The Book of Psalms

Friday: Low Deeds in High Places

Theme

Theme: When the Righteous Will Be Rewarded
In this week’s lessons, Psalm 58 teaches us that although evildoers continue to do great harm, God will eventually intervene both in judgment against sinners and the vindication of the righteous.
Scripture: Psalm 58:1-11
The last stanza of Psalm 58 is a prophecy or, as we might say, a confident statement that the wicked will be judged by God and the righteous rewarded. It is the climax of the psalm and a good one. The moral is that, although judgment may tarry long, it will come, and when it comes the way of the righteous will be seen to have been right.
But there is a problem with verse 9. Translators cannot agree on the meaning of verse 1 because of the word “silent.” Those problems are increased many fold in this verse, because there are several words for which the meaning is unclear. The word translated “pots” (NIV) can mean either “a pot used for cooking” or “a thorn.” The word rendered “green,” as in wood that has not yet dried out, can mean either that or “raw” as in raw or uncooked meat. The words “the heat of” have been added, meaning that the text actually says only “feel the thorns.” There are a few other more minor problems too. If you compare Bible translations, you can see at once how these cause the translations to differ.
On the other hand, in spite of these problems of translation the general meaning is clear. As Alexander Maclaren says, “It is a homely and therefore vigorous picture of half-accomplished plans suddenly reduced to utter failure, and leaving their concocters hungry for the satisfaction which seemed so near.”2
I wrote a moment ago that the climax of the psalm comes in the moral of verse 11, that, although judgment may tarry long, it will come, and when it comes the way of the righteous will be seen to have been right: “Then men will say, ‘Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’”
That is something worth remembering. We tend to forget that it is true, especially when we see evil winning out for a time, as evil often does. But those who fix their eyes on God and believe God and his word will remember it. They will have a long-range perspective and will live accordingly. They will do right and stand for righteousness, knowing that evil will be judged and good rewarded in the end.
Look back at the title of this psalm for a moment, to the word miktam. No one is entirely sure what this means, which is why it appears as miktam rather than being translated. But the word seems to have its root in a verb meaning “to engrave,” and this seems to have been the understanding of the translators of the Septuagint version since they rendered it by stelographia, which means an inscription on a stele or column. Noting this, John Jebb, writing in 1846, had this suggestion: “It appears by the titles of four out of these six psalms, that they were composed by David while flying and hiding from the persecutions of Saul. What, then, should hinder us from imagining that they were inscribed on the rocks and on the sides of the caves which so often formed his place of refuge? This view would accord with the strict etymological meaning of the word, and explain the rendering of the Septuagint.”3
I do not know whether that is a correct explanation of the use of this word in the titles of these psalms. But it leads me to say that whether or not these words were inscribed on the rock walls of the cave of Adullam, let them be inscribed on your heart. Let this climactic saying be a miktam to you. Assure yourself on the basis of God’s revelation in the Bible that “the righteous still are rewarded” and that “there is a God who judges the earth.”
And equally important, make sure that you live for him and stand for righteousness. You cannot do it by yourself. But you can by the power of Christ who lives in you, if you are a Christian.
I began this week’s study by citing some things Charles Colson said to students in the Harvard Business School in 1991. I return to what he said now, because he ended his speech on this note. He was speaking personally when he said, “Even the most rational approach to ethics is defenseless if there isn’t the will to do what is right. On my own—and I can only speak for myself—I do not have that will. That which I want to do, I do not; that which I do, I do not want to do.
“It is only when I can turn to the One whom we celebrate at Easter—the One who was raised from the dead—that I can find the will to do what is right. It’s only when that value and that sense of righteousness pervade a society that there can be a moral consensus. I would hope I might leave you, as future business leaders, the thought that a society of which we are apart—and for which you should have a great sense of responsibility and stewardship—desperately needs those kind of values. And, if I might say so, each one of us does as well.”4
1For a particularly complete discussion of these options and a balanced suggestion of a good translation, see J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 459. Original edition 1878-1879. Maclaren is also helpful (see The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89, in “The Expositor’s Bible,” ed. W. Robertson Nicol (New York: A.C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 194-196).
2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89, p. 195.
3Quoted by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 4.
4Charles W. Colson, “The Problem of Ethics,” a speech delivered to students at the Harvard Business School and published by the Wilberforce Forum, a division of Prison Fellowship (Washington: The Wilberforce Forum, 1992), pp. 22, 23.
Study Questions:

What is the confident statement in our passage? What is the moral of Psalm 58?
How does the climax of the psalm give us hope?
What does the Hebrew word miktam appear to mean?

Application: Just as the words of the psalm were engraved on the walls of the caves which formed his place of refuge, take time now to inscribe God’s word on your heart by memorizing Psalm 58:11.
Prayer:
Ask God for the strength to hold fast to his word and to stand up for what is right. Pray for the wisdom to know what is right and what is wrong.
For Further Study: Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume set of his published sermons on the Psalms, and receive 25% off the regular price.

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