As a college student, I worked at a job where the positive work environment soured. The manager’s demeanor and treatment of me and the other employees took a drastic turn. He left during his shifts and did not schedule enough people to meet the customer demand during his absence. He began to fly into fits of rage over small things such as a cash register coming in a few cents under or a task left undone at closing.
The situation came to a head when I came into work one day, and he accused me of moving a table in the store. I had no idea what he was even talking about. After a tirade directed towards me and the rest of the staff, we discovered that the table had been moved by our district manager, not anyone in the store.
Shortly after that incident, I knew that I needed to get a new job or find a rescue from my unreasonable manager. During this time, at church one Sunday, I went down to the altar for prayer. The pastor spoke some words about some people needing a rescue from current situations and assuring us that one was coming. Shortly after that day at church, the company I worked for fired our manager. They discovered he was involved in some unethical practices, in addition to treating his employees poorly.
Though God showed up in a big way in that situation, I still struggle to trust Him, at times, to come through for me in current situations. My confidence wavers when I am mistreated and I wonder, “God, do you care what is going on here? Can I really trust you to protect me here?” Maybe you are currently experiencing mistreatment, and you wonder if the situation is truly as unjust as you imagine and if God sees you.
What is injustice?
Injustice can be defined as a situation where there is no fairness or justice, where people are experiencing inequity or mistreatment at the hands of someone else. The very distressing element of injustice is that the mistreatment often happens to people who have no power in a situation. For instance, if a government or societal institution is corrupt, citizens that attempt to speak out or enact change may be silenced. Citizens may be forced to live in unjust circumstances without the power to change their laws.
Similarly, in a relationship, a person can experience injustice. A parent or a spouse can mistreat a person, and the spouse may not have a say in certain aspects of the relationship. In a job, such as the experience I had in college, a boss may not lead in a right manner and may be cruel or unfair to his or her employees. Employees may be fearful of losing their job or suffer backlash if they speak up, so they remain silent.
While we might be tempted when experiencing injustice to numb our pain with a substance or distract ourselves with social media, a hobby, or other distraction, we do have a place we can turn. While we may feel that God is indifferent to our suffering, the Bible describes God as One who cares deeply about us and rescues those who cry out to Him (Psalm 9:9; Deuteronomy 32:3, 4; Psalm 34:7).
Psalm 120 says this:
I call on the Lord in my distress,
and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.
What will he do to you,
and what more besides,
you deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom bush.
Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace. I am for peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.
The author of this psalm is unknown, but the author is suffering from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” We don’t know who is speaking out lies against him or being dishonest with him in some other way, but conflict with this individual or individuals has been going on for an unbearably long time. He says, “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, / that I live among the tents of Kedar! / Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. / I am for peace; / but when I speak, they are for war” (vv. 5-7).
What he means here by Meshek and Kedar is that he has long dwelled with people that are hostile. These could be actual foreigners that he make him feel strange and out-of-place, or these could be Jews that were not living as they should. As Warren Wiersbe points out, “Any Jew who feared God and respected the Ten Commandments would not bear false witness against another Jew or seek to slander his or her name. It would be difficult to dwell with these foreign peoples, but it would be even more difficult to dwell with Jewish people who acted like foreigners.”
In other words, because the Jews knew covenant laws they would have known not to slander and mistreat one another. Therefore, if indeed the psalmist was attacked by fellow Jews, the attack would feel been all the more painful because these fellow Jews knew better and it wasn’t what he was necessarily expecting. Similarly, if we are being accused or misunderstood by fellow believers, this can be particularly painful and unsettling because we don’t expect to be treated this way by fellow members of the body of Christ.
The psalmist has attempted to live peacefully with his attackers, but they create conflicts and difficulties continually no matter what he does. In desperation, he calls on God to save him. His cries to God are those that we can relate to if we are in situation where we have been targeted unfairly by those around us.
What hope can the psalm give us when facing injustice?
