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Psalm 58

Cry for Justice

We easily spot injustice when it targets us, but not when it benefits us. What to do when leaders surreptitiously rig the system against us or our neighbor and then violently enforce it? We must begin with prayer as David did.

A David psalm.

Do you powerbrokers really make just rulings?
Do you truly govern people fairly?
No, your hearts design
self-serving injustice in the earth.
Then you carefully measure out
violence in the land.

The wicked go wrong on leaving the womb.
Career liars stray the minute they’re born.
Their venom is like a cobra’s venom—
but a cobra that’s deaf
its ears so thoroughly blocked
it’s immune to the snake charmer’s tunes
no matter how entrancing.

6 Defang them, God!
Shatter the jaws of these lions, Yahveh!
Make them vanish like water into desert sand
and wither like trampled grass.
Make them like a slug that melts as it moves
like a stillborn child that never sees the light of day.
Before what they’re cooking starts heating up
may God sweep it all away—
cauldron, brew, kindling and all![a]

10 God-seekers will be so glad
to see him carry out his vengeance
they’ll bathe their feet
in the blood of the wicked.[b]
11 And people will say
“It really does pay to do the right thing!
There truly is a God dispensing justice on earth!”

Echoing themes we saw in Psalm 57, this psalm is concerned with how God can reign over a world filled with gross injustice. From David’s sarcastic opening lines to his final confession, he’s disturbed to see injustice operating in government’s highest levels. Arrogantly self-serving, its perpetrators do whatever they must to get whatever they want. Born liars, they’ve done wrong so long they’re unable to do right, venomous snakes immune to control, vicious lions that must be defanged.

Verses 6-9 ask God to either render the wicked harmless or make a clean sweep of them, and to do so without delay. David is leaving vengeance to God—but not passively, indifferently. No, he’s desperate for God to act, to reestablish his rule in the world. For his kingdom to come.

Seeing David’s terrible picture of a celebratory bloodbath, we can judge him for his brutal honesty. Or we can ask God to shake us out of our complacency over systemic evil and make us as passionate about justice as David was. Not to mention as faith-filled over God’s justice and faithfulness in our messed up world and the lasting value of living a moral life.[c]

Seeing the injustice of our own powerbrokers, let alone that of godless dictators, I often struggle to believe your moral order holds firm in the universe, God. Help me see both oppressed and oppressor as you do, Lord. Deliver me from evil and may your kingdom come, I pray. Amen.

Meditate on this during your free moments today:

It really does pay to do the right thing!
There truly is a God dispensing justice on earth!


[a] Such a prayer is warranted in only cases of extreme evil and injustice.

[b] This harsh image was a stock symbol of total victory and total defeat in the ancient Middle East.

[c] “How much shallower the faith of Israel would have been if there had not been those who had wrestled with [the question of God’s reign in the world], with no easy recourse to a world hereafter.” Robert Davidson, The Vitality of Worship: A commentary on the Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988) 187.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.