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Vanish Like Water - Psalm 58 Sermon August Prayer Service

Vanish Like Water - Psalm 58 Sermon August Prayer Service

Prayer Service August 3rd Season of Pentecost - 2016. Pr. Ted Giese, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina SK. Psalm 58 - Vanish Like Water

          Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?

                   Do you judge the children of man uprightly?

          No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;

                   your hands deal out violence on earth.

          The wicked are estranged from the womb;

                   they go astray from birth, speaking lies.

          They have venom like the venom of a serpent,

                   like the deaf adder that stops its ear,

          so that it does not hear the voice of charmers

                   or of the cunning enchanter.

          O God, break the teeth in their mouths;

                   tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!

          Let them vanish like water that runs away;

                   when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.

          Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,

                   like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.

          Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,

                   whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

          The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;

                   he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.

          Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;

                   surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Psalm 58 starts out with a question, David asks, "Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods? Do you judge the children of man uprightly?" But who, in this prayer dripping with sarcasm, is he talking about? These are not gods like Yahweh, the God of the Israelites who lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian Captivity through the Red Sea. No these quote unquote "gods" are David's peers. These are fellow kings who have been taught from a young age that they would be a god when they became king; or men who believed themselves to be divine when they ascended the throne; or men who called themselves god by virtue of their kingship. David himself might have felt some peer pressure from the pharaohs and kings who ruled around him, pressure to claim godhood for himself as they did. But to do that would be to deny the one true God who had loved and cared for David, who protected him, brought him out of trouble, who forgave him his sins. The true Shepherd over Israel was not a little shepherd boy anointed and raised up to a place of authority with a crown, a diadem, placed upon his brow: No the true Shepherd and King over Israel was Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, the one who raised David up and gave him the vocation of king. As Saint Paul says in Romans 13, "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God."[1] There is no king or Queen or Head of State who does not have above them the Triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. When an earthly king claims godhood, when it's part of a pagan religion that they follow, they deny the one who gave them their vocation in the first place. 

So on the one hand this Psalm with its scornful language is a derision, a mockery, of the foolish men who believed themselves to be gods simply because they served in the vocation of king - and on the other hand it is a prayer of trust in the one true God who is the true King and shepherd over all of creation the source of all authority and might and power and glory and dominion.    

This Psalm then, at first blush, might seem like a Psalm of the fourth Commandment because it deals with authority or abuse of authority, it is in truth though a Psalm of The First Commandment because it deals with the ultimate source of all authority, the one true God: The one who set the commandment before the children of Israel saying "You shall have no other gods." Dr. Luther in our catechism asks: What does this mean? The answer is both simple to remember and hard to fulfil: "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things." ... above all things for citizens of a nation that means, above Kings and Queens, above Prime Ministers and Presidents and if you are a King like David was or a Queen or any other sort of Head of State then you yourself need to trust in God above yourself and not be tempted into believing that you are the ultimate authority.

In our own recent history we have men like Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler who fell to this temptation thinking themselves to be the ultimate authority over those whom they ruled. But did they think of themselves as gods? Of course today we don't have any rulers who claim godhood for themselves do we? Yes we do: Today in North Korea we have dictators like the Kim family (Kim Il sung, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un) who are worshiped as divine by their people, one such North Korean man said this of the Kim family, “I was convinced, as we all were, that neither of them [Kim Il-sung, or Kim Jong-il] urinated or defecated. Who could imagine such things of gods?”[2]  And according to the official government biography of Kim Jong-il, he was apparently born under a double rainbow on a cherished North Korean Mountain[3] and his birth caused a new star to appear in the sky; he learned to walk and talk before 6 months and had the ability to control the weather by his moods. Soviet records, however, indicate he was born in a small Siberian village,[4] in 1941 where his father Kim Il-sung served in the Soviet Army. This dynastic family in North Korea certainly fell into the temptation to set themselves up as, quote-un-quote, "gods." They have been hostile to the spread of Christianity and where possible they punish North Koreans found with Bibles; heavily persecuting anyone found worshiping in a way contrary to their selfish cult of personality.  

