Psalm 58 has historically been placed among the Psalms of lament. Such laments often contain within them portions of imprecation that are directed at God’s enemies.
As we approach this Psalm we remember the necessity to see Christ in the Psalms when Christ is there to be seen.
Certainly it is the mortal Psalmist who prays this proximately but ultimately we would insist that it is the Lord Christ who petitions the Father against His enemies here. This Psalm is the prayer of an innocent man and only the Lord Christ is the perfectly innocent man. It is true that David prayed this Psalm but we remember that David was the lesser son of God who pictured the coming Christ. It is Christ here who is bringing accusation against His enemies.
This bringing of accusation and the following of imprecation against enemies should be seen in light of our Lord Christ’s own words, when severely angry with Jewish scholars (especially Pharisees and scribes) by calling them “hypocrites”, “snakes”, “offspring of vipers”, “fools” etc in Matthew 23:13-36, Mark 7:6, etc.
We even see Jesus saying to Jews that their father is the devil (John 8:44).
And the Lord Christ speaks of a day when He will say to His enemies,
… depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!
Principle #1 — We perhaps should be slow and cautious to pray imprecatory prayers because like those of whom we might pray imprecatorily we also are sinners. We are likely not innocent of the very things that we are angry about, even if we have been practitioners only in a lesser degree. However, our Lord Christ was very man of very man and without sin and He is perfectly justified in praying against those who would oppose Him. And so we read David’s imprecatory prayers as ultimately coming in the voice of the greater David … the Lord Christ.
But we must not be over much righteous by not praying these Imprecatory prayers ourselves against those who are guilty of those very things the Psalmist speaks of. It is true that we are sinners but it is also true that we are sinners who have joyfully been made captive to God’s righteousness and so we desire to see the Kingdom of Christ advanced. When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come we are praying in general for what the Psalmist prays for with particularity in Psalm 58. We pray, “Thine Kingdom come.” We recognize that for God’s Kingdom to come then all other opposing Kingdoms must be brought low and utterly destroyed. The Psalmist here merely adds particularity to what is called “The Lord’s Prayer.”
Well, as we turn to the Psalm proper
I.) The Psalmist States The Problem (1-5)
vs. 1 refers to “the silent ones.” The word there translated “silent ones” resembles the Hebrew word for ‘gods.’ The word ‘gods’ was often used to refer to human judges (see Psalm 82:1). The reference here then could be a rhetorical question aimed at these wicked judges.
Alternately, the thrust with “silent ones,” when seen in the context of the later reference to judging, may be a statement that Magistrates charged with judging are remaining silent when they should be letting their voices be heard against oppression.
It is interesting that early Christian tradition associated this section of the Psalms with the high Priests and the Sanhedrin as they brought false judgment against the Lord Christ.
A.) What are the accusations brought against these wicked judges?
1.) The 1st accusation we mentioned already – Magistrates are silent against the pleas of the judicially innocent
“Do you indeed speak righteousness you silent ones.”
We might style this a passive complicity in wickedness.
The principle here is that the Magistrate who refrains from defending the cause of the judicially innocent by being passive and silent is himself an accomplice in the wrong. It will do no good for the wicked to plead innocence before God by asserting that they only tacitly consented to the persecution of the judicially innocent by their silence.
Martin Niemoller captures this in his famous poem about silence in Germany during the Nazi era,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
The problem that the Psalmist sees is silence in the face of the persecution of the judicially innocent. While it is true that we must remain circumspect about what we speak and the way we speak and when we speak, Christians dare not fall silent when it comes to wickedness being pursued.
2.) The second accusation — Active pursuit of wickedness (Responsible for violence and oppression)
Note that the actions of the wicked Tyrants was conceived in their inner most being before it was implemented in practice (vs. 2). This is but a reflection on the truth that what a man thinketh in his heart, so he is. The Tyrant ponders and plans these things and follows through.
In short the Psalmist understands that the wickedness of Tyrants is premeditated. They plan them carefully and thoughtfully. These are not what are styled “Crimes of passion” but cold calculating evil.
Spurgeon put it this way,
“They were deliberate sinners, cold, calculating villains. As righteous judges ponder the law, balance the evidence, and weigh the case, so the malicious dispense injustice with malice aforethought in cold blood.”
There are many many examples that we could adduce of cold, calculating villains planning and then executing their wickedness.
We will take the destruction of the Creation account in favor of Evolution. This has not happened by coincidence and chance but has been long planned and then executed. We have seen in our Sunday School class who the Scopes Monkey trial was pre-planned and arranged and the outcome known before the trial started. We have seen what the Chrsitless evolutionists have done in order to invent evidence that evolution is true. From the glued on Moths in industrial England to Haeckel’s gill charts to the manipulated pig and ape fossils the wicked have done just what Psalm 58:3 teaches. They worked out wickedness in their hearts and then weighed out the violence of their hands in the earth.
B.) That Which Explains the Wicked’s work
There is a change here from the wicked being addressed to the wicked being described.
1.) The problem is Original Sin
Of course this reminds us that man is not basically good.
On President Reagan’s tombstone is inscribed just the opposite of what the Psalmist notes,
“ I know in my heart that man is good … ”
To the contrary the Scripture teaches us that man, left to himself is wicked. That I am wicked. David confirms this in Psalm 51:5 when he teaches that,
“Surely I have been a sinner from Birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
What follows bridges a connection between the wicked and the great serpent dragon… the Satan.
