Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Psalm 58: The Silent and the Deaf

What is the difference between the one who keeps silent when he knows to speak up, and the one who turns a deaf ear (ignores) a warning?

There is a poster in our house that says, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you must have time to do it over.” Our baby granddaughter is fascinated with the sign (to the dismay of few other house-hold occupants). Certainly the sign is encouraging enough for daily tasks and responsibilities, but when reading Psalm 58, one realizes there may be only one chance to do “it” right (whatever “it” is).

Approaching Psalm 58, we must remember that these words are not limited to the time of the writer. People have not been living righteously with one another since long before David, the justice system certainly isn’t getting any better since then, so this is an excellent opportunity to learn from scripture what God thinks about justice, and make certain we get “it” right in application.

"Do you indeed speak righteousness, O gods? Do you judge uprightly, O sons of men?" (Psalm 58:1)

These are not two different questions for two different audiences; rather, this is one question repeated twice, placing emphasis on different elements for a deeper understanding. Righteousness and justice go together, and the ones whom God has appointed to speak on His behalf on this earth, managing His affairs among men by righteous judgment must know the meaning of the words and the principles of their reality.

The aftermath of World War 1 inspired William Butler Yeats to include the following words in his poem, “The Second Coming,” which gives us an idea of what lies behind the reason for the question concerning righteous judgment:

“Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

When we move through the world as representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, what unrighteousness do you see and hear? Is your heart close enough to God so that you know what repulses Him? Are the things that offend God offensive to you as well? The questions David asks are this, in essence: “why are you silent when you should be speaking up?”

“No, in heart you work unrighteousness; on earth you weigh out the violence of your hands.” (Psalm 58:2)

When we remain silent, wickedness grows. People plan wickedness, and carry it out without warning of consequences. Tertullian thought that if people merely heard biblical teaching, they would stop their wickedness—this is not wholly true, for men will continue to carry out their plans despite the warning. This is why this Psalm is so important, as we will see.

“The wicked are estranged from the womb; these who speak lies go astray from birth.” (Psalm 58:3).

One Latin proverb says, “No man ever became wicked all at once.” The Bible teaches otherwise, saying that men are born wicked. Look what it says here: when does one start telling lies? A.W. Pink summarizes, “No child has to be taught to lie--it comes naturally to him. Nor does he have to be corrupted by contact with others--he is born corrupt at the core of his being! This is the inevitable consequence of the Fall. Our first parents preferred the Devil's lie--to God's Truth, and all of their descendants inherit this poisonous virus.” This is a clue as to why men cannot judge righteously out of themselves.

“They have venom like the venom of a serpent; like a deaf cobra that stops up its ear, so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, a skillful caster of spells.” (Psalm 58:4-5)

David goes further, showing how we as sinners, miss opportunities to actually make righteous judgment. Perhaps “miss” is the wrong word: how about “ignore?” Here, in the middle of this Psalm we discover that the one who is silent about speaking out against sin is no different than the wicked person who turns a deaf ear. God sees both as wicked. The Bible teaches that the one who knows to do good and does not do it, sins. This holds true for the one doing the sin and the one who does not speak out against it.

“O God, shatter their teeth in their mouth; break out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD. Let them flow away like water than runs off; he aims his arrows, let them be as headless shafts. As a snail which melts away as it goes along, the miscarriages of a woman which never sees the sun.” (Psalm 58:6-8)

These verses are a prayer of David, to the LORD. Notice what he is not asking, and notice what he is asking. First, he is not asking for the destruction of the wicked, but that the instruments of their wickedness be taken away: if they are serpents, then “shatter their teeth in their mouth,” break their fangs. Water can be very destructive, but let them dry up. Arrows are dangerous, but let them have their tips removed. Slimy though they be, let them be all used up, self-consumed in their self-absorption. They are already born dead in sin.

“Before your posts can feel the fire of thorns, He will sweep them away with a whirlwind, the green and the burning alike.” (Psalm 58:9).

When God moves against the wicked, it will be so sudden, so intense that if you were to light a fire under a cooking pot, they would be like the thorns on a branch that burn up before the bottom of the pot gets warm. “Poof!”

“The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; He will wash is feet in the blood of the wicked.” (Psalm 58:10).

My grandfather had this awesome recliner chair and most often, he could be found doing what grandfathers are most renowned: napping. When I was much, much smaller, we had a game: I would sneak up on him when he was napping—or was he napping? He would pop his eyes open and scare me, and of course, I would take off running. But on rarest occasions, he was truly asleep, so when I got to the chair, I would jump on the footrest, causing my grandfather to rocket forward. And of course, I would take off running once again.

This verse rockets us forward out of complacency because of the astounding imagery. Can you picture it? Ever step in a mud puddle? You don’t intentionally “bathe” your feet in mud, but your foot is now “bathed” in mud—see the difference? Does this say that God is cruel, in squashing the wicked, like a bug? Not directly, but it evident that there is splattering when God wars against those who come against Him.

“And men will say, ‘Surely, there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (Psalm 58:11).

This is easily understood when we put ourselves in the position of the boy who failed his college courses. He Twittered his mom, "Failed everything; Prepare Papa." His mother commented back, "Papa prepared; Prepare yourself."

God has already shed His own blood in the Lord Jesus Christ, if only they will repent. Those who repent and are made righteous by faith receive the promise of reward. The righteous will then see the judgment of the wicked and will fully understand what God is doing in light of His perfections. Those who will not turn from their wickedness will understand what righteous judgment really is. This is why in the end, when the great city of Babylon falls, heaven is called to celebrate: “Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” (Revelation 18:20)

Proverbs 21:15 reads, “The execution of justice is joy for the righteous, but is terror to the workers of iniquity.”

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