Tthis is a psalm for God’s people who are distressed and troubled because of the sinfulness of the wicked. In the first part of the psalm, the psalmist describes the sinfulness of the wicked and the things they do and the kind of life they live. But in the second part of the psalm, the psalmist turns his attention away from the wicked and their sinfulness to consider the greatness of God’s love and his faithfulness and his righteousness and his justice. And he remembers God’s goodness and his commitment to his people. And so, there’s no need for God’s people to fear the wicked, because God’s people can trust in the Lord to help them. And so, in the final part of the psalm, the psalmist turns to God in prayer to ask for deliverance. He asks God to continue to show his steadfast love to his people. And he anticipates how the wicked will lie fallen, thrown down, and unable to rise. And so, let’s turn to study this psalm together which God has given to comfort his people in every generation.
Verses 1 to 4
And David begins the psalm by saying that this is an oracle concerning the sinfulness of the wicked. An oracle, of course, is a revelation from God, so that whoever receives an oracle from God receives a message from the Lord. And this particular message from God is about the sinfulness of the wicked. When David refers to the wicked, he’s referring to the ungodly: those who do not know the Lord or love him or honour him. They can be contrasted with the godly. The godly are God’s people who love him and who want to honour him. Of course, God’s people are also sinners who sin against the Lord continually. However, the godly love the Lord and want to do his will, whereas the wicked despise the Lord and do not care about doing his will. And so, David has received this oracle, this message from the Lord, which is about the sinfulness of the wicked, who are those people who have not yielded themselves to the Lord and who live in rebellion to him.
And what does the Lord say about the wicked? Well, he says that they do not fear the Lord. Now, the Hebrew word which David uses and which is translated as ‘fear’ in this verse is not the normal word for ‘fear’ in the Bible. Normally when the Bible refers to fearing the Lord, it means we’re to worship him and we’re to honour him by the things we do and say. God’s people show that they fear him by being careful to walk in his ways, because they’re afraid of displeasing and dishonouring the one they love. However, David is using a different word here, a word which can also mean ‘dread’. As one of the commentators puts it, this is that kind of fear or dread which terrifies us and which will stop us in our tracks. And so, here’s the Lord, revealing to David that the wicked — that is, those who do not believe — do not dread him. They should dread him, because the God who once destroyed the world with a flood has made clear that he will one day judge the world by his Son and he will punish the wicked for their wickedness. So, they ought to dread him and to cry out to him for mercy, as the people of Nineveh did when they heard from Jonah that God was going to destroy their city because of their wickedness. But instead of fearing God like that, and instead of fearing the judgment day to come, the wicked continue on in their sin and rebellion.
And look at verse 2 now, where the Lord revealed to David that the wicked flatter themselves. Years ago we used to watch the X Factor on TV and from time to time these people would come on to sing in front of the judges; and they were awful. Truly awful. And yet, for whatever reason, they thought they were great. They thought they were great singers and they didn’t understand when the judges told them they were terrible. You see, they flattered themselves and they told themselves that they were great singers, when they were not. Well, you’d think the conscience of the wicked would tell them that what they’re doing is wrong. You’d think there would be a voice inside their head telling them to stop, because what they’re doing is wicked. But if their conscience is speaking to them, they’re not listening. And instead they’re listening to the voice in their head which is telling them that what they’re doing is fine. It’s fine. You’re fine and you’re not doing anything wrong. This voice is saying to them that if those other people in my life don’t like what I’m doing, that’s their problem, because I’m not doing anything wrong.
And so, they’re flattering themselves, telling themselves that what they’re doing is fine, when in fact, what they’re doing is wicked in the sight of the Lord; and if they continue to live like that, they will be condemned because of it. And so, as David says, in the second part of verse 2, they flatter themselves too much to detect their sin or to hate it. If only they would stop flattering themselves, and stop telling themselves that they’re fine. They’re like the man who ignores that persistent pain which is the sign that there’s a tumour and he needs surgery; but he ignores it; and eventually it’s too late. And so, the sinner ignores his sin; and soon it will be too late because the day of judgment will come.
And the Lord also revealed to David that the words of the wicked are wicked and deceitful. This means that the things they say cause trouble and sorrow to others. The wicked person only causes misery with his words, making the people around him miserable and sad so that they weep because of what he’s said to them. And their words are also deceitful, so that you cannot trust what they say. Instead of being open and honest with you, they are evasive and deceitful. Instead of telling the truth, they tell lies.
And the wicked person has ceased to be wise and he has ceased to do good. Since he flatters himself, he thinks he’s wise and smart, but he’s really only being foolish, because the way he has chosen will end in destruction. And though the Lord commands us to love our neighbour, and to do good to them, this wicked person — since he does not fear the Lord or care what the Lord commands — does no good to anyone. He only ever thinks about himself.
