Judge me, YHWH, for I have walked in my integrity; I also have trusted in YHWH; I shall not slide. Psalm 26:1
Judge – David seems to make a very bold request. Can we echo his words? Are we ready to have YHWH judge us? Can we claim that we have walked in integrity when we appear before the Holy One of Israel? Each of us probably feels a bit of trepidation over such an event. We think of “judge” as the process of passing a verdict and handing out a sentence. And since we all know that we have sinned – and that we still sin – we might not be as anxious as David seems to be to have God pass judgment on us. We are more likely to say, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner,” than we are to invoke God’s judicial prerogative. Maybe part of our reticence comes from the change in meaning from shaphat (Hebrew – to judge) to judicare (Latin – to pass judgment).
Shaphat has a much broader application than simply pronouncing a sentence or a verdict. Shaphat really is a verb about governing. It covers all the elements of our form of government: legislative, executive and judicial. Consequently, when David uses the verb, he could mean the full range of kingdom actions. His word choice might cover the determination of the law, the process of instituting the law, the execution of its requirements, the arbitration of its application and condemnation and punishment. In other words, David is not necessarily asking God to pass a sentence over him. He is asking God to rule over him. He is declaring that he is ready, willing and able to take on the mantle of God’s servant. We could translate this verse, “Govern me, YHWH.”
Christians have the tendency to place a great deal of emphasis on sin. In fact, we are particularly attuned to the idea of personal sin. We see sin as the mountain to climb before we can be useful to God. We think of sin as the axe that will fall and condemn us to hell. We are acutely aware of our failures and we deflect our victories. For us, sin is about judgment and judgment is about condemnation. What’s startling is how lop-sided this view is when we really examine the biblical account. Oh, don’t get me wrong. Sin is very important. But it is woven into the fabric of acts of righteousness, good will, mercy, spiritual triumph, deliverance, praise, devotion and celebration. Under the Christian sky, we seem to have a constant forecast of gloom and doom. But the Hebrew view is founded on shalom, sunshine in well-being in life. To be ruled by God is to have shalom, even if life is filled with sin and repentance. The Jewish sages recognized that the yetzer ha’ra is essential for human being. That shifts the emphasis from sin to sacrifice. Brother Lawrence believed that when we sin, we are to confess immediately – and then immediately move on with God. The emphasis is not on all that I have done but rather on all that I am yet able to do.
“Govern me” leads me toward a life of obedience, free from the Accuser’s recall of past offenses. It is a word that looks ahead whereas “judge me” often directs our attention behind. David understood God as the God of shaphat. We need to shift our vocabulary. The difference is monumental.
Topical Index: shaphat, judge, govern, Psalm 26:1