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Psalm 58: A Prayer to the Just Judge Print E-mail
Sunday, 07 August 2016

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Let me begin with a completely hypothetical situation: what if the leaders in our country were wicked people? What if the president was wicked? And the members of congress were wicked? And the judges on the Supreme Court were wicked? What if it didn’t stop at the national level? What if our governor was wicked and our mayor and our town council? What if the entire government was wicked? At this point in this election year, it might not be too hard for us to imagine such a possibility. Many fear that such will be the case beginning in January of next year regardless of which party’s candidate is elected in November. Truth is, that could be the case. We are not promised just rulers and ‘good men in the White House.’ In fact, the history of the world actually testifies against such an idea. The vast majority of kings and leaders have been wicked.

So then, how do we reconcile wicked rulers and a sovereign, good God. Many reject God on just such grounds, believing that there cannot be a good God in light of so many wicked rulers. But for those of us who believe in the Bible, such a conclusion will not work. We know that God is good and we know that He is sovereign. So how do we deal with the evil kings of earth? David is wrestling with these ideas in Psalm 58. He sees the need for justice on the earth, cries out for God to act, and rests in His character to do just that. Let’s look at each of these in the psalm.

The need for justice (v. 1-5)

Wicked rulers are not a new thing. David experienced them in his day. Look at verses 1-2. The ESV calls these rulers ‘gods’, but notes that the word can be translated ‘mighty lords.’ Although David could be addressing the pagan ‘gods’, it seems from the rest of the psalm that he is addressing human leaders. And he says from the beginning that instead of doing right and judging justly, they deal out violence on earth. These are men who should be ruling justly. Kings and princes exist so that men can live together peaceably and avoid chaos (see Romans 13). Yet, when their power is abused and their purpose abandoned, violence erupts. The ones who should be keeping peace and establishing justice are actually doing the opposite.

David describes them further in verses 3-5. Look at those with me. He notes that wicked rulers are sinners from birth. They are wicked continually. Yet, can we not say this about all men? David himself claims to be wicked from birth in Psalm 51:5. This demonstrates a truth that we all must reckon with: as wicked as rulers may be, we too are wicked. We might not have the authority or the power to do as much damage as they do, but our sins are just as ugly. One of my commentator’s quotes: “When we behold the effects of natural depravity in the atrocious crimes of others, we should be humbled by recollecting that the principles of them all are in our hearts also.”1

I shudder at the wickedness of Hitler and Stalin. I am embarrassed that our first presidents owned slaves. Even this week, I was enraged by the actions of a fellow Baptist Church in Alabama that apparently fired it’s pastor for inviting black children to VBS. These things make me angry (and we see that frustration from David as well). Yet, I have to remember that my sin is not more clean than theirs. My lust and pride is not prettier than their racism and lies. We should hate the sin of men, while humbly confessing our own sinfulness as well. David goes on and uses the imagery of the cobra to note their danger and describe how their violence is uncontrollable. They will not listen to reason or providence or history or any other teacher. They will not be mastered by anyone. So David prays.

The prayer for justice (v. 6-9)

The only hope for justice is that God will intervene. David prays for such in verses 6-9. He begins by asking the Lord to take away their ability to harm. Look at verse 6. David prays that their fangs will be removed. If a young lion has no fangs, then there is no reason to fear him. He has been rendered ineffective. This is what David is praying for God to do to these wicked rulers. He is asking that the Lord will take away their ability to bring harm and violence on others.

He also prays that their work will fail. Look at verse 7. Water that runs away cannot be found. It simply vanishes and is not useful. David prays the same for his enemies. He wants their threats and their actions to be like blunt arrows. Even if they reach their targets they cannot do any real harm. This is what David wants for his enemies. He wants them to be ineffective, he wants their evil plans to fail.

Finally, David prays that their threats become nothing. Look at verse 8. If you have ever seen the death of a snail (in the particularly cruel way of putting salt on it), then you know that seemingly nothing is left at the end. Likewise, the stillborn child never even sees the light of day. David wants the plans and threats of his enemies to come to nothing. He prays that they will be useless. He asks the Lord to put an end to their ways.

And he believes that the Lord will answer quickly. Look at verse 9. It seems that a quick way to heat a pot was to burn thorns because they burned so quickly. David wants the Lord to act swiftly. He wants the enemies to be defeated soon. Their wickedness is so problematic that he wants it to end as soon as possible. So he asks the Lord to do it quickly.

The assurance of justice (v. 10-11)

Yet, how do we know that the Lord will even bring justice? Can we have any real hope when we ask the Lord for justice? David believes that justice will come. Look at verses 10-11. When we first read David’s description of the righteous bathing their feet in the blood of the wicked, we might not like that particular description. It seems rather harsh and gruesome. But what David has in mind is what he witnessed after an army won a decisive victory in battle. As they walked through the battleground, the blood of their enemies would cover their feet. Thus, what David is talking about is ultimate victory for the righteous. They will win in the end. The wicked will not remain standing when the final battle is over.

One of my commentator’s notes: “It is impossible for good men to refrain from rejoicing at the defeat of malicious schemes of ungodly men, even though it involves the ruin of many...But this rejoicing must not spring from malice, nor from gratified impatience. It must be that God is honored, innocence vindicated, wickedness put down, and the cause of truth rendered triumphant” (Plumer, p. 604). David believes in such victory for the righteous.

Such victory over the wicked will be for the good of men and the glory of God. The righteous will rejoice over their deliverance and mankind will see that God is indeed a just Judge. God rewards the righteous and punished the wicked. He is a just and good God. It may seem at times that such truth about God is just not real. The wicked flourish. Evil men have more and more power. Where is the justice of God in these circumstances? The truth is, we simply cannot see God’s plans and God’s ways. We do not always know when or how God will bring justice in this life. And ultimately, we will not see the full justice of God until the final battle is over. He will put down the wicked and raise up the righteous. He will defeat all enemies and reward His people. With David, we can have assurance of God’s future justice.

Like David, we know the character of our God. Thus, we can look to Him for justice for the wicked. We can trust in Him to deliver. But unlike David, we actually have more assurance of God’s future justice because of the cross. How does the cross give us assurance for future justice?

God put His great character on display at the cross. In Jesus’ bloody death, we see the righteous wrath of God against man’s sin. We see that God did not just look over our sin, but actually paid for it with the blood of His Son. To say that God is not concerned about justice is to say that the cross was unnecessary. Why send Jesus to atone for our sins if justice meant nothing to God? But our God is the just judge. Our sins cannot be forgiven without a just payment. And that is what Jesus did for us at the cross. He paid for our sins so that we could be justly forgiven.

On the final day, we will receive justice for our sins as well. God will justly (and graciously) pardon our sins and allow us to dwell with Him forever. The great act of justice at the cross is the source of our mercy and forgiveness. As John writes: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive them! Faithful and just to forgive! David longs for justice for the wicked. He knows that it is necessary, prays for God to bring, and trusts that He will in the end. We too should long for justice. And we should do it with the great assurance that it will mean mercy for us because of our glorious Savior! Amen.

1 W. S. Plumer (quoting Scott), Studies in the Book of Psalms (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2016), p. 603.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 22 August 2016 )

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