I. The Influence of the Wicked (58:1-5)
A. The silent ones
- David begins the psalm, “Do you really speak righteously, you silent ones? Do you judge the people fairly?” There are some difficulties with the translation of this first verse and is the reason why the various Bible versions differ. The NKJV says that David is speaking to “you silent ones.” It is evident from the text that David is condemning the rulers of the earth for their lack of equitable and righteous judgment. Thus, the NIV simply says “rulers” and the HCSB says “mighty ones.” However, the NASB, NRSV, and ESV read, “O gods.” The only way these translations come about is by emending the original Hebrew word. I do not like emending the text, no matter how reasonable, when the original is understandable.
- It seems that David is making a play on words. I believe David is saying to the rulers, “How can you speak righteously when you keep silent?” The rulers and judges are keeping quiet when they ought to be speaking. Verse 2 brings the condemnation against the rulers: “No, you practice injustice in your hearts; with your hands you weigh out violence in the land.”
B. Failure of the rulers
- David is declaring that these rulers are failing to accomplish their God given task. David does not simply say, “That’s the way people are” or that we simply must resign ourselves to expecting corruption in our political rulers. David does not accept this corruption and cries out against them for their wickedness. Paul gave a more involved description about the purpose of governments in Romans 13. “For government is God’s servant to you for good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong” (Romans 13:4).
- The purpose of the government is to bring about justice by protecting the innocent and bringing wrath against the evildoer. The problem is that many governments forget that this is their purpose. David points out that the rulers are not judging fairly but practice injustice in their hearts and violence by their hands.
- We need to not be silent when governments and rulers are corrupt and evil. We need to be sure that we are reminding people and making people aware of the corruption that is in our government so that changes can be made. It is sad that so many people are willing to overlook the injustice of our rulers. While we may be stuck having to choose between “the lesser of evils,” we need to be sure that we do pick the lesser evil rather than those who are full of great evil and corruption.
C. Do not conform to their character
- Verses 3-5 show how evil these rulers truly are. Their whole lives have been full of wickedness, as if they have been liars from birth. They are deadly in their actions like a venomous cobra. But they are even more dangerous because they lack control. They do not listen to what other people say. Rather, they are going to act according to their evil ways regardless of what the people say or do.
- We must be sure that we do not conform to their character. There is a historical problem that people follow the morality of their leaders. This was the great problem for the people of Israel. Morality and righteous would rise with good kings, but would plummet under the reign of wicked kings. We cannot allow our characters to be molded into our leaders simply because they act so evil. We can have the tendency to justify our evil actions simply because they are not as bad as our president’s actions, governor’s actions, or other politicians’ actions.
- We need to seek out righteousness and justice. We must never shut our ears to the cries of the innocent, the helpless, and the needy. When we do, we have become just like these evil workers.
II. Plea For Divine Judgment (58:6-11)
A. Act, O Lord
- Knock their teeth out. I love the beginning of verse 6: “God, knock the teeth out of their mouths.” Now, in our language this sounds like David is saying to punch the enemies in the face. But we need to see the parallel phrase in verse 6, “Lord, tear out the young lions’ fangs.” David is acknowledging that these rulers and judges have power, but requests to God that their power be shattered.
- Make them flow away. In verse 7 David presents another unique image of what he wants to happen to these rulers. “They will vanish like water that flows away.” Water has great strength, as we have seen in recent hurricanes. But water must also vanish, flowing back to its boundaries. David calls for God to make these rulers flow away.
- Make them blunted, headless arrows. Another unique image is offered to us by David. The NIV says, “When they draw the bow, let their arrows be blunted.” The New American Standard says “let them [the arrows] be headless shafts.” Basically, David calls to God to dull their attack upon the innocent. It is shameful to see government rulers use their power unjustly. Yet it happens even in our society today. David calls to God that their power be broken.
