1 Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
2 In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—
let them be caught in the schemes they have devised.
3 For the wicked boast of the desires of their heart,
those greedy for gain curse and renounce the LORD.
4 In the pride of their countenance the wicked say, “God will not seek it out”;
all their thoughts are, “There is no God.”
5 Their ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of their sight;
as for their foes, they scoff at them.
6 They think in their heart, “We shall not be moved;
throughout all generations we shall not meet adversity.”
7 Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
8 They sit in ambush in the villages; in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
9 they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net.
10 They stoop, they crouch, and the helpless fall by their might.
11 They think in their heart,
“God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”
12 Rise up, O LORD; O God, lift up your hand; do not forget the oppressed.
13 Why do the wicked renounce God, and say in their hearts,
“You will not call us to account”?
14 But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief, that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you; you have been the helper of the orphan.
15 Break the arm of the wicked and evildoers;
seek out their wickedness until you find none.
16 The LORD is king forever and ever; the nations shall perish from his land.
17 O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
18 to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more.
As I mentioned when writing about Psalm 9, these two psalms were probably one psalm originally but we now have them as two separate psalms and in this portion of the acrostically assembled (although imperfectly) poem in Hebrew we have a very different tone. In contrast to Psalm 9 which mainly praises God’s power and justice Psalm 10 resides in the place where that power and judgment seem unseen and ineffective. It is one of the central dissonances of faith, seeing the wicked prosper while the righteous ones stumble and fall under the weight of oppression. When bad things happen to good people and good things come to the wicked how does one make sense of a very worldly faith that believes in an active and present God who is an active part of the Psalmists world? The Psalmist responds by calling on God to be God, challenging God to come to action, to pay attention to what is going on in God’s world and to bring about change. Christians pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And this is, like the Psalms, a very worldly prayer. It asks for God’s activity not in some distant heaven or some spiritual reality separated from the day to day reality of our lives. It doesn’t ask for God’s action after our death but precisely within the day to day activity of life. It is a risky faith because there will be times in life where God’s justice and God’s action seem far off and God’s very reality is questioned by the distance between our present reality and God’s promise. Yet this is the faith of the bible and the psalmist in particular that continues to hope in the midst of what may seem like hopelessness that God will act in God’s own mysterious way.
Perhaps this is one of the more dangerous and at the same time more pertinent Psalms for our time with its continual focus on the adversaries schemes to take advantage of the poor and to increase their own wealth and power. In our age we often live with one of the American myths that anyone can be successful with enough hard work and dedication but that myth does not match the reality of our own day where the gap between rich and poor has widened to an alarming level. As I was reading through the Psalm the lines that Rakim raps in Linkin Park’s Guilty All The Same echoed in my head:
Can y’all explain what kind of land is this when a man has plans of being rich
But the bosses plan is wealthy?
Dirty money scheme, a clean split is nonsense
Even corporate hands is filthy
They talk team and take the paper route
All they think about is bank accounts, assets and realty
At anybody’s expense,
No shame with a clear conscience
No regrets and guilt free,
It is easy to be skeptical in the world in which we live and turn inward and only worry about ensuring our own survival or our own interests. But the Psalmist calls on God to turn the tables, to see and act and prevent those who are powerful from preying on the weak, to prevent the rich from deceiving and devouring the poor. In a godless world might makes right, my security trumps anyone else’s interests and the one with the most toys wins. In a world that the psalmist envisions where God is active this is not the case, but instead the orphan and oppressed are cared for and the meek are heard and protected. In this case the poet becomes the prophet who cries out to God for God’s justice when it seems absent and calls us to have the courage to call upon God to be God. To pray the difficult prayers in the times where it seems like the wicked prosper and we are suffering. To retell the stories of the way God has acted in the past and to imagine a new future where God’s kingdom has come to be among us. It is perhaps the easy way to take the path that modernity did, consigning God’s operation to the spiritual realm and removing God from history, but the psalmist calls for an active faith which calls upon God to be God precisely within the moments of history where God seems absent.