Psalm 28 is a cry for mercy and retribution. David desires God's mercy but asks for justice on the wicked. Isn't that what we all want? We want God to forgive us our trespasses but punish those who trespass against us. But what about Jesus' command to love and forgive our enemies? Was it OK to hate your enemy in the Old Testament times but not OK now? How does one balance the call for justice so clearly portrayed in the Old Testament and Jesus' command to love and forgive?
There are differences of opinion on how to divide this psalm. I find the argument by Dr. C.J. Labuschagne based upon change of address to be compelling. Following his lead, I see two main sections followed by a coda. Part 1 is a prayer addressed to God, Part 2 is addressed to the people and the Coda is addressed to God. The central theme is found in verse 4d: "render them their due reward."
Part 1 - Have Mercy on Me but Destroy the Wicked
David begins the psalm with a cry for God's mercy.
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help. (Psalm 28:2a)
David feels overwhelmed by his enemies. He recognizes that only through God's mercy can he stand.
For if You remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit. (Psalm 28:1b)
David fears that God will punish him along with the wicked. He knows that He is deserving of justice but asks for mercy.
Do not drag me away with the wicked... (Psalm 28:3a)
David ends this section by describing the sins of the wicked and asking for God's justice.
... bring back upon them what they deserve... (Psalm 28:4d)
At first glance there seems to be a conflict between this psalm and Jesus' teachings. Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43-44.) But really, it is not that hard to reconcile these two positions.
The problem only exist if we forget the power of "and." We do not have to choose either justice or love. We can opt for justice and love.
It is not wrong to desire and pray for justice - it is a major theme in the Psalms. But justice and love are not mutually exclusive. We can pray for our enemy to repent and pray for justice to be done to the unrepentant.
Part 2 - Rejoice in God's Mercy and Justice
Why should God have mercy on David and not on his enemies? Because they
show no regard for the works of the LORD or what His hand have done. (Psalm 28:5a)
This is the key to understanding justice and mercy. God offers mercy to all, but justice will be done to those who persist in unrepentant sin.
He will tear them down and never build them up again. (Psalm 28:5b)
In fact, one of the primary ways God protects His people is to carry out justice on the wicked so they cannot continue to hurt the innocent. Because God offers mercy but carries out justice to protect His people, we can rejoice in the Lord. David is confident God will hear and answer his prayer.
My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song. (Psalm 28:7b)
God's love, mercy and protection are the themes of our songs of praise.
Coda - Save and Bless Your People
David concludes with a short prayer:
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.
May we, like David, trust in God's love, offer His mercy and pray for His justice.