“Injustice” is a term we see frequently in the news right now. There are people who are protesting against injustices in our society and government. Some are protesting in the right way by gathering in peaceful assemblies to have their message heard. Others are protesting in the wrong way by rioting — even taking over whole blocks of a city.
While some are using the situation to further their own violent agenda or simply loot stores, there are those who are genuinely crying out against those who have mistreated them because of the color of their skin. Many of them can tell stories of times where they or people they know were denied privileges and/or treated unfairly because of their skin color.
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. They don’t have the freedom in every case to even peacefully protest, like we can in the United States. For instance, in certain countries, citizens that speak out or attempt to enact change are silenced, imprisoned, or killed. Citizens are 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, 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 backlash if they speak up, so they suffer in silence.
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 the psalm is unknown but he calls out for deliverance from “lying lips” and “deceitful tongues.” He doesn’t tell us who is being dishonest with him, but conflict with this individual or individuals has been going on for an unbearably long time. Later, in verses 5-7, he says that he has been dwelling in Meshek and Kedar, saying, “Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. / I am for peace; / but when I speak, they are for war.”
What he means here by Meshek and Kedar is that he has long lived with people that are hostile. Meshek and Kedar were nations near Israel that were considered enemies of the Jews. The author isn’t actually living in these nations, but he feels like he is because of how he is being treated. His mistreatment could have come from foreigners or by Jews who 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 a 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 a 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 the 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! (This was obviously an exaggeration to make a point, but the story shows how junipers were known to burn a long time.) Juniper coals would be hotter and cause more pain than other types of wood.
What the passage is saying is that those who hurt 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 a8re 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 into 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.
*Updated January 15, 2022.
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
*Updated April 1, 2021.