>Broken Teeth & Torn Fangs (Psalm 58)

>Psalm 58 is like Psalm 57 (see yesterday’s post) in overdrive. The image of wicked liars as lions continues full force with this prayer:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD! (v. 6).

Psalm 58 is one of what are sometimes called “imprecatory” Psalms, designated that way since they contain prayers for the destruction of the wicked. The editors of the Literary Study Bible use the term “satiric” four times in their brief introduction to Psalm 58 and avoid the use of the word “imprecatory” all together. I’m not sure David viewed this as satire when he wrote it. I find that doubtful based on what we learn about David’s forceful character when he became angry at Nabal (1 Samuel 25; read the King James Version to get the full impact of David’s comments).

People tend to avoid talking about the imprecatory Psalms, perhaps because they don’t know what to say about them or are embarassed by their apparently vindictive words. But we know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. And that includes imprecatory (or satiric, if you prefer) Psalms.

Psalm 58 is loaded with vivid images of the wicked who “go astray from birth, speaking lies” (v. 3):

They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmer
or of the cunning enchanter (vv. 4 & 5).

Lies are like poison. Those who speak them are like devious snakes who will not listen to charmers or enchanters. These people are so intent on their malicious purpose that they will not listen to reason. They refuse to be controlled by anyone other than their own desires.

After David compares liars to young lions and asks God break their teeth and tear out their fangs (see v. 6 above), he continues to ask for their destruction with vivid images:

Let them vanish like water that runs away…
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime…
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
…may he sweep them away! (vv. 7-9).

The Psalm then goes into some graphic imagery:

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked (v. 10).

How are we to understand this graphic image?

We must realize that the vengeance depicted here is not our own, but God’s. He has executed it in his perfect and righteous judgment.

In Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, John Calvin writes about this verse: “It might appear at first sight that the feeling here attributed to the righteous is far from being consistent with the mercy which ought to characterise them; but we must remember that…there is nothing absurd is supposing that believers, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, should rejoice in witnessing the execution of divine judgments. …when wilful obstinacy has at last brought round the hour of retribution, it is only natural that they should rejoice to see it inflicted, as proving the interest which God feels in their personal safety” (p. 142).

Believers ought not to cringe when reading imprecatory Psalms. These Psalms are not calls for us to perform violence, but are assurances that God will certainly judge and completely destroy those who thwart the cause of righteousness. Their destruction will serve as a witness to the entire world.

Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth” (v. 11).

This verse implies that we do not have to wait until the final Day of Judgement to see the wicked destroyed. There will be times when God will make his judgments obvious to the inhabitants of this earth.

We can read even imprecatory Psalms with appreciation for their vivid imagery and with thankfulness to our just God, who will not allow wickedness to always prevail on this earth and will completely erradicate it forever.

Surely the righteous will rejoice!

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