The Prayer of Psalm 10

This is the first in my series of posts about prayers which ask for God’s protection as found in the Psalms. As I mentioned in last week’s post (see “Prayer and the Christian Life“) I have been struggling of late to put my trust in God the way I know I should. I think part of the solution for me is linking prayer with “faith rest.” If I ask God for protection and guidance I don’t believe that He would deny either to me unless there is a significant reason (e.g. Job).

Up front I want to apologize for the disorganized, almost stream of consciousness, structure of this post. The disorganized feel of the post reflects my own struggle to sort out the meaning of the passage.

Psalm 10 is a prayer for protection and deliverance from enemies which is exactly the topic that I am trying to learn more about. My study so far has generated more questions than it has answered! However that is probably good since people who have no questions never seem to learn much.

The first thing that caught my attention when reading Psalm 10 is that parts of it are imprecatory (follow this link for a discussion of imprecatory prayer). A good example of this is verse 15 which asks God to “break the arm of the wicked and evil.” Maybe that is merely a metaphor but I was always taught that imprecatory prayer was no longer valid since Christ forbade it in the Sermon on the Mount:

43 “You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:43-48

There is a something here that bothers me that I hadn’t thought about until now. Christ came to fulfill every jot and tittle of the Mosaic Law and He didn’t alter the Law in any way (if you can change the rules midstream then they don’t mean much). Fair enough but the command to pray for your enemies came while the Mosaic Law was still in effect, why hadn’t ancient Israel been commanded not to make imprecatory prayers? Were those imprecatory prayers in violation of this principle? If imprecatory prayers were in violation of the Mosaic Law wouldn’t such Psalms have been left out of scripture? I don’t have an answer to those questions.

We Americans love experts. There are experts all over the place willing to enlighten us on just about any topic. In that spirit I thought I would provide the introduction to this Psalm from the Bible Knowledge Commentary:

The idea of praise for righteous vindication, clearly evident in Psalm 9, is less pronounced in Psalm 10. This is a prayer for God not to delay His help for the afflicted. The psalmist described the awesome power of the wicked in their impiety toward God and their lurking against the helpless. Then he pleaded with God to arise and revenge the oppressed by breaking the wicked.

Bible Knowledge Commentary
p. 799

According to the same article Psalm 10 is organized as follows:

  • Verses 1 through 11 are a description of the wicked.
  • Verses 12 through 18 are an appeal for vengeance.

Frankly I believe they have it wrong. Verses 1 through 11 are not merely a description of the wicked. If you read those verses they are an indictment of the wicked. It reads like a prosecutor making a case before a judge.

After the case is made then the prosecutor goes on to ask the judge to execute judgment. This isn’t an appeal for vengeance in the usual sense of the word but a demand that justice be done.

In the course of my research I found another outline of Psalm 10 (link here) which draws on the work of William VanGemeren (a Reformed theologian). This outline is more detailed and I think does a better, but not perfect, job. VanGemeren believes that this Psalm has a chiastic structure as follows:

A. Questions (v. 1)
**B. The Rule of the Wicked (vv. 2-11)
****X. Prayer of Confidence for Deliverance (vv. 12-15)
**B’ The Rule of God (v. 16)
A’ Resolution(vv. 17-18)

I am not sure how much confidence in deliverance the Psalm’s author is showing in verses 12 through 15. There are certainly hints of it but they are muted in my opinion. I will have to think about this some more.

Also note verses 1 and 12 which I have bolded below. When I first read these verses I cringed since they seemed blasphemous to me. Look at verse 1, the author is accusing God Himself of hiding in times of trouble. Is the author calling God a coward? Something very similar happens when the author asks omniscient God not to forget the afflicted in verse 12. Wow!

Keep in mind that the Psalms were sung by Jews for centuries. Psalms like this one would have been used to train young people how to pray. Did generations of Jews make similar prayers using Psalm 10 as an example? When times were difficult was it acceptable to challenge God, the Almighty Himself, to destroy the wicked?

The author of this Psalm (probably King David) makes statements that just about every Pastor I know would tell me not to make. Statements that seem to be belligerent towards God and question His justice. Statements that challenge teachings I have heard since my youth. I will write a follow-up post next week which spells out some of what I was taught about prayer and how this Psalm appears to break many of “the rules.”

Psalm 10

Lord, why do You stand so far away?
Why do You hide in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked relentlessly pursue the afflicted;
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.

For the wicked one boasts about his own cravings;
the one who is greedy curses and despises the Lord.
In all his scheming,
the wicked arrogantly thinks:
“There is no accountability,
since God does not exist.”
His ways are always secure;
Your lofty judgments are beyond his sight;
he scoffs at all his adversaries.
He says to himself, “I will never be moved—
from generation to generation without calamity.”
Cursing, deceit, and violence fill his mouth;
trouble and malice are under his tongue.
He waits in ambush near the villages;
he kills the innocent in secret places.
His eyes are on the lookout for the helpless;
he lurks in secret like a lion in a thicket.
He lurks in order to seize the afflicted;
he seizes the afflicted and drags him in his net.
10 So he is oppressed and beaten down;
the helpless fall because of his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God has forgotten;
He hides His face and will never see.”

12 Rise up, Lord God! Lift up Your hand.
Do not forget the afflicted.
13 Why has the wicked person despised God?
He says to himself, “You will not demand an account.”
14 But You Yourself have seen trouble and grief,
observing it in order to take the matter into Your hands.
The helpless entrusts himself to You;
You are a helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evil person;
call his wickedness into account
until nothing remains of it.

16 The Lord is King forever and ever;
the nations will perish from His land.
17 Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will strengthen their hearts.
You will listen carefully,
18 doing justice for the fatherless and the oppressed
so that men of the earth may terrify them no more.

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2 Comments on “The Prayer of Psalm 10”

  1. jeff Says:

    The Imprecatory Psalms are cool! I preached through Psalms a few years back and I encouraged the church to not be afraid of praying this way, this is Spirit-breathed Scripture, do we judge the Spirit by being too holy for them?

    My take on them is that you take your vengeance to God, you don’t mount up and take it into your own hands. The Psalms are not specifically written for an audience, but as a prayer between a believer and his God. Vengeance is the Lord’s, He will repay, the imprecatory Psalms are an acknowledgment of that fact. The best place to go with all our troubles is to God in prayer, no one else can truly help, especially in terms of wicked jerks. Going on about wicked people to others is a problem; going on about them to God seems perfectly OK with God.

    I also noticed that in most imprecatory Psalms that begin with flaming rhetoric, they end in praise to God. A shift in attitude seems to mark most of them and I think this is the peace that comes from letting it all go before God.

    Just some thoughts.

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Jeff,

      Thank you for your comment. I think there is a lot of truth in what you said. Actually I can’t dispute any of it. A lot of my problem is what I have been taught about prayer and this Psalm just doesn’t “fit.” It is always difficult to re-evaluate doctrines that we have held for a long time.

      In the post I should publish tomorrow I give some background on what I have been taught about prayer. There is a lot of truth in what I have been taught but I am not certain that it is complete.

      Glenn


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