Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The WTF Psalm

Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
    Do you judge people with equity?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
    and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Okay, Psalm 58 seems to be off to a good start. Just your typical psalm about "bad people."
Even from birth the wicked go astray;
    from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
    like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
    however skillful the enchanter may be.
Umm, okay... they're like snakes who won't listen. I'm using that insult at the next opportunity I get.

Image source.
Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
    Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions!
Let them vanish like water that flows away;
    when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
Wow this is getting a little scary, asking God to break their enemies' teeth...
May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
    like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.
Oh my goodness. That crosses a line. Wow.
Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns-
    whether they be green or dry- the wicked will be swept away.
The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
    when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
What??? Okay we're all in full WTF mode now, right? I mean... just... wow... WTF?
Then people will say,
    "Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
    surely there is a God who judges the earth."
Okay then so that's Psalm 58, the WTF psalm.

Why are we celebrating and splashing around in "the blood of the wicked"? I mean, that is just MESSED UP.


Red blood cells. Image source.

Okay let's back up here. Who are these "the wicked" that David is writing about?

My initial thoughts, upon reading this psalm this week, came from my evangelical background. I assumed, because I've heard it preached so many times that "there is no one righteous, not even one," that "the wicked" is everybody. Or perhaps, everybody except the people who decided to follow God and then get counted as righteous because, you know, Jesus.

And if you've been reading my blog, you know I'm trying to get away from that way of thinking, because it's kind of horrible.

BUT ANYWAY. That's what I assumed the first time I read this. "The wicked" was anyone who's ever sinned... in other words, everyone. All non-Christians, actually, because Christians (and David) got their sins deleted.

And I'm reading about how David is cursing them, wishing they'd be "like a slug that melts away" and dude, this psalm is horrible and wrong.

But let's back up and see who David is ACTUALLY talking about. Back to verses 1-2:
Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
    Do you judge people with equity?
No, in your heart you devise injustice,
    and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
Corrupt rulers. Violence and injustice. That's what we're talking about here.

David was in a lot of dangerous situations- in battles, running from his enemies, being threatened, seeing his friends killed. Violence and injustice. He saw people killing each other to get power. He spent some quality time running from Saul, who wanted to kill David out of jealousy. Etc etc.

"The wicked" is not that annoying kid who kicked the back of your chair in first grade. "The wicked" is not that person you like to argue about religion with. "The wicked" is murderers, criminals who kill innocent people and get away with it.

Well, THAT is messed-up.

And now I get why David wrote the things in this psalm, wishing and praying for their death and destruction. And the final verse, "Then people will say, 'Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.'" Yes!

Because don't we see injustice and violence in the world and long for it to be righted, for the criminals and murderers and corrupt rulers to be caught and punished?

Don't we hope and pray for violence and injustice to end?

I'm still not on board with the graphic and gory curses in this psalm. But it's okay. David was being honest, and that's important. You don't have to censor yourself to pray.

So let's see this psalm for what it is. Not a death wish on everyone David didn't agree with, everyone who didn't believe in the "right" God. Not some awkward, cringe-inducing passage that we have to fearfully accept and not question, because it's in the bible. Not a glimpse of what we all "deserve" because of our sin. No, nothing like that. Instead, it's an emotional response to the violence and corruption David sees around him. It's a cry for justice- and I mean the normal meaning of justice, not the evangelical "everyone goes to hell" understanding of justice.

It's a deep longing that those who prey on others, who murder innocent people, who only care about power, would get paid back for what they've done. And I know I called it "the WTF psalm" but wow, I totally agree with that.


This post is part of a link-up on the topic of Psalm 58. To read other people's posts, click here: the brutal language of Psalm 58.


  1. Kirsten OliphantJune 4, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    "You don't have to censor yourself to pray." YES. Love your honest thoughts on this here!

  2. forgedimaginationJune 4, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    I'm still sort of terrified to read the Old Testament again, but reading posts like this one helps. It's amazing to see that so many of us, when we can finally go back and read some of this, what we so often see is a God who is saddened and infuriated by injustice, corruption, oppression... just like we are. It's a comforting idea.

  3. I adore that you called this a WTF Psalm. So, so honest. These words are tough. I love the way you broke down that the wicked in this Psalm does not refer to us. David is crying out against something beyond common sinfulness.

  4. I'm kind of scared of the Old Testament too- but I'm glad that now I finally feel free to question things and be like, "hey this passage is really MESSED UP and God is being unreasonable," like when I read about God helping Israel kill people and all that...

    And I also hope that as I read more of the scary passages about wrath and destruction, that it'll turn out it's punishment for violence and war crimes and really terrible stuff, instead of "these people believe the wrong religion" (which is what I had always assumed it was).

    Glad to have you reading! By the way, I really like your blog. :)

  5. forgedimaginationJune 4, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    Thanks. :) I really, really liked yours. :)

  6. forgedimaginationJune 4, 2013 at 10:51 PM

    "like"! Present tense. Oops.