Psalms 58 - Our Just God
How many of you are concerned about the things you see going on in our society? Frankly, if you are not, then you must be living with your head in the proverbial sand. There are wicked things going on around us. Babies are sold for profit. Young children are abused. Teens are gunned down in the street. Men and women are oppressed because of the color of their skin. There are literally still people enslaved within our free country, hidden from the public eye. Our governmental leaders are spending us into impossible debt in exchange for personal power.
And I’m sure that, with a collective effort, we could greatly expand this list of major issues that exist in our society. There is great evidence that our society may be on the brink of collapse. The question is, what should we do about it?
Our psalm this morning is rather unique. It is one of seven psalms that are called imprecatory psalms. Imprecatory psalms are psalms in which the writer calls on God to bring harm down upon their enemies. They tend to sound extremely harsh in our ears. We are used to focusing on the love of God. We typically highlight the forgiveness that God offers. We don’t think about the wrath of God too often. Yet imprecatory psalms not only place the wrath of God front and center, they call for it to come, to be poured out upon their enemies in full.
I think we will see this morning, though, that imprecatory psalms…and our psalm in particular… play an important role in biblical revelation. They play a key role in helping us deal with the realities of life as we know it. We live in a broken world; a world that is not improving, but rather that is getting worse and worse. We live in a world that is broken. Horrific wrongs are committed by people, inflicting massive pain and suffering on others. Lies and deceit are used as tools of self-advancement. Taking advantage of those less fortunate leads to financial gain. Outright distain for Christian faith is considered meritorious. And so on, the evidence of our broken world is piling up in heaps all around us as we see our society fracturing and collapsing.
As much as this may feel like a new experience to us as Christians in America, this really is not a new experience for believers. Since the Fall, the world has been in this broken condition. God may have graciously blessed America for a couple of centuries from the balk of this brokenness as He used this country to take the Gospel message back to the world, but it does seem that that time of extra grace on our country is passing. How should we respond? Our psalm helps us answer that question as it reminds us that Our just God is our only hope for our society.
Our just God is our only hope for our society. I am not suggesting here that God will rescue our society, that there is some magic formula to use that will cause God to act for America; I don’t know if He will or will not bring America back from the brink of collapse. What I am saying is that only God can offer hope for our society and that this morning we can learn from David’s inspired psalm how we can respond to the brokenness or our world and how to retain hope amid the collapse of our society.
Transition from introduction to body:
Our just God is our only hope for our society. I am going to break the psalm into three sections this morning. We will read each section as we come to it. In the first section, verses 1–5, we learn to lament that…
I. Unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society
Let’s read the first five verses…<read Ps 58:1–5>.
It is unusual to see the address, “O gods” and “O sons of men” in verse 1. David is using these terms to refer to rulers, men who have set themselves up over other people as if they were gods. His words are dripping with sarcasm because these rulers are clearly neither speaking righteousness nor judging upright. They are doing the exact opposite. And they are infinitely far from being true deity.
Now, there is nothing in this psalm or even in the historically preserved superscription that suggests any particular experience or time in David’s life that prompted this complaint. David was certainly enough a man of the world, though, to see how things worked; he had plenty of opportunities to see leaders misuse their power and positions. In fact, David suffered under the hand of Saul but then was himself guilty of committing similar abuse of his power in the case of Uriah, wasn’t he?
Truly, little has changed. The governmental structure of America is very different than that of ancient Israel and its surrounding neighbors. They would have been familiar with kings as the ultimate rulers. The idea of electing a ruler would have been foreign to their ears. And yet, how many times have we heard of elected rulers abusing their positions. How many times have elected officials been caught in both unrighteousness and violence? How many times do we suspect that they have not been caught? How often do we find ourselves facing an election where we have to consider the lesser of evils when we look at the candidates because we do not believe any candidate is righteous? And how quickly has our society lost its moral foundation under the influence of these rulers? Having a different structure has not changed the nature of our society at all; unrighteous rulers are still corrupting our society.
Unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society. In doing so, David observes that they reveal two things about themselves in the process. First, their actions are…
A. Revealing their natural wicked condition.
Unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society, revealing their natural wicked condition. The reason that unrighteous people act in an unrighteous way is because they are unrighteous. That is the point of verse 3. They are wicked from the womb. They are pursuing their own evil interests from their birth.
David is referring to the idea we call depravity. That means that every person is naturally broken by sin. This has been true ever since the Fall of mankind into sin in Genesis chapter 3. It is unavoidable because it is the natural human condition. That doesn’t mean that every baby is going to grow up and become an Adolf Hitler or Chairman Mao. God graciously mitigates the fullest manifestation of depravity in most lives. What depravity means, though, is that if God did not mitigate it, any of us could become as evil as the most wicked people we can think of.
Now, I just guessing about this, but I suspect a few of you might be listening and thinking to yourself that, “Nah, I’m not really buying it. There is no way that my grandfather could ever be as wicked as Jeffrey Dahmer or there is no way that my mother could ever be like Gertrude Baniszewski, who was also known as the Torture Mother, even if they were unsaved. That is likely true, but only because God graciously restrains evil through common grace. We have all seen people who have radically changed from pleasant to wicked when a situation creates unusual pressure. For example, domestic violence has rapidly risen worldwide over the last few months as families were forced into a stay-at-home situation.
