A Brief Update
For those of you who are unable to gather corporately with us this Sunday, you are loved and missed! If this is you, we are providing the songs we are singing together this morning and a devotional based on the sermon being preached.
Songs We are Singing Together
Devotional on Psalm 58
A war Psalm from the Prince of Peace
Illustration: “On July 11th, 1937 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who just a few years later was martyred for his faith for standing against Hitler preached from this psalm. It was a bold sermon instructing the church how to pray in the face of many Christians being arrested by the Gestapo. Bonhoeffer courageously opposed the evil of Nazi Germany, but as he preached, he was also aware of his own sinfulness before God. He asked this question in his sermon; “How then should we, who are guilty ourselves and deserving of God’s wrath call down God’s vengeance upon our enemies?”
Bonhoeffer wanted to help his church makes sense of a psalm that seemed contrary to everything a Christian is taught in the NT. How could a Christian pray this psalm against the evil enemy of the church when he clearly understood how much evil was in his own heart. Are psalms like this appropriate for believers today? If understood correctly it makes good sense why we can and should pray through psalms like this one.
Psalm 58 is known as an “imprecatory” psalm (a cursing) calling for God to judge the ungodly, and in this case unjust judges. It is a prayer that asks for God’s violent overthrow of the wicked. Now its content has troubled many Christians throughout the church age because they know the psalms as prayers of comfort and encouragement in difficult times, and it’s hard to reconcile asking God to destroy an enemy when Jesus forgave his enemies as he hung on the cross. He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us so it’s understandable why this psalm has language that is deeply disturbing.
This psalm in particular was so offensive to the Church of England that in 1980 it was banned from their book of common prayer. Many simply avoid psalms like this, but we must not. Rather, we must have a biblical view of how God approaches and addresses the wicked. David’s prayer is not just OT judgment, but a biblical view we see throughout the bible. It is not in any way contrary to the ethics of Jesus who is both savior and judge.
Jesus was clear about his role as judge when he spoke in Matthew 23 and even quotes a part of Psalm 58 – Matthew 23:33 – “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” Paul used this same metaphor talking about all humanity in Romans 3:13 – “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” The venom of asps is under their lips.”
Judgment is not reserved only for the OT. We see both judgment and grace in both the old and the new testaments. Every passage seeks to exalt both the mercy and judgment of God for his glory. His people are called to preserve his honor which is exactly what David is doing here, and what Jesus does in the gospels.
Galatians 1:8-9 – “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one, we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.”
Just like Paul in Galatians 1 David in Psalm 58 asks God to judge and punish the wicked so that God’s honor might be upheld. He is not praying these words for his own personal gain and vengeance. He would have been wrong to seek personal vengeance by calling God’s curses down on his enemies for his own satisfaction, but he is doing it to avenge God’s name.
Paul says, “leave the avenging to the Lord”, Romans 12:19 – “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.” Instead we should follow the ethics of our Jesus who has been so merciful to us. Paul says, “To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him;” Pray to avenge God’s glory not to satisfy your personal offense.
As King of Israel David did not write as a private citizen but as God’s anointed representative King and judge who was called to protect his honor. He calls for righteous judgment upon those who, by opposing him, are ultimately opposing his Lord. As private citizens we can also oppose evil that seeks to destroy God’s church, and we can pray for God to judge the wicked because to oppose God’s people is to oppose him (Acts 9 – Paul on the road to Damascus).
Main points – Psalm 58: How does David stand up for the Lord in his prayer?
1-5 – David describes the deep-seated wickedness of sinful humanity
6-9 – David pleas for God to judge sinners
10-11 – David expresses confidence in God’s promised outcome
David describes the deep-seated wickedness of sinful humanity: 1-2: These are rulers who remain silent when evil is perpetrated and who devise evil schemes in their own hearts to enhance their power and personal gain. It is likely that David is referring to Saul and his advisors who have been seeking to take his life. It seems that this psalm was written during the time David was hiding in the cave of Adullam, all alone, and fearing for his life. Saul’s advisor’s lied and slandered David to Saul which fed his hatred of David even more.
They were wicked men who destroyed the nation by their sin. They opposed David, God’s anointed, and by doing so they opposed the Lord, so this is why David can pray this psalm.
3-5: David not only describes what they are doing but who they are. They are sinners from birth. V.3 – “they are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth.” From their first breath they have been evil. David is grieving the particular examples of human sinfulness he mentions here, but the sins he laments remain examples typical of humanity.
Here is the doctrine of original sin on display. Original sin is not the actual act that caused the human race to fall but the condition of all humanity as a result of the fall, and reality is that every person but “one” has been conceived with a thoroughly corrupted nature.
If you struggle in any way with believing in the doctrine of original sin my advice is to simply have a baby. You do not have to teach them how to “disobey.” Within six months of their birth you will be a firm believer in original sin. V.4 describes how vile they are, and is very similar to Paul’s description of humanity in Romans 3:11-18.
