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Psalm 58 Commentary

Psalm 58 Commentary
Explaining the Book of Psalms

 
 
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The concept of justice is one that everyone subscribes to – at least, when it turns out for their benefit.

  • You want to be able to go to the store and weigh-out a pound of produce and be charged accordingly – no more and no less.
  • When you go to the gas station you want to be charged for the exact number of gallons you put in your tank.
  • You don’t want people to mistreat you.
  • You don’t want people to lie to you or steal from you or falsely accuse you or harm you without cause.

And I think just about everyone in this world feels this way. No one wants to experience injustice directed against himself.

And yet, how many people in this world are fine with carrying-out injustice against others? They themselves demand to be treated justly – but as far as their treatment of others is concerned, they kind of forget the concept of justice altogether.

People lie to others – or maybe speak half-truths – when it suits their purposes. People lie about others. When there’s a conflict with someone else, we have a tendency of retelling the story in such a way that we look like the good guy who can do no wrong, while we cast the other person in a rather unflattering – and quite frankly unrealistic – light.

We tend to show partiality and favoritism. We might despise the lowly worker and would speak condescendingly to and about him – but we would never dream of treating the boss that same way.

Well, these things are unjust – they aren’t right. This is not how God works. It’s not the way it would be if sin had never entered the equation.

But as we know all-too-well, sin has entered the equation by entering the world through Adam’s transgression. And with sin comes injustice.

And if we’re really thinking right, we yearn for justice to be done on this earth. We want right to be established and enforced and we want wrong to be punished – and we want all of this done without corruption and bribery and favoritism. We want justice on this earth!

And we’re not alone in this desire. In fact, the psalmist and King of Israel, David, expressed a great desire for Justice on Earth in Psalm 58. So, let’s turn there.

In this Psalm, we’re going to see David wrestle with this theme of Justice on Earth. And through his example, we’re going to learn how to pray concerning justice on earth. We can’t simply make justice happen on earth – we need God to bring it – despite numerous entities that are set on being totally unjust.

And so, we’re going to see in Psalm 58 David leading us in… How to think about and deal with the unjust as you wait for the just One to bring justice to earth.

So, let’s read Psalm 58 to see this theme unfold.

{Read Psa 58…}

Psalm 58 Commentary Superscription

Now, the superscription of this psalm is not quite as informative and directional as those of the last two psalms we’ve studied.

<{To/For} the {chief Musician/choir director/music director},
{Altaschith/Al-tashheth/according to the al-tashcheth style/To the tune of “Do Not Destroy”},
{Michtam/A michtam/A prayer} of David.>

We see another mention of this style that the psalm is apparently written in that means something like “Do Not Destroy.” So, we can assume from this and other things stated throughout this psalm that David is again moved to write this psalm as a result of his being pursued by king Saul and that his life was in danger.

So, David is working through in this psalm How to think and pray about and deal with the unjust – those who were trying to kill him – as he was waiting for the just One – the Lord – to bring justice to earth – in the form of delivering him from these dangerous persecutors of his.

Psalm 58 Commentary vv1-2 Address the Unjust in the Arena of Your Prayers

And so, the first way in which David deals with injustice as he waits for God to bring justice is that he actually addresses the unjust people who are making his life difficult. But he doesn’t go to them and speak to their face. Instead, David addresses them in the arena of his prayers in verses 1 and 2.

KJV Psalm 58:1 Do {ye/you} {indeed/really} {speak righteousness/pronounce just decisions/speak justly}, {O congregation/O gods/rulers} {i.e., mere men who are in a position in which they can do harm to David…}?
do {ye/you} judge {uprightly, O ye sons of men/people fairly/uprightly among men}?

2 {Yea,/No!} {in heart ye work/you plan how to do what is} {wickedness/unjust};
{ye weigh the violence of your hands/you deal out violence/your hands mete out violence} {in the/on/on the} earth.

So, David directly addresses the ones who are causing the trouble in his life. He identifies their unrighteous speech and their unjust judgements. He exposes their inner wicked plans and their desire to spread violence on the earth – not justice, but rather violence.

And if I were to take a guess, I would think that this is probably not a tactic that most of us have ever taken when praying about people who are a grave concern to us. Have any of us ever in our times of prayer with the Lord addressed the people who are bothering us so much as if they were there?

You might even be embarrassed to consider doing something like this. Maybe you would tend to think that speaking to someone as if he were there – when he really isn’t – indicates some sort of mental issue. But it doesn’t. This is a legitimate form of prayer that’s modeled here for us by David.

