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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 10

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


There are indications that this psalm has connections with the previous one. The psalm has no title, the partial acrostic possibly continues, although not consistently, and could therefore easily be a coincidence, while in LXX and the Vulgate they are treated as one psalm. But the possible coincidence of the partial acrostic may in fact have determined the position of the psalm and been responsible for its later being taken as one, rather than vice versa. They are really two separate psalms.

In this psalm the psalmist is puzzled why YHWH does not intervene in difficult times. His cry can be echoed through all ages. He is asking why the unrighteous seem to triumph while the people of God suffer, and describes the unrighteous in great detail, drawing God’s attention to what they are.

Then he cries to YHWH to rise up and deal with them, removing unrighteousness, and finally sees ahead to the day when YHWH will indeed be King and the unrighteous nations will be no more. In the end His righteous Kingly Rule will be established for ever.

Verses 1-2

‘Why do you stand far off, O YHWH?

Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

As a result of the arrogance of the unrighteous the poor is hotly pursued;

They are taken (or ‘Let them be taken’) in the schemes that they have conceived.’

The psalmist is puzzled and concerned. His own heart is righteous, and as he surveys the society in which he lives he cannot conceive why YHWH stands back in the day of trouble, why He seems to be hiding Himself while the lowly righteous are suffering (compare Psalms 22:1), and are caught in the schemes of the unrighteous. Alternately (for the Hebrew can mean either) he prays that YHWH will ensure that the unrighteous are ensnared in the schemes and snares that they themselves have set.

Like many he had a low view of sin. He did not at this stage see the lowly as themselves sinful and needing to be purged and as being given the opportunity to become strong in faith, although later his own faith in the face of what is happening will come out. And He did not recognise that YHWH had deeper purposes than he could conceive of. He failed to recognise that the outright unrighteous are indeed sometimes used as instruments of chastening for God’s true people, prior to their own final defeat and judgment, a constant theme throughout Scripture.

‘Why do you stand far off?’ That is, seemingly so because of His inaction (see Isaiah 59:1-2 for one answer). In contrast when YHWH openly acts He is said to be ‘near’ (Psalms 34:18; Psalms 75:1).

‘Why do you hide yourself?’ Literally ‘muffle yourself’. Compare Psalms 55:1. Seemingly covering his eyes so that He cannot see (Isaiah 1:15), and his ears so that He cannot hear (Lamentations 3:56).

‘The arrogance of the unrighteous.’ Men who are selfish, greedy and strong tend to treat all others arrogantly. And often no one seems to be able to do anything about it. They go their own way without regard for the weak. The writer recognised the total wrongness of this, and therefore wondered why God did nothing about it. Possibly it is saying that He wants them to be caught out by their own schemes, as indeed they often are, but not often enough.

‘The poor is hotly pursued.’ It is always the weak and helpless and poor who suffer most under the arrogance of the unrighteous, for they have no way of countering it, and are treated just as pawns and targets. And yet it is often those poor who are the righteous ones. Why then does God allow them to be pursued like hunted animals?

‘They are taken (or ‘Let them be taken’) in the schemes that they have conceived.’ The poor are not only hunted but often captured by the schemes of the unrighteous. The picture is a sad one of the sufferings of the hunted animal and its final entrapment. This continuation of the theme seems to fit better than the alternative rendering.

Verses 3-6

‘For the unrighteous man boasts of his heart's desire,

And the man who is greedy for gain renounces, yes, passes judgment on YHWH.

The wicked, in the pride of his demeanour, says, He will not require it.

All his thoughts are, There is no God.

His ways are fixed at all times;

Your judgments are far above out of his sight.

As for all his adversaries, he puffs at them.

He says in his heart, I will not be moved;

To all generations I will not be in adversity.

With deep insight the psalmist recognises that the behaviour of the unrighteous reveals their true attitude to God, whatever their outward protestations. What a man thinks in his heart, that is what he is (Proverbs 23:7). So here he sees these unrighteous men as actually stating by their behaviour that they take no heed to YHWH’s judgments, and do not believe that He will call them to account for their failure to observe them. In fact basically they are saying in their hearts, ‘There is no God’.

The arrogance of the modern day is vividly portrayed here. Boasting, greedy, ignoring God’s word, fixed in their own ways, closing their hearts against God’s requirements, puffing at those who contend with them, and declaring that nothing can stop them in their ways. It is God’s photograph of society. But in the final analysis they will be proved wrong, for in the end righteousness will triumph (Psalms 10:15-18).

‘The unrighteous man boasts of his heart's desire.’ Godless men set their hearts and thoughts on what they want, and not on what God wants, and openly boast about it. There is no submissiveness to God, but a determination to get what they want in any way they can. This is the competitive society with a vengeance, but the point is that they do it without regard for others, and without regard to God, except possibly by a passing reference as a sop to the godly.

