Theme: The Way of the Wicked
In this week’s lessons we are given a stark description of the wicked, while the contrasting attributes of God reveal what God will do for those who belong to him.
Scripture: Psalm 36:1-12
Denying that one will one day give an accounting to God has a profound impact on how the wicked person lives, which is what the next verses are about. As Arno Gaebelein says, “Loving darkness more than light, he calls evil good and good evil and is self-righteous and has an excuse for everything.”3 David sees five steps in his decline.
1. Having displaced God the wicked person becomes the center of his own universe and is therefore self-deceived. Nothing is more deceiving than to think ourselves the center of the universe, but this deception leads to others.
Jonathan Edwards in his majestic and comprehensive manner writes of eight such deceptions:
1.Some flatter themselves with a secret hope that there is no such thing as another world. 2. Some flatter themselves that death is a great way off…. 3. Some flatter themselves that they lead moral and orderly lives and therefore think that they shall not be damned…. 4. Some make the advantages under which they live an occasion of self-flattery…. 5. Some flatter themselves with their own intentions…. 6. There are some who flatter themselves that they do, and have done, a great deal for their salvation…. 7. Some hope by their strivings to obtain salvation of themselves…. 8. Some sinners flatter themselves that they are already converted.4
Most of these deceptions have to do with those who will at least accept God’s existence. But what of those who banish thoughts of God entirely?
2. Having lost the necessary reference point for determining what is good or evil, the wicked person is unable to “detect or hate” sin. It is bad enough to recognize sin and be unable to reject it, but it is obviously much worse not even to be able to detect it as sin or be repulsed by it. This deplorable state comes inevitably if we dabble in sin enough. Alexander Pope, the eighteenth century English poet, captured it well when he wrote:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mienAs, to be hated, needs but to be seen;Yet, seen too oft, familiar with her face,We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
That is the problem with sinning “just a bit.” We cannot sin just a bit, because the little bit becomes a little bit more until, in the end, we cannot even distinguish right from wrong or understand what we are doing.
3. Since he is unable to detect or hate sin, the wicked person is also unable to speak truth, be wise or do good. Sins of the mind inevitably express themselves in conduct, in this case speech, judgments and actions. Here is the exact opposite of the wise man of Proverbs, who does good precisely because he has the fear of God before his eyes: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
What is the first step in the decline of the wicked? What examples can you think of that match the deceptions Jonathan Edwards is writing about?
Describe the second and third steps in your own words.
Application: Make it a regular matter of prayer to ask the Lord for an increasing reverential fear.
3Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 161.4Condensed from one of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons by C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), pp. 162, 163.