Picture the person in your life who is being unjust – and as you pray to the Lord, speak to this person as if he were actually there. Call attention to his injustice, his wickedness, and his violent tendencies.

And I think this is what you need to be aware of – as David was – be sure that as you are calling attention to these realities in the realm of prayer where the Lord hears… you can trust that God will overhear and take action.

Are there decisions that certain authorities in this land have made or are promising to carry-out – and the sheer wickedness of those decisions frustrates you to no end? Talk to that person about it – in the arena of prayer – not that you are praying to that man or woman – but that you are addressing him or her and are fully expecting God to hear.

Are you having difficulties with a co-worker who is engaged in injustice towards you? Speak to that one in your prayer and expect God to overhear and take the action that you need him to take.

And I think that we can be confident that this approach doesn’t violate anything in the New Testament. Jesus does tell us to love our enemies and to pray for those who despitefully use us. And as we address in our prayers those who perpetuate injustice in this world, we are praying for them. And in the sense that we are not just enacting our own vigilante justice against them we are loving them. And of course, the rest of this psalm will bear out exactly how David is loving these unjust men in his life based on what he is asking God to do to them.

Now, one last thing to mention from these first two verses is that the injustice of these people is “on the earth.” And that’s a lot like what David says later on about God’s justice – that it is “on the earth.” Men are unjust. God is just – he’s righteous – he does right always. And he does it “on the earth.”

So, as we’re waiting for God to bring justice to this earth, we can make use of this tactic in prayer – to address the ones who perpetuate injustice in this life, expecting God to hear and respond.

Psalm 58 Commentary vv3-5 Remind Yourself and the Lord of the Nature of the Unjust

And you can build your case before the Lord as to why he needs to come and exact justice swiftly by presenting him with some facts in relation to what these people are doing. You can remind both yourself and the Lord of the nature of these unjust people, like David does in verses 3-5.

3 The wicked {are estranged/turn aside/go astray} {from the womb/from birth/even from birth}:
they {go astray/are wayward} {as soon as they be born/from birth}, {speaking lies/those who speak lies/liars}.

4 {Their/They have} {poison/venom} {is like/like} {the poison/the venom/that} of a {serpent/snake}:
{they are like/like} {the/a} deaf {adder/cobra/serpent} that {stoppeth her ear/stops up its ear/does not hear};

5 {Which will/So that it does/that does/that will} not {hearken to/hear/respond to/heed} {the voice of charmers/the magicians/the tune of the charmer},
{charming never so wisely./Or a skillful caster of spells./or to a skilled snake-charmer./however skillful the enchanter may be.}

So, as you consider those who perpetuate injustice in this life – wouldn’t you agree that they are naturally wicked? That’s what David is convinced of. These people who love injustice are wicked, naturally. This is their nature.

They are wayward – they wander from the Lord. And they do so from the day they are born.

These people are also serpentine – they’re like snakes in the sense that they are deaf and heedless and unable to be entreated or negotiated with or reasoned with.

You think of some of the wickedness and injustice in the hearts and on the lips of some of the top leaders in this country and it’s just shocking. You have leaders stating their support for the murder of babies up to the very moment that they emerge from the womb. In their warped way of thinking, it is just and right to take the life of an infant just a few seconds before he’s born. Who can reason with this kind of twisted mindset? You can’t. That’s what David came to realize.

So, what are you supposed to do if you can’t reason with them? We’ve already stated that we can and need to address them in our prayers. But also, we just saw as well that as you are praying, you need to remind yourself and the Lord of their nature. Remind yourself and God of how they really are. Lay these realities out to the Lord – and maybe he will take up your cause and bring justice to this earth in whatever ways he deems best.

In the book of Acts, we have an account of Herod murdering the apostle James in order to do the unbelieving Jews a favor. And then he intended to do the same to Peter. But the Bible says that the church prayed fervently. And as a result, God decided to deliver Peter. Do you suppose that the early church – as they were praying for Peter – perhaps they brought to God’s attention Herod’s own unjust character and behavior and attributes, like David does in Psalm 58?

Well, what was the result? God struck Herod and killed him and delivered Peter.

Do you suppose that we might be justified in taking this approach with leaders of oppressive nations wherein God’s people are afflicted and persecuted and murdered regularly? You know of some Communist nations in which this happens. You know of numerous Islamic countries in which this occurs. I think that it would be appropriate for us to – in prayer – remind both ourselves and the Lord of the unjust nature of these nations and their rulers. And perhaps the Lord will hear our prayer and answer for the protection and deliverance of our persecuted brethren in those nations.

