Psalm 10 is one of the longer Psalms that we have studied and it is one of the more interesting. It is a psalm that is filled with anguish at the injustices against the godly. It is a psalm that shows us the attributes of God and reveals the characteristics of the ungodly person. It shows that the writer of the psalm was as frustrated then, as we are now, about how the ungodly oppressor is able to continue his ways throughout his life, and often beyond his own through family or agents.
I think you’ll find it interesting, even though it may be a bit hard to “get into” at first. As you persist and do more studying on your own, you’ll glean more meaning from the words and phrases used that will reveal the content of this Psalm.
Ptolemy Philadelphus, Pharaoh of Egypt (285-246 AD), is said to have ordered a translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, the language of the civilized world, so the great library at Alexandria would have a copy of the Torah in the language of the people. He gathered seventy rabbis and Hebrew scholars together to accomplish this task. The result of the work of the scholars was a bible called the Septuagint. One of the consequences of the “Council of Seventy” is that some of the texts in the bible were rearranged slightly. No one knows why and never will. Psalms 9 and 10 are the product of one of these alterations, being divided into two, more-or-less equal length psalms.
Psalm 10 is divided into three parts:
- A complaint to God against the ungodly oppressors; (vv. 1-12);
- A request that God will prove those who boast of their impunity wrong, (vv. 12-15); and
- The assurance that The Lord in King forever and ever and that He has heard the cry of His people and will vindicate them(vv. 16-18).
A Complaint to God
This first verse starts off with a pretty striking question: “Where are You and why are You hiding yourself?” David is the psalmist and he knows from experience that God is always near, still, he asks the question. Perhaps his real question is, “How can you be so distant in times like this?” He knows that God’s righteousness cannot allow this to continue.
1 Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
In verse two, we discover the reason for the question asked of God in verse one: the wicked and the ungodly are persecuting the poor. We’ll find out about the word “pride” later, but the interesting word in this verse is “persecute.”
The Hebrew word for persecute suggests heat, like the active heat of a fire. That is to say, it is the fire itself, not the passive part of the fire – that which is being burned. Therefore it could be said that the wicked pursues the poor “hotly” or with an unrelenting fervor. Some commentators interpret this passage to mean that the pride of the wicked is inflaming the poor, inciting them to riot, so to speak. While it is true that the word also means to “inflame,” I prefer the former meaning: that the ungodly actively pursues the poor.
The second half of this verse is a little confusing, but if we think about it, it will be made clear. Many authorities see this as “let the poor be taken in the traps of the wicked.” I just cannot see this as a valid explanation. It makes no sense. Why would the psalmist, who is addressing God on behalf of the poor, want the poor to be caught in the traps laid by the wicked? Also, if you are using the two pronouns, them and they, in the same sentence or clause, the words refer to the same person or group of persons.
2 The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined.
[The New International Version (NIV) translates this verse, making it easier to understand, as:
2 In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak, who are caught in the schemes he devises.]
Beginning with verse two, we begin to see the characteristics of the wicked – he persecutes the poor. We don’t know why, in that verse, but verse three reveals more. The wicked congratulates himself on his heart’s (or soul’s) desire, which is persecuting the poor (the godly). In addition, he blesses those who are like him – those who covet and seize upon those things they desire. To covet something is to desire something – a bit more extreme than just wishing for something – it is actually making plans for how to get it. We usually think of the method as being illegal, but it doesn’t have to be. The Hebrew word for covetous expresses gain through either legal means or illegal means. I think covetousness is more a state of mind that occupies all your actions and thoughts to the one goal: that of getting what you want, which is probably the idea behind the tenth commandment is talking about.
3 For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the LORD abhorreth .
Verse 4. “… through the pride of his countenance,” is literally translated as “the height of his nose.” A rather humorous remark if it were in a different context. I have an interlinear Bible that translates this verse as: “The wicked through pride of his face will not seek – there is no God in all of his schemes.” It tells us that at the height of his pride he will not seek after God.
I see the person in this verse as being so crafty, cunning and savvy in his business dealings and in his dealings with people that he has succumbed to the pride of doing everything for himself; he has no need of others or God. He walks around with his head held high and “looking down his nose” at everyone around him. Therefore, God is not a part of his life and worse, he does not believe that God will call him to accounts for the things he has done.
4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
The ways of the oppressor are always grievous to those under his thumb, but they are always prosperous and enduring to him. The judgments of God are out of his sight; that is to say the wicked man has no regard for the laws of God – they are “far from him.”
We could also consider this as a time reference – the time of judgment is not immediate, so he has no worries. This is the foil of all humanity. We all say, “I’m young and have plenty of time to accept Christ as my savior.” It is a mistake to have this attitude; any of us could be called home in a blink of an eye – we won’t necessarily have the “eleventh hour” to make amends with our Lord. (Read Job 20 for a description of the fate of the wicked.)
