“O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.”
— Psalm 10:17-18 (NRSV)
This lament of bitter complaint for what the wicked and unjust get away with has no superscription, and though it reads like it comes from David’s genre there is no such clue; unless we, like a lot of commentators do, link it with Psalm 9. Then it is David’s.
Those “from earth” are the many worldly ones who do what their despicable hearts conspire, denying the Sovereignty of God that will inevitably judge them. Faith has it that the psalmist, and those sympathising, can believe that ‘right’ will ultimately prevail over ‘might’.
Verse 1 is as raw as it is powerful. If we pray this single verse aloud, with the corresponding emotion, we’ll soon learn what it feels like to pray uncomfortably, thinking, “Can we talk to God like that?” Yet, anyone who has been dealt cruel blows in life must certainly have prayed these ways.
God seems absent. And, when God seems most absent, he’s never more present.
We know it in our own experience; the Lord seems not to help when we most need it. Then, as we look back from a better place—as the Footprints poem suggests—we see that God was far from absent. But such knowledge doesn’t come to our rescue when we are deep in distress.
Descriptions of Wickedness – the Source of Lament
It might be that Psalm 9 deals with wickedness beyond Israel, or outside the church, and Psalm 10 the wickedness occurring within the nation, or inside the church. We don’t need to be sarcastic suggesting the rhetorical, “Really? Wickedness in the church?” We know it happens, because the church is full of sick and broken people just as there are sick and broken people everywhere beyond its walls.
Verses 2-11 feature a protracted description of the psalmist’s vision that perplexes them. What they see explains why they reconcile God as standing far off, hiding himself in times of trouble (verse 1).
And of course we identify with this.
We see people doing the wrong thing and getting away with it. They say what they want and are not held to account, whilst we carefully select our words and perhaps get in trouble. Some intentionally trick the “helpless,” taking advantage, and when we choose advocacy we might be implicated, somehow, in wrongdoing. The courage it takes to reverse injustice involves risk because the nasty are upset and the claws are out.
Verses 12, 15 and 17 carry the pleading refrain. Now we begin to notice the transformation in the psalmist’s mood; distress and complaint are gradually giving way to faith-tied pleas, for that all-powerful Sovereign will of God to save those who are suffering.
The pinnacle of the final third is verse 16—a valiant statement of confidence in the Lord to restore justice.
As we consider laments like this, as well as the repetitiveness of laments in the Psalms generally, we can again rest assured that God is Sovereign, in control, and reckoning plans for Judgment, eternally.
God seems absent because there are often so many more reminders of evil in our world than good. Our minds polarise toward the bad we see, and away from evidence of God’s Sovereignty. The Lord is so good to have provided us the freedom to think either way we wish, but, literally, we are not thankful when thoughts tend negative.
We can always expect in our deepest trials to feel as though God is not present.
We can, however, learn the habit of knowing the Lord is always present, helping us even when we don’t see or feel it. Such knowledge is faith personified in and through us.
When God seems most absent, he is never more present. Don’t forget to take him with you into your storm. Imagine he is there and he is there!
© 2011, 2015 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: W. Graham Scroggie, A Guide to the Psalms: a Comprehensive Analysis of the Psalms – Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1995), pp. 78-85.