Of the 3,500 species of snakes in the world, only about 600 are venomous. Nevertheless, snakes can do significant damage. According to the World Health Organization, every year 81,000 to 135,000 people die from snake bites. In today’s reading, David compares his enemies to snakes, and the damage they inflict—to venom.
In the opening of Psalm 58, David confronts corrupt “rulers” directly (v. 1). The word here for “rulers” is unusual and could be a reference to supernatural beings or human judges. Based on the language of the psalm as a whole, it is best to understand the term as a reference to corrupt human rulers, who were encouraged and empowered by malevolent spiritual entities. These corrupt rulers had caused enormous suffering, violence, and injustice (v. 2).
Envisioning them as poisonous snakes or ravenous lions, David asks God to “break the teeth in their mouths: “O God! LORD, tear out the fangs of those lions!” (v. 6). David prays that these rulers would become powerless to continue their oppression. David is honest with God about his desire for their defeat. He prays that they will be “like a slug that melts away” or “like a stillborn child that never sees the sun” (v. 8). His harsh language may be difficult for modern readers, but it is important to remember two things. First, David is praying to God. God already knows the deepest desires of our heart and can handle our unbridled honesty. By praying, we can give these desires over to God. Second, David’s ultimate desire was for justice to be done, so that people will know that “there is a God who judges the earth” (v. 11).
>> I have often had people ask how to pray psalms like this when we are not personally suffering. One way is to pray on behalf of those who are. We can intercede for believers around the world who are suffering for their faith in Christ. Together we pray, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20).
Today, we pray for believers around the world who are suffering for their faith. They endure injustice and persecution, but you, the Lord of justice, the righteous Judge, are on their side. We praise you—your truth will prevail!