Psalm 58

On Mondays for the last several years, I’ve been trying to post a meditation on a psalm and today’s the day for Psalm 58. Interestingly, Bible Gateway’s “Book of Common Prayer” reading plan for today (March 17, 2014) includes Psalm 58.

Almost four years ago, I looked at Psalm 58 in a post titled “Broken Teeth & Torn Fangs” that talked about its vivid imagery and imprecatory language.  I noted how this psalm thrusts into overdrive Psalm 57’s image of wicked liars as lions.

We see this particularly in verse 6 (ESV):

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!

I noted that 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. Reading my original post nearly four years later, I’m still not sure warrior David viewed this as satire when he wrote it. If you want a somewhat graphic description of David’s forceful character when he became angry at Nabal, read the King James Version of 1 Samuel 25.

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 pulses with vivid pictures of the wicked who “go astray from birth, speaking lies” (v. 3), comparing these liars to poisonous snakes:

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 charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter (verses 4 & 5, ESV).

Lies are poison. Liars are like devious snakes who will not listen to charmers or enchanters. Intent on their malicious purpose, 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, asking God to break their teeth and tear out their fangs (see v. 6 above), he continues to pray for their destruction with disturbing descriptions (verses 7-9, ESV):

Let them vanish like water that runs away;
    when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
    like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
    whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

Because some of these phrases carry weighty emotional freight, these verse are difficult to read.  And they’re immediately followed by this graphic image:

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

How are we to understand such disturbing language and graphic imagery?

We must first 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 verse 10: “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).

Christians who seek to show Christ’s compassion shouldn’t 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 his righteousness. Their destruction will witness to the entire world (verse 11, ESV):

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

This verse implies that we don’t have to wait until the final Day of Judgment to see the wicked destroyed. We may wait that long to see some forms of justice, but God will also make his justice obvious while people still inhabit the earth.

While we might be tempted to cringe at or reject scriptures expressing imprecation, we can view them correctly when we remember Romans 12:19 (ESV):

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

We are not to seek vengeance. Rather we must rest in God and trust that he will see justice done. We can be thankful that God is a righteous judge who will not allow wickedness to triumph forever. He may destroy evil on this earth, and we can be sure that he will finally eradicate it forever.

And that’s reason to rejoice!

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Why call it Good Friday?

When I was little, I wondered why we called such a somber day, with a worship service that seemed like a funeral, Good Friday. It didn’t seem like a particularly good or happy day. As I grew, I increasingly realized the benefits of Christ’s death and why remembering his suffering was good for us.

Today’s devotions from the Book of Common Prayer plan at the Biblegateway website opened my eyes to new revelations of God’s goodness to us through the sacrifice of his Son. If you’re short on time today and feel that you can read only one short passage, you ought to read Psalm 22, a messianic psalm prophesying the death of Christ with remarkably detailed accuracy.

If you have more time, I encourage you to read another text that foreshadows God’s sacrifice of his Son, Genesis 22:1-14, relating Abraham’s obedience when God called him to sacrifice Isaac, his one and only son. Since I was a little girl, I realized that this story depicted God’s sacrifice of his one and only Son. Jesus Christ is the spotless lamb who removes the guilt of sin from all who believe in him and obey him, even when the cost seems high. But this morning I realize that I’m called to be willing to give up even my own sons (and daughters!) to God’s plans for their lives.

How many parents would write another script for their children’s lives if they could author the play? When our babies are born, we cradle them in our arms with hearts full of hope. We know they will experience trials and temptations, but we hope they will have a good life and we pray for God’s grace. While we know they will have trouble, we tend to cling to our ideals: scholastic success, fulfilling work, and perfect spouse. But academic work is not easy for everyone and not every child is socially popular. Finding work at all can be difficult in today’s economy, let alone finding a lucrative and fulfilling career. Some adult children long for marriage, but remain single in spite of their efforts and desires. And no spouse will ever be able to meet unrealistic expectations of their mate’s parents. We grieve when our children struggle with the pain of infertility or the loss of a little child. We bow under the burden of their cancer, their anxiety, their job loss, their loneliness, or their depression. We don’t like to see our children suffer or struggle. We’d rather go through affliction ourselves than witness it in the lives of our children.

We must be willing to give up our ideals for our children and accept what God sends them as his sovereign will for their lives. Their circumstances may not–and probably won’t–be what we’d like, but they are what God–in his inscrutable wisdom–deems best.

Another text in this morning’s reading was 1 Peter 1:10-20, part of which says:

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you (1 Peter 1:13-20, ESV).

I should not set my hope on ideal circumstances or perfect spouses for my children. My hope must be set fully on future grace, the grace that will be brought to me when Jesus Christ is revealed.

During this time of exile, God calls me to be holy and conduct myself without fear. I set my hope on future grace, knowing that I was ransomed from the futile former ways, not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ! He was known before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in these last days for my sake! And for yours!

No wonder we call this Friday Good!