Psalm 58 – Justice

Have you ever seen or read about something so evil you cry out to God for justice? Psalm 58 is just such a prayer.

But justice is a difficult topic.

We all want justice, but not when it involves our sin. We want God to make things fair when someone hurts us or treats us unfairly, yet we ask God to have mercy on us when we do the same. We hope God has patience with us when we struggle with sin but want instant judgment on those who offend us.

Christianity rightfully focuses on the mercy and love of God in sending His Son to save us from our sins. Even in the Old Testament God declares

“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin ..." Exodus 34:6-7

But continuing in the same passage God also warns

... but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:7

God forgives those who seek Him but will exact justice on those who arrogantly continue in their evil behavior, especially those who prey on the helpless.


The central verse and key passage in this psalm is verse 6

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! Psalm 58:6

This central passage is highlighted by four techniques:

  1. "God" and "Lord" function as book ends to the verse.
  2. This is the only use of the name Yahweh (Lord) in the psalm.
  3. There is a sudden change of address to speaking to God.
  4. The verse uses a unique symmetrical structure that is not as clear in English. Notice the symmetry in the actual order of words:

O God break the teeth in their mouths
the fangs of the young lions
tear (break) out O Lord

The psalmist is not afraid to cry out for justice. Lets take a closer look at each section.


The Injustice of Human Rulers

Psalm 58:1-5

The psalmist begins by pointing out that the rulers of this earth are people of injustice and violence.

Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
    Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
    your hands deal out violence on earth. Psalm 58:1-2

This is not to say that all leaders are evil. David, the author, is a leader himself. But power does have a way of corrupting people. Injustice and violence so often are the norm for people in power. It is certainly not hard to think of a violent or unjust action being committed by someone in power. In fact it is so common that I don't even need to give an example - you have already thought of one.

The Cry for Justice

Psalm 58:6-9

Here is where we find our central verse. David is not gentle in his cry for justice.

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! Psalm 58:6

"Lord, make them powerless to hurt anyone else!" is David's cry. When we think of the atrocities that occur every day - of the helpless people forced into slavery, tortured for their faith, murdered for being the wrong ethnicity, and on and on it goes - when we think of these evils we should join with David and cry out, "O Lord, end the evil!"

Rejoicing in God's Justice

Psalm 58:10-11

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Psalm 58:10

Wait! What did I just read? The righteous will do what?

This image is taken from the battlefield that David was so used to seeing as a soldier. The victor in a battle - one such as David fought, with swords, spears and arrows - would naturally "bathe his feet in blood" as he walked over the defeated enemies.

The idea is not that we take pleasure in or dance in the gore of a slain enemy, but that we rejoice knowing that the evil has been defeated and the evil person can no longer harm the helpless. For David this happened when he defeated the enemy in battle, like when he lifted up the head of Goliath.

The image is harsh to our modern sensibilities, but intentionally selected to emphasize how much we should hate evil and desire its end. No we should not rejoice in bloodshed, but we should rejoice when good conquers evil. Then we can join the psalmist and say,

“Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.” Psalm 58:11


God is just. We may not see it now, but God will call everyone to account. Although it is wrong to seek vengeance, it is right to desire justice. It is right to join with the psalmist and cry out for God to punish evil people who prey on the weak.

Yes, we are to love our enemies, but that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the injustice in this world. It is good news that evil will one day be destroyed.

We can rejoice in the justice of God!

Jerry Wyrick

This post is part of a series on the Psalms.

by Jerry Wyrick, President of Worship Arts Conservatory

Posted in General Worship, Psalms and tagged .