And the Lord revealed to David that the wicked person plots evil on his bed. So, during the day, he’s doing what’s evil; and during the night, when he’s in his bed, he’s plotting and planning and thinking about more evil things to do. And, of course, because he flatters himself, he doesn’t realise that what he’s planning is evil; he probably thinks it’s fine and that there’s nothing wrong with his plans. And so, he commits himself to a sinful course of action. He’s determined to do it and he will not let anyone talk him out of it and he will not accept anyone’s advice. He’s committed to doing it.
And he doesn’t reject what is wrong. So, instead of saying ‘no’ to what is evil and to what causes harm and misery to others, instead of saying ‘no’ to what is evil and to what is wrong in the sight of the Lord, he carries on in his sinful, foolish, rebellious way, without realising that the day of judgment is coming when he will have to answer to the Lord for what he has done and for how he has lived.
So, this is the oracle which the Lord revealed to David concerning the wicked, those who do not believe and who are living in sin and rebellion. He flatters himself too much to detect his sin. His words are wicked and cause misery and sorrow. His words are deceitful and untrustworthy. He does no good to anyone and he plots evil on his bed and he is committed to his sinful way and continues along that wrong path which leads eventually to eternal destruction. And the reason he lives like this is because he does not fear the Lord who has warned us that he will come to judge the whole world by his Son. This wicked person’s attitude is the same as those Peter refers to in his Second Letter who scoff and say:
Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? [Everything] goes on as it has since the beginning of the creation.
There’s not going to be a judgment day. So, I can do what I like and no one is going to tell me what I can and can’t do.
What are the godly to do, living in a world which is filled with so many people who do not fear the Lord and who plot evil on their beds and who are committed to doing what’s wrong? What are the godly to do?
If you look down to verse 11, you’ll see that David prays to the Lord to protect him from the foot and the hand of the wicked. Do you see that? You see, the reason David is thinking about the sinfulness of the wicked and all their wicked and deceitful words and all their wicked and evil ways is because the wicked are his enemies and they want to attack David and to hurt him. They want to triumph over David. And it’s the same in every generation, because in every generation there are those who set themselves against the Lord’s people and they despise the Lord’s people and they attack them. So, what are the godly to do? because at times it may seem to us that we’re like sheep living among wolves. What are the godly to do?
Verses 5 to 9
In verses 5 to 9, David moves from contemplating the sinfulness of the wicked to contemplating the greatness of God’s love. He doesn’t need to be afraid of the wicked, because he can count on the Lord and his love for his people. So, let’s study these verses together.
The NIV refers simply to God’s love in verse 5, but David is really referring to God’s steadfast love, which is the unfailing love he has for his covenant people. This is his loyal love, his faithful love, his never-ending love. And in order to convey to us its greatness, its immensity, David says God’s love reaches to the heavens. How high is God’s love? It’s so high you can’t get over it. Isn’t that what we used to sing? Or sometimes you hear people saying they will love you to the moon and back. They’re trying to convey the greatness of their love. And that’s what David is trying to do; he’s telling us that God’s steadfast love for his people is infinite. And his faithfulness is also very great, because it reaches to the skies. This is his faithfulness to his people and to all his promises to them to care for them and to look after them and to protect them. His people can always trust in the Lord, because he is faithful to his promises and he will always do what he has said. The wicked person’s words are deceitful, but the Lord’s word is true.
And then there’s his righteousness and justice which refers to the way God always does what is right and all his judgments are just and right. And his righteousness and justice are like the mighty mountains and the great deep. So, not only are they high, but they’re also very deep. Again, David is trying to convey to us how immense and great and wonderful God’s righteousness and justice are. They are so great, we cannot take them in. And whereas the wicked does evil and plots evil, the Lord only does what is right.
And in this context, it’s right for God to save his people and it’s right for God to save even their beasts. Do you see that in verse 6? If you were one of God’s people, living in Old Testament times, you’d want him to keep you and your family safe; and you’d want him to keep your cattle and sheep safe, wouldn’t you? You’d want him to keep them safe from the enemy nations who used to make raids on the land of Israel. And David knows he can count on the Lord to keep him and his possessions safe. The wicked are plotting to do evil, but David knows he can trust in the Lord.
And look at verse 7: God’s love is priceless. It’s precious. And because of his steadfast love, he provides shelter for his people. Just as a mother bird wraps her wings around her young to keep them safe, so the Lord keeps his people safe from the hand of the wicked. And his people are able to feast in the abundance of his house and he gives them drink from the river of his delights. David is conveying to us the Lord’s kindness and his generosity towards his people and how he will enable them to live in peace and safety. The Hebrew word translated ‘delights’ is related to the word for Eden. And some of the commentators think this is a deliberate reference to the Garden of Eden which the Lord planted for Adam and Eve and which was filled with trees which were good for food and pleasing to the eye and where Adam and Eve had everything they needed, because the Lord provided it for them. And David alludes to the Garden of Eden to convey to us how God will provide for his people and will keep them safe because of his steadfast love and faithfulness towards his people. With him is the fountain of life. That is, he’s the source of our life, because in him we live and move and have our being. And when David refers to God’s light in verse 9 he could well be referring to the light of God’s countenance, which he shines on his people. So, we’re to imagine him smiling on his people. He’s pleased with them and he’s willing to do them good. And since the Lord is smiling on his people with the light of his countenance, then everything is light for them and there is no darkness for them to fear.
