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Walking in the Light: The Context of Evil within the Psalms…

August 6, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Pt 5.

THE CONTEXT OF EVIL

In the previous posts we have examined how the Israelites acknowledged evil and described the purveyors of evil in the Psalms.  Now we will look at the context in which evil was placed, and what role the contextualization of evil played in providing comfort for a people often oppressed by its effects.

The children of God throughout the Psalms navigate the deep darkness before them with the light of their salvation — their God –Yahweh.  His word and promise to them are literally described as a light unto their feet and a lamp unto their path.[1] They have an individual God of promise whose presence sustains them and banishes their fears through every valley, even those valleys whose very shadow bodes death.

As we have seen the Israelites were prolific in acknowledging evil’s presence.  But while evil is continually present, they fear it not, for Yahweh is with them.  If evil and those who practice evil are on one side and God and Israel are on the other, then Israel is right to find comfort in God’s presence.  For God is seen as the one in complete control, and whose character and Holiness consume all those who act wickedly.  Yahweh’s character in relation to evil is explicitly described in two key passages both of which we will now examine.

Psalm 5:4-6 provides a telling glimpse into God’s perception of evil:

4. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

evil may not dwell within you.

5. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;

you hate all evildoers.

6. You destroy those who speak lies;

the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

The activity of God, who hates the wicked, is recalled frequently in the Psalter.  And His actions toward His people speaks volumes as to His dominion over evil and evildoers.  These unique people of Jacob[2] are often under a God-anointed king; they have been chosen, delivered, saved and stand in the promise of the coming King to whom all the nations shall bow.[3] God offers protection; He is their refuge and their rock.  All of these conditions exist because of God’s mercy and faithfulness and are in no way due to the perception of “righteousness” in Israel.

In Psalm 103:8-9, the psalmist describes God’s character by recalling the epiphany experienced by Moses in Exodus 34.  He states: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Hesed)[4] He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”  This is the God of the faithful promise who, though often rejected by His own, is steadfast in His love because of His promise.  Evil seen in light of this promise begins to pale by comparison.  The contrast could not be any clearer; while evil and the wicked are compared to chaff to be blown about in the wind; God’s love and those who have sought refuge in Him are promised to endure forever.  Once evil has been placed in its right context, the psalmists begin to look toward evil’s end during the reign of the promised anointed king, the messiah.

It is important to note that “there is no attempt in scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.”[5] Indeed these naked acknowledgements of evil and the wicked in the Psalms, within the context of a sovereign loving God, have served to gird and inform the suffering people of God throughout time.  This context was never more apparent than when the promise met the present in the person of Christ.  In Jesus, the prophetic psalms were made flesh and dwelt among God’s people in a manner unparalleled in human history.

Found within the Psalms is a promised end to evil, an end occurring at a time of God’s choosing.  This promise, made sure by His steadfast love, provides comfort throughout Psalter from its inception to its inclusion within the canon.

In the next post of this series we will look at how the Psalms predict evil’s fall; and how the fulfillment of the Psalms, by Jesus, conveys certain promise and provides enduring comfort.

Click here for part 4 of the series, A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms


[1] Psalm 119:105

[2] The use of Jacob denotes God’s chosen nation of Israel.  Jacob is mentioned 34 times in the Psalms; almost all such references refer to God’s covenant with Abraham, which was continued through Isaac and on to Jacob. Who, while he was not the first-born received, by the foreknowledge and plan of God, the birthright and promise to carry the seed of the covenant.

[3] Psalm 77-78 are helpful here. 78:5 God establishes Jacob, 78:70 chooses David as King.  Psalm 2 and 22 both speak to the coming King who will receive the praise of all the nations.

[4]Hesed  is a multifaceted word with an expansive definition.  It occurs 147 times within the psalms and it can mean “loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, love and mercy” (Clines 126) Psalm 48 is illustrative of the relationship the people of Israel had to the idea of Hesed.  They would meditate on it in the temple and reflect on what God had done to establish them in that place. Hesed “describes God’s fundamental character.  As the experience of the exodus and deliverance revealed God’s fundamental character; so the present experience in Jerusalem puts the worshippers in touch with God’s Historical (past) and enduring (future) essence.” J. Clinton McCann. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. (Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press. 1993) 149.  Psalm 136 might as well be known as the hesed psalm as the psalmist systematically recalls God’s faithful action toward Israel over time, ending every recollection with “His steadfast Love endures forever.” Whenever God seemed absent in the psalms the Psalmist would call the people to remember that they served a God who acted faithfully in the past and based on that past action, His love was viewed as Steadfast in the face of whatever sin the people committed.  God would love them through any circumstance to accomplish His purpose in their midst for His Glory.

[5] D.A. Carson. How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. (Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House. 1990) 73.

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2 comments

  1. […] Implanted Word The infallible, immutable, indispensable word of God. « Walking in the Light: The Context of Evil within the Psalms… The Promise to Come… August 16, […]


  2. […] Part 5: Walking in the Light, The Context of Evil […]



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