the Israelites returned from exile, remembering how God restored their fortunes and asking God to restore their fortunes again. It ends with the promise that “those who sow in tears will reap with cries of joy.” (5)
They remind us that our God does save us if we put our trust in him. As you progress through this Bible Study, reflect on how you are being tested. Put your trust in God, following the example of Jesus on the cross.
Who are your enemies? Name them and pray for them, asking God to guide you in this.
What causes your anger? Is it righteous anger from God or your own personal anger and in need of purifying to align with God’s will?
Are you currently being tested? If so, pray for the strength you need to deal with the test and not allow any anger, frustration or hatred you may be feeling to lead you away from your God.