Because this psalm has no title (in the midst of several psalms that do), and because it shares some similar themes with Psalm 9, some have thought that it was originally the second half of Psalm 9. There are more reasons to doubt this than to believe it; this psalm rightly stands on its own as a psalm of lament at the seeming prosperity of the wicked but ultimate confidence in the judgments of God.
“There is not, in my judgment, a Psalm which describes the mind, the manners, the works, the words, the feelings, and the fate of the ungodly with so much propriety, fullness, and light, as this Psalm.” (Martin Luther, cited in Charles Spurgeon)
A. Questioning the success of the wicked.
1. (1-4) Questioning the seeming inactivity of God against the wicked.
Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do You hide in times of trouble?
The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor;
Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.
For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire;
He blesses the greedy and renounces the LORD.
The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God;
God is in none of his thoughts.
a. Why do You stand afar off, O LORD? Here, the psalmist asked a question well known to those who follow God: the concern, the anxiety, over the seeming inactivity of God. The psalmist felt that God was afar off and did even hide in times of trouble.
i. “The presence of God is the joy of his people, but any suspicion of his absence is distracting beyond measure…. It is not the trouble, but the hiding of our Father’s face, which cuts us to the quick.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Times of trouble: According to Maclaren, this was a rare word in the ancient Hebrew vocabulary, used only here and in Psalm 9:9. “It means a cutting off, i.e., of hope of deliverance. The notion of distress intensified to despair is conveyed.”
b. The wicked in his pride persecutes the poor: This explains why the psalmist was so troubled by the seeming inactivity of God. He sees the wicked, proud man who not only persecutes the poor and approves other sinners (blesses the greedy), but he also sins against God (renounces the LORD…does not seek God…God is in none of his thoughts).
i. We immediately recognize that anyone who renounces the LORD is sinful. Yet the psalmist here puts the one who does not seek God and the one who does not think about God (God is in none of his thoughts) in the same category as the one who renounces the LORD.
ii. Men do not seek God; this is a great sin. Men do not think about God; this also is a great sin. Man has obligations to God as His Creator and sovereign, and it is a sin to neglect them. Man commits these sins because of his proud countenance; ignoring God is an expression of our independence and perceived equality (or superiority) to Him.
iii. Poole observed that pride is in the heart, “yet it is manifested in the countenance, and is therefore oft described by lofty looks.”
iv. “A brazen face and a broken heart never go together…. Honesty shines in the face, but villainy peeps out at the eyes.” (Spurgeon)
v. It can be said of the proud, wicked man in this psalm, God is in none of his thoughts. At the same time, he cannot not think of God, as he does later in Psalm 10:11 and 13 (the thoughts, God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see…You will not require an account). Try as he may, he can’t stop thinking about God.
c. Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised: This was the prayer of the psalmist regarding the wicked. In other psalms this is a confident expectation (such as Psalm 9:15); here it is a heartfelt prayer.
i. “There are none who will dispute the justice of God, when he shall hang every Haman on his own gallows, and cast all the enemies of his Daniels into their own den of lions.” (Spurgeon)
2. (5-7) The pride of the wicked.
His ways are always prospering;
Your judgments are far above, out of his sight;
As for all his enemies, he sneers at them.
He has said in his heart, “I shall not be moved;
I shall never be in adversity.”
His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression;
Under his tongue is trouble and iniquity.
a. His ways are always prospering: Here, the psalmist protested to God; not only did the wicked man seem to enjoy constant prosperity, but he did so because God’s judgments are far above, out of his sight.
i. We can imagine the psalmist thinking, “If only God would demonstrate His judgment to this wicked man, he would change his ways.” This may sound like a complaint against God and in some sense is; yet it should more so be seen as complete confidence in God’s rule and authority. The psalmist recognized that the wicked could never prosper unless God allowed it; so he appealed to God to not allow it.
b. He sneers at them…“I shall not be moved; I shall never be in adversity”…full of cursing and deceit and oppression: The psalmist examined and exposed the sins of the wicked man, who is not afraid of his enemies. There is pride and sin in the wicked man’s heart, in his mouth, and under his tongue. No wonder the psalmist wanted God to stop this kind of sinner!
