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The Wicked, Not very Musical…

July 21, 2010

A CHRISTIAN’S COMFORT IN THE PSALMS PART 4:

“רשע” IN THE PSALMS

The common foes for the righteous in the Psalter are the wicked.  “When evil enters peoples hearts it leads not only to wicked deeds but also to disastrous consequences for the people themselves.”[1] It is the certainty of these consequences that God, via the psalmist, warns His children against.  The word most commonly translated in the psalms as wicked or ungodly is “Ra’sha.”  In its verbal form it means to “act wickedly, be guilty, or accounted guilty.”  As an adjective it is used to describe “the wicked, guilty, wrongdoer and guilty one.”[2] It occurs 82 times in 80 distinct verses in 42 psalms.[3] Four of those occurrences are found in Psalm 1 and a further twelve are concentrated in Psalm 37; for this reason both merit brief examination.

It is significant that the psalm chosen to act as a prelude and introduction to the entire Psalter should deal so specifically with the wicked and their role in opposition to God and His people.  The themes seen earlier in Psalm 34 are pertinent here as well.[4] By its nature Psalm 1 is prescriptive in regards to behavior and illustrative of the eternal benefits of acting righteously.  Psalm 1 is in large part definitive as to who the wicked are; and could be read like an entry in a dictionary.  The wicked: counsel in a manner contrary to God’s design to the detriment of the blessed man (vs.1); they prosper only briefly and then they are blown away like chaff (vs.4); they will suffer judgment and fail to withstand its verdict (vs.5); and they will ultimately perish by following their own self destructive way (vs.6).  If Psalm 1 defines the wicked, then Psalm 37 displays the grand drama in which they scheme to subdue God’s children at every turn.

The word “Ra’sha” is used 12 times within Psalm 37.[5] Played out in its verses is the ongoing struggle incurred by the righteous as the wicked continually plot against them.  A certain symmetry is seen between the descriptive methods of promise, prescription, prophecy and acknowledgement.  In sequence the methods are arranged in the following way:

-Prophecy the demise of the wicked (vs.10);

-Acknowledgement of the plots of the wicked (vs. 12,14);

-Prescription for righteous (vs.16)/prophecy of destruction (vs.17);

-Prophecy of destruction (vs.20)/acknowledgement of wicked nature (vs.21);

-Prophecy (vs.28);

-Acknowledgement (vs.32);

-Prescription for righteous (vs.34)/acknowledgement (vs.35);

-Prophecy (vs.38);

-Promise (vs.40)

This back and forth is emblematic of the struggle seen throughout the Psalms.  At the heels of the saints the wicked persistently nip.  In the face of certain prophesied destruction and judgment, the wicked deny God and act as fools for they lack understanding and knowledge.[6]

Evil as described by “RA” and the wicked denoted by “Ra’sha” appear in 139 distinct verses within the Psalter and are addressed in 82 separate psalms.  In other words, 52% of the psalms of the Old Testament mention or address in some context evil and those who act according to an evil mind.  Due to the poetic structure and the frequent use of parallelism in the psalms, evil and the wicked are never addressed in a vacuum.  Acknowledging evil’s presence in the world is merely one step toward finding comfort in the face of evil’s effects of suffering, separation and death.  The psalmists use context to frame comfort, and evil is always seen in a context of a faithful sovereign God who is mighty to save.  How that contextualization occurs and provides comfort shall be our focus in the next post.

Click here for Part 3 of a Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms…


[1] Ibid. 91.

[2] Clines, 432.

[3] These calculations are based on my own personal count.

[4] Ps. 1:1 equals prescription; 1:4 acknowledgement; 1:5 prophecy “the wicked will not stand in judgment”; 1:6 promise of deliverance.

[5] Psalm 37 is an acrostic psalm and ‘Ra’sha is found 12 times within its verses.  The ESV translates it exclusively as “ the wicked” in the following verses: 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 28, 32, 34, 35, 38, and 40.

[6] Psalm 14:1-7

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2 comments

  1. […] Click here for part 4 of the series, A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms […]


  2. […] Part 4: The Wicked, Not Very Musical […]



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