1 O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, shew thyself.
2 Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud.
3 LORD, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked triumph?
4 How long shall they utter and speak hard things? and all the workers of iniquity boast themselves?
5 They break in pieces thy people, O LORD, and afflict thine heritage.
6 They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless.
7 Yet they say, The LORD shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.
8 Understand, ye brutish among the people: and ye fools, when will ye be wise?
9 He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?
10 He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? he that teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?
11 The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity.
12 Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law;
13 That thou mayest give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not cast off his people, neither will he forsake his inheritance.
15 But judgment shall return unto righteousness: and all the upright in heart shall follow it.
16 Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
17 Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence.
18 When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, O LORD, held me up.
19 In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul.
20 Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.
22 But the LORD is my defence; and my God is the rock of my refuge.
23 And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.
God’s sense of justice is 10,000 times keener than our sense of justice, and He will most certainly destroy those who deny His relevance as He defends the soul of the righteous.
How would you feel if you witnessed a wicked brute stabbing a poor helpless child on a street corner? What if you were powerless to intervene? If there was a single merciful bone in your body or the slightest sense of justice in your heart, you would cry out to God for His swift intervention! We do experience a sense of relief as we consider that God is far more interested in every injustice that has ever been committed in this world than we could ever be. Even when it appears that the political trends ever and increasingly oppose the cause of righteousness at every front, we are confident that God will vindicate His Own Name and save His people from ruthless tyrants.
Verses 1–7. To understand the sentiment of the psalm, you need to picture the psalmist having just walked out of a legislative committee hearing that approved the legalization of infanticide for children born with birth defects like Down’s Syndrome. He is devastated to learn that the bill was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 33 to 2. He feels beaten by the powers of darkness. It seems that all the institutions of higher learning, all the major media voices, and all the political forces are against him. The wicked triumph.
Both the psalmist and the apostle Paul are careful not to countenance any inclinations towards taking personal vengeance. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). This means that all vengeance belongs to God. That’s His business. Still this does not preclude our invoking God’s attention to the matters at hand. While we may be thankful for the mercy God extends towards us, we should also grow weary of the injustices we see around us. It is important that Christians retain a healthy commitment to justice as defined by God’s laws, especially where gross injustices become the order of the day. This commitment is what impels the psalmist to pray these imprecatory words.
The root issue with the wicked is their pride. When they build their “impregnable” towers of tyranny and injustice, they use the concrete blocks of pride. It takes a trillion tons of this stuff to build these towers. Whether these empires are large or small, a malevolent fiefdom or modern socialist power state, you can be sure they are using pride for their building blocks. Often the construction begins in their academies and then is institutionalized in businesses and politics. For hundreds of years, these institutions labor under the work of these proud men, and one proud generation gives birth to an even prouder generation. First the Renaissance produces the humanist Enlightenment and the French revolution. After another hundred years or so, the Enlightenment gives birth to the brave atheism of post-modernism. As we follow the morality of this once-Christian nation, we watch the youth move from courtship, to dating, to “shack-ups,” to hook-ups, to an enthusiastic endorsement of homosexuality—all within a period of 100 years. How long will God permit moral anarchy in the bedroom and institutionalized atheism in the classroom? Will we have to wait until the year 2600 before He intervenes? Doubtful.
Verses 4–7 sketch a profile of these wicked men. As the godly continually give God the glory and the credit for all good things, the wicked are busy congratulating themselves for their creations. They glory in the accomplishments of men. If you read their newspapers, you know that they are far more interested in rendering glory to famous politicians, actors, sports figures, and businessmen than to God the Creator of heaven and earth. Proudly, they asserted in the first Humanist Manifesto (1933) that “Man is at last becoming aware that he alone is responsible for the realization of the world of his dreams, that he has within himself the power for its achievement.” To this we say, “How long shall they utter proud things? God is the source of all power and authority, not man!”
Their arrogance will lead them to the greatest miscalculation of all, which would be the affliction of the people of God. For thousands of years, we have seen civil governments and anarchical bands murder the precious saints of the living Christ. After the Roman persecutions came the rising tyranny of the European empires. This brought about bloody purges such as the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) and the persecution of the Scottish Covenanters at the hands of the Stuarts (1680s). Following the reformation period, worldwide persecutions began with renewed vigor to result in the weakening of Christianity in the West, and the growth of materialistic atheism—through the modern totalitarian state—and the growth of Islam in the 20th and 21st centuries. Whether this persecution came under the cloak of religious or political motivations, suffice it to say that tyrants like to kill God’s people. They have been doing this since Cain killed his brother because Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice (Heb. 11:4).
