April 21: Psalm 52


April 21: Psalm 52

The Righteous and the Wicked

Common meter double 86.86 D             Kingsfold, p. 60
Promised Land, p. 79
St. Anne (O God, our Help in Ages Past), p. 39
Azmon (O, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing), p. 49

Why boast yourself, O mighty man, of evil and of wrong?

The lovingkindness of our God is present all day long.

You with your subtle tongue have planned destruction to complete.

Your tongue a sharpened razor is, a worker of deceit.

You cherish evil more than good and falsehood more than right.

You cherish all devouring words, in lies you take delight.

Forever God will put you down, will seize you with His hand,

Will tear you from your dwelling place, uproot you from the land.

The righteous will behold and fear, will laugh at him and say,

“Behold the man who would not make our God his strength and stay.

This is the man who placed his trust in wealth’s abundant store,

And in the evil he desired confirmed himself the more.”

But I within the house of God am like an olive tree,

And in the steadfast love of God my trust shall ever be.

Forever I will give Thee thanks, what Thou has done proclaim;

In presence of Thy godly ones I’ll wait on Thy good name.

Strikingly at odds with today’s popular bias against “demonizing the enemy,” this psalm presents a simple but stark contrast between good and evil, in which the “bad guy” really does appear quite bad. No wonder that the vicious man described in this psalm came to be identified with Doeg the Edomite, for the latter was arguably the worst, most unmistakably evil and reprobate man in all of Scripture. Doeg’s story is told in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. He slaughtered eighty-five innocent people in cold blood. The problem with Doeg is that he is not only bad, but he is so evil as to be uninteresting—an utterly one-dimensional character. There is no struggle or doubt or despair inside Doeg. So Psalm 51, pointing to Doeg, paints evil as completely evil. The dialectic involved here is important, for if evil is not really evil, then good is not really good. In the final Throne-room analysis, there is no chance of confusion, and no third option. Evil is portrayed in all its ugliness, so that good may be pictured in all its glory. And our psalm is much more interested in the goodness of the good man and in the assembly of God’s friends, who place their whole trust in the infinite goodness of the Lord. (Reardon, p. 101-102)