All I am saying is that mankind’s—including me and you—mankind’s natural condition is wickedness. When unrighteous rulers corrupt our society, they are revealing their natural wicked condition.
Second, they are also…
B. Revealing their stubborn rebellion against God.
Revealing their stubborn rebellion against God. That is what the short story about the cobra in verses 4 and 5 to which the wicked rulers are compared is meant to communicate. A picture is created of a cobra that had been trained by a snake charmer but that had now become unresponsive to the charmer’s tune. Rather, than being a tool for the charmer’s use, the snake has now become a destructive force.
In a similar fashion, the same is true of wicked rulers. All rulers bear the image of God; they are part of the human race created to care for God’s creation and worship Him with their minds, lives, and lips. Rather than fulfilling that purpose though, they have, in essence, closed up their ears to God, they refuse to listen to His revelation and heed His commands.
That most certainly describes many of the leaders in our country. Nothing will cause a greater outcry and responses of open hostility in many quarters than to (1) proclaim that God made mankind, (2) that God made mankind as distinctly male and female, and (3) that marriage is exclusively reserved for a committed relationship between one man and one woman.
A few years ago Christians were laughed at when they predicted in 2015 that the legalization of so-called same-sex marriage would open the flood gate to all sorts of perversions to marriage. But here we are, only 5 years later, and already there are numerous articles running in major papers like the New York Time trying to normalize things like relationships with more than two people involved.
Sinful behaviors which have been practiced in hiding for centuries are now being flaunted with pride, and many of our leaders are leading the cheers. Make no mistake about it, unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society, and as they do, they are revealing their stubborn rebellion against God.
Unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society. As they do so, they are revealing their natural wicked condition and their stubborn rebellion against God. All that does, though, is highlight the need for our main idea today: Our just God is our only hope for our society. We certainly cannot hope in our unrighteous rulers. Our just God is our only hope for our society.
As we move into verses 6–9, David demonstrates that…
II. We should plead with God to bring justice to our society.
Let’s read this section…<read Ps 58:6–9>.
This is where David’s language turns harsh. He pleads with God to bring harm upon the wicked rulers because of the damage that they are doing to society. He uses 7 different poetic images to make this point; “shatter their teeth …; break out the fangs …” and so forth. The wicked rulers are aggressive in their wickedness; David is calling for an equally aggressive intervention by God that will bring their actions to a sudden, drastic end. He even goes so far as to plead that impact of the wicked would disappear as they perish, that their actions would be as if they never existed, much like a stillborn baby leaves no accomplishments in life.
As I said at the outset, this is the kind of language that makes us rather uncomfortable; it is so raw, so bold. But it is also the kind of language that resonates with the emotions provoked within our godly breasts when the wicked appear to be winning on the world stage. We may find ourselves wondering, can I really pray this way? Is it acceptable to pray for harm to come to those who are doing evil?
Well, let me make a few observations as we try to answer that question. First, notice that this is a prayer, not a record of actions that David has taken. David is not taking matters into his own hands to bring harm upon those who are intensely wicked. What he is doing is calling on God, the holy, just God whom he knows so well, to respond to the evil that is occurring. As one commentator put it, David knows that “the radical nature of evil requires a response from the God of justice.” In fact, we know that God has promised that He will bring justice to the earth; He will punish evildoers. All David is doing is urging God to do so quickly because in he recognizes the danger these people are creating in his society.
There is nothing wrong with us pleading with God to do what He has promised to do. There is nothing wrong with pleading with God to thwart the efforts of those who attempt wickedness. The problem comes if we move from the pleading with God to the “attempting to aid God” with our own actions because we think God is too slow in His response. In other words, the problem comes when we take matters into our own hands and reveal a lack of submission to God’s sovereign plan.
Second, notice David’s concern is with justice. He is not concerned with his own hardship or suffering; he is concerned that his society is not reflecting the character of his God—it is not just. He pleads with God to bring these things into alignment by removing those who promote wickedness from their positions. Implicitly he is looking for God to replace them with those who seek justice
We should want our society to be just. We should be concerned when it is not. That means that there is no problem with wanting our society to be consistent with God own character. It is proper to plead with God to bring our society into alignment with His character. We should ask God to put leaders into positions that will advocate for justice rather than promote wickedness. As Christians, justice should always be a concern for us. In fact, I would say that it should be the driving concern for us as we vote for our leaders, since God has given us the chance to vote in our country.
Third, I will lastly observe that the overall message of the cross is that God is a God who will forgive any and all wickedness in an individual if that person asks for God’s forgiveness by accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for his or her sins. That means that as we pray for God to remove wicked leaders, we should at the same time be praying for their salvation. In fact, if we know Jesus as our Savior, we fully understand that the most wicked person we can name is only a matter of degrees more wicked than us; fundamentally we are all wicked in God’s sight. We all needed salvation. God’s ability to save us through Christ shows that He can save anyone.
