In August of 1553 Mary I became queen of England. Within two months of her accession she had imprisoned many Protestant leaders of the Church of England among whom were John Bradford, Hugh Latimer, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cramner. She succeeded in restoring Catholicism in England through a treaty with Pope Julius III, and then she started some of the most brutal persecution in history.
In February of 1555 Mary started putting Protestants to death. During her only five-year reign 283 Protestants were killed mainly by being burned alive at the stake. In the seventeenth century people started referring to her as “Bloody Mary.” Can you imagine living during that time period? Perhaps the Protestants in England thought as the Psalmist did in Psalm 10, “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
You know, Bloody Mary isn’t the only person to have ever oppress people; she wasn’t the first, and she certainly wasn’t the last. We could name the first century A.D. Jews, Nero, the Inquisition, Hitler, Communism, and Islam all as people or ideas that have oppressed people through the years. The depravity that is natural in mankind is always rearing its ugly head in the form of oppression and affliction upon others. Perhaps, in fact, you have even dealt with some sort of oppression in your own life that has you wondering the same thing the Psalmist wonders here, Where is God? Why won’t he do something about this? When we face these kinds of difficult circumstances where we are wondering where God is or if God is hiding, because we focus so much on the temporal and material world (what we can see and feel) we begin to doubt God and his sovereignty, and we begin to fear men.
However, I believe the message of the Psalmist in Psalm 10 is that we can and, therefore, must rest and fear the deserved judgment of God on the wicked. And I see two facts revealed here in Psalm 10 to explain the surety and deservedness of God’s judgment on the wicked that should motivate us to rest and fear.
- The judgment is deserved because of the character of the wicked.
The first fact is that the judgment is deserved because of the character of the wicked. Scroggie calls vs2-11 “a graphic picture of ‘the atheistic self-complacency and pitiless tyranny of the wicked man.’” And who could argue with him? The picture that is painted of the character of the wicked in these verses is shocking in the sheer disregard for God and others that the wicked man has. In describing the character of the wicked, the Psalmists emphasizes three areas where the wicked reveal their despicable nature.
First, they are proud. Notice the repetition of the idea of pride in v2-4, “in arrogance” v2, the wicked “boast” v3, “in pride” v4, “he puffs” v5. In v3 where “he boasts of the desires of his soul,” Calvin says, “in my opinion, desire of soul here denotes rather lust, and the intemperate gratification of passion and appetite; and thus the meaning is, that they indulge themselves with delight in their depraved desires, and, despising the judgment of God, fearlessly absolve themselves from all guilt, maintain their innocence, and justify their impiety.” This fits well with the idea of pursuing the poor in arrogance mentioned in v2. The attitude that marks the wicked is that they seem to think that they can do whatever they want without any fear of the ramifications. So in their pride they completely excuse the thought of God. Calvin sees the idea of v3 reinforced in these words, “David simply means, that the ungodly, without examination, permit themselves to do any thing, or do not distinguish between what is lawful and unlawful, because their own lust is their law, yea, rather, as if superior to all laws, they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please.” The emphasis here is that they fancy that it is lawful for them to do whatever they please. This is certainly an attitude we see displayed in our culture as people will now get offended by the fact that anyone says any particular action is wrong or a sin. V5-6 then reinforces the idea that they fear no ramifications for their actions. Their attitude is one that cannot be tamed; again I quote Calvin in his explanation, “As they enjoy a continued course of prosperity, they dream that God is bound or plighted to them, and hence they put his judgments far from them; and if any man oppose them, they are confident they can immediately put him down, or dash him to pieces with a puff or breath.” The wicked have no time for thinking of their own demise or the consequences of their sin; they wink at the threat of judgment in spite of the fact that it is merely God’s mercy that allows them to live at all.
