Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.
There’s a striking and disturbing image in Psalm 58. It says,
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked (v. 10).
Imagine for a moment a foot bath where you soothe your weary feet in the warm blood of your enemies. Disturbing, eh? But this bloody image in Psalm 58 is as current as today’s news.
Consider Syria’s nine-year civil war: half a million dead, 5 million refugees, and 7 million internally displaced people. Bashar al-Assad has waged a brutal war, using chemical weapons and targeting hospitals, schools, and other civilian areas. The Economist magazine (KAL, “KAL’s Cartoon.” The Economist.com. Web. 5 Mar. 2020.) published a cartoon with al-Assad and Vladmir Putin in a bathtub filled with blood. Al-Assad says , “Should we be afraid of the corona-virus?” Dismissively waving a bloody hand, Putin replies, “We wash our hands regularly.”
Psalm 58 responds to news like this with a prayer that those who create needless wars and bloodbaths should themselves be bloodily defeated.
In reflecting on psalms of vengeance like this, I offer three observations.
First, the psalms are not about the conflicts of everyday life. They are not about the rude sales clerk or the annoying neighbour or the unreasonable manager. No, they are written and prayed as a response to extreme instances of injustice and bloodshed.
My second observation is that these psalms paint very real pictures of war, injustice, violence, and evil. We North Americans often turn blind eyes to the tragedy in Syria, the brutal war in Yemen, the imprisonment of Uighurs in China, to ruthless African dictators, and to political corruption and poverty in Haiti. The psalms however paint vivid pictures of violence, and they respond with appropriately violent emotions, and with calls for justice.
My third observation is that the psalms of vengeance are prayers to God, not a call for the oppressed to rise up violently against their oppressors. In the psalms, it is God who executes justice, not us. We pray to him, as does the poet, “Your kingdom come”. We look with Paul for the time when the Lord Jesus will come from heaven with blazing fire to relieve those who suffer and to punish with everlasting destruction the workers of violence (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Our father, we are less enthusiastic than the poet about bathing our feet in the blood of the wicked. But we share his deep desire that you show yourself powerful on behalf of all the oppressed. We share his conviction that these bloody-minded leaders are like venomous cobras that have stopped their ears to the flute of the snake charmer. Will nothing, will no one convince them to stop the killing?
With the poet we urge you to destroy the perpetrators of violence. Let your justice hunt them down. Let their actions boomerang on themselves. Let the chemicals they spray on others blow back on them. We agree with the poet, that you should:
– Break their teeth (v. 6)
– Make them disappear like evaporating water (v. 7)
– Make them melt into slime like slugs (v. 8)
And Lord, if you have a better solution for relieving oppression and fighting injustice, we are ready to hear it. With the poet, we express our confidence in you, our God:
Surely you reward the righteous,
surely there is a God who judges the earth (v. 11).
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.
KAL Cartoon, The Economist, 5 March 2020. https://www.economist.com/the-world-this-week/2020/03/05/kals-cartoon