Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A Snail Dissolving into Slime

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.”

How does a Christian deal with sentiments like this?

It is reasonable to classify Psalm 58 among the so-called “imprecatory psalms”. It is certainly replete with cries for vengeance, not just justice. My favorite couplet is this one: “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.”

We know snails don’t actually dissolve, but that’s Hebrew poetry for you. The image is certainly memorable. But it’s definitely not “love your enemies” stuff. It’s basically a curse. It’s thinking that comes from — or anticipates — a different era in human history, and it looks for outcomes the believer in the day of grace does not and should not.

But is it wrong? I think not.

Bathing Your Feet

David sometimes wrote about things that had actually happened to him. This is probably not that. Despite being the writer of more than a few imprecatory psalms, David characteristically loved his enemies. The enemy who most eagerly and persistently tried to end his life was King Saul. David had other banes of his existence, but none who harried, bad-mouthed and attempted to murder him so pointlessly for so long. If anyone could have provoked curses in the mouth of David, you would think it would be Saul.

But that’s not who David is writing about here, is it? In fact, David wrote his very next psalm about the attempts of Saul and his Benjamite kindred to end his life. And what request does he make of God concerning them? “Kill them not, lest my people forget.” Contrary to all normal practice and common sense, David guarded Saul’s life like his own. When he finally heard news of Saul’s death, knowing full well his enemy’s demise was greatly to his personal benefit, David tore his clothes, mourned, wept, fasted and had the young man who took credit for Saul’s death executed on the spot. Then he promptly wrote a lament for his enemy that called him “beloved and lovely”, swifter than an eagle and stronger than a lion.

If that’s bathing your feet in the blood of the wicked, then David definitely needed to up his game. No, this wasn’t about Saul.

Another Time, Another Place

So who is David writing about here? I suggest it is not one of his own enemies at all. This is not a personal rant. David’s own vengeance is not in view here, even if he were disposed to pursue it. In that respect at least, David was more “Christian” than some Christians.

Rather, I suspect the prophet has gone to another time and another place, where the target of his imprecations is not an enemy of his own, but rather the enemies of God himself. He finishes Psalm 58 with this line: “Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.’ ”

So then, David’s goal is not personal vindication, but rather the glory of God in this world. His objective in praying for the downfall of truly evil men is that God’s character and purposes might be understood by all who look on, and that the destruction of God’s enemies will bring him the glory he so richly deserves.

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