Second, not only are the wicked proud, but they are also corrupt of speech. Of V7 Spurgeon says, “There is not only a little evil there, but his mouth is full of it. A three-headed serpent hath stowed away its coils and venom within the den of his black mouth. There is cursing which he spits against both God and men, deceit with which he entraps the unwary, and [oppression] by which, even in his common dealings, he robs his neighbors.” John Morison also sees the idea of a deadly snake in the second phrase as he points out that this “striking allusion of this expression is to certain venomous reptiles, which are said to carry bags of poison under their teeth, and with great subtlety to inflict the most deadly injuries upon those who come within their reach.” Perhaps the most important point to note here is that this verse is used in Romans where “Paul uses the Greek (lxx) wording of this verse in 3:14 as part of his proof that ‘all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin’ (Rom. 3:9).” The significance of this fact cannot be understated; basically by quoting this passage in the context of Romans 3, Paul has condemned all of us as guilty as the wicked man of Psalm 10. You are the man!
The wicked are proud, they are corrupt of speech, and thirdly, they are oppressive. Perhaps here we see the culmination of their wickedness in the fact that they are willing to pick on the vulnerable and unfortunate. This is certainly a sign of the height of wickedness that would seek out those who would struggle to defend themselves. Defending and helping the poor and unfortunate may not prove you are a Christian, but oppressing and afflicting them will certainly prove you are wicked. Thomas Brooks points out the unnatural nature of this oppression, “Oppression turns princes into roaring lions, and judges in evening wolves. It is an unnatural sin, against the light of nature. No creatures do oppress them of their won kind. Look upon the birds of prey, as upon eagles, vultures, hawks, and you will never find them preying upon their own kind. Look upon the beasts of the forest, as upon the lion, the tiger, the wolf, the bear, and you shall ever find them favourable to their own kind; and yet men unnaturally prey upon one another, like the fish in the sea, the great swallowing up the small.” Indeed, the prevalence of this sin proves the depravity of our nature more than any other perhaps. And it gets worse because it is deceptive. The lay a trap for the helpless before they pounce upon him with their strength. Calvin describes it this way, “These wicked men hide their strength, by feigned humility and crafty courteous demeanour, and yet they will always have in readiness an armed band of satellites, or claws and teeth, as soon as an opportunity of doing mischief is presented to them.” So is the way of the wicked, and their arrogance comes back into play as they think does care, or worse yet doesn’t even see. Clearly, the punishment against these wicked men is deserved, but does God see, does God know, is God sleeping while all this is happening?
- The judgment is sure because of the character of God.
No, God does see and that fact brings us to the second fact, the judgment is sure because of the character of God.
Similar to the first eleven verses of the Psalm I see the Psalmist emphasizing four aspects of God’s character to show the surety of the judgment.
First, God is omniscient. I see this in v14, where the Psalmist notes that God does see and note mischief and vexation. One author notes, “This should be a terror to the wicked, to think that whatsoever they do, they do it in the sight of him that shall judge them, and call them to a strict account for every thought conceived against his majesty; and therefore it should make them afraid to sin; because that when they burn with lust, and toil with hatred, when they scorn the just and wrong the innocent, they do all this not only . . . within the compass of God’s sight, but also . . . in the bosom of that Deity, who though he suffered them for a time to run on, . . . yet he will find them out at the last, and then cut them off and destroy them.” Perhaps, we can identify just slightly with this in our world today with the prevalence of security cameras capturing our every move. It may have easy for the Boston Marathon bombers to ignore the fact that their every move was being recorded as they prepared for their heinous crime, but when the remaining bomber stands before the judge, the evidence against them will be displayed. However, the knowledge of our God is so much greater than even the greatest security camera because it sees the content of our hearts. God sees your motives and your attitudes even when you can dress yourself up for Sunday morning, and whether or any of the rest of knows is irrelevant when the judge of all the world sees and takes note.
In addition to being omniscient, God is a omnipotent. God will one day flex his omnipotent muscles against the wicked in defiance of their pride and oppression. When he does things will not go well for the wicked as God will break their power (their arms) and call their wickedness to account. Calvin notes this not “simply a prayer; it may also be regarded as a prophecy.” He summarizes what David is saying this way, “Lord, as soon as it shall seem good to thee to break the arm of the wicked, thou wilt destroy him in a moment, and bring to nought his powerful and violent efforts in the work of doing mischief. . . God can promptly and effectually remedy this evil whenever he pleases.” God will win in the end even when it seems he is ignoring the present. Which brings us to the next characteristic of God.