- Make them melt like a slug. David uses a picture of watching a snail or a slug moving across the way. As they move, they leave a trail of slime, as if the snail or slug is dissolving and melting away. David says these rulers are like slugs that he prays will also melt away because of their unjust acts.
- Ended from the beginning. David wishes these rulers end would have come at their very beginning of life. If their lives were going to led with wickedness and evil as the goal, then it would have been better if they had never been born in the first place. David desires to see the oppressive wicked cease from enjoying their power and rule.
B. Hope in the Lord
- The final verses of the psalm speak about David’s confidence that God will bring about the justice that has been lacking. The wicked will be judged and the righteous will be rewarded. David seems to recognize that judgment against the wicked may take some time in coming, but it will come. But eventually, God will sweep the wicked away.
- Verse 9 describes this judgment in very chilling terms: “He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, as in His living and burning wrath.” This sentence describes the wrath of God in very destructive terms. First, they will be taken away as with a whirlwind. The imagery of the whirlwind is intended to conjure a feeling of terror. Similarly, the wrath of God is described as “living and burning.” From the whirlwind to fire, God is trying to help us understand what we are up against when we act wickedly.
- Consider how God explained it to the people of Israel: “Listen, Israel: Today you are about to cross the Jordan to go and drive out nations greater and stronger than you with large cities fortified to the heavens. The people are strong and tall, the descendants of the Anakim. You know about them and you have heard it said about them, ‘Who can stand up to the sons of Anak? ‘But understand that today the Lord your God will cross over ahead of you as a consuming fire; He will devastate and subdue them before you. You will drive them out and destroy them swiftly, as the Lord has told you. When the Lord your God drives them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord brought me in to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ Instead, the Lord will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness. You are not going to take possession of their land because of your righteousness or your integrity. Instead, the Lord your God will drive out these nations before you because of their wickedness, in order to keep the promise He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people”(Deuteronomy 9:1-6).
- I have to believe that it was this background upon which the writer uses similar language for the Christians. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us hold on to grace. By it, we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). We have received the promised kingdom as they received the promised land. But let us not think that it is by our goodness that God has given us these blessings. God told the people of Israel that they did not receive the land because they were righteous but because the people that lived there were wicked. God was going to consume them for their wickedness with great destruction.
- Notice that the writer of Hebrews says that we also need the grace of God. In essence, let us never forget that it is by the grace of God that we live and are not consumed for our own wickedness. We must continue to serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, or else we will be swept away with the wicked.
- Coming back to Psalm 58, David goes on to say that the righteous will rejoice when the wicked fall. The wicked will be repaid according to their deeds. What a graphic picture in verse 10, “He will wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.” This is a picture of the conquering victor walking through a bloody battlefield as the slain lie all around. God will be successful in his campaign against the wicked.
C. Surety in life
- The final hope is expressed in verse 11: “People will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.'” We have a common saying in our culture that there are two things that you can count on: death and taxes. There is no doubt that we will pay taxes and there is no doubt we will die.
- David declares there are two more assured events in life. (1) There is a reward for the righteous. Paul said the same, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism” (Colossians 3:23-25). Our lives ought to reflect this sure truth: we will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. However, Paul stated the condition that we need to do all things with all of our heart as if working for the Lord. David said the righteous will receive the reward. The writer of Hebrews says we need to serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, to receive the reward. The reward is sure.
- But there is another assured event in life. (2) There is a God who judges on earth. The rulers of the nations will not get away with wickedness. God will judge the earth. The rulers who choose to ignore the will of God and ignore justice for the people, God will judge. Referring back to Paul’s words in Colossians 3, “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.” No person will be able to get out of being repaid for his or her actions.
- Yes, there are death and taxes that are assured in life. But God has also assured us that the righteous will receive a just reward and the wicked will receive their due penalty. God will judge the earth. What awaits your life? How will you be judged? Will you receive a reward or penalty for your actions? By the grace of God, we can receive the reward when we submit our lives to God and worship Him acceptably. No longer obey your will but obey God’s will as revealed in the scriptures.