Is Psalm 15 a password or a description? Jehoiada stationed gatekeepers to keep the unclean out of the temple (2 Chronicles 23:19), and it is tempting to regard a psalm about godliness as a bar before the door. To be in God’s presence is not something that should be taken lightly. The Lord said that “man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Evil may not sojourn in His presence (Psalm 5:4). Yet this is not a list of qualifications. Rather, it is wrestling with the problem of hypocrisy in the church. Who belongs to God? Who are those who are on the Lord’s side? Seen in this light, the psalm is not the question of the lawyer seeking to justify himself (Luke 10:29), but comfort for those who are sons of the promise.

Psalm 15 is very short, but may be divided into three basic sections: the question (verse 1), the reply (verses 2-5a), and the promise (verse 5b). This question and answer format gives the whole a liturgical character, or perhaps catechetical. The purpose of catechesis is not self-justification, but to educate in the ways of wisdom. Indeed, the psalm presents ten points to consider, connecting it to the Ten Commandments. To know the Law of God and to walk in it is the way of wisdom and delight (Psalm 19).

A Psalm of David.

LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy mountain?

David, seeing hypocrites and evil men in control, perhaps in the days of his exile from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15), addresses a question to the Lord. The tent, or the tabernacle, housed the ark of the covenant, making it the place of God’s presence. Even after the ark was brought from Shiloh, David placed it within a tent (2 Samuel 6:16-19). To be in God’s tent, then, is to stand before Him. God’s holy mountain, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-3), is God’s presence among His people. Since the mountain figures prominently in the last days (Isaiah 11:6-9), it is fitting to regard this as heaven. To dwell on God’s mountain is to be with Him in the life to come. Who is able to do this, Lord?

Sojourning is living as a resident alien in the land. Sojourners live among the people, but have no inheritance among them. They are there by privilege, not by right. So also we are in God’s presence by His gracious permission, not by right. Already David clarifies that this psalm is not a means to justify ourselves. We would not be in God’s presence at all, except by His grace.

Thus, it is true that no one can measure up to the fullness of God’s Law. As James 2:10 says, those who break the Law in one point have become guilty of the whole. Yet grace is not an excuse for laziness. God forgives in order to regenerate, so that the new man actually delights in the Law (Romans 7:22). The ten points which follow then not only show us the seriousness of being in God’s presence, but also the way of life and righteousness. Christ sets us free to walk in this way, because the Law is good and holy and righteous.

The one walking blamelessly and doing righteousness and speaking truth in his heart.

The first three points are all positive ones. Those who walk in the way of the Lord do things such as these. It is noteworthy in all of these that David describes righteousness in terms of love for the neighbor. A hypocrite is very eager to convince others that he loves God. The Pharisee who boasted of his righteousness before God pointed to his external attempts to keep the law (Luke 18:9-14). Yet the hypocrite reveals himself in his contempt for his neighbor. They are more interested in mint, dill, and cumin, than they are in justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

Walking blamelessly should not be taken as an impossibility, either. Paul could rightly call himself blameless with regard to the Law (Philippians 3:6). Job is described as being blameless and upright, fearing God (Job 1:1). It is what we might call a relative blamelessness, having no reason to stand accused before men. Before God, of course, no one is without sin, but a man may certainly avoid gross outward sins in his daily life.

On a different note, though the question is originally addressed to God, David provides the answers to it. Having the mind of Christ means that we are able to discern what is good and true and right (1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 5:3-14). These points are not based on public opinion or on sentimental feelings, something which our sinful hearts are prone to regard as convincing. Rather, they are based on the Word which reveals that mind of Christ, and in this Word we have an infallible guide.

He does not slander with his tongue. He does not do evil to his neighbor, and he does not lift up reviling on the one closest to him.

The next three points in this list are all negative. Walking the way of God involves both doing what is right while also not turning to the left or to the right. The word “slander” here is related to the word for foot. A wicked man not only cuts down his neighbor with his words, but he also goes around spreading his lies. Reviling, on the other hand, is an assault on the person himself, heaping up shame and disgrace, taunting them. To walk in the way of the Lord is to speak well of others, because a tongue used for evil sets us on fire for hell (James 3:5-6).

Despised in his eyes [is] the reprobate. and the one fearful of the LORD he honors. He swears to his hurt and does not change.

David now presents two more positive points for consideration. The first of these is regarding men as the Lord regards them, not as the world does. The reprobate, or those who are rejected by God, have no standing in the righteous man’s eyes. The one who fears the Lord is esteemed. This is exactly the opposite of what the world does, since the reprobate are often those who have a high standing in the world and the ones who fear the Lord are oppressed. A man can and should give honor to godless men in the world (1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13:7), yet this is done out of obedience to God.

On the other point of this verse, there have been differences in translating. Hebrew does not require its vowels to be printed in order to be read, only the consonants. This was also true of the Old Testament for many centuries, leading to some variation. The word translated here as “hurt,” when given another vowel sound, can be rendered as “neighbor,” which is how the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and even Luther understood it. The translation would be “who swears to his neighbor and does not change.” In this sense, it describes a man who stands by his word in all things. Swearing to his “hurt,” on the other hand, is still a description of honesty, but a much more intense one. The righteous man not only keeps his word, but he keeps it even when it hurts him to do so. Leviticus 5:4-6 describes what should be done when a man remembers a forgotten vow. It will cost him to make restitution for it, yet a righteous man will still do so, because he fears the Lord. Additionally, in times when fraud is revealed or some other sin, he makes it right even if the cost is great (2 Chronicles 25:5-13, even though Amaziah is an idolator).

His silver he does not give out in interest/usury and a bribe against the innocent he does not take. He who does these things, he shall not be made to stagger forever.

“Usury” in Hebrew is derived from the word meaning “to bite.” By requiring more money to be paid on a loan, a man would be biting his poorer neighbor. Usury always has the poor in mind, because while a rich man can afford to pay back more, a poor man already has nothing. Adding to the cost increases his burden rather than alleviating it. Deuteronomy 23:20 allows for requiring interest from a foreigner, but denies it to a brother. God would rather have us give without expecting anything in return than to be focused on the material cost or potential profit (Luke 14:14).

David thus closes the psalm with a promise. Those who walk in the ways of God shall not stumble or be made to stagger. We could not walk in the first place unless God had set us in the way, so this is not a promise to make us proud. Rather, it should comfort us, knowing that God knows His own and no one will snatch them out of his hand. The hypocrite may be in control of the world, but his reward has already come. The righteous may suffer now, but the night will give way to a joy which knows no end.

There is a time to rejoice in God’s abundant earthly blessings.  There is a time to rest, a time to laugh, and a time to feast.  But there is also a season for reflection, for honest self-assessment, for recommitment to the more demanding aspects of our Christian walk.  Lent is just such a season.  The First Epistle of Peter reminds us that we are sojourners, and that we ought to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war” against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).  In light of Christ’s suffering, we should “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions, but for the will of God. (1 Peter 4:2).  This Epistle, at five chapters in length, could be preached as a midweek Lent sermon series. 