i. We are impressed at how often the wicked speech of men – which is often today regarded as no sin at all – is regarded as sin in Psalms. “Cursing, lying, threatening, and troubling and evil speech are all destructive. They flow from one who does not believe that God will hold him or her accountable.” (Boice)
ii. “Such cursing men are cursed men.” (Trapp)
iii. “What a finished character! A blasphemer, a deceitful man, and a knave!” (Clarke)
iv. “He wants no prophet to teach him, no priest to atone for him, no king to conduct for him; he needs neither a Christ to redeem, nor a Spirit to sanctify him; he believes no Providence, adores no Creator, and fears no Judge.” (Horne)
3. (8-11) The violence and blasphemy of the wicked.
He sits in the lurking places of the villages;
In the secret places he murders the innocent;
His eyes are secretly fixed on the helpless.
He lies in wait secretly, as a lion in his den;
He lies in wait to catch the poor;
He catches the poor when he draws him into his net.
So he crouches, he lies low,
That the helpless may fall by his strength.
He has said in his heart,
“God has forgotten;
He hides His face;
He will never see.”
a. He sits in the lurking places of the villages: The psalmist continued his examination of the wicked man (or men) who had troubled him so. Key to the nature of this wicked man is secrecy (lurking places…secret places…eyes are secretly fixed…lies in wait secretly…he lies low).
b. He murders the innocent: Another characteristic of the wicked man is seen in how he is a bully, focusing his violence against the weak (the innocent…the helpless…the poor). He isn’t manful or honorable enough to openly fight those who might effectively fight back.
i. The helpless: “The pathetic state of his victims is shown in the reiterated word hapless, or ‘poor wretch’ (New English Bible), found only here (Psalm 10:8,10,14).” (Kidner)
ii. “‘Helpless’ is a word only found in this psalm (vv. 8,10,14), which has received various explanations, but is probably derived from a root meaning to be black, and hence comes to mean miserable, hapless, or the like.” (Maclaren)
c. God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see: For the psalmist, this made the murder, oppression, and bullying of the wicked man all the worse. He did it all cherishing the thought that God has forgotten, and would never see his wickedness against the poor and helpless.
i. It is common for men to think that God has forgotten their sins simply because it seems, to those men, that they were committed a long time ago. “Is it not a senseless thing to be careless of sins committed long ago? The old sins forgotten by men, stick fast in an infinite understanding. Time cannot raze out that which hath been known from eternity.” (Stephen Charnock, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. We can fairly say that this added blasphemy against God to the wicked man’s many sins against mankind. We can imagine the psalmist’s blood boiling as he thought about this smiling, self-assured sinner and the pleasure he took in his sin.
iii. We also notice a great difference between the pain in the believer who fears God has forgotten (as in Psalm 10:1), and the sinner who vainly hopes and takes false comfort in the idea that God has forgotten.
B. A prayer to God for protection and vindication.
1. (12-13) A call upon God to take action.
Arise, O LORD!
O God, lift up Your hand!
Do not forget the humble.
Why do the wicked renounce God?
He has said in his heart,
“You will not require an account.”
a. Arise, O LORD: The psalmist simply called upon God to take action. “LORD, this wicked man finds comfort in the idea that You won’t do anything against him. Arise, O LORD; lift up Your hand against this wicked man!”
i. It is not stated in this untitled psalm, but it is often assumed that David wrote this psalm, because it is arranged in the midst of several psalms that are specifically attributed to David (Psalms 3-9; 11-32). Yet we know David to be a man of valiant action and warrior spirit, not the kind to stand passively back while the wicked murdered and terrorized the weak and helpless. The only exception to this would be if the wicked man were in a place of God-appointed authority, such as Saul was in Israel. Perhaps this psalm was a cry of David for God to stop Saul, because David knew that it was not his place to lift his hand against the LORD’s anointed.
b. Why do the wicked renounce God? The psalmist answered his own question in the next lines. The wicked renounce God because they say in their heart that God will not require an account.
i. “The long-suffering of God, instead of leading such a one to repentance, only hardens him in his iniquity. Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, he thinks it will not be executed at all.” (Horne)
ii. This observation has an inherent prayer: “LORD, require an account from this wicked man who renounces You!”