V.5 – Like every unbeliever they are simply deaf to voice of God. Doesn’t’ this seem familiar? What were you like prior to the Holy Spirit opening your eyes and ears to the grace of God?
You see, Psalm 58 is not just a portrait of wicked rulers in David’s time but a mirror of all of us before our conversion.
David never lost sight of his own sinful failings (Psalm 51), and we must do the same particularly in praying the psalms so it might seem strange for him to pray Psalm 18:23 “I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from my guilt?” How does he pray this psalm knowing he is not innocent? The psalms are not ultimately our prayers, but Jesus’. They can righteously be prayed by only one person, the sinless son of God who is both savior and judge, and can pray every psalm perfectly. We can certainly identify with the psalms that speak of being blameless and guilt free because we have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, and we can pray these imprecatory psalms because we are God’s people who live to honor his name.
David pleas for God to judge sinners: 6-8 – These are stunning, violent, and unforgiving pleas for judgment against those who oppose God and his people. David’s words are not for the faint of heart.
- Break the teeth in their mouths and tear out their fangs - the wicked often seem strong like lions but they are withering grass before God’s consuming fire.
- Let them vanish like water – he simply wants them to disappear
- Let their arrows be blunted – may their plans be blunted and come to nothing
- Let them be like a snail that dissolves into slime – may they melt away like the wicked witch of the west – watching a slug melt under salt!
- Let them be like a stillborn child – may those who are evil never be born
- Sooner than your pots… - before a fire can heat what is in the pot may these evil people be swept away.
Strong words and judgments that are necessary because of evil. God must destroy evil.
James Adams: “We must understand that God’s kingdom cannot come without Satan’s kingdom being destroyed. God’s will cannot be done in earth without the destruction of evil. Evil cannot be destroyed without the destruction of men who are permanently identified with it. Instead of being influenced by the sickly sentimentalism of the present day, Christians should realize that the glory of God demands the destruction of evil.”
Jesus as the righteous judge must pray these judgments to preserve holiness. If you see these psalms as the prayers of the Lord Jesus it will help deepen your understanding of his heart, his sufferings, and his victory on your behalf.
God’s kingdom is at war, and so as subjects of that kingdom it is right for us to pray that his enemies be destroyed, and that those who oppose the gospel are accursed. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:22 – “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed.”
David expresses confidence in God’s promised outcome: 10-11
10-11: Here is the climax of this psalm. David is confident that God’s kingdom will one day be fully restored and all his enemies will either be bowing before him or lying dead at his feet. Are you turned off by this description of feet being bathed in the blood of the wicked? You must understand how evil sin is and how holy God is to understand how righteous this description is. But there is also hope offered in these final verses – that there can be righteous men and women if they turn to Christ it will not be their blood that determines their final judgment but Jesus’ blood that will cover them and save them from God’s wrath.
The judgment we read about here is a judgment we deserve. The wickedness we read in these verses fell is our wickedness that fell upon Christ’s shoulders on the cross. These words of imprecation were spoken about rather than us. He suffered these violent judgments reserved for us. He was innocent at the incarnation not estranged from the womb. He never had an evil thought or word, but every word he spoke was good, holy, pure, true, life-giving, and grace filled. The enemy tried to blot out his life, but his death was the triumph of good over evil. In Psalm 83:1 Asaph prayed, “Oh God, do not keep silent, and do not hold your peace or be still” which is exactly what God the father did to Jesus as he hung on the cross bearing all our sin. The imprecatory psalms come to life in the death of Christ when we read of God’s holy, righteous, and terrifying judgment that we have been saved from.
Bonhoeffer: “Whoever comes to him, whoever cleaves to him, will never more be touched by the wrath and vengeance of God. That person is in the protection of the righteousness of Christ, whoever he may be. Whoever will not come, whoever will not cast himself down before the cross of Christ, whoever despises the cross, will suffer God’s wrathful judgment, the vengeance of God, as it came upon Christ – but not unto life, rather unto eternal death.”
Application: The imprecatory psalm reminds us of how kind and gracious God has been to us because of Jesus. Rather than avoid these psalms we should take great delight in them when we remember that God no longer counts us with the wicked.
In Luke 11 Jesus’ disciples asked him to “teach us to pray”, and he gave them what we call “The Lord’s prayer”. It is prayer that includes imprecations and pleas, and hope.
Look at these words: “thy kingdom come” – We are praying that the wicked who oppose the gospel will be silenced, thwarted, and destroyed when we ask for his kingdom to come. Pray that God’s name be honored and not ridiculed or mocked. Pray for his church to stand courageously when evil men try to destroy us, and pray for your enemies that they might come to saving faith in Christ.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.