Do you ever feel that life is unfair and that wicked people are able to do wicked things and get away with it? That those who try to live uprightly are downtrodden and disregarded, whereas the wicked proper and succeed? Well, if you feel that life is unfair — that life is unjust — then this psalm is for you.
It’s like Psalm 35. Do you remember Psalm 35? It was a psalm of lamentation where the psalmist called out to the Lord for help because of the trouble he was in. But he called on the Lord not only to help him — the psalmist — but he also called on the Lord to bring down trouble and suffering on his enemies who were causing him so much harm.
And today’s psalm is like that, because the psalmist is complaining to the Lord about rulers who devise injustice; and whose hands mete out violence on the earth. He’s complaining to the Lord about those who are wicked from birth and who do evil. The psalmist complains to the Lord about such people. But then he calls down curses on them: break their teeth; tear out their fangs; let them vanish like water; sweep them away; let the righteous bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
Many Christians are uncomfortable with psalms like this one, because doesn’t the Lord command us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us? Doesn’t he instruct us to do good to all, just as our Father in heaven does good to all? Doesn’t Paul the Apostle tells us to bless those who persecute us and not to curse them? Doesn’t he tell us not to repay anyone evil for evil?
All of that is true, and we are called to love our enemies. But we also need to remember that the Bible is plain and clear about the coming day of the Lord, when the Lord will come with glory and power to judge the living and the dead — all people who have ever lived — and the wicked will be condemned and sent away from the presence of the Lord to be punished forever for their sins. The Bible is very clear about the coming day of judgment. And since there is a coming day of judgment, these psalms are necessary, because by them the Lord warns all people everywhere that while the wicked may get away with their wickedness in this life, there is a judgment to come. And therefore, all people everywhere should repent and turn from their wickedness now, while there is time, and seek forgiveness from the Lord.
And so, let’s turn to this psalm which can be divided into two main parts: verses 1 to 5 where the psalmist complains about the wicked; and verses 6 to 11 where he calls on the Lord to deal with them.
Verses 1 to 5
The psalm opens with a question:
Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge uprightly among men? And the psalmist answer his own question in verse 2: No. No, they don’t speak justly and they don’t judge uprightly.
The word translated ‘justly’ is actually the word for ‘righteousness’. So, their words, their decrees, their laws are not righteous. They’re not right. And the verb ‘judge’ in the second line refers not just to judging criminal cases in a law court, but it’s about ruling or governing the people in general. Think of the judges in the Old Testament book of Judges who were the leaders of God’s people in those days. Samuel, who was the last of the judges, ruled the people on behalf of the Lord. So, the psalmist is referring to the leaders of the people whose words and decrees and laws are not right. Instead of governing the people in an upright way, they devise injustice in their hearts and with they hands they mete out violence on the earth. So, they plan wicked things in their heart and carry them out by the things they do.
The psalm was written by David and while we have no way of knowing for certain what the precise historical background for this psalm is, it’s possible that David is thinking of Saul. As we read on Sunday, Saul was plotting and scheming how to kill David, not by his own hand, but by the hand of the Philistines. And on this coming Sunday, we’ll see that his efforts to kill David become more obvious, because he instructed his son and his attendants to kill David and he sent his soldiers to arrest him in his home. But, of course, the psalmist’s complaint fits so many other people who govern the people around them in the wrong way and who do wicked things all the time. So, we can think of corrupt political leaders who abuse their authority. But we can also think of people in the workplace who are corrupt and abusive towards their staff. We can think of abusive husbands and tyrannical parents. Unfortunately there are lots of examples we can think of, because we live in a fallen world which is full of sorrow and suffering.
And in verse 3 the psalmist complains about these wicked leaders and how they went astray from birth. Well, the Bible is plain that we are all sinners by nature or by birth. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned, every single person — with the exception of the Lord Jesus — was born a sinner and we are naturally inclined to sin. That is true of all of us; and so, the psalmist is simply making the point here that the wicked leaders he is thinking about how always been wicked. From the womb, from the time of their birth, they have gone astray from the right path and they have spoken lies. Lying is natural to them. And then he compares them to poisonous snakes. Presumably he’s referring to what they say again. So, their words are poisonous, because with their words they bite and attack and cause pain to others. And notice that he says in verses 4 and 5 that they’re like a cobra which has stopped its ears. So, while a snake will listen to the music of a snake charmer, these wicked people will not listen to anyone. Perhaps he means they will not listen to instruction; or perhaps he means they will not listen to the cries of their victims.
And so, in the first part of this psalm, the psalmist complains to the Lord about these wicked leaders, who devise wicked plans in their hearts and who carry them out. They dispense violence and their words and decrees and laws, the things they say, are wicked and deadly.