At the outset, Peter calls Christians “elect exiles” (1 Peter 1:1), not fully at home on this earth.  Everything under the sun is vanity (Ecc. 1:3).  All the glory of man is doomed to pass away (1 Peter 1:24).  The heathen go about in futility (1 Peter 1:18), sinful passions, and ignorance (1 Peter 1:14).  But we have been born again (1 Peter 1:3), ransomed (1 Peter 1:18), promised an inheritance (1 Peter 1:4), and are being guarded until the Last Day (1 Peter 1:5).  Peter builds on many of these teachings throughout the letter.   

Although we are not at home in this world, how we live here and now does matter for the Christian.  Jesus’ death, our faith, and our hope for things to come all inform the way we should think and live here and now.  It is not as though faith were merely a spiritual or otherworldly matter.  Although we wait for the full joys of heaven (1 Peter 1:4), though we long for the day when we will see Jesus (1 Peter 1:8), the Lord has called us for specific purposes in this life. 

The LORD ransomed Israel from Egypt at great cost.  The toll was tremendous destruction and loss of life for Egypt.  In memory of this, all the firstborn of Israel had to be redeemed (Ex. 34:19-20).  The Lord purchased Israel neither for libertinism nor for anarchy; he did not ransom them just so they could be free for freedom’s sake.  Rather, the LORD liberated them in order to worship him (Ex. 8:1), dwell with him (Ex. 15:13), be his (Ex. 19:4), to obey him (Ex. 24:7), and ultimately to raise up a prophet like Moses (Deut. 18:15-18) and Abraham’s Seed, through whom the whole earth would be blessed.  conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile

Christians too are redeemed for specific purposes.  We are called to endure “various trials” (1 Peter 1:6).  These refine our faith, just as a furnace purges away impurity from gold.  Yet our faith is more precious than gold, which is doomed to perish along with this world (1 Peter 1:7; 24).  The heat may be unpleasant, but the result is beautiful.  Even in the midst of suffering, we should rejoice.  The trials are for our benefit and God’s glory.  We are not yet fully free from this world; we do not yet see Jesus face to face.  Thus the need for faith (Heb. 11:1).   

Christians are also called to holiness.  Rather than obeying passions, foolishness, and worldly mindsets, we are to be ready for action and sober minded in this life, and hopeful of future encounter with Jesus, rather earthbound in our thoughts (1 Peter 1:13).   Sinful passions tear apart Christian fellowship, and so we are called to lay these aside and instead love one another “earnestly, with a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22).     

Although everything under the sun perishes, rots, fails, disappoints, dies, and is forgotten, the word of God endures forever.  And since that same word which endures has kindled faith in our hearts, we Christians will also endure into eternity.  While we continue on our earthly pilgrimage, we are to hope in God, endure difficulty, live in love with others here on earth, resist the Devil, and praise God in all we do. 

The preacher can urge his hearers that whether they eat or drink, fast or abstain this Lent that they at least reflect upon their spiritual life. We are surrounded by the world’s comforts. It is easy to think we are at home here on earth. But since Christ has risen from the dead, our faith and hope are in God (1 Peter 1:21) and our true home is in heaven.

The Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness following His baptism, but not unwillingly. Nothing happens to Christ without His consent or permission (John 10:18). His temptation in the wilderness also happens because of His choice. The Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, and no one will hinder Him from carrying out His mission! One may even say that Jesus deliberately entices the Devil to a contest, because the Devil has no power apart from God’s permissive will (cf. Job 1-2).

Like the scapegoat of old (Leviticus 16:8-10), Jesus begins His work of carrying away our sins immediately following His baptism. Mark relates that He was with the wild animals, away from the domain of men and utterly alone (Mark 1:13). He abstains from all food for forty days, as Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8) had done. Moses and Elijah could not do so apart from God, and Jesus’ own fast is a proof of His divinity. Jesus explicitly tells His disciples in John 4:34 that His food is to do His Father’s will, suggesting that He had no need to eat whatsoever. That He eats and becomes hungry is a sign of His humiliation, becoming like us, not by necessity, but by choice.

It is likely that the forty days stand for the forty years during which Israel wandered in the wilderness as a divine punishment, especially since earlier in Matthew, Jesus is explicitly said to fulfill the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. Just as Jesus is the second Adam, being everything that Adam was not, so also is Jesus the greater Israel, faithful where Israel of old was faithless.

The word temptation and its related forms is used in three different ways in Scripture. God may tempt us, as He did with Abraham (Genesis 22:1). Men may tempt God, something which is explicitly forbidden (Deuteronomy 6:16). Satan may also tempt us into sin (1 Corinthians 7:5). What is common to all of these is the idea of testing. To be tempted is not a sin. If it was, Jesus sinned in the wilderness, something which is blasphemous to say (Hebrews 4:15). This test is a kind of proving, attempting to determine the truth or the quality of something. God proves His servant Job through His trials against the accusations of Satan. Thus this temptation, like the temptation of Abraham, is not an invitation to sin. James says that God tempts no one, because the temptation in question there is an enticing to sin (James 1:12-15). Rather, God proves the character of His saints to their praise and to His glory.

Men may not tempt God or put Him to the test, because it calls into question His nature. A man would test God to see whether He is faithful or telling the truth, as the Israelites did at the first Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7). Yet God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19). Satan also tempts man in the same way by presenting opportunities to sin, drawing into question the Word of God (as with Eve in Genesis 3) or by laying before us a trap. Satan tempts Jesus to sin, but Jesus resists him and does not give way. We are also capable, through the work of the Holy Spirit, of resisting temptation. It is only when we assent to it that sin gives birth to death, though this assent is not hard to gain.

Satan is described in three ways within this passage: the “tempter,” the “slanderer,” and the “adversary.” He is the Tempter for reasons noted above. He is the Devil, or the Slanderer, because he seeks to accuse by lies and half-truths (Zechariah 3:1-2). He is the Adversary, because he opposes God and His saints. Satan tempts Jesus out of his desire to be a murderer (John 8:44). He is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Yet as noted above, Satan should not be understood as God’s opposite. Satan comes into the wilderness because God has permitted it, not because Satan can do so on his own (Job 1:12; Matthew 8:31-32).

The first temptation here is a test of God’s providence. Can God provide something as simple as bread for You in this wilderness, as He did for Israel with the manna? God the Father quoted Psalm 2, “This is my beloved Son,” just forty days earlier or so at Jesus’ baptism. Is that still true? Satan’s question, “If you are the Son of God,” is thus drawing into doubt that pronouncement more than anything else. Yet Jesus rebukes the devil with Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3. God gave Israel manna so that they would learn to trust in Him above all things. It is not a difficult thing for God to provide, even when it seems like it is physically impossible to us. God’s providence is not limited to natural laws, but all things come from His gracious hand (1 Kings 17:14-16; Psalm 145:15-20; 1 Kings 17:4-6, etc.).

