“In this song we see how the very things which assault faith, and threaten to produce despair, may be made the opportunity for praise, in the place and act of worship.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. The rebellious and wicked who must hear and obey God.
1. (1-3) Recognizing God as Judge of the earth.
O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongs—
O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
Render punishment to the proud.
LORD, how long will the wicked,
How long will the wicked triumph?
a. O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongs: The psalmist begins with the simple and profound recognition that vengeance belongs to God. He sees and judges righteously among mankind and will bring vengeance as appropriate.
· This means that vengeance does not belong to man.
· This means that vengeance belongs to One who sees more than we see and knows more than we know.
· This means it is appropriate to ask God to dispense vengeance and trust His superior knowledge, wisdom, and timing in doing so.
i. In Jeremiah 51:56, God is given the title, the God of recompense, and we are assured, He will surely repay.
ii. “God is the author of retributive justice, as well as of mercy. This retributive justice is what we often term vengeance, but perhaps improperly; for vengeance with us signifies an excitement of angry passions, in order to gratify a vindictive spirit, which supposes itself to have received some real injury; whereas what is here referred to is that simple act of justice which gives to all their due.” (Clarke)
iii. “Dr. Samuel Johnson, the maker of the first great English dictionary, made the distinction well when he said, ‘Revenge is an act of passion, vengeance of justice; injuries are revenged, crimes are avenged.’” (Boice)
b. O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth: The repetition of the statement adds more than emphasis and intensity. It also connects God’s vengeance with His glory, His shining forth. In the end, vengeance upon sin and sinners is part of God’s own glory.
i. Maclaren spoke to the repetition of the request: “A man in straits continues to cry for help till it comes, or till he sees it coming.”
ii. “The prayer for Yahweh to ‘shine forth’ is a prayer for a theophany, when the Lord appears in his royal splendor to bring justice into a world of anarchy.” (VanGemeren)
c. Rise up, O Judge of the earth: The psalmist has committed the work of vengeance to God but will still pray that God fulfills His office and will render punishment to the proud.
i. Morgan described how, through the centuries, God’s persecuted people have prayed like this: “In catacombs, in dungeons, in places of the uttermost desolation – when it has seemed to sense that the way of God was blocked, that His rule was overcome, that all evil things had gained the victory – these songs have arisen, proclaiming Him King, mocking all the vain and foolish thoughts of man, and declaring His ultimate victory.”
ii. “They who have no profound loathing of sin, or who have never felt the crushing weight of legalised wickedness, may shrink from such aspirations as the psalmist’s, and brand them as ferocious; but hearts longing for the triumph of righteousness will not take offence at them.” (Maclaren)
iii. “If the execution of justice be a right thing – and who can deny the fact? – then it must be a very proper thing to desire it; not out of private revenge, in which case a man would hardly dare to appeal to God, but out of sympathy with right, and pity for those who are made wrongfully to suffer.” (Spurgeon)
d. LORD, how long? This adds a note of urgency to the psalmist’s prayer. With a combination of boldness and humility, he asks God to account for the time until this righteous vengeance will be accomplished. Like the souls under the altar, the psalmist cries out, how long? (Revelation 6:9-10)
i. “So the only question about the power of evil is how long? (Psalm 94:3); there is no room for the crippling suspicion that God, perhaps, is blind (Psalm 94:7) or has done a deal with darkness (Psalm 94:20). Nothing has changed the Sun or corrupted the Judge: it is simply that the night is long (Psalm 94:1b, 2a).” (Kidner)
ii. How long? “Many a time has this bitter complaint been heard in the dungeons of the Inquisition, at the whipping-posts of slavery, and in the prisons of oppression. In due time God will publish his reply, but the full end is not yet.” (Spurgeon)
2. (4-7) Recognizing the rebellion of the wicked.
They utter speech, and speak insolent things;
All the workers of iniquity boast in themselves.
They break in pieces Your people, O LORD,
And afflict Your heritage.
They slay the widow and the stranger,
And murder the fatherless.
Yet they say, “The LORD does not see,
Nor does the God of Jacob understand.”
a. They utter speech, and speak insolent things: The first thing noted about the wicked is their words. They speak defiant, insolent things and they boast in themselves. Conversely, a mark of the righteous is their humble, gracious speech.
i. “Words often wound more than swords, they are as hard to the heart as stones to the flesh; and these are poured forth by the ungodly in redundance.” (Spurgeon)
b. They break in pieces Your people, O LORD: The next thing noted about the wicked is their actions against God’s people, those who are His heritage. They destroy them (break in pieces) and afflict them. Conversely, a mark of the righteous is their love for God’s people.
i. “These tyrants are not necessarily foreign; they may equally be home-born, like the apostate King Manasseh or the cynics of Isaiah 5:18ff.” (Kidner)
c. They slay the widow and the stranger: The third thing noted about the wicked is their attack against the weak and disadvantaged, extending even to murder. Conversely, a mark of the righteous is their care for the weak and disadvantaged.
