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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

God Has No Delight in the Death of the Wicked, But the Psalmist Does


I'm looking at Psalm 58 today for our mid-week bible study group.  It's an aggressive psalm, an over the top, grotesque psalm.  Not all of the bible is pretty and pink-lollypop warm fuzzy.  This psalm is an imprecation - a curse.  The psalmist is calling down a horrific death on his enemies.  There is no room in his hatred for a different point of view.  There is no opportunity for a second chance.  There is no grace or mercy; the psalmist wants only vengeance.  He wants to see them dead.

These wicked rulers and officials are, the psalmist says, loathsome liars from birth.  Since both this psalm and psalm 51 are attributed to David – I wonder if David remembers that he said the same thing about himself (“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me…” – psalm 51:5).  He could ask for mercy for himself, but wants no mercy for these wicked judges.

He curses them in extravagantly violent language: May God knock the teeth out of their mouths, may they vanish like water that flows away, may they be like a slug melting in slime, may they be like bloody stillborns never seeing the sun, never taking a breath.

And then he says that he will rejoice in their death, though of course he wraps this in the language of justice.  “The righteous will be glad when they are avenged.” This assumes that his cause is righteous.  And it may have been.  It may be true that this began as righteous indignation, a just and holy anger at oppressive and wicked rulers – but it has turned into a burning hatred.  The psalmist looks forward to the time when he can bathe himself in the blood of his enemies.

This psalmist (whether it is David or not…) is a bit like the prophet Nahum, with a long memory for his suffering, but little memory of God’s grace.   

But God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked:

“As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die…”

Ezekiel 33: 11 (NRSV)

3 comments:

  1. Hi Jeff - consider the ancient voices and their interpretations of Ps 58 here.

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    1. Thanks, Bob. I always appreciate your comments.

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