Israel’s first king, Saul, led the nation down a path of political and spiritual ruin. The obsessive pursuit of David is just one (although certainly the most obvious) example of Saul’s failed leadership. Saul was also notorious for putting people into power because they flattered his ego and not because they would actually be the most qualified for the good of Israel. This Psalm was most likely composed either late in David’s exile or early in his reign (perhaps as a reflection on the mess he had inherited from his father-in-law) and is one of the imprecatory Psalms (Psalms 6, 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109, 137, and 139).1 Regardless of the exact timing of the writing, the Holy Spirit speaks to us today to take corrupt leadership seriously.
Let’s look at the first five verses:
1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge people with equity?
2 No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
3 Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
4 Their venom is like the venom of a snake, like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
5 that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be.
David asks the judges if their judgments were right and fair. We all know the answer and so did they. They were twisting and manipulating the law and were dealing unjustly with people. Instead of listening to the truth, David tells them they have stopped up their ears so they cannot even hear the truth. These wicked judges had no interest in the truth of God’s Law. Sound familiar?
Let’s read the next four verses (6-9):
6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
7 Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
8 May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns— whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.
David displayed a righteous anger: he was disgusted at the injustice of the ones who were supposed to be defending the defenseless. They were an abomination to the Law of God. This is not what the people of God were commanded to be and yet here they were acting as bad (or worse) as the pagan nations around them. Their sin was against God Himself and the standards He had set.
Notice that David did not take it on himself to perform these tasks mentioned in verses 6-9. To our ears, this sounds so strange but David knew the words of Deuteronomy 32:35. It was the Lord who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” David was merely asking the Lord to do what He promised He would do: uphold justice and he kept using the same metaphor introduced in verses 1-5. We should model the same passion for the things of God. We should not take matters into our own hands, but we move nonetheless.
And now the last two verses (10-11):
10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”
The righteous are not bloodthirsty and find no joy in the suffering of others but they rejoice in the goodness of God. God’s judgment of the sin of humanity is validation of His intolerance for sin.
We are prone to make light of our sin but to God, it is all disgusting and intolerable. When compared to God’s standard, we all deserve death. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). This has not changed. “But the gif
t of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b). Apart from this grace-gift of God through His Son Jesus, death would be our only alternative.
May we, like David, stand on the side of righteousness and stand on the side of those to whom we are called to spread the Gospel.
1“Imprecatory psalms are psalms in which a prayer for judgment (an imprecation) on the psalmist’s enemies is a leading feature of the psalm. These psalms have their theological basis in the Abrahamic covenant, which said that curses would come upon Israel’s enemies” (Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary, 205).