2. (14-15) Asking for God’s help in view of His kindness to the helpless.
But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief,
To repay it by Your hand.
The helpless commits himself to You;
You are the helper of the fatherless.
Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man;
Seek out his wickedness until You find none.
a. But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief: Upon further reflection, the psalmist recognized that God has indeed seen, because He sees and cares about the trouble and grief of the poor and helpless.
b. To repay it by Your hand: Here is the confidence of the psalmist in God’s judgments. He most certainly will repay the wicked for their sins. God will indeed answer the helpless and be the helper of the fatherless.
c. Break the arm of the wicked and the evil man: The psalmist called upon God to help the weak by shattering the wicked and the evil man, and to thoroughly seek out his wickedness until You find none.
3. (16-18) Confidence in God’s judgments.
The LORD is King forever and ever;
The nations have perished out of His land.
LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble;
You will prepare their heart;
You will cause Your ear to hear,
To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
That the man of the earth may oppress no more.
a. The LORD is King forever and ever: The psalmist began with almost despair in his times of trouble; he ends with calm confidence in the reign of the LORD as an eternal King.
i. God had long been declared the King of Israel (Exodus 15:18), even when His people rejected His rule (1 Samuel 8:7-9). If David wrote this psalm (especially during a time of persecution from Saul), the words the LORD is King forever and ever would have special meaning, recognizing the reign of God even over the troubled and dysfunctional reign of Saul.
b. The nations have perished out of His land: Remembering the past victories of God against the cruel enemies of His people (in this case, the Canaanites who occupied His land) gave the psalmist greater confidence regarding the present help of the LORD.
i. “They are all either cut off or converted. This may refer to the Canaanites. What a mercy that we can say this of our own country! Once it was entirely heathen; now not one heathen family in the whole land.” (Adam Clarke, speaking of his native England)
c. You have heard the desire of the humble…You will prepare their heart…You will cause Your ear to hear: This continues to express the calm confidence of the psalmist. God will not abandon the poor and needy, but will help and bless them.
i. “David does not say, ‘Thou hast heard the prayer of the humble;’ he means that, but he also means a great deal more. Sometimes, we have desires that we cannot express; they are too big, too deep; we cannot clothe them in language. At other times, we have desires which we dare not express; we feel too bowed down, we see too much of our own undesert to be able to venture near the throne of God to utter our desires; but the Lord hears the desire when we cannot or dare not turn it into the actual form of a prayer.” (Spurgeon)
ii. With a wonderful phrase – You will prepare their heart – the psalmist reminds us that the spiritual preparation of the heart is a great gift, an answer to prayer, and a mark of God’s blessing. “Surely none but the Lord can prepare a heart for prayer. One old writer says it is far harder work to raise the big bell into the steeple than to ring it afterwards. This witness is true. When the bell is well hung you can ring it readily enough; but in that uplifting of the heart lies the work and the labor.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The ‘humble’ and lowly, whatever they may suffer in the world, are the favourites of Jehovah: that he attends to the very ‘desires’ of their hearts: that such hearts ‘prepared’ to prayer, are so many instruments strung and tuned by the hand of heaven.” (Horne)
iv. “Where God giveth a praying heart it is sure that he will show a pitying heart. If he prepare the heart, he will also bend his ear.” (Trapp)
v. “See the economy of the grace of God: 1. God prepares the heart; 2. Suggests the prayer; 3. Hears what is prayed; 4. Answers the petition. He who has got a cry in his heart after God, may rest assured that that cry proceeded from a Divine preparation, and that an answer will soon arrive. No man ever had a cry in his heart after salvation, but from God. He who continues to cry shall infallibly be heard.” (Clarke)
d. To do justice…that the man of the earth may oppress no more: The psalmist ends with assurance of God’s justice applied to the wicked. What began with a sense of despair in times of trouble has ended with calm confidence in God’s justice and victory.
i. The man of the earth: “Earthly and mortal men, who are made of the dust, and must return to it, such as the oppressors of the people are.” (Poole)
ii. “Under the rule of God, the day must come when, ‘That man who is of the earth may be terrible no more.’ These were the concluding words of the song, and they constitute a fitting answer to its opening inquiry.” (Morgan)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org