1. God is our refuge.
The psalmist’s refuge is the Lord. We can make so many things our refuge: the approval of others, material items, relationships. And yet, our only true refuge is the Lord. While we can certainly rally for change if injustice is being done, we need to draw our strength and support from God and allow Him to direct us in the best course of action in our situation. Sometimes the best action is to speak up in a respectful way. Other times, God asks us to allow Him to fight for us and remain quiet. No matter the course, we can only know it if we turn to God in our distress.
2. God hears and answers.
When we are in an unjust situation, we are often helpless to remove ourselves from it. There are people in power over us, and we don’t control what is happening to us. In addition, we might have the situation where no one will even listen or acknowledge what we are going through. Yet, we have the assurance in the psalm that God hears and God knows. When no one else will hear our case or defend us, we have a just God who sees and knows all and takes up the case of the helpless and oppressed.
3. Recompense will come to those who slander us.
Within all of us is a need for there to be justice done, for right to be wronged. We want those who hurt us to pay for the hurt they have caused us, and we might feel like nothing will happen to those who wrong us. That can easily make us want to take matters into our own hands. But we don’t need to do that. When the arrows of slander come our way and we have no way to defend ourselves, we are promised that God will take up our cause.
What is the recompense of those who slander others? The psalmist asks this question within the psalm, saying, “What will he do to you, and what more besides, you deceitful tongue?” (v. 2). He then answers it saying that slanderers will receive “sharp arrows” and “burning coals of the broom bush” (v. 4). Note, the broom bush, or juniper bush, was a bush that burned for a long time with extremely hot coals. In fact, one commentary I read mentioned stories of travelers burning this brush in their fires and returning a year later to find the embers still burning! Juniper coals would be hotter and cause more pain than other types of wood.
What the passage is saying is that those who malign us will not just “get away with it,” so to speak. They will receive due compensation for their wrongdoing — though it may not happen immediately. Their harsh words will come back upon them, and they will feel the burning torment — of the same type, and even worse — that they have hurled on innocent victims.
Our reaction to injustice that has long happened to us and gone unchecked is that God does not care and will not act, but we are assured of the opposite in this psalm. While there are often situations that we are called on to act and stand up for ourselves, there are some situations where we cannot do anything to stop our oppressor or appeal to anyone else to help.
As Charles Spurgeon points out in his discussion of this verse, often others’ own sense of justice is so skewed (hence, why they are treating us the way they are), that it is pointless for us to even attempt to defend ourselves. In those situations, we have a God we can appeal to. We don’t have to take matters in our own hands or succumb to out-of-control emotions that make the situation worse. We can appeal to a God who will comfort, encourage, strengthen, and defend us. However, we must abide in Him to receive His protection and aid.
That knowledge can help us move forward when wrong is being done against us and have hope that we won’t have to suffer the injustice forever.
Related Bible Verses:
Isaiah 25:4: “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.”
2 Samuel 22:7: “In my distress I called to the LORD, I called out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came to his ears.”
Psalm 34:17: “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”
Ever worry that you won’t ever be able to feel joy again and get out of your current slump? Check out previous episodes in this series that explore how to hold onto hope, joy, and peace in the midst of trials: Part 1: “Joy in the Midst of Trials,” Part 2: “Navigating Suffering When We Want to Understand,” Part 3: “How God Gives Us What We Need to Make It Through Our Difficult Circumstance,” and Part 4: “Viewing Persecution as a Blessing.”
As I mentioned on the podcast, I am still publishing! Due to Covid-19, my schedule has been disrupted, so I am not publishing as much as I normally do, but I am still posting at God’s leading. If anything changes, I will make an announcement on the blog.
You may have noticed that I don’t have multiple contributors on the blog right now as I have in years past. I am taking a break from having other contributors for the time being, but I may have other voices on the blog in the future. I am praying about some decisions regarding the blog, so just be in prayer for me. Thanks for your grace extended to me and your support. – Carol