29 Oct 2012

The Psalms: voice of the martyrs

Peter Leithart publishes his thoughts on the bloodshed in Nigeria, as Boko Haram continues its persecution of the church in that troubled land: Voice of the martyrs. The Psalms play a crucial role here:

In many churches, prayers for vindication and judgment are considered barbaric and sub-Christian. Things would look different, I expect, if Boko Haram were breathing down our necks. We would be eager to call on a defender. And things look different in the Psalms, the prayer book of the church. Pleas for judgment are not confined to a handful of fanatical “imprecatory” Psalms. On the contrary, few appeals are more pervasive and prominent in the Psalter than the cry for just vengeance.

It is implicit in Psalm 2: “Do homage to the Son, lest He become angry, and you perish in the way.” It is in Psalm 3: “Arise, Yahweh; save me, O my God! For You have smitten my enemies on the cheek; you have shattered the teeth of the wicked.” And in Psalm 5: “Hold them guilty, O God, by their own devices let them fall.” And Psalm 6: “All my enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed; they shall turn back, they shall suddenly be ashamed.” It is even more explicit in Psalm 7: “Vindicate me, O Yahweh, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me . . . [My enemy’s] mischief will return upon his own head; and his violence will descend upon his own pate.” And Psalm 9: “You rebuke the nations; You have destroyed the wicked . . . The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins.” In Psalm 10, David prays for a new exodus: “Arise, O Yahweh; O God, lift up Your hand. Do not forget the afflicted. . . . Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until You find none.”

There are 140 Psalms left, and we already know that this is a hymnal full of war Psalms, cries of the afflicted, petitions for vindication and deliverance. These are the prayers shrewdly designed for a martyr church. The Psalter articulates the voice of the martyrs.

From one of the comments below Leithart's post:

Anyone who does the Roman Catholic liturgical hour of the Office of Readings knows well the Psalms of supplication and lamentation. They provide the trunk of the Office on which the sacred texts of the Readings depend. Thank you for calling attention to them as an integral part of the Christian heritage.

Reading through the Psalms on a daily basis is a good way to remember the martyrs and to pray for our persecuted brethren around the globe.

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