i. “Must not such inhuman conduct as this provoke the Lord? Shall the tears of widows, the groans of strangers, and the blood of orphans be poured forth in vain? As surely as there is a God in heaven, he will visit those who perpetrate such crimes; though he bear long with them, he will yet take vengeance, and that speedily.” (Spurgeon)
d. The LORD does not see: The fourth thing about the wicked is their ignorance and arrogance toward God. They deny that He exists in the manner that He is revealed in the Bible. This ignorance of God leads to a deluded arrogance toward Him.
i. “They were blindly wicked because they dreamed of a blind God. When men believe that the eyes of God are dim, there is no reason to wonder that they give full license to their brutal passions.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “There is no obligation to speak smooth words to rulers whose rule is injustice and their religion impiety. Ahab had his Elijah, and Herod his John Baptist. The succession has been continued through the ages.” (Maclaren)
iii. The God of Jacob: “So they call him sarcastically; he who taketh that name to himself, but hath no regard to his people, but gives up his Jacob to the spoil, and to the rage of their enemies.” (Poole)
3. (8-11) Rebuking the senseless rebels.
Understand, you senseless among the people;
And you fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, shall He not hear?
He who formed the eye, shall He not see?
He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct,
He who teaches man knowledge?
The LORD knows the thoughts of man,
That they are futile.
a. Understand, you senseless among the people: The psalmist attempted what some think is a useless mission – to help the senseless and fools with instruction and understanding. He specifically spoke to those mentioned in the previous verse, who believed God did not see or understand their wickedness.
i. The idea of senseless is the same as in Psalm 92:6 – a brutish man, as much animal as human. “You who, though you think yourselves the wisest of men, yet in truth are the most brutish of all people…. You that have only the shape, but not the understanding, of a man in you.” (Poole)
b. He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? The logic is simple and solid. The God who created the ear can hear, and the God who created the eye can see. The God of all wisdom and knowledge will hold men and women to account for their lives.
i. “The logic is inescapable, once the premise is accepted that God is our Maker. What the psalm does not contemplate is the crowning absurdity, reserved for modern man, of rejecting even this.” (Kidner)
ii. “The psalmist does not say, He that planted the ear, hath he not an ear? He that formed the eye, hath he not eyes? No; but, Shall he not hear? Shall he not see! And why does he say so? To prevent the error of humanizing God, of attributing members or corporeal parts to the infinite Spirit.” (Clarke)
c. The LORD knows the thoughts of man: God’s wisdom is so great that He even knows the thoughts of men and women. This great God must be appropriately feared, respected, and obeyed. This was important for the senseless and fools to hear and maybe even understand.
i. The Apostle Paul later quoted Psalm 94:11 in 1 Corinthians 3:20 speaking of God’s triumph over the exaltation of defiant human wisdom and knowledge, and in Romans 1:21 speaking of the futility of man’s intellect against God.
B. The people of God who must hear and obey His instruction.
1. (12-15) Consolation for God’s people – they will never be cast off.
Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD,
And teach out of Your law,
That You may give him rest from the days of adversity,
Until the pit is dug for the wicked.
For the LORD will not cast off His people,
Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
But judgment will return to righteousness,
And all the upright in heart will follow it.
a. Blessed is the man whom You instruct: Perhaps the senseless and fools will never listen to God, but His people must. He will instruct and teach them from His word (out of Your law).
i. “Here it is the pupil speaking, not the teacher, and the words are a triumph of faith: a positive reaction to present trouble.” (Kidner)
ii. “All the chastening in the world, without divine teaching, will never make a man blessed; that man that finds correction attended with instruction, and lashing with lessoning, is a happy man.” (Brooks, cited in Spurgeon)
b. That You may give him rest from the days of adversity: This is a wonderful promise to those who receive the teaching from God’s word. They have rest when the inevitable days of adversity come. This rest is theirs until the pit is dug for the wicked, until God sets all things right in His judgment.
i. “There is rest from evil even while in evil, if we understand the purpose of evil.” (Maclaren)
ii. Days of adversity: “Remember the martyr-age, and the days of the Covenanters, who were hunted upon the mountains like the partridge. You must not wonder if the easy places of the earth are not yours, and if the sentinel’s stern duties should fall to your lot. It is so, and so it must be, for God has so ordained it.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Until the pit is dug for the wicked: “…until the cold grave hold his body, and hot hell hold his soul.” (Trapp)
c. For the LORD will not cast off His people: This is beautiful and powerful assurance, given first to Israel under the Old Covenant but extending to the child of God under a better covenant. Some teach that God did cast off Israel, but this and many other passages contradict that idea. With repetition and emphasis, God insists: Nor will He forsake His inheritance.
i. “Even if Satan should come, and whisper to you, ‘The Lord has cast thee off,’ do not believe it; it cannot be. The devil has his cast-offs, but God has no cast-offs. Sometimes he takes the devil’s castaways, and makes them to be the trophies of his mighty grace.” (Spurgeon)
d. Judgment will return to righteousness: God promises to bring His righteous reign and judgment to all things, bringing satisfaction to the upright in heart.
i. “All shall be set to rights, and every one have his due, according to Romans 2:6-10, if not sooner, yet at the day of judgment without fail.” (Trapp)
2. (16-19) Comfort for God’s people – God will help them.