The second temptation here is a test of God’s faithfulness. The devil takes Jesus physically to a high point in the city and tells him to throw Himself down, for Psalm 91 says that God will bear you up and keep you from physical harm. Yet this rash action would become a temptation of God, because casting ourselves into danger in order to determine whether God will keep His Word is drawing into doubt His faithfulness. It is an act of faith to trust in God, knowing that He will deliver us, even when things seem hopeless or contrary to our expectations. It is an act of presumption to see whether God will do it in ways that fit our parameters and conditions. Thus, Jesus rebukes the devil with Deuteronomy 6:16, which is perfectly fitting, since the sin of Israel at Massah was the same as the devil’s proposal.

The last temptation here is a test of God’s sovereignty, since it is an invitation to idolatry. Now on a very high mountain, the devil presents to Jesus a vision of the world. He baldly lies and claims the authority to give and take these kingdoms as he pleases. This is God’s possession and perogative, not Satan’s (Psalm 2:8; 22:28; 47:8; 50:10). In exchange for this worldly glory, shown to be as empty as it really is in Satan’s lie, he calls on Christ to worship him as the source of that glory. However, God rules over the world, and all things are under His dominion. He alone is the proper object of worship, because He is the Creator, not a creature. He is the Lord, and glory belongs to Him alone (Isaiah 42:8).

With the words of Deuteronomy 6:13, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan for his pride. Again, these words fit perfectly, because God warned Israel in that portion of Deuteronomy 6 of the dangers of the world. When they come into their inheritance in the land and live in that which God gave them, they must not be enticed to think that such things came by their own power. God rules over all things, and He is the one who gives all things. We must not seek to worship other gods, because such gods are nothing at all and did not bring us out of slavery into the promised land. God alone is our Redeemer, our Provider, and our King.

Let us also take note of two things in this passage. First, Jesus sharply rebukes Satan and commands him to depart. Resisting temptation may indeed involve drastic measures, even to the point of abstaining from something entirely. If something I do leads me or someone else to sin, it is better to not do it at all than to dabble in it in the name of freedom (1 Corinthians 8:13). Second, Jesus rebukes the devil with the Word of God. Our strength is not in ourselves, but in God and His Word. Spending time in that Word is the surest way to resist temptation, because it is our life and our weapon against the devil (Ephesians 6:17). Jesus resists the invitation to sin, because He is sinless, but He shows us the way to resist the devil and his temptations by His example.

The Bible sets before us two different ways: the way of death and the way of life. Jesus describes them as the broad and the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). Solomon throughout Proverbs describes them as the way of folly and the way of wisdom. Yet how do we take comfort from this? There seems to be a danger of making it all abstract, something which makes little difference when dealing with the troubles of life. Yet Psalm 14 shows us that the righteous do in fact find comfort in the narrow way of the cross. The righteous do not serve God in vain.

This short psalm seems to have two sections within it: the problem posed by the wicked (verses 1-4) and the solution which comes from God (verses 5-7). Verse 7 may also be its own section, a thanksgiving to God as a result of verses 5-6, but I have attached them together.

To the choirmaster. Of David.

The fool says in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds. There is no one who does good.

The LORD looks down from the heavens on the sons of Adam, to see if there are any who have insight, who seek after God.

They have all turned aside together. They are corrupt. There is no one who does good. There is not even one.

Do they not know, all the committers of sin, devouring my people as they eat bread, not calling on the LORD?

The greatest temptation with this psalm is to make quick identifications within it. The “fool,” we are tempted to think, is always someone else. Because we often use the word fool to describe someone who is clownish or a buffoon, it is easy to place ourselves into the position of the afflicted. Yet a fool in the Biblical sense can be quite wise and well educated. The problem of the fool is that he makes a false assumption about reality. Nabal in 1 Samuel 25 (whose name is the Hebrew word for fool) assumes wrongly that David is a mere upstart and a rebel and refuses to help him. Therefore, the danger of the fool is not so much that he denies that God exists (though that is one of the problems). The problem is that he assumes, wrongly, that God will not act, whether because he thinks that God does not exist or because he thinks that God cannot see and judge. The greatest fool is not the atheist, but the man who professes to believe in God while living as if God did not exist.

Psalm 14 presents the fool in terms of his actions. Because he says that there is no God, his actions reflect his heart. The opposite of folly in the Biblical sense is not being intelligent. The opposite of folly is steadfast love. The fool’s actions show that he is faithless, that he is a covenant breaker. The wise man’s actions show that he is faithful, just as God is faithful. Yet just as the sons of the flesh persecute the sons of the promise (Galatians 4:29), the fool pursues the righteous and lives up to his name.

Paul uses this psalm to prove exactly this point in Romans 3. All men are fools, because before conversion they serve their own passions and do not glorify God. All are under sin, because no one is righteous in the sight of God. We cannot identify the fool with someone else, like the Pharisee did with the publican (Luke 18:11-12). In so doing, we become the fool, because we have turned away from the righteousness of God.

The Lord looking down to see if any are righteous finds a parallel in Genesis 11. As the Lord looked down on those building that tower, so He also looks down on us from on high to discern the ways of men. It is not as if His knowledge is limited. God knows all things. Yet this looking down emphasizes His judgment, like a judge sitting on a high bench. His expression of horror, fitted to our understanding, should emphasize the horrific character of sin. God seems almost astonished at man’s capacity for sin. Should we then regard it as nothing? The “corruption” of verse 3 is the picture of spoiled milk, curdled beyond use. All our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

The most telling point here about the wickedness of man is how they eat up the righteous like bread. This should not be understood as greedily gobbling them, like a sadistic feast. Rather the imagery is rather mundane: they eat the righteous as if it were nothing more than going to their lunch hour. It describes how all their ways are so contrary to God that they regard it as nothing out of the ordinary. Joseph’s brothers, having cast him into a pit in order to kill him, then sit down as if at a picnic (Genesis 37:24-25). They drink iniquity like water (Job 15:16). Wickedness is their vocation, so to speak, and they engage in it as if going into work.

There they fear a fear [or fear greatly], for God is with the generation of the righteous.

You would shame the plans of the poor man, yet God is his refuge.

Oh that [or Who will give] salvation from Zion for Israel! When the LORD brings back the captivity of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The duplication of “fear” in verse 5 intensifies it. The wicked will fear greatly, because God is with the righteous. Instead of eating up the righteous like bread, thinking that God will not do anything, God dwells with His people. Even a desire to shame the plans of the poor come to nothing, because He takes refuge in God. The “there” is either a point in time in the future, such as the Last Day, or a particular place where God will render judgment. Either way, it points to its certainty.