These wicked people go after the widow, the stranger, and the orphan. When the Rwanda political leaders organized the slaughter of over 800,000 Tutsis over a period of 100 days in 1994, the true colors of wickedness became clear to the world. As in this case, sometimes the hatred of cultural aliens or strangers gives way to full-fledged genocide. But the most egregious forms of murder take place in the slaughter of babies by abortion and infanticide.
When Senator Barack Obama voted against the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act in 2003, he became the most powerful American politician to ever publicly endorse infanticide. What makes abortion all the more grievous is that it is usually recommended for babies whose fathers commit fornication with the mother and refuse to provide for the child. Therefore, it is often fatherless children who are oppressed far more than any others. God uses strong language against the oppression of fatherless children in Exodus 22:22–23.
Verse 7 gives a little more insight into these men. They are not atheists per se because they still acknowledge God’s existence. In fact, they still recognize the covenant name for God, since they refer to Him as “Yahweh.” Chances are, these are not the Moabites or the Philistines. These are men who have been taught something from God’s Word, and they obstinately rebel against it. Effectively, they are what we call “deists.” As the Western world apostatized from the faith in the 1700s and 1800s, the road they took was “Deism Avenue.” These apostates concocted a god who was distant from his creation, somehow disconnected from the little planet floating around in the Milky Way Galaxy. Deists do not want a real God who is truly omniscient and maintains the most absolute standard of justice. The god they prefer may have set a few laws in motion billions of years ago, but he has lost interest in his world today. Conveniently, this view of God enabled modern man to overcome his guilt complexes and sin with impunity.
Verses 8–11. The Psalmist responds to these deist rebels by calling them fools and “brutish”; they are animal-like in their stupidity. Of course, God is very much connected with every action, every word, and every thought of men. To think for a moment that God is blind to anyone’s actions is sheer irrationality. I recall one family who forbade their dog from entering the carpeted area of the house, but they allowed him to occupy the kitchen. On occasion, as the family sat in the living room, the dog would put his paws over his eyes and slowly elbow his way on to the carpet. The way the dog figured it, if he could not see his master, he assumed in his animal brain that his master could not see him! How are these brutish men any different in their thought processes from this dog? It is impossible to escape God’s all-seeing eye and all-hearing ear. Doesn’t it make sense that the God Who created trillions of eyes for men, dogs, and flies should have eyes Himself with which to monitor every scene and every event that occurs in His universe? All knowledge is derived from God anyway. If men have learned a few billion things, doesn’t it follow that God knows far more than what men have picked up from Him? Clearly, God is defined in this passage as the Source of all reality and all true knowledge.
Verses 12–15. In this section, the psalmist lays down the lines of demarcation between the righteous and the wicked. The truly blessed man is the one who is in relationship with God. It is a father-son relationship, where the father is willing to chasten the son and train him in how to live life (Heb. 12:6–13). The righteous man is a learner. He knows that he has not achieved sinless perfection, and he cheerfully submits to God’s training in order to learn to live life in accord with the laws of God. Throughout history the days of adversity always came. Empires fell and men’s hearts failed them for fear. But the righteous men were always well prepared for these judgments, both temporal and eternal. We see that those who live in covenant with God and have been trained in God’s laws will prosper through times of severe trial.
When the wicked appear to have the upper hand, we must believe that Jesus Christ is still over all things to the church (Eph. 1:21). God is sovereign. He commands all men everywhere to repent. His temporal judgments may delay for a couple hundred years but never for a thousand years. God will not abandon His heritage, and He will call the nations to account.
Verses 16–23. This is where the psalm gets personal. Since the wicked now control almost every important government system today, and since the Christian church is persecuted, despised, or ignored in most countries around the world, who will stand against these wicked men? Who will defend the innocent? Who will protect the righteous? Since 1997, seventeen additional countries endorse abortion by “liberalizing” their abortion laws (including Cambodia, Columbia, Ethiopia, Iran, Portugal, Switzerland, and Thailand). More Christians died for their faith in the 20th century than in all the previous nineteen centuries combined. From all reports, the 21st century will be even worse. Everywhere around the world, we find Christians shot, burned, hanged, tortured and even stuffed into metal shipping containers or septic tanks. Either by anarchical forces or by governmental decree, Christian clergy become targets for assassination.
