Psalm 58

1Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?

Do you judge the children of man uprightly?

2No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;

your hands deal out violence on earth.

3The wicked are estranged from the womb;

they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

4 They have venom like the venom of a serpent,

like the deaf adder that stops its ear,

5so that it does not hear the voice of charmers

or of the cunning enchanter.

6O God, break the teeth in their mouths;

tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!

7Let them vanish like water that runs away;

when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.

8Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,

like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.

9Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,

whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

10 The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;

he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.

11Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;

surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

Another imprecatory Psalm. Every time we come across one people start tiptoeing around it like it has an infectious disease of some sort and needs to be put in quarantine so that no one gets infected. We often see two extreme explanations for the imprecatory Psalms.

1) – those who maintain that this does not say what it seems to say, or that God did not really say it. (This is what I was taught in one of the seminaries I attended). There is, in this, a hidden understanding that we know what God is really like and we know that He would never say or inspire someone to say what this seems to be saying.

2) The gleeful hateful interpretation that maintains that anything that transgresses the will of God is deserving of our hatred and we would be justified in bombing into oblivion any who ever disagree with our understanding of the Scriptures.

The first approach amounts to a denial of the inspiration of Scripture. It is the idolatrous assumption that the God who loves us would never have such an attitude. It presumes to know what is really God-like and pronounces that this cannot be, for it is below God to say such a thing. It therefore should never have been allowed in the canon. It cannot properly be understood, they say, if there is anything in the explanation that says that God hates sinners.

The second approach finds delight in such texts and hopes to convince the world that God is on a rampage. There is an implicit self righteousness about the view. They believe that the wicked deserve the wrath that is invoked in the Psalm but they also believe that the reason they will not be on the receiving end of that wrath is because they are intrinsically better. They are in God’s good books because they are holier, more perceptive, less sinful, less depraved. These are the ones at the Gay Pride Parade with the placards that proudly state that God hates gays and so should everyone else. Across the street from them are those who believe that God never wrote such a Psalm in the first place and God loves all people equally, no matter what their crimes.

They are both guilty of the same offence – God is like me. It is not even “I am like God”, for that would make God, God, and that is not their problem. Their problem is that they are their own gods and when the Scriptures interfere with that assessment then they have to explain those Scriptures in a manner that allows them to keep their godhood.

These are people who know that when the Bible says things we like it is because God is seeing our point of view and therefore He must be right for if this is not right then that means that we are wrong and we know that cannot be the case.

Both these interpretations are great tragedies.

How then should we understand such texts that give us a difficult or “looks like us” understanding of the Almighty?

1) Christians don’t take vengeance on their enemies – that is God’s work and the most we dare do is ask Him to be just. 2) God is a just God and what these Psalms ask for is not more than what the wicked deserve. But it is also what we deserve and if not for the grace of God it is what should be prayed about us. Absent of the grace of God we would be doing the things that have the Psalmist so concerned.  3) God inspired the Psalmist to say such things to teach us about His justice.  4) It is not wrong to want injustice to end and it is not wrong to pray for the wicked to receive their just reward.  5) Such texts teach us that it is always wrong to take justice into our own hands and not to leave it up to God. David calls for God to do something while never actually doing to his enemies what he asked God to do. 6) God did not always do what David asked for and this means that we are to see a God of great mercy even though He has every right to destroy us all. 7) The way we can take action to end the horrors that the wicked do, is to triumph over evil with good. Give the Gospel.