the brutal language of Psalm 58

  Psalm 58There are times when the language of the Psalms seeps with violence.


It can be so difficult to relate across time and space to these words of the people of Israel. Almost always, when I come Psalms that are frustrating or chill-inducing, I put them in the, “maybe these words felt different back then” box.


Like the language of Psalm 58, for example. It is a community prayer against unjust rulers that uses words like this,


Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;     Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions! – Psalm 58:6


Those words make me quiver. They are harsh and vicious and seem so different from the way we are called to pray in the New Testament.


And yet, I wonder how much of my reaction to violent verses is bound up not just in the time that has passed since ancient Israel, but also in the cultural comforts of suburban United States.


We live in a democracy. We may disagree with our rulers, or get frustrated by what they do, but we have options we can pursue to remove those leaders from power. Justice may not be divided equally and fairly to all populations, but generally, we are not violently oppressed by our government.


There are many places in the world in which that is not the case.


I think of my friend Chelsie, who spent several years living in the Congo. She now does a lot of advocating on behalf of their people. Not long ago, she wrote these unsettling words in a blog post about the trials that country faces,


“Tribal conflict and militias fuel rape being used as a weapon of war. 9 out of 10 women in Eastern Congo have been raped.”


Let that soak in for a moment. 90 percent of the women in Eastern Congo have been raped because of a fight for power.


I wonder if those women would find the words of Psalm 58:6 so distant. I wonder if the church there would feel uncomfortable, as I do, praying the words that close the Psalm


The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,     when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then people will say,     “Surely the righteous still are rewarded;     surely there is a God who judges the earth.” – Psalm 58:10-11


All of us wonder sometimes about how God is using His Sovereignty and Power. We don’t understand why He isn’t doing more to stop the atrocities taking place in the world. I can’t imagine how that feeling would be magnified if I was a person living in the midst of them. Surely the hearts of Christ followers in those places are crying all the more deeply for God’s justice to come.  Which includes a desire for evil to be swept away.


Though few would truly wish violent death on anyone, wouldn’t we also have a sense of gladness if those who were oppressing others were no longer able to do so? Especially if we were the ones victimized?



Too often, we try to force ourselves to feel the way we should about a situation. We know Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And so we pray words we don't mean. Instead, this is a model of praying that for which our heart cries, and then leaving the outcome in God's hands. And when we do, we can let Him get to work on our hearts, helping us to love.


The prayer of Psalm 58 is distant and brutal. But it is also threaded with honesty. The world is a hostile place. When we need to, we can cry for God to show up and rain down His justice.


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