Psalm 36 is a lot like Psalm 1 in contrasting the ways of the righteous with those of the wicked, showing their natures, path of life and end. But there are two differences. First, the order is reversed. In Psalm 1, the righteous are described (vv. 1-3), then the wicked (v. 4), and then the ends of each compared (vv. 5, 6). In Psalm 36 the order is: first, the wicked (vv. 1-4), then the righteous (vv. 5-9), and then the contrast (vv. 10-12). The other difference is that in Psalm 36 the section on the righteous is not focused on these persons so much as on God, whose steadfast love and faithfulness they alone appreciate and trust.

Unlike many of our psalm studies, I have saved the application of this one to the end, because it is difficult to apply and because I wanted to get the whole of the psalm unpacked before I did. How should we apply it? Is it right to ask God to judge our enemies, as David did? Can we pray part of what he prayed, eliminating other parts? If so, how do we distinguish between the parts? Or should we reject the imprecatory psalms entirely? Let me suggest the following.

Part Two: A Lawsuit. In the second part of the psalm (vv. 11-18) the image changes to that of a lawsuit, and the problem here is that David's enemies are slandering him, just as, in the previous section, they had been scheming against his life. Is this literal? Probably! For even if there was no actual lawsuit—we have no record of anyone being able literally to bring a suit against the king—the slander was no doubt real, and David is pleading to the Lord to be his advocate.

This is also the outline of the psalm. Part one (vv. 1-10) develops the second of these two images, the image of the battle. Part two (vv. 11-18) develops the first, the image of a lawsuit. At the end, in part three, both come together (vv. 19-28).

I also suggest that there is a place for private citizens, especially Christians, to oppose evil vigorously. We can pray for the conversion of the very wicked, but if they are not going to be converted (and many are not), we can certainly pray for their overthrow and destruction. It was right for all good people to pray for and rejoice at the fall of Adolf Hitler. It is right to pray for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.