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers?
Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
Unless the LORD had been my help,
My soul would soon have settled in silence.
If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up.
In the multitude of my anxieties within me,
Your comforts delight my soul.
a. Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? The previous lines of this psalm expressed satisfaction in God’s ultimate righteous judgment. Now the psalmist considers that this hoped-for day is not yet. He understands and expresses his own limitations in dealing with evildoers and workers of iniquity.
b. Unless the LORD had been my help: His rhetorical question was answered; the LORD had been and would be his help against the wicked.
i. “If we could find friends elsewhere, it may be our God would not be so dear to us; but when, after calling upon heaven and earth to help, we meet with no succour but such as comes from the eternal arm, we are led to prize our God, and rest upon him with undivided trust.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Settled in silence: “The psalmist confesses that he is deeply troubled by the evildoers, even so that he nearly slipped away into the netherworld.” (VanGemeren)
c. Your mercy, O LORD, will hold me up: God’s mercy would sustain him in the difficult day; even when it seemed that his foot slipped, he would not fall.
i. Will hold me up: “It is a metaphor taken from anything falling, that is propped, shored up, or buttressed. How often does the mercy of God thus prevent the ruin of weak believers, and of those who have been unfaithful!” (Clarke)
d. Your comforts delight my soul: With enemies and difficulties about him, the psalmist needed help and comfort from God. The LORD answered with many comforts that brought delight to his soul. This rescued him from the multitude of anxieties within.
i. Your comforts: “How sweet are the comforts of the Spirit! Who can muse upon eternal love, immutable purposes, covenant promises, finished redemption, the risen Saviour, his union with his people, the coming glory, and such like themes, without feeling his heart leaping with joy?” (Spurgeon)
ii. In the multitude of my anxieties within: “…whilst my heart was filled with various and perplexing thoughts, as this Hebrew word signifies, and tormented with cares and fears about my future state.” (Poole)
3. (20-23) Cover for God’s people – God is their defense.
Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law,
Have fellowship with You?
They gather together against the life of the righteous,
And condemn innocent blood.
But the LORD has been my defense,
And my God the rock of my refuge.
He has brought on them their own iniquity,
And shall cut them off in their own wickedness;
The LORD our God shall cut them off.
a. Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, have fellowship with You? The psalmist knew that wickedness is sometimes found in high places. Some thrones are marked by iniquity and some laws are devised by evil. Such will never fellowship with God.
i. This suggests the thought from 1 John 1:6: If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
ii. Which devises evil by law: “The height of crime is reached when rulers use the forms of justice as masks for injustice, and give legal sanction to ‘mischief.’ The ancient world groaned under such travesties of the sanctity of Law; and the modern world is not free from them.” (Maclaren)
iii. Which devises evil by law: “They legalise robbery and violence, and then plead that it is the law of the land; and so indeed it may be, but it is a wickedness for all that.” (Spurgeon)
b. They gather together against the life of the righteous: This kind of wickedness was described previously in Psalm 94:4-6, condemning innocent blood. John described the same wicked heart: Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you (1 John 3:13).
i. They gather together: “In everything that is evil, they are in unity. The devil, his angels, and his children, all join and draw together when they have for their object the destruction of the works of the Lord.” (Clarke)
c. But the LORD has been my defense: Though the wicked who were set against the psalmist were in high places, he had an even greater defense. God Himself was the rock of my refuge.
i. My defense…my refuge: “Having assured the righteous of things God will do for them, the writer now adds a word of personal testimony as if to say that what he has been promising to others he has proved true himself.” (Boice)
ii. “In him, even in him alone, we find safety, let the world rage as it may; we ask not aid from man, but are content to flee into the bosom of omnipotence.” (Spurgeon)
d. He has brought on them their own iniquity: The ultimate doom of the wicked is anticipated. His judgment would be righteous and fitting. Their doom would be connected to their own iniquity and in their own wickedness. The punishment would fit the crime and those who had cut off others would themselves be cut off. This was his confidence and defense.
i. He has brought on them their own iniquity: “That is the punishment of sin. It seems strange that it is so, but sin is the punishment of sin. When a man has once sinned, it is part of his punishment that he is inclined to sin again, and so on ad infinitum.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The repetition of cut them off gives great emphasis to the idea. It also matches the repetition of “vengeance” in the first verse of this psalm. The psalm begins with trusting God to set things right and ends with the same confidence.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org