“Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly? No, in your hearts you devise wrongs; your hands deal out violence on earth.” Psalm 58:1-2
“Man is unjust, but God is just; and finally justice triumphs.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow). This is the heart of Psalm 58. David says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth” (vs. 10-11, ESV).
The Gospel story would be heartbreaking for us if God did not ultimately right the injustice and evil of this world. We deeply desire that which is right and just and good, even though we are guilty of not always pursuing these virtues. David rejoiced in God, the Righteous Judge. The Apostle John also celebrates the future righteous Judge: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just; for he has judged the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality, and has avenged on her the blood of his servants” (Revelation 19: 1-2, ESV). Compared to God’s justice, Psalm 58 reminds us that humans succumb to unrighteousness, evil, and injustice. Seeing this Lament of David should challenge us to hate evil and love good.
At the same time, Jesus taught us that we should not hate our enemies but love them (cf. Matthew 5:43-48). This Psalm does not contradict with permission for revenge. “It is essential that justice be done, and it is equally vital that justice not be confused with revenge, for the two are wholly different.” (Oscar Arias). Beyond a general call to justice, Psalm 58 specifically calls leaders to value and practice justice. “Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly?” (vs. 1, ESV). The ESV translates with the term “gods”. The footnote suggests this could be “mighty lords” or some suggest “judges.” And the language of the Psalm leans to the idea of human leaders. We need the kind of leaders described by Martin Luther King, Jr: “May I stress the need for courageous, intelligent, and dedicated leadership… Leaders of sound integrity. Leaders not in love with publicity, but in love with justice. Leaders not in love with money, but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the greatness of the cause.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
The Apostle Paul tells us that government is instituted by God as a rewarder of good and a punisher of evil (cf. Romans 13: 1-5, ESV). The Church must teach these principles of just government and prepare godly leaders to accomplish this. Plato said, “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens.” The Church should not be the government or vice-versa. However, our Gospel message should be salt and light to both the culture and governmental leaders. We do not succeed in the mission of Jesus Christ by simply teaching morality but by Gospel transformation. Inviting people to trust Jesus Christ is our mission and an added benefit is nurturing a love for godly justice.
Finally, Edmund Burke challenged us with “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Godly leaders will rally the Church to what James 1: 19-27 calls us to be: We are not to respond with anger; we are to be doers of the Word; we are to bridle our tongue; we are to visit the fatherless and widows; and we are to keep ourselves unstained by the world. With the Apostle Paul, we pursue this Christlike righteousness today with a promise of future reward: “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4: 8, ESV).