Frankly, I think both interpretations have merit, although the first is probably the more correct because we are told that the wicked man is haughty – higher and more important than anything else, including God and His laws.
The wicked in this chapter is also powerful. All he has to do is “puff” at his enemies and they are out of his way. What power does he wield? There are many, but I would think he has the power of the law, of friends in high places, of people who work for him. All he has to say is that so-and-so is bothering him and the problem is no longer a problem.
5 His ways are always grievous ; thy judgments are far above out of his sight: as for all his enemies , he puffeth at them.
[This verse from the NIV:
5. His ways are always prosperous; he is haughty and your laws are far from him; he sneers at his enemies.]
This picture of the wicked man is also a picture of an ideal person – one who lives on from generation to generation using the same successful schemes. He says he is not now, nor has he ever been in adversity.
6 He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved : for I shall never be in adversity.
Verse 7 deals with the words that come from the mouth of the wicked: they are full of cursings and lies to gain that which belongs to someone else. The Hebrew root of cursing means “middle” – like something that is hidden in the middle. What we have is a person whose tongue says one thing and yet, hidden in the heart is something completely different and completely opposite to what his mouth is saying.
The second part of this verse is very interesting. The Septuagint reads it as “bitterness” – under the tongue lies bitterness: poison. One of my sources uses the image of a serpent, the mouth of which has the sacs of poison under the teeth. When pressure is placed on them, the poison comes out and is passed to the victim. It is under the tongue that the prosperous sinner has an over-abundance of of evil to be used when it is needed.
7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.
Verses 8 through 10 describe the characteristics of the oppressor in his dealings with his neighbors.
He lies in wait where he can readily see his prey, ready to ambush, kill, and steal from the peaceable. The word “privily” means privately or secretly. The psalmist tells us the wicked has secretly set his eyes against the poor (the weak, the sorrowful, the afflicted) as his victim. He’s watching, calculating, and making his plans. In verse 9 he becomes a greater danger.
He is at the first given the image of a lion who hides himself, waiting to catch the poor. Then he becomes the hunter who casts his net over the unsuspecting. The psalmist has combined the cunning and scheming of the hunter with the violence of the lion to illustrate the method of the the oppressor.
Verse 10 illustrates his method of attack. He humbles himself, bowing low to ease the suspicion of the victim, luring the prey into his net and when they have fallen for the deception, he springs the trap, bringing his agents and representatives in to help his success.
8 He sitteth in the lurking places of the villages: in the secret places doth he murder the innocent: his eyes are privily set against the poor.
9 He lieth in wait secretly as a lion in his den: he lieth in wait to catch the poor: he doth catch the poor, when he draweth him into his net.
10 He croucheth , and humbleth himself, that the poor may fall by his strong ones.
Verse 11 describes what could be called the fatal flaw in the wicked (or any sinner, for that matter:) The mistake that God does not see the wrong-doings on the earth.
11 He hath said in his heart, God hath forgotten : he hideth his face; he will never see it.
Request to Prove the Wicked Wrong
Now the psalmist raises a call to God to take action on behalf of the oppressed. Lift up your hand to strike the ungodly; show the wicked that contrary to what they believe, you have not forgotten the godly and you will not forget what they have done to oppress your people.
12 Arise , O LORD; O God, lift up thine hand: forget not the humble .
How can God allow the wicked to disdain and scorn (contemn) Him? The wicked blatantly refuses to acknowledge God and he has said in the core of his being that God does not see what is happening and he will not be called to account!
13 Wherefore doth the wicked contemn God? he hath said in his heart, Thou wilt not require it.
But the psalmist is bolstered in his faith and he contradicts the stand of the wicked. He knows that God has seen what the oppressor has done to the poor and will take the case in hand. Furthermore, the poor puts his trust in God because He is the protector of and provider to the poor and afflicted.
14 Thou hast seen it; for thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with thy hand: the poor committeth himself unto thee; thou art the helper of the fatherless.
David calls on God to end the means by which the wicked makes his gain, “Break thou the arm …” Search everywhere until there is no more of his evil to be found. Destroy it and wipe it off the face of the earth!
15 Break thou the arm of the wicked and the evil man: seek out his wickedness till thou find none.
The Lord is King
Verses 16 through 18 is an affirmation that God is the King of kings and will remain so forever. David considers the cleansing of the land of the wicked and the oppressor to be accomplished.
16 The LORD is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.
Faith assures him that God has heard the cry and desire of the humble – to be free and to be able to live without threat. God will prepare their heart … a source says this means God will prepare their heart to ask for only that which is pleasing to Him. He will teach them to do His will. They are then on firm ground, standing with the protection of the Lord and able to resist all Satan’s assaults with the firm conviction of obtaining God’s promised deliverance.
17 LORD, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear :
God will vindicate them from the wrongs of the wicked man and through that judgment and vindication, the earthly man (who is weak, mortal, and opposed to God) will no longer be able to terrify and oppress.
18 To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.