Organizations like Voice of the Martyrs collect many reports of Christian churches, along with scores of homes and businesses owned by Christians, being burned to the ground. Dozens of nations across the globe have now passed strict anti-conversion laws in an attempt to stifle the spread of Christianity. At one time, Christian missionaries enjoyed the protection of “Christianized” governments in London or Washington D.C., but not any more. Who will rise up for us against the evildoers? We have to believe that the Lord’s attention is riveted to what is going on here. If He is truly sovereign, and if He really sent His Son to die for His church, would He desire to protect and defend His church through the ages?
Yes. This is His promise and commitment. We must let meditations on God’s covenant mercies and justice sustain and comfort us through the wild revolutions and violent persecutions of the day. As men and women of true faith, we ought to spend more time dwelling on God’s nature than reading news reports concerning the latest achievements of the wicked. Here is another reason why it is so important to study the psalms: these words bring us back to reality, God’s reality, God’s perspective, which will make us less deistic in our thinking and more God-centered.
“Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with you?” (verse 20) This helps us to understand the relationship of civil government to the true and living God. Some governments are in covenant with God, and some are out of covenant with God. At the beginning of this country, the governments of the colonies desired a right relationship with the true and living God (as evidenced by their early charters, their days of fasting and prayer, and their godly leaders). In some of the colonies, those serving in political office would even take an oath of allegiance to the God of the Old and New Testaments. But as time went on, this nation forgot God. In the year 1967, Colorado became the first state in America to “frame mischief by law” by legalizing abortion. Ironically, John Love, a Republican governor, signed the abortion bill into law.
Either our states will meet with God’s approval, or they will face his judgment. As Jesus Christ rules supreme on the right hand of the Father, the judges of the earth would do well to “kiss the Son, less they perish from the way” (Ps. 2:12). It will not be long before God will cut them off in their wickedness. These persecutions of the innocents will not continue forever; they may perhaps continue another thirty or forty years. This is the perspective of the psalmist.
1. As long as the innocents suffer at the hands of wicked men who reject Gods laws, the faith of God’s people will be tested. For over forty years now, abortion has remained a legal right in the United States of America. Do we really believe that God is in the heavens? Will He ever take vengeance on nations and/or individuals that defy His rule? As we meditate on God’s Word and God’s work in history, these precious truths should buttress our faith.
2. Let us also be careful not to fall into the perspective of the deist ourselves. Whether we recognize it or not, God is very much involved in our lives. Either we are in right relationship with Him, submitting ourselves to His chastening hand, and learning to live life according to His rules in His household, or we are not in right relationship with Him. Our business is to get right with God, and we do this through faith in Jesus Christ, His Son.
1. Worship is about restoring a right perspective of God. In reading and teaching God’s Word, we remind ourselves of God’s holy character, and then we consider our own relationship with Him. We also consider the state of the wicked around us. We look at those institutions and governments that increasingly oppose Christ and His righteous law. With confidence, we call them to repentance, for God’s judgment is certain. We know he will act in His perfect timing. Before the worldwide flood, Noah must have witnessed a great amount of evil for a very long time. There must have been millions, if not billions, of deists who confidently asserted rebellion and formed great institutions opposing God and His law, and God waited… for a thousand years. Then the first drop of rain fell out of the sky, and it was over. God acted in judgment on the unbelievers and at the same time saved Noah and his family in His mercy.
2. Occasionally, worship might also include a call for God’s judgment upon His enemies. This is an affirmation of God’s judgment, not ours.
1. What is the difference between God’s vengeance and our vengeance? How can we cry out for God’s vengeance without giving way to taking personal vengeance against our enemies?
2. How does this psalm describe the wicked?
3. How does the psalm describe the righteous man?
4. Give several examples of how the wicked persecute the righteous and murder the innocents today.
5. What is “deism”?
6. Give several examples of Imprecatory Psalms.
1. Do we ever turn into little “deists” ourselves and pretend that God is not watching us? How might we avoid this deceptive perspective on reality?
2. Are we generally optimistic or pessimistic as we look at history? How does this optimism or pessimism affect our day-to-day walk in faith? Do we really believe that God will curtail the acts of wicked legislatures that “frame mischief by law”?