Thus, the two ways provide a real comfort in the midst of distress. Even if the way of destruction is broad and easy, it will come to an end. It is not a road that will go on forever. The oppression of the wicked may seem intense and overwhelming, but God will bring it to an end when He judges the world. The way of life may be narrow and hard, but it is a way that will give way to a joy which has no end.

This is why the psalm ends on a joyful note. The wish expressed here in verse 7 should not be understood as uncertain. It is the intense wish and hope of faith which clings to the certain promises God has made to His people. This is not the Babylonian captivity, but the general oppression which His people experience (Job 42:10; Amos 9:14; Hosea 6:11). The Lord will bring back the captivity of His people, because Christ has led captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8). Christ will set His people free from every oppression. Even if our deliverance is in the future, we may rest assured knowing that it will come as He has promised.

As an addendum, the Septuagint (and thus versions based on it) occasionally inserts more verse after verse 3, specifically the same verses which follow the quotation in Romans 3. This is widely regarded as a late addition, for several reasons. First, very few Hebrew manuscripts contain it, and even those that do come much later. Second, Psalm 53, which is very similar to Psalm 14, does not contain them. Third, not all versions of the Septuagint contain them. Finally, it was rejected as an insertion even as early as Jerome and Bede, though some theologians, Cassiodorus in particular, regard them as genuine (at least by custom more than textual evidence). Could Paul have been quoting from an extended version of Psalm 14? Maybe. However, it seems far more likely that he is putting together a wide variety of verses to form one continuous whole to prove his point.

The brevity of Psalm 13 should not lead us to think that it is unimportant. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents us with a psalm that not only struggles with those moments when God seems silent, but gives us a beautiful model for prayer at the same time. David wrestles with those questions which beset all of us from time to time: why does God seem so far away in the midst of my troubles?

This psalm has three sections of two verses each, yet in these few lines David presents a remarkable transition. Psalm 13 opens with all the fury of a storm and closes with all the calm of a storm that is past.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

How long will I take counsel in my soul, sorrow in my heart day by day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

It is not certain what prompted David to write this psalm, whether his troubles with Saul, Absalom, or some other event. Whatever the occasion, the result is the same. God seems to be far off when everything is going wrong. As with all psalms which cry out to God in the midst of trouble, however, Psalm 13 should not be interpreted as moping or having an inward, depressed focus. The soul which despairs of God’s mercy would not pray. It is only the Christian who knows that God will answer, even in the worst of circumstances, that can pray. Even if the tone seems desperate, it still cries to God confidently knowing He will hear.

Yet this confidence doesn’t mitigate the intense struggle. These questions are not seeking answers, but rather giving vent to the state of the soul. For that reason, the first question is the most intense. It is not the problems of life that cause such distress, but God’s seeming distance and forgetfulness. This seeming absence sparks terror, because God’s face seems to have looked away. Deuteronomy 31:17-18 describes this looking away as God’s wrath, while in Numbers 6:25, God looking on us with His face is a sign of His favor. However, for the Christian, it only seems as if God looks away, because God sometimes withdraws Himself from His people (Song of Solomon 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:3-17). In this, we see a picture of Christ’s own anguish on the cross. The difference, however, is that Christ’s abandonment was real, not perceived, yet He still cried out to the Father with the trusting words of Psalm 22.

Look at, answer me, LORD my God. Light up my eyes lest I sleep in death.

Lest my enemy says, “I have prevailed over him.” My oppressors rejoice when I am made to stagger.

The distress of the first section has given way to the firm confidence of prayer. Having given vent to his soul, David calls on the Lord to answer him. “My God,” though frequently abused as a term, is a beautiful expression of our election in God. God has made us His own, and we belong to Him personally, even when it seems like He has turned away. The terror of God’s seeming absence cannot overwhelm the truth that He is “the LORD my God.”

Eyes may be regarded as dark for a couple of reasons. The first is that death is actually looming, and the eyes are darkening as a forerunner of the grave (Proverbs 29:13; 1 Samuel 14:27; indirectly in Ecclesiastes 12:1-3). Lighting up the eyes, then, is a call to bring back from the threat of death. Death is a place of silence, and therefore David could not praise the deeds of the Lord before the congregation there (Psalm 6:5). The other reason is that death is metaphorical for the deep distress of his soul (Ezra 9:8). I think either could work here.

David moves the Lord to action through this prayer, because he bases it on firm promises which the Lord has made. God’s glory and honor are at stake in this moment. If the enemy can say, “I have prevailed over him,” then it would seem that God either has broken His promises or that He is unable to keep them, both of which are manifestly untrue! Why should Egypt say that He brought them out to kill them (Exodus 32:12)? Why should the nations say, “Where is their God” (Psalm 79:10)? Why should the enemies of God blaspheme Him by triumphing over His people (Deuteronomy 32:27)? “It is not for your sake,” says the Lord, “that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22).

But I in your steadfast love have trusted. My heart will rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD who has shown himself to me.

All has now become calm, like Christ stilling the storm (Matthew 8:26). This trust is not based in emotions, though one may feel emotionally calm at the same time. Rather, this trust bases itself on God’s steadfast love. Nor should we understand steadfast love as an intense feeling either. This is God’s unwavering faithfulness, the love He shows to us and has promised to us. God cannot lie, therefore His steadfast love is unwavering. This is the ground of our confidence, because in His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord’s steadfast love for His people reveals itself. It is a peace and joy which comes in Christ and is like nothing else (John 14:27). Even if the troubles of life continue, they will not go on forever. We can put our trust in God’s promises, so that even when He seems far away, He has promised to hear us when we cry to Him.

Note also that while the wicked rejoice in the downfall of the righteous, the righteous rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. The wicked man trusts in what is ultimately fleeting and transitory, like putting his trust in his own destruction (Psalm 52:7). However, the godly man trusts in what is everlasting and sure, because the Lord will not forsake those who trust in Him. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

As an addendum, the Septuagint interestingly adds the following phrase to verse 6:

[and I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High.]

Why it does this is not clear, though it is reflected in translations based on it and on translations based on the Latin Vulgate. The psalms frequently present ideas in pairs, and it may be that verse 6 is only “half” a verse. Perhaps the Septuagint took this from a unique variation in the texts it translated. Perhaps someone added this in order to fill in the “other half” of verse 6. Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: David praises the name of God for all that He has done in delivering him from trouble.

