In this psalm David assesses the unrighteous government that he has observed (the reference to ‘gods’ in verse 1 does not mean idols – rather it is a description of human rulers). They should rule righteously, but instead the engage in sinful decisions (v. 2). The root of such decisions is found in their sinful hearts (v. 3). The judges that David had encountered were like snakes (vv. 4-5): the serpent’s venom illustrated the effects of their decisions and the adder’s deafness depicted their indifference to the voice of God, the ultimate Judge. Sometimes we are surprised by the laws decided upon by governments, yet we should also remember that they, like all other humans, have a tendency to disobey God’s law because they do not fear him.
In verses 6-9, David prays with great longing for the removal of such judges. We are familiar with the use of illustrations by preachers in order to clarify their message. What we are not used to is the use of illustrations in a prayer in order to highlight the intensity of desire for God to act in judgement. David uses several illustrations – the effects of their decisions are like the damage resulting from the teeth of lions, so David asks God to make these judges into toothless lions unable to harm anyone; David wants them to evaporate like water; he wants their arrows (their decisions) to be blunted; he wants them to dissolve like a snail into slime; he wishes that they had never been born; he wants them to be like the thorns used for heating pots, about to be burned in a fire. Each of these illustrations, mentioned one after another, reveal the passion that David had for justice and the longing he had for injustice to disappear.
Verses 10 and 11 are an expression of David’s confidence that God would yet intervene and act against unjust rulers. When divine intervention occurs and the wicked are punished, those who love justice will rejoice. God will vindicate his standards eventually and have complete victory (in verse 10, David depicts the righteous as crushing unjust rulers under their feet, a picture of complete triumph). Such divine intervention will cause everyone to recognise that God eventually sets things right.
When we sing the psalm from our hearts, we are expressing our hatred of sin, our love for justice, our longing for a perfect world, and a willingness to leave all vengeance with God.