They speak lies … the language of Hell
Jesus, speaking of the Devil said,
“When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar and the father of it.”
In vs. 5 they are even compared to referred to as a serpent who stops their ears against the Charmer.
Here we might remind ourselves that the only reason we are different from those wicked Tyrants described already is God’s grace. We are not smarter, better, then those who have gone astray from the womb. The only thing that differentiates us is God’s Grace in Christ. The fact that we also don’t conspire to do wicked has nothing to do with us and all to do with being brought from the dead and the love of conspiring against God by God providing Christ for us and pouring out the Holy Spirit to be our rescue.
II.) The Psalmist Offers Imprecatory Prayers (6-9)
vs. 6-8 seem startling at first blush. But what is required to rejoice in them is some understanding of wickedness.
If you read Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago or Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany,” or Bacque’s “Other Losses,” or Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow,” or any other book that deals honestly with the 20th century then one begins to relish these Imprecatory prayer requests. When one reads how the destruction of the family has been long long planned and then understands how that plan has been executed one begins to relish these imprecatory prayer requests.
When one reads of or sees the trauma of the judicially innocent visited upon them by wicked Tyrants then one longs for the justice of God. When one sees how the judicially innocent have been trampled upon then on longs for God to trample upon those who have visited such cruelty upon the judicially innocent.
The Psalmist longs for the venom of the wicked to be milked.
1.) Break their teeth in their mouth — (So they can do no harm)
2.) Waters that flow away — (No force in their pent up power)
3.) Arrows cut in pieces — (can do no harm)
4.) Snail melts as it goes — (dying in the son)
5.) Stillborn child — (If stillborn then can do no damage)
For simple and common people like myself praying in this way seems like the only recourse we have. The levers of human power are shut off from us by the wicked tyrants. We are mocked for our alleged “fundamentalist” Christianity by those who are practicing fundamentalist wickedness. We are shut up to the God of all the Universe asking for Him to Glorify Himself by defeating His enemies.
And yet as we pray the imprecatory prayers we are reminded that the only difference between ourselves and the wicked is God’s grace. We too are sinners. We too are wicked. And so in praying the imprecatory prayers we are once again filled with gratitude that God differentiated us by uniting us to Christ from eternity.
III.) The Psalmist Rejoices In God’s Vindication (10-11)
Dt. 32:43 “Rejoice, O ye nations, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and will render vengeance to His adversaries, and will be merciful unto His land and to His people.”
Jer. 11:20 — But, O Lord of hosts, who judgest righteously, who triest the reins and the heart, let me see Thy vengeance on them, for unto Thee have I revealed my cause.
21 But God shall wound the head of His enemies, and the hairy scalp of such a one as goeth on still in his trespasses. 22 The Lord said, “I will bring again from Bashan; I will bring My people again from the depths of the sea, 23 that thy foot may be dipped in the blood of thine enemies, and the tongues of thy dogs in the same.”
Rev. 19:13, speaks of Christ,
“And He was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood, and His name is called, The Word of God.”
One commentary offers,
“This is the blood of His enemies from His trampling them in the “winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.”
Contemporary Theologian Jon Wenham has offered here,
“The enemies of God are implacable. It is necessary for the vindication of God’s authority and God’s goodness that just retribution should not long be delayed. He prays for it, not shutting his eyes to the horror which it involves. There is not sadistic pleasure in seeing his enemy suffer, no sense of getting his own back, but simply a deep desire that world might see that God is just.”
There is an older Christianity that does not blush at this notion. For centuries the idea of rejoicing in the defeat of God’s enemies was common fare.
“The view of the misery of the damned will double the ardour of the love and gratitude of the saints of heaven.”
The sight of hell torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever. . .Can the believing father in Heaven be happy with his unbelieving children in Hell. . . I tell you, yea! Such will be his sense of justice that it will increase rather than diminish his bliss.
[“The Eternity of Hell Torments” (Sermon), April 1739 & Discourses on Various Important Subjects, 1738]
“God shall not pity them but laugh at their calamity. The righteous company in heaven shall rejoice in the execution of God’s judgment, and shall sing while the smoke riseth up for ever.”
Thomas Boston, Scottish preacher, 1732
Our forebears in the faith were different people then we tend to be. They understood that God is angular and will never be made smooth.
One thought on “Psalm 58”
Original: “In vs. 5 they are even COMPARED TO REFERRED TO as a serpent who stops their ears against the Charmer.”
Edit: A conjunction can be added “Compared to and referred to” or of of the verbs can be taken out.
Original: “When one reads of or sees the trauma of the judicially innocent visited upon them by wicked TYRANTS THEN one longs for the justice of God. When one sees how the judicially innocent have been trampled UPON THEN ON longs for God to trample upon those who have visited such cruelty upon the judicially innocent.”
Edit: “by the wicked TYRANTS,(COMMA) THEN” “trample UPON,(COMMA) THEN ONE”
When dependent clauses begin a sentence, they must be separated from the main clause by a comma.
Typo misspelling “one”
Original: “4.) Snail melts as it goes — (dying in the SON)”
Edit: “dying in the SUN”
Original: “Our forebears in the faith were different people THEN we tend to be.”
Edit: “different people THAN we tend”
“than” is used for comparison