Repetition is the mother of all learning. Three times our Lord predicted his betrayal, his sufferings, his crucifixion, and his resurrection. (Luke 9:21-22, 44, 18:31-33) This repetition clearly conveys importance. Elisha was twice told that Elijah will be taken up from him (2 Kings 2:3-5). St. Paul prayed three times to have the thorn in his flesh removed but was told, “My grace is sufficient.” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) The risen Lord grieved Peter with his triple, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17)

Sadly, though, the third repetition of our Lord’s passion and resurrection yields no better result than the first. If anything, things have only gotten worse. The triple prediction yields only a triple lack of understanding: “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” (Luke 18:34)

Their lack of understanding puzzles us who live after the resurrection. Why do they not understand? Could he have explained it better? Did he misspeak? Were they ill prepared?

Rather than finding fault with the Lord we should invoke the reality of the mystery of his rejection. Attention to the title used in the passion predictions is fruitful for meditation on the disciples’ lack of understanding. Jesus employs the title, “the son of man,” without fail in the passion predictions as recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

What do we know about the son of man? Most generically the phrase can simply be the equivalent of, “human.” (Psalm 144:3, Ezekiel 2:1 et alia) A son of Adam is one who is like his father. Fully man. But there are key passages that employ the phrase in more exalted terms. Psalm 8 speaks of a son of man who is Lord over every last detail of creation. Sheep, oxen, beasts, birds, fish, and every last sea creature are all under his sway. Daniel 7 fills out the title even more fully as the prophet sees in the night visions, “one like a son of man,” who is presented before the throne of God and given eternal dominion over all things, including what had previously belonged to the beastly kings of the earth. We may conclude then that “son of man,” is a title of cosmic majesty and everlasting dominion.

But on the lips of Jesus the regal title takes a mysterious path. He will be betrayed. Suffer. Be crucified. And only then, almost as an afterthought, arise. Certainly Isaiah spoke of, “my servant” who would suffer as the representative of and bear the sins of the people. But can that suffering servant be the same as the son of man?

Mysteries such as these can be put into words but not always explained. The lack of understanding in the disciples should not be construed as a failure on their part any more than we would fault our children for not being able to understand the full explanation of our love for them. There are some mysteries that can be expressed but not fully grasped until they are experienced. The passion of the Christ is chief among these.

That the son of man and his cosmic kingdom and eternal dominion must pass through the crucible of the passion is too much to comprehend. It is a mystery to be believed and only in the light of the resurrection can it be understood. Even then, on the road to Emmaus the Lord must explain and open the minds of his disicples so that they might understood all that was written.

This brings us then to the connection of the cryptic saying about the son of man’s suffering and the miraculous healing of the son of David. While even the twelve do not understand Christ’s clear words about the son of man’s passion, a blind beggar calls out to the son of David for mercy. What words cannot communicate perhaps works can.

The crowds announce the arrival of one they title, “the Nazarene,” but the beggar has a better confession: “son of David.” The son of David is a title reaching back to 2 Samuel 7:14. The confession overlaps with “son of man,” in that it is a royal title. The son of David is prophesied to be an eternal king whose rule will reach as far as the river and the sea (Psalm 89:25). He will be as a son to God and God as a father to him (Psalm 2:7).

But it is the plea for mercy connected to this title that comes to the fore from this blind beggar in Jericho. The eternal king is a merciful king. What Christ was explaining to his disciples in clear and explicit words is now shown in a healing. His kingdom will be a kingdom of mercy, healing and salvation which is received by faith. None who trust in him will be put to shame (Luke 18:42). Subsequently he will pass through Jericho and bring the day of salvation to the house of Zachaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:9). Once again, through his actions he is showing what the son of man’s suffering, death, and resurrection will accomplish for all. “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

Son of man and son of David are not competing titles. Rather they are titles that converge in the one man, Jesus Christ. While his passion predictions may remain concealed and hidden for a time, nothing is hidden except to be made manifest (Luke 8:17). The result of his suffering, cross, and resurrection will be mercy, sight and the salvation for all who call upon his name. (Acts 2:21)

Everything that is written about the son of man will come to pass. And it will be understood, but only after the fact. “And now I have told you ahead of time so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:29) Good teachers lay a foundation for future learning even when it can’t be grasped in the moment.

We may draw an analogy between the passion prediction in Christ’s earthly ministry and its reading on this day in the church’s lectionary. Just as the disciples heard the plain details of his cross but needed signs to understand so too the church will pass through the coming season of Lent and in those 40 days will see the signs of the son of man’s kingdom, which ultimately is inaugurated through the cross. Only after the fact, like the Emmaus disciples, will their eyes be opened and their hearts be set aglow (Luke 24:32). Likewise we, by following the Nazarene, the son of David, the son of man, Jesus, to the cross and empty tomb see the glory of the cross which brings mercy and sight to those in darkness and the shadow of death.

Sometimes the most difficult problem isn’t open acts of evil, but hypocrisy.  When it seems like all the world runs on deceptions and lies, even in the Church, where is a Christian to turn?  Where can we find certainty in a duplicitous world?  David addresses this very problem in Psalm 12.

This psalm has three main divisions in its thought progression.  The first section, verse 1-4, describes the problem and the occasion for the prayer.  The second, verse 5, is a direct response from the Lord.  The last, verses 6-8, describe the confidence which David experiences as a result of this revelation.

[To the choirmaster.]  According to [the eighth].  A Psalm of David.

Regarding the expression, “to the choirmaster,” see the study on Psalm 4.  “The eighth,” or the Sheminith, is also an uncertain term.  It could be a tune name, but the specific number may suggest a musical direction, such as an octave.  It occurs here and in Psalm 6.

Save, LORD, for the godly one has come to an end.  For the trustworthy one has diminished from the sons of Adam/men.

They speak worthless things, a man to his fellow.  A lip of smoothness, with heart and heart they speak.

May the LORD cut off all lips of smoothness, a tongue speaking boastful things,

those who say, “According to our tongue, we are strong.  Our lips [are] ours.  Who is lord to us?”

The issue facing David, and all Christians in every time, is that hypocrisy seems to prevail.  The godly seem to be few in number, while those who claim to be Christians despite not living like one grow in number.  One can carry this spirit too far, of course.  Elijah imagined himself to be utterly alone, yet God preserved 7000 in Israel (1 Kings 19).  The word translated “diminished” occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the Greek Old Testament renders it with a word meaning “to lessen.”  The godly, despite Elijah’s despair and perhaps ours, may be hidden, but they are still there.

However, hypocrisy is still a real problem.  A hypocrite speaks “worthless things,” things which are inherently empty, because they are only external.  Like painted tombs, they are outwardly beautiful, but they hide the inward reality (Matthew 23:27).  Their lips are smooth, because they attempt to smooth away all difficulties and present their lies as truth.  They also have two hearts, because they have a double reality.  They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways (James 1:8).  They have two different sets of weights, one accurate, the other not (Deuteronomy 25:13-14).  The Old Testament even describes faithful soldiers as not having a heart and a heart in 1 Chronicles 12:33, because to have a single heart is to be simple, straightforward, honest.  There is no deception when one presents the truth of their soul.

