This blog continues my tranlsation of Psalms 42-72, with brief commentary
To the Choir leader. To “Do not destroy” A Miktam for David.
Do you truly command justice, you Rulers
Do you give fair verdicts on Adam’s children?
No, in your hearts you prepare injustice;
your hands weigh out violence on earth.
Evildoers, they go wrong from the womb,
Divergent from birth, these speakers of false judgement.
They have venom like the venom of a snake,
like the deaf adder that shuts its ears
refusing to hear the notes of the charmer
however skilled his enchantment.
God, smash their teeth in their mouths!
Pull out the fangs of the young lions, Yahweh!
Make them flow away like dispersing water;
Make them rot like trampled grass;
make them like a slug that melts as it moves;
like an aborted foetus that never sees the sun;
Before they can sprout thorns like a bramble
either green or burnt, may he whirl them away!
Just people will jump for joy at the sight of vengeance;
they will bathe their feet in the blood of the evil ones.
”Yes,” it will be said, “Doing right gets rewarded;
Yes, there is a God who judges on earth.”
Wow! You don’t want to mess with this psalmist, or his God, or you may catch him wading in your blood. This is a very different psalm of complaint, where the personal wrongs of the author are lost in a general criticism of corrupt judges, the rulers addressed in the first lines. The king was the ultimate judge in the time of the monarchy, but males of the royal family and powerful chieftains also exercised the power of hearing issues and making judgement. If these were corrupt there would be no justice for the wronged person. In that case, in the absence of justice, wronged people would make their own justice, often violently.
The psalmist holds out no hope of change in these corrupt judges: they are rotten from birth. Their present evil proves their evil origin. The bible often attributes character to conception. People choose evil because their birth permits them this choice. The metaphor of the snake emphasises the almost instinctive viciousness of the corrupt judges, whom no amount of persuasion will prevent from poisonous behaviour.
The metaphor gets mixed almost immediately as the snake becomes a young lion. My own, not very scholarly opinion is that mixing traditional metaphors was held to be skilful in Hebrew poetry. Still, the modern reader at least is stunned by the sudden violence of the prayer: smash their teeth, pull out the fangs, and so on. The anger of the psalmist speaks across the centuries. We know what he/she felt, and we know we have felt the same sort of thing. We should note that because the psalmist believes that vengeance against the powerful must be left to God, his/her desire for violent revenge are passed over to God. A God who can be trusted to take revenge on our behalf, is a God to whom we can draw close in our rage. The curses expressed here are sufficiently imaginative to satisfy the most urgent rejection of the corrupt establishment, since they all propose a seeping away of corrupt life.
The last four lines are a logical culmination of what has gone before: the unjust judges have been judged by God and have fallen from power. The former victim of their power is delighted, and metaphorically bathes his feet ( symbol of his ability to move) in the blood of his oppressors. There is no sense of regret at the destruction of the enemy, and the psalm ends with an affirmation of divine justice.
Persons of Christian faith like myself should not dare to alter or sideline this assertion of justice. Anything which derives from Jesus may be more than this equal justice, but it should never be less.