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Friday, October 4, 2013

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There is uncertainty as to how some parts of Psalm 58 should be translated. While the opening line in the NIV addresses rulers and judges (as do some other versions) but the RSV says “you gods,” and the KJV “O congregation.”  If this Psalm is targeting “the gods”, it is saying that they don’t judge well because their own hearts devise wrongs and their hands deal out violence on earth. There were many gods in the ancient world, but they were the creation of man’s imagination and reflected man’s corruptness. These gods behaved as humans do: They fought and quarrelled and schemed and deceived. While the God of the Bible created us in His image, men created their gods in their own image, so they were bound to be evil. How, then, could they possibly judge justly and uprightly?

If, however, David is speaking about unjust rulers and judges, the message of this Psalm is about them, for they too are human and act out their natural perversity. We expect judges to be incorruptible dispensers of justice; we look to rulers to maintain law and order and to create a safe society. But as stated by Baron Acton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” History is replete with stories of incredible acts of oppression and injustice. Across the devastated landscape march the dark shadows of rulers like Adolf Hitler and a myriad of others who have soaked their country’s soil with the blood of their own people. Why didn’t God intervene sooner to end their reign of terror? When we behold the wastelands of time strewn with the ravaged bodies of billions of victims by corrupt rulers and judges, we are moved to cry out with David, “Break the teeth in their mouths, O God, tear out, O Lord, the fangs of the lions!” Surely we are right to feel the utmost indignation at their inhumane abuse of power, and to long for the day when “the wicked will be swept away…. Then men will say, ‘Surely the righteous shall rejoice and be rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.’”

But consider this: Every one of these men was born an innocent baby, held to the breast of a loving mother. How did such an apparent innocence change into something so evil? Actually the potential was there from the start: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” The fearful truth is that we are all born with the same tendencies to evil. If we have not walked in their footsteps, we can only thank God. As one great preacher said, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

 

Garth Bainbridge
Ministerial Director
Greater Sydney Conference
Australia