Many of the Bible’s Psalms are beautiful songs of praise, but some are harder to read, including what are called “imprecatory” Psalms. To “imprecate” is to curse, and in the case of these Psalms, the writers curse the enemies of the writer and of God. Psalm 58, written by David, uses some very harsh language, such as “O God, break the teeth in their mouths” (in vs. 6) or “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.” (vs. 8). These harsh phrases may be hard to read, they’re part of the Bible and worth taking some time to understand.
These curses have a context, and for the imprecations in Psalm 58, the context is injustice due to bad worldly judges. Verses 1 and 2 say:
“Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
your hands deal out violence on earth.”
Every day in the news we can easily find injustices to complain about, just as David did, and in many of our hearts, we feel some of the emotions David must have felt. Much of what passes as news today might be categorized as imprecatory. David’s curses continue through verses 3 through 8, including the phrases quoted above, but in verse 9, after writing of how wicked and dangerous his enemies are, David notes how quickly God (not David) can sweep them away if He chooses:
“Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!”
This image is not chosen at random, but to make a specific point. Dry thorns catch fire very quickly, and so when God judges, the unjust judges will be swept away “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat”. Not sooner than the food in your pot cooks, or sooner than the water in your pot boils, but much sooner than that. A watched pot never boils, they say, but here the result is immediate.
The Psalm closes in vs. 11 with relief that ultimately, there will be true and complete justice, and:
“Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
surely there is a God who judges on earth.’”
God’s justice is good because when God judges, He judges rightly, unlike the imperfect, or corrupt, judges of the world from the beginning of the Psalm. If the things on the news we complain about are truly unjust, God will take care of them “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.” Also, when people pursue right actions instead of injustice, God will reward them “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.” Judgment by God is good news because He is fully just. Without such a perfect judge, we only have imperfect judges to judge the imperfections and evils of the world.
Another part of the context is that when David prays in vs. 7 – “Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted” – he is not vowing to take vengeance himself, but being honest about his frustration and trusting that God will take care of everything when the time comes. On verse 7 John Calvin commented: “Let us not cease to pray, even after the arrows of our enemies have been fitted to the string, and destruction might seem inevitable.”
Therefore, trust God to take vengeance on evil, even when it seems powerful and triumphant. Each and every sin will be borne by either the sinner or on the cross. None will be ignored, and in God’s time, all will be resolved “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.” Until then, justice is delayed while God calls His people back to Himself with an offer of patient grace and mercy.
Listen to His call, not only to return to Him, but to patiently trust Him to deal out perfect justice.
2 thoughts on “God’s Justice is Good”
I trust in God’s perfect justice, but how sad that some are led astray thinking the justice of “their” man is perfect. Thanks, Todd, for pointing out the need to be patient and to continue to pray.
It is said that justice delayed is justice denied. In this life that is true, but in the eyes of God justice can only be delayed for so long. He will give a just recompense for every sin. Praise God that my sins were judged at the cross. Even though the scripture says mercy triumphs over judgment, that is really only true for God’s people. Even so, it is good to remember that the cross was God‘s justice on sin. The horror and torture and humiliation of the cross is what our sins deserve. It is what we deserve. The reality of that is frightening. But the price Jesus paid for our sins is more than sufficient since he is the eternal God. That reality also needs to sink in deeply.
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