Psalm 58 Commentary vv6-8 Beg God to Render the Unjust Harmless & Ineffective & Insignificant

So, when you’re dealing with the injustice of people in this world – especially as it relates to you and those you love…

  • Address these people in prayer, anticipating that God will overhear.
  • Remind yourself and the Lord of the nature of these unjust people.

And then you need to beg the Lord to render these unjust people harmless and ineffective and insignificant – like David does in verses 6-8.

6 {Break/Shatter} {their/the} teeth, O God, in their {mouth/mouths}:
{break out/smash/tear out} the {great teeth/fangs/jawbones} of the {young lions/lions}, O LORD.

7 Let them {melt away/flow away/disappear/vanish} {as/like} {waters/water} {which run continually/that runs off/that flows away}:
{when he bendeth his bow to shoot his arrows/when he aims his arrows/when they draw the bow}, let {them be as cut in pieces/them be as headless shafts/their arrows be blunted}. {NET: Let them wither like grass!}

8 {As/Let them be as/Let them be like/Like} a {snail/slug} {which melteth/which melts away/that melts away/melting away}, {let every one of them pass away:/as it goes along/as it moves along}
{like/Let them be like} {the untimely birth of a woman,/the miscarriages of a woman/stillborn babies/a stillborn child} {that they may not/which never/that never/may they not} see the sun.

David wants these unjust enemies of his to be like lions or like water or like snails or like a stillborn child.

And the common theme with all of these things is harmlessness, ineffectiveness, and insignificance.

The lion is one of the most dangerous beasts on the earth. And yet, what is a lion without its teeth? It’s relatively harmless. Yes, it still has claws – but lions don’t kill with their claws. They use their claws to direct their prey toward their teeth. And so, no one is afraid of a toothless lion. And that’s what we need to have happen to unjust men and women in this world – especially when they are powerful and dangerous to God’s people – we need to pray that God would render them harmless like a toothless lion.

Our liberties in this nation are paper-thin if we get the wrong people in power. And our response to this reality – when we become aware of these kinds of people being in authority – must not be hatred or violence or anything else that would be unworthy of Christ. Our response needs to be bringing these concerns directly to the Lord and specifically requesting that God would render these unjust people in this world harmless.

David also asks that God would make the unjust to be like water that just flows away.

This is one thing that demonstrates that at one point in our nation there was a great deal of wisdom being exercised – that our president is limited to two terms of four years. Sometimes, the water just needs to flow on by – if you know what I mean! Even if the majority of people generally want a president to stick around forever – it’s not possible in this nation. And I think that’s a good thing.

But imagine living in North Korea, for example, where the ruler is totally unjust and he stays put for decades – maybe even a half century. No – we need unjust people in positions of authority to just keep moving along and to go away! Pray this way concerning the rulers who are over our brethren who are suffering persecution. That the unjust people in authority over them would be remarkably temporary.

Also, David prayed that the unjust would be ineffective with the picture of the unjust drawing back his bow and all of a sudden he becomes aware that his arrows are just shafts! There’s no heads to them! What kind of damage can an arrow cause without a sharp point to it? None! Exactly – pray that unjust people would be – once more – rendered harmless by the Lord.

And then David prays that these people would be like snails or slugs and like stillborns. The point here is that both of these things lack significance.

I’m of course not – and neither is David – mocking the very real pain that numerous of us in this room may have experienced in terms of the death of a preborn infant. There’s nothing funny about this. It’s really a great tragedy.

And here’s what makes this tragedy worse in the mind of David. These stillborn babies – babies who are born dead – they are more worthy of life than these people who have been born living and yet go on to perpetuate great injustice in this world. Right? The babies deserve life, but some of them have died before even getting a chance to live. And yet, these unjust people deserve death – and yet God gives them life and opportunity to repent and they don’t do it.

And so, David asks that these unjust people would be rendered ineffective like a stillborn child. Or like a snail. And with the snail or the slug, it’s a funny picture. The more the snail crawls around, the more of himself he loses! That’s at least what it seems like. In a way, the more he moves, the less of himself that remains! And so, David prays that unjust people would be exactly like that – the more they do, the less they are and are able to do. Again, the picture is one of ineffectiveness.

So, as you experience unjust people who are in power in some way in your life, or as you consider those who are unjust and in charge of your persecuted brothers in Christ, pray that God would render them harmless and ineffective and insignificant.

Psalm 58 Commentary v9 Be Confident that God will Take Care of the Unjust

And sometimes we pray for the Lord to deal with people and we might tend to let that cause us to get angry or anxious. But we must not do that. When we pray to the Lord about disturbing realities like unjust people who are in a position to harm us or others we love, we need to be confident that God will take care of these unjust folks – like David does in verse 9.