If you are listening to me today and you do not know Jesus as your own Savior, let talk to you for just a moment. Your concern may be that you are too wicked for God, that you have made too many mistakes and are too stained by sin. Well, the reality is that you are much more wicked than you even imagine, but God is also much greater than you imagine. He can forgive you. He has already had His Son die so that He can forgive you. In fact, He has promised to forgive you if you accept Jesus as Savior by asking for forgiveness. If you do not know Jesus as Savior, contact me through my email. I would love to share more about Jesus with you.
We should plead with God to bring justice to our society. Why? Because Our just God is our only hope for our society. Our just God is our only hope for our society.
In the final two verses of this psalm, David develops a third idea that should also guide us as we deal with the wickedness of our society;…
III. We should rejoice in our just God
Look at the final two verses of Psalm 58 with me…<read Ps 58:10–11>.
While it is sometimes tempting to despair as we see the effects of wickedness and the decline of our society, that is not the proper response for a believer. We know our God. Our God is a just God. Our God gives us reasons to rejoice rather than despair.
In these final verses we have two reasons to rejoice. We should rejoice in our just God, first,…
A. When we anticipate the judgment of the wicked.
Verse 10 looks to a day when the joy of the righteous will come to full expression because they will see the evidence of God’s justice, the wicked will be destroyed by God.
David uses a rather gruesome picture to depict this idea, that of the feet of the righteous walking in the spilled blood of the slain wicked. This was an ancient image expressing the utter defeat of the enemy. It pictures the victor walking through the battlefield in the aftermath of the total annihilation of the enemy, with their fresh blood splashing on his feet.
And while we may wish we could leave such images in the OT; the NT uses similar pictures to describe the fierce judgment of our Lord when He returns. In Rev 14, God’s punishment is presented as generating rivers of blood that will rise to the bridles of horses for 200 miles. In Rev 19, when Jesus returns to face His enemies at the Battle of Armageddon at the end of the tribulation, we are told that the slain will be left upon the ground as carnage to feed the birds of the air. God’s judgment will be fierce when our Lord returns; the wicked will not escape.
This morning, though, I am not trying to get us to focus on the gruesome realities that will accompany God’s judgment; that is not the point of verse 10 in our psalm. Rather, the reality that the wicked will be judged is given to us as a reason to rejoice in God. Regardless of how dismal things may look in our lives, regardless of how lopsided justice appears, regardless of how powerful the wicked may become; nothing will prevent God from bringing justice to the earth. Our just God will judge the wicked with absolutely an absolutely righteous standard. That truth is intended to encourage us while we endure injustice in our lives.
We should rejoice in our just God when we anticipate the justice of the wicked. That is the first reason we have to rejoice here at the end of Psalm 58. Second, we should rejoice in our just God…
B. When we anticipate our reward for righteousness.
It can become discouraging to persevere in righteous behavior with the only tangible result for doing so at the moment is to be placed in a position of disadvantage. Live righteously and get passed over for promotion. Live righteously and get fired for being politically incorrect. Live righteously and get mocked, and scorned, laughed at and humiliated. Those are tangible results that seem to come for living righteously at the moment.
But David reminds us that there will come a time when such will no longer be the case; a time when men will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous.” The picture that David is creating in verse 11 is of the righteous people standing around when the justice in on display, calling out to one another that God indeed rules. The will see the rewards that He hands out to the righteous as the final evidence that God is concerned about justice and righteousness. They are praising Him to one another for rewarding their loyalty.
Of course, we know that David is pointing to the day when the triumph of God becomes the reality; when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ returns victoriously and sets up His righteous kingdom; that is the day when the righteous will be vindicated. That is the day that we are called to wait for with great anticipation, the day of final reckoning.
Let me ask you, are you anticipating that day? Are you anticipating the day when our Lord will return? I’m sure that for most of us, the instinctive answer is, “Yes, of course.” But are you really anticipating that day? Because, truthfully, if we are anticipating that day, then things like the current state of our society will fade in our focus. We will be more concerned about accumulating rewards for our righteousness than we will be about the state of our country. We will be more concerned about gaining souls for Jesus than we will be about gaining votes for a political party. We will be more concerned about spending our life in service than we will be in preserving our 401K. We will be filled with joy rather than despair; filled with joy because we have a just God and we anticipate our reward for righteousness.
Transition from body to conclusion:
We should rejoice in our just God. We should rejoice when we anticipate the judgment of the wicked and when we anticipate our reward for righteousness. Our just God is our only hope for our society.
Our just God is our only hope for our society.
Our society is becoming increasingly wicked, there is no denying that if we are using God’s standard of righteousness as the measuring stick. What we have seen this morning in our psalm, though, is that this is not a new situation for believers to face. Not only is it not new, it is not one that we need to face without revelation instructing us as to how we ought to pray for our society; David gives us a full example in this Psalm.
We can lament that unrighteous rulers are corrupting our society. We should plead with God to bring justice to our society. And we should rejoice in our just God.
Our just God is our only hope for our society.