“…bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked”: asking God to act against (evil) leaders

I just came across this Psalm the other day, partly in the context of gripping against governments that abuse their power to destroy others. Of course some of the pro-war leaders come to mind but they’re not the only ones. My own government (regardless of who actually is in power) is known to be highly corrupt, and pretends to serve the poor that they exploit.

Anyway, the Psalm I quote below is directly from the Bible, Psalm 58 from the New International Version translation. It gives an interesting perspective of a cry to God against “rulers” who speak and judge “unjustly” with the hope that God will vanquish the vanquishers.

Of course it is not a pretty, beautiful, peace-on-earth Psalm, but has a lot of violent imagery. For instance we see “break the teeth in their mouths, O God” or even, “the righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.”

Many find this kind of “violence” in the Bible difficult to understand. One way to understand it is that this text is from the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament as Christians call it), and so this passage has own historical/sociological context. It is not necessarily a principle to be applied for all ages, but it is certainly (at least) a cry for justice.

But this Psalm is also more pointed to the fact that God is appealed to as the actor. It is not human beings to go around destroying bad leaders, but the cry is to God to act on the righteous’ behalf. It is God who judges, not human beings, it is God who can destroy, not human beings.

Thus, I affirm again, that violence is not justified for us Christians. And if we are the recipients of injustice, or others, we appeal to God (if we truly believe in God) to act on the suffering people’s behalf. And as that, this Psalm is certainly appropriate.

Psalm 58

1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge uprightly among men?

2 No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.

3 Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.

4 Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,

5 that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.

6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
tear out, O LORD, the fangs of the lions!

7 Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows be blunted.

8 Like a slug melting away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child, may they not see the sun.

9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.

10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked.

11 Then men will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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