Theme: An Imprecatory Psalm
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
Yesterday I mentioned Charles Colson’s address at Harvard Business School, in which he spoke of the lack of ethics in our culture. The audience that heard the address I am referring to was mostly passive, however, as many Americans seem to be today. Americans tend to dismiss corruption, saying simply, “Well, that’s just the way people are.” And they are, of course! That is what original sin is all about. G.K. Chesterton said that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy that has been empirically validated by 3,500 years of human history. But the fact that “all have sinned” and that low deeds in high places are so frequent does not mean that we are to accept sin or corruption passively. Especially not in our leaders! And not in ourselves!
David did not, either here or elsewhere. On the contrary, Psalm 58 is a particularly vigorous protest against the evil he saw in ancient Israel at least a thousand years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
One of the great old commentators, J.J. Stewart Perowne, says, “This psalm is a bold protest against unrighteous judges. It opens with an indignant expostulation on their deliberate perversion of justice, whilst they pretend to uphold it. It lays bare their character and that of those whom they favor, as men thoroughly, habitually, by their very nature, corrupt. And finally, because they are thus beyond all hope of correction or amendment, it calls upon God to rob them of their power and to bring all their counsels to nought.”1
Psalm 58 is an imprecatory psalm, calling for God to judge the ungodly, in this case the unjust judges. Many people are disturbed by these psalms, but I have answered some of their objections elsewhere, showing that they do not express hatred of others or a desire for revenge on the part of the writer but only that God will intervene in history to judge the worse sins and permit righteousness to flourish. It is a matter of the writer siding with God and his righteousness and not with evil.
But the imprecatory psalms have another function too, and that is, they remind us to make sure we are not like those being faulted for their evil. The people described in this psalm are habitual offenders, people who are impervious to correction. As we study the psalm we should make sure that we are not like them, that our sin is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, and that God has given us ears to hear what the Holy Spirit of correction says to us about our own evil ways.
1J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 454. Original edition 1878-1879.
What two things do imprecatory psalms do?
What is original sin?
To whom does David complain?
Who does David ask God to judge?
Reflection: Do you see corruption among political leaders? Do you find yourself saying, “Well, that’s just the way they are”? Is your response a passive one? Have you become so much like the world that you don’t even notice unrighteousness?
Prayer: Ask God to teach you to hate sin so that you won’t accept corruption passively. Pray for the wisdom to know how to combat the sin we see in our leaders.
For Further Study: Not only are we sinners, but at times we even commit sins that we condemn in other people. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “What If I Do Sin?” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)