Psalm 58 – Vengeance is Mine, Says Me!

You’ve heard the saying, vengeance is mine, says the Lord. If I had my way, it would be says me, or at least I would like to dictate the shape this vengeance might take, like the writer of this psalm. The writer calls for vengeance. In his defense, he is not exacting this vengeance himself but is asking God for vengeance, but what he is asking for is more than revenge – it is a seven-fold curse. It would fit the most gruesome horror story: break their teeth and pull them out, let these people be stamped on like grass, squashed like thorns under a pot, wither away like a vapor, dissolve into slime or be still-born or aborted from the womb (6-9). You need look no further for devices of torture.

While a lament, the psalm opens with charges against the “gods” rather than an appeal to God. The writer is angry with some super beings, less than God but greater than man, perhaps pagan gods or our concept of angels. Whatever they are, they have acted in wicked ways. The Israelites, while monotheists, were aware of pagan gods around them. “Since from early times in Israel the gods of the nations were thought to be existent, it was not unnatural that the people of Israel, instead of denying the existence of these gods, reduced them to the level of servants to Yahweh.” (Interpreter’s Bible) Perhaps these are what he is referring to. Other interpreters refer to the “gods” as judges or rulers, who act like mini-gods in pronouncing judgment on others.

Another way to look at these “superhumans” is to compare them to Paul’s principalities and powers. How would this be realized in our own times? Who are the principalities and powers wreaking havoc in our society? William Stringfellow speaks of these principalities and powers as corporations, mammoth organizations that over time have taken on a life of their own. They may have started out as an endeavor of like-minded individuals seeking good, but their existence becomes more important than the people they were created to serve. They have become mini-gods with the rights of individuals and none of the responsibilities.

The writer asks these beings, who are you to judge? “Do you judge the sons of men uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.”(1b-2) They are evil from birth. “The wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth, speaking lies. They have venom like the venom of the serpent.” (3-4a)

The psalm ends with confident trust that God is on the side of the writer. He speaks of a bloody victory. “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance, he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.” (10)

God alone judges, but the psalmist believes he is keeping God’s way so he will be vindicated – “Men will say, ‘surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’” (11).

For all of its humanness, the writer still leaves vengeance to God. If he had his choice he would exact his own vengeance, but instead he leaves it to God, and thus doesn’t sin.

So often when betrayed or hurt by someone, we would like to exact vengeance ourselves, or at least determine the form of revenge. It is hard to trust that God will take care of this. Even harder when up against the “mini-gods” of our time, corporate giants.

God, who sees into the heart of people, knows the best form of revenge to enact. God is greater than any corporate entity. Just as the people of Israel may have felt powerless before corrupt rulers, we may feel powerless before these organizations or the excessive bureaucracy in our government. But God is greater than these and will exact vengeance in his own time and own way.

That doesn’t mean that we have to sit passively by as we wait for God. We can take action where and when we can and when we’ve done all within our power, we can express our anger, throw down curses, all the while leaving revenge in God’s hands.

What do you do when you are hurt or confronted with injustice? Are you able to be angry and sin not, leaving vengeance to God?

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