“How long, exalted ones, will my honor be insulted? How long will you love what is worthless and pursue a lie? Selah” (CSB – Read the chapter)
If David’s first cry was up, his second cry is out. When someone else has hurt us or made us angry or dealt us some injustice, it’s okay for us to go ahead and acknowledge that. Refusing to do so both in our hearts and even out loud isn’t somehow holy or righteous. It’s deceitful and dishonest. If you’ve been hurt, claim it. It won’t get any better until you do.
Accordingly, David starts by looking at those who have hurt him or offended him or transgressed him in some way and asks rhetorically just how long they plan on keeping at it. (And just as an aside, even if the slight is only perceived and not actual, in other words, even if the anger keeping you up is selfish rather than righteous, this Psalm can still help because it will put you in a place for God to reveal the truth about your situation and help you get over you.)
Again there is the same sarcasm here we found in the first verse. David calls his offenders either, “the sons of men,” (most major translations) or, “exalted ones” (here). The point isn’t necessarily that these folks were genuinely rich or powerful. Rather, when someone is actively and intentionally harassing another person, they have mentally reduced the humanity of the victim to something less than their own. They have reduced in their mind the class or value of the victim and are treating them accordingly.
There is sarcasm here, again, but there is also some wisdom. Sometimes, when confronting our abusers, we need to start by talking to them in the terms on which they think about themselves. Perhaps, to yield the benefit of the doubt, while their ill treatment was intentional, their mental reduction of our humanity wasn’t. Revealing to them the reality of what they’ve done may be all it takes to shock them out of it. Perhaps not, but it’s a good place to start all the same since no problem is going to be resolved without first being clearly defined.
Then, David asks them another question that forces them to operate on his terms: How long will you love what is worthless and pursue a lie? The thing that is worthless is treating another person poorly. It’s worthless in two ways. First, such behavior is literally without worth. It doesn’t bring any meaningful or lasting benefit to anybody. It is an act without worth. Investing much of ourselves in those kinds of acts will poison our souls.
Second, it cannot ultimately achieve its object and so is worthless in this way too. This idea takes a bit more unpacking than I want to take time for now, but the short version is that if we—the object of abuse in this case—are firmly rooted in our relationship with God through Christ (through sacrificial obedience to the Law for David), then they cannot ultimately harm us by their abuse and so it is a fruitless venture.
The thing that is a lie is the mental reduction of our humanity they have made. Hear that well: No one else can reduce your humanity. It is something that is an essential part of you. You are human. That identifier was given to you by God upon your creation and no one else can touch it. You’ll never be any less than a beautifully unique creature made in the image of the God of all glory and power.
Now, this does not mean that a person may not begin thinking like a victim—a totally understandable outcome of abuse experienced by far too many and which we sometimes do not have the strength to avoid in the face of an aggressive and sustained pattern of abuse—but this does not mean it isn’t still a lie. We may need help claiming or reclaiming the truth, but it will never not be the truth. And the truth is the pathway to recovery and healing.
Here, David includes the command, “Selah”: to rest and reflect. Given the weight of what we’ve been talking about, that’s a good idea.