Verses 10 to 12
So, the Lord has revealed to David a message about the sinfulness of the wicked who are up to no good. But David has also reminded us of the greatness of God’s love and his commitment to his people. And so, the psalm ends, with David asking the Lord to continue to show his steadfast love and his righteousness to his people. And he prays to the Lord to deliver him from the wicked. So: Protect me from his foot and hand when the wicked attack me and try to hurt me. Don’t let them succeed and don’t let them triumph over me.
The Lord has given us this psalm to comfort and to reassure his people and especially his people who are hard-pressed and troubled and anxious and afraid because of the sinfulness of the wicked. Perhaps there’s someone very close to you who is making your life hard, because of the sinful and wicked things they’re saying and doing; and this person is making your life miserable every day. Or perhaps you’re distressed by the wickedness in the world and by all the ways people in general have turned away from the Lord to do evil. And there are so many things happening in the world which distress us today, aren’t there? And you’re afraid and you’re anxious, because of the pressure on the church to conform to the ways of a wicked world which hates the Lord and his ways.
Well, take heart. Take heart, because you can count on the Lord and on his steadfast love and his faithfulness and his righteousness and justice, all of which are immense. So high you can’t get over them. So low you can’t get under them. So wide you can’t get round them. You can count on God’s steadfast love and his faithfulness and his righteousness and his justice, because, if you believe in the Lord Jesus, the only Saviour of the world, God is not your enemy, but he’s your God, who has bound himself with a promise to shelter you under the shadow of his wings and to feed you in the abundance of his house and to let you drink the river of his delights. In other words, he has bound himself with a promise to take care of you. The Lord Jesus laid down his life as the ransom price to set you free from condemnation. The Lord Jesus shed his blood to cleanse you from your guilt. And so, if you believe in him, the only Saviour of the world, then you’ve been reconciled to God and can count on him to help you today and tomorrow and for ever. God will never leave you or forsake you and he will continue to pour out his blessings on you through Jesus Christ your Saviour. And so, in a sense, it doesn’t matter what the wicked do and what they’re planning to do, because the Lord your God is watching over you to keep you safe and to protect his people in every generation. So, I say to you: Do not be afraid, but trust in the Lord and in his steadfast love and faithfulness. Trust in him to keep you always.
But before we finish, let me draw your attention to the last verse of the psalm, where it says:
See, how the evildoers lie fallen — thrown down, not able to rise!
Having reminded himself of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, and having turned to God in prayer, David anticipates the fate of the wicked who oppose him; and he understands that in the end they will be stopped. And these words at the end of the psalm remind us of words at the end of the Bible. I recently preached through the book of Revelation, which describes all these visions from the Lord about what life is like in these, the last days, in which we live. And the Lord made clear to John that while the Devil and all who side with him will attack the church and persecute believers, the Lord’s people are under God’s protection. And so, he will help them. And then, near the end of the book of Revelation, we read about Babylon the Great which represents this fallen world in opposition to the Lord and his church. In other words, Babylon the Great represents the wicked. And in Revelation 18 the news is announced:
Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!
It will not last, but in the end it will fall. In Psalm 36, the Lord revealed to David that the wicked do not fear the Lord. And so, they continue on in their rebellion, day after day. But in the end, in the end, Babylon the Great will fall, this wicked world will fall. As David says, they will fall — thrown down, never to rise.
But God’s people — all who trust in Christ the Saviour and who have turned to God for mercy and for forgiveness — will rise. All of God’s people will rise when the Lord Jesus comes in glory and with power to destroy his enemies and to gather his people. All of God’s people will rise to live in body and soul in the City of God, the new Jerusalem, which is the church in glory. And there, we will drink from the river of life and live forever in the presence of the Lord whose glory gives us light. And there will be nothing to hurt or harm us and nothing to make us afraid. And we will live forever and forever, enjoying eternal peace and rest.
That’s the great hope that God gives to all who trust in his Son for salvation. And everyone, everyone who trusts in his Son can have this hope. Even the wicked person who flatters himself, and who speaks wicked and deceitful words and who plots evil and who does evil, even that person can have the hope of eternal life in the presence of the Lord, if only you will trust in God’s Son, who gave up his life to free sinners from condemnation and who shed his blood to cleanse them. If you haven’t yet trusted in him, will you do that today? So, will you turn to God in prayer, confessing your sins? And will you ask God to have mercy on you and to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners? Will you? Because whoever does that can count on the Lord to look after them every day; and whoever does that can count on the Lord to raise them up to enjoy everlasting life in that new and better world to come.