“Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually. Your tongue devises destruction, like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good, lying rather than speaking righteousness. You love all devouring words, you deceitful tongue. God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, and uproot you from the land of the living” (Psalm 52:1-5).
The opening verses above which were uttered by David may on initial glance appear to be harsh as we hear him calling upon God to destroy his enemy. In fact, we might struggle with wondering if David was wrong in saying this. After all, are we not to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44)? However, I think it is important for us to understand the background behind David’s uttering these words.
The beginning of Psalm 52 mentions this was a “contemplation of David when Doeg the Edomite went and told Saul, and said to him, ‘David has gone to the house of Ahimelech’”. This was written during a time in David’s life when he was fleeing for his life from King Saul. As he fled, David and his men came to the city of Nob to Ahimelech the priest (1 Samuel 21:1). Ahimelech did not know David was fleeing from King Saul. David left Ahimelech with the impression he was there on the king’s business. Ahimelech gave David and his men food and gave David the sword of Goliath. After receiving the provisions, David and his men then fled to Achish, the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:2-10).
Hearing this exchange between Ahimelech and David was a man name Doeg who was an Edomite. (1 Samuel 21:7). He knew Ahimelech had, in complete innocence, helped David. However, Doeg reveals to King Saul Ahimelech had helped David (1 Samuel 22:9-10). As he does so, Doeg leaves out the important fact Ahimelech didn’t know David was fleeing from King Saul. In fact, Doeg adds Ahimelech “inquired of the Lord” on behalf of David seeming to suggest Ahimelech was consipiring with David against Saul. Ahimelech strongly denied he had done this (1 Samuel 22:10, 15).
In his rage, King Saul says to Ahimelech, “You shall surely die, Ahimelech, you and all your father’s house!” (1 Samuel 22:16). Saul then orders his guards to kill them, but they would not strike the priest of the Lord (1 Samuel 22:17). The king then asks Doeg to kill them and he eagerly does so. Not only does Doeg kill the Ahimelech and a total of 85 priests, he also kills men, women, infants and animals in the city of Nob (1 Samuel 22:18-19). Doeg did all of this knowing Ahimelech was innocent of the crime of which King Saul had accused him.
David learns of what happened from Abiathar, one of Ahimelech’s sons who had escaped (1 Samuel 22:20-21). David felt horrible about what had happened and told Abiathar: “I knew that day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul. I have caused the death of all the persons of your father’s house” (1 Samuel 22:22). After contemplating these events, David composes what we now know as Psalm 52. He calls upon God to render justice by destroying Doeg for the evil which he has done with his tongue that was like a sharp razor (Psalm 52:2).
Was David wrong for asking God to execute justice against such a man? God is a just God. There is nothing wrong with His people expressing their feelings to God for justice. To his credit David did not seek to avenge himself, but asked God to execute vengeance. Today, I understand there is much injustice in the world. I will strive to love my enemies, but I also will ask God to carry out His justice.
“Vengeance is Mine, and recompense; their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things to come hasten upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:35).