‘And the man who is greedy for gain renounces, yes, passes judgment on YHWH.’ The deceitfulness of riches chokes the word and it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4:19). Those seized by a desire to possess and to be rich, or even ‘well off’, put God’s will to one side in their pursuit. The desire for gain and wealth possesses them. Thus in effect they renounce YHWH and His requirements, and the Instruction He has given man in His Law, and declare that God’s ways are wrong, and thrust Him away, and even pass judgment on Him and His ways, whatever the outward appearance of piety.

We can, however, equally translate as - ‘For the unrighteous praises his heart’s desire, and blesses the covetous whom YHWH despises.’ The basic idea is the same but brings out more their hypocrisy. They make out that evil is good, and that their greed is right. Compare Isaiah 5:20.

‘The wicked man, in the pride of his demeanour, says, “He will not require it.” All his thoughts are, “There is no God.” His ways are fixed at all times. Your judgments are far above out of his sight.’ Those who take little notice of God’s requirements are really declaring that they do not believe that He will call them to account. They are really saying that God is not there (Psalms 14:1). So they are set in their own ways and blind to His judgments for He is in Heaven and they are on the earth. Thus His judgments are far above them and beyond them. For all practical purposes they are atheists. To them the idea of retribution is far away.

‘As for all his adversaries, he puffs (sniffs) at them. He says in his heart, I will not be moved. To all generations I will not be in adversity.’ His attitude towards God continues through into his attitude towards his fellow-man. He treats his competitors and opponents lightly and with a certain contempt. He is confident that he is so firmly established that he can cope with them and that nothing can halt his future plans, or the prosperity of his descendants. He has no fears at all for the future. The remainder of the Old Testament only reveals his folly.

Verses 7-11

‘His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppressiveness,

Under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

He sits in the hiding places of the villages,

In the secret places he murders the innocent.

His eyes are surreptitiously set against the helpless.

He lurks in secret like a lion in his covert;

He lies in wait to catch the poor:

He catches the poor, when he draws him in his net.

He crouches, he bows down,

And the helpless fall by his strong ones (might).

He says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten.

He hides his face. He will never see it.’

The gradual growth of sin is well depicted in the Psalm. It begins with a callous attitude towards God and his fellow-man, and leads on into deeper and deeper sin. Here the sinner is depicted at his worst. Not all reach these depths, but all have the propensity for it. It begins with his words, which reveal what he is (compare Matthew 12:37), continues on into unscrupulous behaviour, and into increasing callousness, and all because he convinces himself with the vain hope that God has forgotten the world and will not see what he is doing.

‘His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppressiveness, under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.’ He is loud-mouthed, aggressive, and deceitful, and plans evil and mischief with his tongue. ‘Cursing’ may indicate his aggressive attitude, or his willingness to lie on oath to obtain what he wants. ‘Deceit’ declares his dishonesty in his dealings. He says what he wants people to think, while hiding the true situation. His aim is to deceive people. We can think of much modern advertising and salesmanship. ‘Oppressiveness’ indicates his determination to get his own way by any possible means. He tries to obtain his own way by aggression and forcefulness. And nothing that he says can be trusted.

‘Under his tongue.’ He actually enjoys his unscrupulous behaviour like a man enjoying a titbit (see Job 20:12).

‘He sits in the hiding places of the villages, in the secret places he murders the innocent. His eyes are surreptitiously set against the helpless. He lurks in secret like a lion in his covert; he lies in wait to catch the poor.’ Openly included here are muggers, and violent criminals, but equally included are any who are set to catch people out, or trap them into something, and make profits at their expense, without giving due and fair return. In their own way they all ‘mug’ people. They are like man-eating lions who wait in hiding for some helpless human to pass by.

‘He catches the poor, when he draws him in his net. He crouches, he bows down, and the helpless fall by his might (or rather ‘his strong ones’).’ The picture changes to the subtle hunter who lays his nets out to catch the unwary, and then draws them in. The emphasis is all on hidden motives and secretive behaviour, subtlety and deceit. The one who crouches may be the hunter with his net, or refer back to the lion waiting in hiding. If the former the idea is that he crouches in hiding, bows down behind the bushes when they approach and then quickly draws in his net dragging down his prey with his strong nets and strength. If the latter then the ‘strong ones’ may be his paws and teeth.

‘He says in his heart, “God has forgotten. He hides his face. He will has not seen it for ever.”’ This is the crux of the matter, his attitude towards God. He convinces himself that God has forgotten the world, has forgotten the poor and needy, has hidden His face and that he therefore does not see what men are doing, and indeed will never see it, will never bring it to mind. He assumes that men are unaccountable and therefore that he can get away with his behaviour. He forgets, or refuses to accept, that ‘all things are laid bare and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). It is something he dismisses out of hand.

Verses 12-15

‘Arise, O YHWH, O God, lift up your hand,

Do not forget the needy.