Verses 6 to 11
In the second part of the psalm, he calls on the Lord to deal with them. He calls on the Lord to break their teeth and to tear out their fangs. So, he’s comparing these wicked people to lions who are able to tear apart their victims. That’s what these people are like. So, deal with them so that they cannot hurt anyone anymore. Let them vanish like water which drains away and is gone. So, take them away. Remove them. Get rid of them.
When they draw their bow to attack, let their arrows be blunted. He could be speaking metaphorically. That is, they’re not really people who fire arrows, but when they attack you with their words, their words are likely arrows, because they’re designed to hurt you. However, since David was dealing with Saul who hurled a spear at David; and with soldiers who carried bows and arrows and swords, perhaps the arrows here are literal arrows. In any case, David is asking the Lord to protect him from them.
Let them be like a slug and a stillborn baby. The image of a slug is intriguing, but presumably he means that once a slug is gone, all that is left is their slimy trail. So, let that be all that’s left of these wicked people. And in verse 9 he depicts someone building a fire to heat a pot of food. But then the wind comes along and sweeps away the firewood. So, let the wicked be swept away by the Lord.
So, he’s calling down curses on them, asking them Lord to make them powerless and to afflict them with suffering and to remove them from the face of the earth. And in verse 10 he says that the righteous will be glad when they are avenged. The righteous here are God’s faithful people: those who are right with God through faith; and who seek to do what’s right in the sight of the Lord; and who are often oppressed and persecuted by the wicked. David was one such person, because he trusted in the Lord. And even though he never did anything wrong, Saul hated him and wanted to kill him. But David foresaw a time when the Lord will take vengeance on the wicked. ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay.’ Isn’t that what the Lord says? And so, one day he will have the victory over the wicked and the time will come when the righteous will bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.
That sounds a little bloodthirsty, but David is depicting a battle field after the battle is over. And as the victors walk through the field, they’re stepping in the blood of the dead enemies. In other words, it’s an image to convey the idea of a victory. For now, God’s people are often oppressed and persecuted; but the day is coming when the Lord will give them victory over their enemies who once despised them. And in that day it will become clear like never before that the righteous were right to trust in the Lord and to keep themselves from evil, because in the end, the righteous will be rewarded by the Lord, who graciously and freely promises to reward his people even though his people do not deserve anything from him. And David adds at the end: men will surely say that there is a God who judges the earth. There is a God in heaven above who rules over the earth and everyone and everything in it.
For the time being, it might not seem that way, because every day the wicked do wicked things and they apparently get away with it, whereas God’s people are often hated without cause and persecuted for no good reason. And it often seems so unfair. Why is this allowed to happen? And why am I suffering so much, when I love the Lord, and the wicked are prospering and doing well? It’s not fair. It’s not right.
And if ever we talk about heaven and hell and the judgment to come, people scoff. They will scoff because they don’t believe the judgment is coming; and they think things will continue as they are forever. But we believe that the God who rules over all has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. And God has given proof of this to all men by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead. That’s what Paul says in Acts 17. By raising the Lord Jesus from the dead, God has made clear that there is more than just this life; and that death is not the end; because all people who have ever lived will be raised just as Christ was raised; and after the resurrection of our bodies, there will come the judgment. If the Lord Jesus had died and had remained dead, then everyone could assume that death is the end; and there’s nothing more to follow. But the fact that the Lord was raised shows us that the dead are raised. And when the dead are raised, each person will have to give an account to the Lord for how we have lived.
And the dead will be raised when the Lord Jesus returns in glory and with power. And the book of Revelation depicts him coming as a mighty warrior on a white horse, who will come to judge with justice and to make war on his enemies. His eyes are like blazing fire and on his head are many crowns. And he is dressed in a robe which is spattered with the blood of his enemies. And he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. He’s coming to judge the world and to punish the wicked.
But he hasn’t come yet. He hasn’t come yet, because the Lord is very patient and he’s given everyone time to repent. And he’s given everyone fair warning, because we have this psalm and we have similar psalms and the Bible is filled with warnings of the coming day of judgment and how sinners everywhere must turn from their sin in repentance and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation from the wrath of God to come, because the same Lord Jesus who will come again to judge the world came the first time to give up his life on the cross in order to make peace between God and sinners. And after his resurrection and his ascension, he has been sending preachers into all the world to command all people everywhere to repent and believe. And whoever believes will be saved, no matter what they have done wrong, because whoever trusts in the Lord Jesus is cleansed from the stain of their sin and they’re reconciled to God forever.
And though we may have to suffer in this world, and endure all kinds of abuse and persecution, and though life seems so unfair and that the wicked are able to do wicked things and apparently get away from it, we know we can look to the Lord for help each day. And we can pray that he will frustrate the plans of the wicked and stop them in their tracks. But even when the Lord chooses to let them remain, we know that in the end he will do what is right and he will punish the wicked for their wickedness, and he will give eternal life to all who have trusted in his Son.