In this psalm, the author meditates on a common anxiety that troubles God’s people – the concern arising from the disdain that the wicked have for God and his ways.
The contempt of the wicked is revealed in several characteristics that mark their outlook: opposition to God’s people (the term ‘poor’ in the Old Testament is often a synonym for humble believers, as can be seen by Jesus’ use of the term to describe his people in Luke 6:20), practical atheism that never thinks about God, prosperity in life which leads them to imagine that they don’t need God, boastful words against God’s people, and contempt for God’s judgements (vv. 1-11). Although the psalm was written 4,000 years ago, its description of sinful humans is an accurate presentation of contemporary people – which is a reminder that human sinfulness does not change as far as the heart is concerned.
The psalmist, however, knows what to do. First, he asks God to intervene (vv. 12-18). Prayer should always be our first response when facing a difficult situation. This prayer was made despite the psalmist’s inability to understand God’s apparent refusal to do something about the situation. Sometimes providence can give guidance as to what we should pray for, at other times it does not. Yet the confusion that affects us in times of God’s apparent inactivity should not prevent us from continually asking God to intervene – because he will respond eventually to the prayers of his people. The church in Scotland has been praying to God now for several generations that he would come in a great revival. So far, he has not given signs of answering this prayer. But he may answer it the next time you pray, which is why we should continue in prayer and not lose heart.
Second, the psalmist reminds himself that he has to maintain a humble attitude (v. 17). Humility here is marked by the expectancy that God will one day judge those who oppose his cause, and is willing to leave the timing of the judgement in God’s schedule. It is not always a sign of faith to demand that God respond immediately to our most urgent requests for him to act (sometimes it can indicate presumption). Clearly, only the humble have God’s ear. Andrew Gray, a preacher in Glasgow in the seventeenth century, once said, ‘He that sits nearest the dust, sits nearest heaven.’