Why does the unrighteous man renounce God,

And say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?

You have seen, for you behold mischief and spite,

To deal with it (literally ‘give it’ i.e. give in respect of it) with your hand.

He who is helpless commits (‘abandons’) himself to you.

You have been the helper of the fatherless.

From here on an acrostic is introduced with stanzas beginning with Qoph (Q) through to Tau (T)

The psalmist now expresses his puzzlement and distress at YHWH’s reluctance to act. He calls on Him to act speedily on behalf of those who are in need. Let Him ‘arise’ (in order to do something), let Him ‘lift up his hand’ (to act in power), let Him show that He has not forgotten the needy. Why does He allow the unrighteous man to get away with his attitude? The psalmist himself is not deceived. He knows very well that God does see the full situation, and knows that God will one day deal with it. But he wants to know, why the delay? And so he reminds God that the helpless are looking to Him and depending on Him to act. For they know that He is the helper of the fatherless, of those who have none to look after them.

‘Arise, O YHWH.’ Do not wait any longer. Start to act! Compare Psalms 3:7; Psalms 7:6; Psalms 9:19 and often. ‘Lift up your hand.’ Commence actual action with your strength. Compare Psalms 138:7; Exodus 7:5; Micah 5:9. ‘Do not forget the needy.’ Do not do what these people say you are doing, but rather show that they are wrong by what You do on behalf of the needy.

‘You have seen, for you behold mischief and spite, to deal with it (literally ‘give it’ i.e. give in respect of it) with your hand.’ Faith declares that, contrary to the belief of the unrighteous, God does see all that is done, and especially such things as mischief and vexation brought on the weak and helpless. And faith also knows that one day He will deal with it and bring retribution accordingly. For the helpless and the weak look to Him as their only Protector. They abandon themselves to Him. And He will not fail them.

Verse 15

‘Break the arm of the unrighteous, and as for the evil man,

Seek out his wickedness. You find none.’

In unarmed combat the breaking of the arm rendered the opponent powerless. Thus YHWH is exhorted to render the unrighteous powerless, and search out the evil man’s wickedness so that He can call it to account. And He will in fact be so successful in removing it that when He looks for wickedness He will find none. Compare Psalms 37:17; Job 38:15.

‘Seek out his wickedness. You find none.’ Literally ‘when You seek to call to account his wickedness you shall not find’, because it has been removed. All wickedness will have been done away (compare Psalms 17:3). Yahweh had seen everything after all.

Verses 16-18

‘YHWH is King for ever and ever,

The nations are perished out of his land.

YHWH, you have heard the desire of the meek:

You will establish their heart,

You will cause your ear to hear,

To judge on behalf of the fatherless and the oppressed,

That man who is of the earth,

May strike terror no more.

The psalm, which began with such hopelessness, finishes with the triumphant picture of the everlasting kingdom, with YHWH established as everlasting king, all adversaries and unrighteous thrust out and dealt with, and the meek and the fatherless and the oppressed living quiet lives in full confidence of true justice, and treated with respect by all. In Isaiah’s words, the lions will lay down with the lambs, for no one will any longer strike terror into anyone else. It will not be men of the earth who control things, but God. Righteousness will reign supreme. The picture is of total divine dominance by God, dwelling in His light.

‘YHWH is King for ever and ever.’ His enthronement will be revealed and His rule over His own will from then on be permanent for ever.

‘The nations are perished out of his land.’ The land that He promised His people will now be free of all enemies, of all who defile it and of all unrighteous men. The first thought is probably of the final fulfilling of God’s requirement that ‘the nations’ who had dwelt in Canaan should be thrust out as God had previously commanded, so that all pernicious influences would be removed. But it can also include any nations who had trespassed on God’s land and introduced pernicious influences. And with them would be thrust out all who followed in their ways and thus identified with them.

So those who are without, and even more importantly, the quislings within, will be removed from the land, which will thus be purified. The thought is clearly that the unrighteous were seen as unrighteous because they did not respond to YHWH but submitted to subversive influence, the ways of the godless nations. Thus all these will now have been destroyed out of the land (compare Deuteronomy 8:19-20). It will be the land of His inheritance as it was intended to be, a land of eternal bliss, where all worship YHWH and are obedient to His will. Ancient Israel had no conception of a possible heavenly kingdom and thought in terms of permanent and fruitful possession for ever of the land that God had given them and a possession which was under God’s personal rule, where all responded to Him.

And this will be because YHWH has heard the cries of the meek and lowly. Though they had cried to Him day and night for what had seemed so long, now He would avenge them speedily (Luke 18:8). In the end His will will be done. All fear will be done away. The future will be eternally secure in righteousness.

Jesus and the Apostles reinterpreted this in terms of the everlasting heavenly kingdom of which His own were citizens.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 10". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-10.html. 2013.
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