Psalm 10, Defeat of the Wicked

We don’t know who wrote this psalm, but we sure know what was bugging him! He was deeply troubled by the seeming absence of God during times of trouble and he was upset that God was silent.

Psalm 10 is actually the second half of Psalm 9, and some scholars think these two psalms were originally one. Psalm 9 exalts the sovereignty of God in relation to the unbelieving nations that surrounded Israel, while Psalm 10 deals with the growth of evil within Israel, the covenant community.

Even though ancient, this psalm is timely and applicable. Christians have to deal with sin both inside and outside their community of faith, the church. And our perception of God is, unfortunately, often like that of the discouraged psalmist.

G. Campbell Morgan, preacher of preachers, wrote, “Psalm 10 opens in complaint but closes with confidence.”

1. Complaint, vs. 1, 2

Why, O Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.

The psalmist’s complaint is obvious: he feels like God is way off in the distance. He feels like God is merely a fair-weather friend to the righteous; He’s there when times are good, but now that circumstances are unfavorable, God is nowhere to be found. It’s not as if God has abandoned His people, argues the writer, it’s just that He’s not all that dependable. Job experienced the exact same thing:

Why do you hide your face and consider me your enemy? (Job 13:24)

The psalmist needs God’s help, desperately, but it’s as though God is hiding Himself. This was a common complaint in ancient Israel, and it’s a common complaint in the church of Jesus Christ today!

2. Character, vs. 3—6

He boasts of the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will shake me; I’ll always be happy and never have trouble.”

The ungodly man’s hatred of the godly manifests itself in a complete disregard for God and His commands. He is only concerned with himself and filling his earthly cravings. Whatever he wants, he finds a way to get. Pride, irreverence, unbelief, and materialism charaterize the life and attitude of the ungodly. Add to that a sense of what amounts to false security, and we see that the ungodly bears almost no resemblance to the godly. Moffatt says of these people:

There is no God at all.

We have a good picture of those who live without God, but we also have glimpses of the psalmist’s attitude when he observes: his ways are always prosperous. The truth is, nobody’s ways are always prosperous, but to the godly man looking at the ungodly man, it seems as though the ungodly man is always living high on the hog. The implication is that he, the godly man, feels like he is being ignored by God completely; that he isn’t being blessed in any way by His God.

3. Conduct, vs. 7—11

He says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” (verse 11)

The wicked man—remember he is part of the community of faith—thinks there is no God. He is far worse than one who has his doubts; he actually acts like there is no God. He may appear to be merely a lost soul, but an unbeliever among believers is actually dangerous. He uses his tongue as a weapon; he intimidates believers with “curses, lies and threats.” But he is an accomplished liar! He is so smooth and persuasive that he convinces some believers that he is right:

His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. (verse 10)

Moffatt interprets verse 10 a little differently:

He hunts the helpless till they drop, unlucky victims in his clutches.

We get the idea that within Israel, within the community of faith, there were those who could not be trusted; there were those who had turned their backs on God, having lost their faith in Him. What’s really nefarious about these “backsliders” is that they weren’t happy with just abandoning Him, they actively tried to recruit others to follow them away from God.

The wicked expressed themselves in injustice and boorish behavior, but their sorry lifestyle had its roots in one place: a complete disregard for the Lord. They had rejected the Word of the Lord. The had no understanding of God; they mistook God’s patience with evil for a lack of interest in fairness. The wicked were bold and they getting bolder because they felt like they had no accountability for their actions.

This is why evil grows. This is why those who forsake the Lord seem to have not only left Him but are running as fast as they can away from Him towards sin, it’s like they have to catch up on all they missed while they were serving Him.

4. Cry, verses 12—15

In the face of people who have become such enemies, the righteous can only do one thing: cry out to God for vindication and to punish those who are harming God’s people. The prayer beginning at verse 12 is a welcome relief! The structure of this paragraph A BB A:

A. Prayer for God’s intervention (vs. 12)
B. The boast of the wicked (vs. 13)
B. The trust of the afflicted (vs. 14)
A. Prayer for God’s intervention (vs. 15)

In essence, this is a prayer for God to step in and help. The wicked thought that God had forgotten them; that God would never call them to account for their actions; and that no bad things will ever happen to them. The psalmist prays that God will show His strength (His hand) to help the oppressed; to punish the wicked and hold them accountable.

The fact is, God does not ignore the evil that men do. The “but you” in verse 14 is emphatic, meaning God is the only help available to the righteous. Time and again throughout the Old Testament God had promised to never abandon His people, that He would be a “father to the fatherless.” Sometimes, to we with finite minds, it may seem as though God is absent or uncaring, but the truth is quite different. God is patient in the face of evil, but not condoning of it. Calvin’s thoughts on this are helpful:

It is, however, our duty to wait patiently so long as the vengeance is reserved in the hand of God, until he stretches forth is arm to help us.

In other words, let’s try to be as patient as God is. Let’s try to see the world the way God does. Perspective is everything. And while we are being patient, we need to pray that God will eventually have His way with the wicked:

Break the arm of the wicked and evil man; call him to account for his wickedness that would not be found out. (verse 15)

Harrison translates verse 15 like this:

Break the power of the guilty and wicked; punish his iniquity till You have completely obliterated it.

This is easily the strongest verse in the entire psalm and it is clear call for God to dispense His justice.

5. Confidence, verses 16—18

This final group of verses may be considered a benediction. Because it was written by a believer, it is naturally hopeful and upbeat. This was the psalmist’s true worldview; he had not wandered from God! His faith was intact, even while acknowledging the presence of the wicked around him. Living by faith is not denying reality, rather it is looking ahead to a future grounded in the promises of God. There may be trials and wickedness all around. The world may seem to be unjust. But God is not indifferent! God is not helpless! He is not slack in keeping His promises! God waits in patient mercy for the right time to act. As one scholar has noted, “A prepared heart will always find a prepared God.”

Throughout this psalm, we find three aspects of the psalmist’s difficult situation:

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more.

A) It is sometimes painful to be surrounded by the unrighteous. Here it is called an “affliction.” Indeed, dealing with one who has no fear of God can seem to be an “affliction” to those of us who live trusting in the One they have forsaken!

B) Our circumstances often dictate our feelings which in turn influence our thoughts. We are creatures of feelings! But sometimes our feelings are untrustworthy and they result in thoughts that may be inaccurate where God is concerned. When we are able to change the character of our thoughts, the character of our hearts will also change and will see God’s character correctly.

C) Trials may be salutary experiences. David once said:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. (Psalm 119:71)

Looking back over our lives, we should take the attitude David took. God teaches us great things in times of trouble; God may even speak to us through the wicked!

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