Hypocrites speak “boastful things,” or literally “great things,” because they claim far more power for themselves than they really have.  Their forked tongue is their power, for they use it to tear down the godly, whether directly or through deception.  They imagine that they have no lord, because they have deceived themselves.

For the oppression of the afflicted, for the sighing of the poor, I will get up, says the LORD.  I will put him in the salvation/safety he [sighs] for.

David is not giving himself a false hope here.  David hears the voice of the Lord in answer to his prayer.  The psalmist has become the prophet.  Asaph, another common writer of psalms, is referred to as a “seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30, which 1 Samuel 9:9 clarifies as being an ancient word for prophet.  1 Chronicles 25:2 also says that Asaph and his sons prophesied under the direction of the king.  The psalms are not merely religious poetry.  They are the living Word of God, the voice of God speaking through His prophets to His people then and now.

That word He brings is a word of comfort.  He has seen the hypocrisy of the wicked and how they have oppressed the godly.  When Israel put away their double-minded ways, the Lord became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10:16).  So it is also now.  God hears our groaning and remembers his promises (Exodus 2:23-25).  He will give us the salvation we long for.  The name Jesus, which means God saves (Matthew 1:21), is related to this, and for good reason.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our salvation and our safety in every distress and trouble.  God’s salvation is not a generic one, but is to be found in His Son.

The word translated as “sighs” here is the same word as “snorts” in Psalm 10.  Yet this is not a sigh of contempt, but of longing.  The word itself at its root involves breath in one form or another.  Whereas the wicked huff at God, the righteous sigh for Him.  The one breaths in contempt, the other breathes in longing.

The words of the LORD [are] pure words, silver refined in a [crucible] in/on the ground, purified seven times.

You, LORD, will keep them.  You will protect him from this generation forever.

Round about, the wicked walk back and forth.  For [vileness] is exalted among the sons of Adam/man.

Having heard the Word of the Lord in answer to his prayer, David is now confident.  This confidence is not a false bravado, putting on the same painted face as the hypocrites.  Rather, this is the answer to his initial question.  When the world seems full of wickedness and hypocrisy, it is not to be trusted.  The Lord alone speaks words which are absolutely trustworthy in every time.  Friend or foe, man may lie, but God will never lie.

God’s Word is compared to refined silver.  The word translated as “crucible” occurs only here, but it seems clear enough from the context that a smelter of some kind is in mind.  Solomon ordered the casting of the bronze utensils of the temple near the Jordan River using the clay there (1 Kings 7:46).  In those days, and even in some parts of the world today, a furnace may be built of clay and fired even for casting metals.  It is possible that this crucible could be in the ground, but the point is the same.  The silver is melted, the slag is removed, and the process begins again.  A seven-fold purification would remove, even in the imprecise methods of ancient days, virtually all of the impurities.  God’s Word is like pure silver, which we still value above many things today.  How much more then the words of the living God?

God also will protect His saints from the assaults of the wicked.  The wicked walk back and forth, like an animal stalking prey.  “Vileness,” another unique word, is exalted.  The world loves its own, even the hypocrite.  Yet the righteous has no reason to be afraid.  The psalm is not ending on a dark note.  Frequently in the Bible, the main thought of a passage comes in the middle.  If you compare the last verse with the first of this psalm, you can see a similar idea at play.  The middle, and therefore the main point, is the prophecy of the Lord in verse 5.  God will arise and defend His Church, and both foe and traitor will receive the due reward of the evil when He comes to judge the earth.

What should we do when evil threatens?  Should we flee from it, seeking refuge somewhere else?  Should we stay and face it head on?  What would the Lord have us do in that moment?  These are the questions David wrestles with in this psalm.  The psalm is divided into two main sections.  Verses 1-3 present the main question, and verses 4-7 answer it.

[To the choirmaster.]  Of David.  In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, Flee [to] your mountain [like] a bird?

For behold, the wicked bend the bow.  They notch their arrow on the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.

If the foundations are destroyed, the righteous, what can he do?

The psalm opens with a conversation.  David, as happened frequently in his conflicts with Saul, is in danger.  Saul threatened to kill him over and over, so the question in David’s mind is what he should do when threatened with death.  This conversation has three possibilities.  First, David may be talking to himself, carrying on an internal monologue about his next course of action.  Second, some friends of David may be offering him advice, telling him to flee from Saul and seek refuge somewhere else.  Third, some enemies of David may be taunting him, and verse 2-3 would be David’s response to them.  Any of these options are valid, but I prefer the second and will continue in that vein.

David certainly used the mountains as a refuge from time to time (1 Samuel 23:24-29, for example).  This was not new advice or an unprecedented course of action.  Yet David on this occasion rejects this advice.  The question at hand is not whether fleeing from danger is acceptable.  The question is where one puts his trust.  Are you trusting in the mountains to save you, like the wicked foolishly do on the day of judgment (Revelation 6:15-17)?  Or is your trust in the Lord, who made heaven and earth?  David’s friends seem to be trusting in the hills rather than in God, so David reproves them.

To flee like a bird is to attempt to get away from a larger predator, like a smaller bird flying away from a larger.  The word translated “flee” can also be render as “flutter” or even “wander,” since it is the same word used to describe the punishment of Cain in Genesis 4.  Cain would “wander” because he feared being pursued, just as David’s friends  now fear.

The wicked seek to destroy David.  Here, the imagery of an archer provides a colorful illustration.  They bend the bow (literally “step on the bow,” since stringing a ancient recurve bow, like many today, involves using your legs to bend it), nock an arrow, and shoot at the upright.  This could either be “in darkness,” which would mean while being hidden, or it could even be “into darkness,” meaning that there is no place for the righteous to hide.

But this danger is not merely a personal one.  “Foundations” is a rare word, but it may be related as an idea to Ezekiel 30:4.  The foundations of the whole society are at risk, David’s friends say.  If David is dead, what will happen to Israel?  In such a case, what can the righteous do? 

The LORD [is] in his holy temple.  The LORD, in the heavens his throne.  His eyes behold, his eyelids test the sons of Adam/man.

The LORD tests the righteous, and the wicked and the lover of violence his soul hates.

Let him rain upon the wicked charcoals.  Fire and brimstone and a whirlwind the portion of their cup.

For the LORD [is] righteous.  Righteousness he loves.  The upright behold his face.

David answers their fears with a clear profession.  He will not flee to the mountains this time, because his salvation does not come from them.  He will not run away from danger, because the Lord reigns as king over all things.  God is in His holy temple (Habakkuk 2:20; Micah 1:2).  This is likely in two ways: in heaven as the King of all creation and in His Church as the faithful God, who keeps His promises forever.