Of course you don't need to be a Head of State to be tempted in this way, each of us are tempted to selfishness that puts ourselves first and demands our own way. Egotism that fears nothing, loves no one but the self, and trusts in the works of a man or woman's own hands first before anything else is a dangerous spiritual poison. Breaking the first commandment is no small thing. It along with all the commandments are to be taken with grave seriousness.

Think of the Ten Commandments as a set of keys on a key ring. The key ring is the First Commandment all the other Commandments are like keys are on that ring. To break one of the Commandments, to misused one of those keys, is to disregarded the whole set of keys - to disregarded all 10 of the Commandments, and to have no regard for the One who gave them in the first place. It is to say: I know better than God, I will be the judge of when and where and how I pray and to whom my prayers will be directed, I will be the judge of what I will do with my Sunday, I will only follow those laws that I want to follow, I will decide what kindness and mercy looks like and when revenge is right and good - I will be the arbiter of life and death for myself and for others, I don't need to get married to have sexual relations with someone and marriage shouldn't stop me or my spouse from having sexual relations outside of the marriage bed, I will take what I can from whom I desire, and say what I like about whoever I please to say it about, and want what I want and who I want and I will do as I please, and come hell or high water I will be who I want to be. All of this and all its variations start with breaking the First Commandment, when you break that key ring, when you take away that ring the keys are liable to fall off, they are all in danger of being scattered and lost: Living a life of obstinate defiance toward the one true God is perilous. St. James says in his epistle, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."[5] And this is most certainly true when one believes that they are a law unto themselves.

David desires to guard his heart against this and you can see this in Psalm 58. Of his peers, the kings of the nations, and the city states around him, David says that, in their hearts they devise wrongs; their hands deal out violence on earth. David describes them as wicked men who are estranged from the one true God from the womb; men who have gone astray from birth, men who speak dangerous lies that drip with venom like the venom of a serpent. Because they will not hear God's word or delight in the Law of God David describes them as deaf men who are like the adder; A snake who will not listen to law or gospel. They will not listen to God's Law for they believe that they are the law and they will not listen to the good news that, "The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,"[6] because they believe that they themselves are the fountainhead of mercy.

While they will not listen they also may not have been taught the truth in the first place. David knows what Moses delivered on God's behalf to the children of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. [Set them before] your eyes ... write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."[7] These "gods' who David writes of, these kings where men who when they were boys hanging on their mothers apron strings, when they were boys sitting on their fathers knee, where not taught the First Commandment, they were not taught to fear, love and trust in God above all things.

There have always been men and women raised without the fear of the Lord and for these men and women and for all who live as if they are god, for all those who live lives worshiping false gods they live in great peril and danger because the one true God who is the true judge of what is sin, and what is not, will come in judgment on the Last Day and His Judgement will not be avoided by their unbelief or by their lack of fear. For example: Regardless of what the Muslim believes they will not be judged by Allah on The Last Day because there is no Allah; the faithful Buddhist or Hindu will not discover a new life in reincarnation at their death because there is no never-ending wheel of saṃsāra spinning out rebirth according to "the laws of karma;" and in the ancient world it will have been to no avail for Egyptian men, women and children to have placed their faith in the Pharaoh who ruled over them in their life as though he were a god, this will amount to nothing on The Last Day for the Pharaoh are not gods they were men - for all of these their false idols and their prayers to them weather they were made of stone or flesh or simply exist as an idea, like saṃsāra and karma, will amount to nothing on the day when their soul is demanded of them. And for the king who believed he had everything, even divinity, he will discover on the night when his soul is demanded of him that his life did not consist in the abundance of his possessions, that all that he had prepared for himself would go to another: That the Egyptian pharaoh who hoarded wealth for the afterlife, burying it with his dead body in a tomb, would only be gathering his goods together for future grave robbers and bandits to enjoy. Such is the vanity of thinking oneself to be god in place of the one true God.

