The story is told of a pastor who encouraged his congregation to pray Psalm 58 over their opponents. “We’re tired of turning the other cheek,” he said. “Good heavens, that’s all we’ve done.” For him, praying this psalm invited a sense of personal vindication. With a sons-of-thunder attitude, he wanted his congregation to call down God’s fire from heaven on their opponents, apparently forgetting what Jesus said to his disciples when they suggested doing the same: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Luke 9:55–56, NKJV).
Psalm 58 might make you feel uncomfortable. As you pray through the psalms, you might wonder how you can possibly pray for God to break the teeth in the mouth of your enemies (v. 6). You might wonder how you can say that you will rejoice when you see God’s vengeance and bathe your feet in the blood of the wicked (v. 10). We know intrinsically that we should not tire of turning the other cheek and yet we wrestle with the fact that this psalm is given to instruct our prayer and our worship.
Certainly, we should not use this psalm as a personal vendetta against our enemies. David made it plain elsewhere that he prayed for those who wronged him (Psalm 35:12–14). Our attitude should be the same. What, then, does this psalm teach us that might encourage our prayers? I think we can learn at least two things.
First, the psalm reminds us that God will bring justice to the wicked. It is his prerogative, not ours, to avenge (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19) and he will certainly do so. However uneasy we might feel about praying for God to break the teeth of those who oppose him, we can be sure that it is something that he will do. The blood of the unrepentant wicked will flow as surely as the blood of Christ flowed for the repentant wicked.
Second, the psalm reminds us that God is intent on setting up his kingdom and destroying all competing kingdoms. As we pray for his kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as in heaven, we should remember that he is committed to doing so. He will overthrow the attempts of the enemy to stop the onward march of his kingdom.
With these two principles set firmly in our mind, we should pray accordingly. If God intends to bring to an end every system that does not bow to Jesus Christ, should we not pray accordingly? The prayer of Psalm 58 will be answered. Why should we not be part of the chorus of prayers awaiting that answer?
But perhaps the most disconcerting part of this prayer is its conclusion: “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth’” (vv. 10–11). How can we possibly reconcile the thought of rejoicingly bathing our feet in the blood of the wicked with the Bible’s emphasis on love and forgiveness?
We must remember that divine judgement is not reactionary or petty. God’s judgement is both righteous and necessary. It is necessary unless we conclude that there is nothing really wrong with the world or that God doesn’t mind very much about what is wrong. But if God is who the Bible says he is, he is deeply angered at evil and strongly committed to judging and correcting it.
At the end of the day, all humanity will recognise, “Surely there is a God who judges on earth.” Both the righteous and the wicked will ultimately acknowledge that God is a just God who judges righteously.
Our prayers should join those of David, and those of generations of Christians before us, who have pleaded with God to bring justice to bear as his will is done in heaven as it is on earth. Let us pray with them.