 The word translated as “test” is instructive for understanding the second half of this psalm.  It is used to describe testing metals, like a goldsmith who would test the purity of the gold before him.  Such a test invariably involves fire, since the only way to prove metallic purity in those days is by melting it, a process called cupellation.  The Lord tests men to prove their worth (Job 23:10).

Such a test will only refine the righteous, since it is in the fire of adversity that the Lord chastises his children.  “He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3).  The discipline of the Lord shows our status as sons, for were we not disciplined by our earthly fathers for our good (Hebrews 12:3-11)?  David’s present distress is therefore not a cause for alarm, but a recognition that we must bear the crosses laid upon us.  To run away from the cross is cowardly.  To take it up, even at the cost of our life, is the way of Christ.  Just as He was glorified, so we too will be glorified with Him in His suffering.

Fire, however, is also destructive.  The fire of the Lord’s judgment will rain down upon the wicked (Amos 1-2).  Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the valley were destroyed in a rain of fire (Genesis 19:23-29).  The “whirlwind” is a hot wind, a destructive wind like the storm which destroyed the ship carrying Paul (Acts 27:14).  The wicked will receive the full measure of their sins on the day when the Lord sends fire in judgment.  The “cup” is the cup of their judgment which they will have to drain down to the dregs (Psalm 75:8).

However, the Lord will not destroy the righteous, because He loves righteousness.  Those who walk in His ways shall see His face (1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4).  Therefore, let us not put our trust in the things of the world.  Whether it is time to flee from danger or whether it is time to bear the cross, put your trust in the Lord.  He will sustain you.  He will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).

“Take heed then how you hear.” (Luke 8:18)  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of preaching and hearing. The one requires the other. Aptly then, the parable we will hear on Sexagesima is known under two names: “the sower” and “the four soils.”

Jesus, of course, didn’t name his parables; he simply preached them. And of all his parables, only this one is explained in each of the synoptic Gospels. This ought to be a clue to us as to its prominence and importance. “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13)

The focus in Christ’s explanation is on hearing. Score one for “the four soils.” Christ himself pays almost no heed to the sower. Sure, he’s mentioned. He’s there. But the explanation is focused on the soil which receives the seed, that is, the hearing of the Word. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)

Not all hearing though is the same. Experience will testify to this. The same word can be read and preached to an entire group. But the results differ from hearer to hearer. The parable is largely an explanation of the differing ways that the Word of God will be heard, and by it, the kingdom of God either opposed or received.

The various ways to hear are not permanent. So a particular hearer can and will move between various ways of hearing. This is important so that the hearer who is cut to the heart by Christ’s description of rocky or thorny ground does not lose hope. But also, those who are good hearers ought not presume that they may trifle with grace and take it for granted that they will continue. Good and fruitful hearing of God’s Word continues to hold fast to the Word as long as God gives life.

The Teacher of the Kingdom identifies four ways to hear. The seed that falls on the pathway are those who hear but fail to hear all at the same time. How can this be? Because attendance does not guarantee attentiveness. The devil is hard at work to take away the Word. There is no virtue in the birds coming to eat the seeds, as if we might read into this that the birds will transport those seeds in their bodies and expel them somewhere else. This should be foolish on its face, and I only mention it as an example of an over eagerness to put a silver lining on what is clearly a dark cloud. Identifying the tactics of the enemy are necessary to avoid them. The devil doesn’t take away the word out of nowhere, as if he could reach up his invisible hand and somehow snatch the sound waves out of thin air. His taking away of the word is more subtle and sinister. It happens whenever he entices hearers to discard the Word. Some perhaps will sit in the pew and deliberately oppose the preacher. They will listen but only to nitpick, to mock, and to ridicule. Others will sit there like blocks of wood and let the words of Scripture and the preacher pass in one ear and out the other, all the while with the mind elsewhere. But the devil will also work on a larger scale to take away even the possibility of hearing the Word. Governments, who ought to hear the Word themselves and submit to it, will rise up and persecute the preachers of God’s Word and drive them out of the land, rendering a deafening silence in their wake, as the example of Jerusalem in the days of the apostles bears witness.

The seed that falls in the rocky ground are those who hear in what we might call a superficial way. They are tickled by something in the message. Maybe it satisfies some religious feeling for them, an emotional high. Maybe they like to learn bits and pieces of trivia. Whatever the case, the hearing of the Word is for them a surface level matter. There is no conviction about what is heard. There is no retention or attempt to incorporate the Word into the mind and heart. They are those who, when asked what the sermon was about will say, “I don’t know, but it made me feel good.” Or even, “It’s all very interesting. We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17:32) Hearing without assimilating is of no use. When the time of testing comes, as we can be assured it will, such a plant will be quickly scorched.

The seed that falls among thorns are those who hear a little better, though still not properly. They have too many other things to listen to side-by-side with the Word of God. When the cares of wealth and the pleasures of this passing age are on par with the hearing of God’s Word they choke out the intended product. Yes there is a plant. Roots have even been established. Doctrine is known and can be articulated. But finally, it hasn’t made any actual difference. Head knowledge has not become faith working in love. How easy it is for so many of us to be satisfied here. Week after week we listen, we attend, we even mentally assent to what we have heard. But when it comes right down to it, there’s so many cares and distractions that the implementation of the Word, whether it be a matter of repentance or action, is put on the back burner. We’ll get around to it some other time when things settle down.

Lastly the seed falls on good soil. These are those who hear with an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience. No short cuts can be taken. Honesty entails that the hearer makes no attempts to hide what is uncovered about himself. Neither does he feel the need to go beyond what the Word reveals about God. The good heart is the heart that does what it was created to do. It stands as the organ of the body from which springs forth both thought and action. Repentance, trust, and action all issue from the heart that holds to the implanted Word. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

The hearing of the Word which grows to understanding and gives rise to trust and obedience is the harvest that the sower is at work to create. Yes, the Word does the work, but it does so by grabbing hold of those who hear, and once grabbed, the hearers of God’s Word actually do it. They are not content with a little but become hungry for more. What they hear in the Word they know how to do. (Luke 8:21) “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8:16) The harvest produced by the kingdom defies the logic of pure mathematics, which would say that 1 in 4 is a failure. While the sowing of the sower is not met with unmitigated success, nevertheless, “he comes home with shouts of joy, bearing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

One of the most difficult problems which any believer must face is the problem of evil, and specifically of evil men.  Functional atheism, to live as if there was no God, is not limited to those who are professed atheists.  What can a Christian do when evil men pursue the righteous?  How should a Christian respond to those who live without restraint?

As mentioned in the previous study, Psalms 9 and 10 may have been originally one psalm.  However, they each have their own tone which makes it appropriate to separate them.  Whereas Psalm 9 mostly praises God and gives thanks for His mighty works in the face of evil, Psalm 10 is more of a cry of the oppressed for deliverance.  Additionally, the acrostic pattern (see the previous study) is still present and begins more or less where Psalm 9 left off, but it is harder to see in this psalm.  Therefore, it is probably best to treat them as two separate psalms, perhaps composed at the same time.