While Psalm 58 seems harsh in its language, remember two things, 1) David is not personally plotting the over though of these kings by his own hand in order to accumulate their land and wealth, 2) his concern is for the people who live under these false "gods," David's words in Psalm 58 are a mercy to those people who live under these delusional kings. Putting it all into the hands of the One true God David prays that God will break the teeth in their mouths; that the one true God would tear out the fangs of these young lions. David prays, "Let them vanish like water that runs away," "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime," Let them fail like a blunt arrow, make the bullets in their guns like marshmallows. "Sweep them away," David prays, that these men will be like ones "who never see the sun," who never see the light of day. If this should happen their people would be free of them, they would be free to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things as David does without the temptation to worship their own king as if he were a god.

On a personal note when we are free from being our own god, then we are free to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things. Who makes us free to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things? Did David do this perfectly without fail? No, later in his life he faltered in his fear, love, trust of God and commanded a censuses to determine if he, David, had enough men, enough warriors, to fight against the enemies of Israel.[8] Forgetting that it is God who wins the battle, wins the war not David and not his men, they are but instruments of God's victory as the young David had been against Goliath of Gath the Philistine. So if David who is a paragon of fear, love, and trust in the Lord failed at faultlessly keeping the First Commandment who does makes us free to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things?

After His Resurrection from the dead on the road to Emmaus Jesus said that along with the Law of Moses and the Prophets that the Psalms are about Him and that everything written about Him in the Psalms must, along with all the rest, be fulfilled.[9] Who then makes us free to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things? Jesus does. Jesus the Son of God the Father flawlessly fulfilled the First Commandment. Scripture confesses this to be true: St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians says this to them and to you - listen for Jesus in Paul's words and how Jesus fulfilled the First Commandment for you, St. Paul writes, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, [Jesus] humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."[10] On the day of His resurrection Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.’”[11] Here and in many other places Jesus shows His fear, love and trust for His heavenly Father above all things, His spotless keeping of the First Commandment. Jesus never had another God before His heavenly Father and He also never put Himself first before His heavenly Father. For you He, who Scripture calls the King of kings and LORD of lords, took on the work of a suffering servant so that you would receive the gift of a crown of glory on the Last Day. In 2 Corinthians St. Paul says that, "For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God."[12] In this way the wickedness of our sin bathed Jesus' righteous feet in blood at the cross. And the vengeance dealt out to our enemies (Sin, death, the devil, the World and our sinful self-centred self) was dealt out at the cross and confirmed in the victory of the Resurrection. And on The Last Day at the moment of the resurrection of all flesh we who have been made righteous in Christ Jesus will rejoice when we sees the final vengeance, the complete victory manifest in Jesus' glorious return on That Day, and on That Day we with David and all the saints, indeed we with all of Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” Just as Psalm 58 says in its final verse.

On that day the proud, the delusional men who thought themselves to be gods will face the One True God and they will meet their recompense, and you dear Christian will have the forgiveness of Christ as your covering, His blood which forgives all sins: Even the sin of breaking the First Commandment. In the mean time strive always in Christ Jesus to have no other gods, to fear, love, and trust in the one true God above all things. Live your life as a baptized child of God an heir of the kingdom of heaven, forgiven and free. Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.


[1] Romans 13:1
[2] The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, Chol-hwan Kang and Pierre Rigoulot, Basic Books 2005, pg 3.
[3] Baekdu Mountian
[4] Vyatskoye
[5] James 2:10
[6] Psalm 145:8
[7] Deuteronomy 6:4-9
[8] 1 Chronicles 21
[9] Luke 24:44
[10] Philippians 2:3-11
[11] John 20:17
[12] 2 Corinthians 5:21