9 Before your pots {can feel the thorns/can feel the fire of the thorns/the kindling is even placed under…},
{he shall take them away/he will sweep it away/the wicked will be swept away} as with a whirlwind,
{both living, and in his wrath./the green and the burning alike./along with both the raw and cooked meat./whether they be green or dry–}

The issue here is the immediacy with which David is confident that God will deal with the unjust.

And you can be confident of that same thing. God will deal with the unjust in his time. And maybe it won’t be immediately. For example, the Lord allowed the Pharisee named Saul to kill numerous Christians before God dealt with him. As we’ve recalled before, the Lord allowed Herod to murder James before God dealt with him and delivered Peter from his grasp.

Sometimes the Lord’s dealing with the unjust might seem to take a while. But the reality is that the Lord will deal with them in his timing. And sometimes, the timing can be very swift. It can be like coming to a place where a meal is being prepared and there’s some cooked meat and some raw meat – and before the raw meat can be cooked, it’s all just swept away. God can do this in response to his people’s prayers about unjust people who are threatening their lives and the lives of those they love.

So, be confident that God will take care of the unjust in his timing – which might be even quicker than you would tend to think.

Psalm 58 Commentary vv10-11 Rejoice in and Be Assured of God’s Ultimate Justice

And lastly, as we’re yearning for justice on the earth and we’re dealing with unjust people who can harm us and those we love,

  • Address them directly in the realm of prayer and expect the Lord to overhear
  • Remind ourselves and the Lord in prayer of the nature of these people
  • Beg God to render them harmless and ineffective and insignificant
  • Be confident that God will ultimately deal with them

And then we need to rejoice in – and be assured of – God’s ultimate justice on this earth – like David does and others do in verses 10 and 11 to end this psalm.

10 The {righteous/godly} {shall/will} {rejoice/be glad} when {he/they} {seeth the vengeance/sees vengeance carried out/are avenged}:
{he/they/when they} {shall/will} {wash/bathe} {his/their} feet in the blood of the wicked.

11 {So that/And/Then} {a man/men/observers} {shall/will} say,

{“}{Verily/Surely/Yes indeed} {there is a reward for the righteous/the godly are rewarded/the righteous still are rewarded}:
{verily/Surely/Yes indeed} {he/there} is a God {that/who} {judgeth/judges} {in the/on/the} earth.{”}

So, here’s the proper response to God taking vengeance on the unjust from two groups – the one who prays to God concerning unjust and dangerous people and the other group is the group that observes God’s response to the prayers of that first group.

The one who prays for justice and who sees the unjust being dealt with by God must rejoice. Don’t feel bad when God deals with the unjust after patiently enduring their wickedness for a long time. You can rejoice – not that someone made in God’s image comes to ruin – but rather that God has established justice in this earth and protected others who are made in his image from those who would harm those innocent people. So, as you pray concerning the unjust and God sees fit to stop them, rejoice!

And as you observe this kid of thing taking place, remind yourself that – even though this life is not heaven and there is not always immediate reward for doing good and immediate punishment for doing evil – yet, there is a God who ultimately rules over the affairs of men in this world – and he is totally just. There is indeed a God who executes justice in this world – unlike the unjust human creatures who are in rebellion to him.

And ultimately, beyond this passage, we know that the Judge who will judge this world in righteousness is none other than Jesus Christ. He was put to death by unjust and dangerous and powerful men. He knows what it’s like to be persecuted by these kinds of people.

But the Scripture reminds us that the Father has raised him from the dead and given all judgement to him so that all will honor the Son as they honor the Father. Jesus said that it’s his word that will judge people and their wicked ways and will execute justice in the last day. So, if you are apart from Christ, you will see Jesus again as judge and he will bring justice to bear on you.

But the other side of this glorious reality is that Jesus did not come the first time for the purpose of judging or condemning or brining perfect justice to this earth. He came to save unjust and wicked sinners like you and me. He came to be judged on your behalf for your sin. So, turn from your sin and receive his free gift of salvation by faith alone in him.

You can have Jesus as your Savior. Or you can have him as your judge. It’s your choice. But there’s no third option.

And for those of us for whom Jesus is our Savior – rejoice in the reality that he will soon return and bring perfect justice on this earth. And you will see it with your own eyes.

So, may the Lord use this Psalm to help us to pray concerning injustice on the earth as we wait for that Just Judge – Jesus Christ – to return once more and execute perfect justice on earth.

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