Why, LORD, do you stand far off?  Why do you close [your eyes] in times of distress?

In arrogance, the wicked burn after the poor.  Let them be seized in the plots which they have devised.

David opens this psalm with a clear cry of distress to the Lord.  There are certainly times in any believer’s life when God seems to be distant.  This is, of course, only an expression.  If God were truly far off, David would not pray.  That he prays to the Lord in his distress is a sign of faith, because he knows that God will answer.  Yet God seems to have shut His eyes to trouble.  Why is this happening to me?

The word translated here as “burn” can also mean to pursue, but it carries with it the idea of a fire.  Like a wildfire burning across the land, the fire of the wicked pursues the godly.  Nebuchadnezzar attempts to burn the three young men in the exceptionally hot furnace (Daniel 3).  One can also think of the many martyrs burned in more recent centuries at the stake as another example of this.  Yet David calls on God to turn their evil back on their heads.  Give me justice, O Lord!

For the wicked praises on account of the desires of his soul, and blesses the robber, spurns the LORD.

The wicked according to the height of his nose does not seek [him].  “There is no God” [are] all his schemes.

Here the acrostic pattern breaks down until verse 12, but I will treat these verses mostly in pairs as I have been doing.  David begins a lengthy description of the wicked man until that point.  The evil man feels no shame for his actions.  He even boasts in his wickedness as if it was good!  More than this, he also gives his approval to those who also reject the Lord (Psalm 50:18; Romans 1:32).

The colorful expression “according to the height of his nose” is an indicator of pride, since we too speak of someone turning up their nose at someone else.  In Hebrew, the nose is also frequently used for anger, since an angry man tends to huff through his nose.  But here it is a sign of pride, since he lives as if there is no God.  In his mind, God will not call him to account for his wickedness, either because he imagines that it is godly, that God will not judge, or that God does not exist.  Whatever his thoughts, the outcome is the same.

His ways prosper in every time.  Your judgments are on the height from before him [i.e. not in front of him].  All his enemies, he snorts at them.

He says in his heart, I will not be staggered.  From generation to generation [I will] not [be] in evil.

The greatest difficulty for the believer, and an idea that is encountered frequently in the psalms, is the apparently prosperity of the wicked.  Why do those who hate God seem to prosper when the righteous suffer?  Why does the thief become a millionaire when the godly man can barely make ends meet?  David will address this question later in the psalm.

As before, the evil man imagines that God’s judgments are either nonexistent or far off.  They are on the height, out of his sight.  He “snorts” at his enemies, because it is a sign of contempt.  One can imagine huffing contemptuously at something or someone we don’t like.  In Malachi 1:13, the priests snort in a similar fashion at the sacrifices God had ordained for them.  The contempt arises from an imagined security.  Things seem secure for him, so there is no reason to fear.  “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).

With a curse his mouth is filled and tricks and oppression.  Under his tongue trouble and disaster.

He sits in ambush in the settlements.  In secret places he kills the blameless.  His eyes lie in wait for the [helpless].

It would be one thing for a wicked man to live as if there was no God.  Yet, just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the sons of the flesh do the same to the sons of the promise (Galatians 4:29).  This should not surprise us; if they hated Christ, they will also hate us (John 15:18).  This is still, however, a difficult cross to bear.  The evil which comes forth from the mouth of the wicked bubbles out of his heart (Matthew 15:18-19).  These things are “under his tongue” because he delights in them, like a delightful food which we keep in our mouth to enjoy it longer.

He hides in secret places to assault the righteous.  He is not in the wilderness, where it is unlikely he will meet anyone.  Rather, he sits in secret near the towns where he can ply his evil trade, like a robber hiding in an alley.  His eyes are “hidden” either because he cannot be seen, or because he is squinting, like someone aiming to throw who squints in order to see better.  The word translated “helpless” occurs twice in the Old Testament and only in this psalm, and it is a little uncertain what it exactly means, but this seems the most likely from the context.

He lies in ambush in secret places like a lion in his thicket.  He lies in ambush to snatch the poor.  He snatches the poor in his drawing in his net.

And he crouches, is bowed down, and the host of the weak ones falls into his claws/mighty ones.

He says in his heart, God has forgotten.  He has hidden his face.  He will never see it.

These three verses compare the wicked man to a lion on the prowl.  Like a lion hiding in the grass, crouching down in the way that cats do when they are prepared to pounce, so the evil man seeks after the righteous.  The word translated as “claws” is more literally “the mighty ones,” like a band of warriors or an army.  Here, in the imagery of a lion, they refer to the “band” of his “mighty ones,” that is, his claws.  David then closes this description of a wicked man with a repetition of the main problem: his functional atheism.  God, he thinks, will never see what he is doing.

Arise, LORD.  God, lift up your hand.  Do not forget the poor ones.

Why does the wicked spurn God?  He says in his heart, He will not seek.

You see, for you look upon trouble and grief to put it in your hand.  With you the [helpless] leaves himself.  [To] the fatherless you have been a helper.

These three verses form two parts of the acrostic pattern, since verse 14 is one part all by itself.  They deal with more or less the same plea.  The wicked pursue the righteous, so now it is time for the Lord to act.  Do not forget, O Lord, your righteous saints who suffer in this life!  Even the martyrs cry out for the Lord to remember His people in their trouble (Revelation 6:9-11).  However, the righteous would not cry to God if they did not think that He could do anything.  He takes our troubles into His hand, because He will act and be our helper in distress.

Break the arm of the wicked and evil one.  Seek his offense/injustice [until] you do not find.

The LORD is king forever and ever.  The nations perish from his land.

As with every imprecatory psalm, the call to destroy the wicked or bring their plans to nothing is not self-serving.  Vengeance belongs to God and God alone.  Rather, the call for justice is a plea of the righteous to a king who will bring it.  Unlike every earthly king, who will eventually die like any other man, the Lord reigns as king forever.  His justice is also eternal as a result.  It is not a paltry justice, shot through with uncertainty and coming to an end.  It is a firm justice and a sign of God’s steadfast love for His people.  Their troubles will end and they will know the justice of the Lord in that day when He acts.

The desire of the poor you hear, LORD.  You will make their heart firm.  Your ear will listen attentively

to judge the fatherless and oppressed.  The mortal man from the earth will not add again to trembling [i.e. will no longer cause fear].

This, then, is the answer to the original problem.  The libertine and the wicked should not alarm us.  Functional atheism will meet its end when God judges the earth.  On that day, they will know that there is a God who judges (Psalm 58:11).  The righteous need not fear, because the Lord promises to hear them when they pray to Him (John 14:13-14).  Even if we suffer now, that suffering will come to an end.  The Lord will deliver His people and give them justice.