Thirdly, God is sovereign. We see this in v16 where the Psalmist notes that Yahweh is king forever and ever. Not just king yesterday, or today, or tomorrow, but forever ever, Calvin says, “this shows how absurd it is to think to shut him up within the narrow limits of time. . . . But we ought to entertain more exalted and honorable conceptions of our heavenly King; for although he does not immediately execute his judgments, yet he has always the full and the perfect power of doing so. In short, he reigns, not for himself in particular; it is for us that he reigns for ever and ever. As this, then, is the duration of his reign, it follows that a long delay cannot hinder him from stretching forth his hand in due season to succor his people, even when they are, as it were, dead, or in a condition which, to the eye of sense and reason, is hopeless.” God is king forever and ever; therefore, God is judge forever and ever. Therefore, the wicked will never completely get away with their wickedness. Remember God sees, God breaks their power, and God will judge them in the end. They will get what they deserve.
God is omniscient, God is omnipotent, God is sovereign, and finally, God is good. I think that this point is basically a summary of all of the points about God, but it shows them in a loving context. Perhaps our only response to an omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign God would be fear, but a God who is all this and good means he cares about the helpless. So this means that in his omniscience, he not only sees, but he takes what he knows into his hands (v14); in his omnipotence he not only breaks the arm of the wicked, but is a helper to the fatherless (v14); and in his sovereignty, he not only judges the wicked, but he also does justice to the oppressed. Stephen Charnock talks of God’s goodness in these verses in this way, “Now what greater comfort is there than this, that there is one presides in the world who is so wise he cannot be mistaken, so faithful he cannot deceive, so pitiful he cannot neglect his people, and so powerful that he can make stones even to be turned into break if he please! . . . God doth not govern then world only by his will as an absolute monarch, but by his wisdom and goodness as a tender father. It is not his greatest pleasure to show his sovereign power, or his inconceivable wisdom, but his immense goodness, to which he makes the other attributes subservient.
There are two possible responses to all of this that I have already referenced, fear and rest, and there are two possible recipients of this message, the wicked and the righteous. Let me address both of you.
First, if you are wicked your only option as a response is fear. You must fear God. Fear for you life and your eternity. Here are the facts of the matter, no matter who you are in this room, you are the wicked (Paul already through you all under the bus when he quoted this Psalm in Rom 3). You know it too; I am not giving you any news. You know the pride of your heart, the wickedness of your speech, the oppression of your actions. You know that you are guilty, and God has all his omniscience recording your actions and motives like a security camera as evidence against you on the day of judgment. You haven’t got a chance. So why are you still alive? Don’t you know that this is the mercy of God? God has allowed you to live up until this very moment to give you the chance to repent of the wickedness that you are and have done and turn to him for help. You have no where else to turn, you can’t do enough right to fix all this. Conrad Mbewe gave the example of someone who runs a red light. He notes that you cannot only go through green lights often enough to make up for that one red light. If the police pull you over, you are guilty, dead to rights, and to make things worse, as sovereign God must judge and your sin must be punished.
But there is good news. Jesus was punished for you. God made him to be wickedness for you so that if you will turn from your sinful condition, there is Jesus’ righteousness to replace your wickedness. Then you will never fear the condemnation of the omniscient, omnipotent, righteous judge who reigns forever and ever. You can be right with God.
But perhaps many of you have already accepted this righteousness for yourselves and stand right with God. What should be your response? I believe you should both fear and rest. First, you must fear, not your own condemnation, but the condemnation of those around you. Paul writes in 2 Cor 5:11, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” Recognize that sin will be punished and beg people to be reconciled to God. Also fear for your own spiritual well-being. While you can never be condemned, you must still fear the judge of the universe who declared you righteous before him and if you will live in the sinful motivations of your flesh, fear the consequences of that sin.
Second, you must rest. Rest in the omniscient, omnipotent, sovereign, goodness of God. When you want to ask where God is, or why he doesn’t see, rest! When you see the wickedness of the wicked compounding, rest! When you wonder at the oppression you and other face, rest! God sees, God is more powerful, God is the forever judge. He can be trusted because of his eternal goodness. Rest in him!