16 The LORD is king forever and ever;
the nations perish from his land.
17 O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear
18 to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 10:16–18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
17–18 God’s kingship was revealed to Israel (Ex 15:18) and came to expression in Israel. Because God is faithful to the covenant, he has promised to judge (NIV, “defending,” v. 18) the needy. “The fatherless [cf. v. 14] and the oppressed” is a reference to the class of people who were most easily wronged (cf. 82:3) but were protected by God’s law (Ex 22:22–24; Dt 10:18; 16:11, 14; cf. Isa 1:17; Jer 7:6; Jas 1:27; cf. F. C. Fensham, “Widow, Orphan, and the Poor in Ancient Near Eastern and Wisdom Literature,” JNES 21 : 129–39; see Reflections, p. 119, Yahweh Is King).
God grants to the needy their “desire” (v. 17) by stopping the reign of terror by people who act as gods. The MT has two infinitive constructs—“to judge” and “to terrify”—translated in the NIV with God as the subject of the judging and “man” as the subject of the terrorizing. Parallelism requires that God be the subject of both verbal forms: “defending … and terrifying.” But the negative particle bal (“not”) changes the second colon into a result clause (so NIV). Craigie, 121, renders bal in an affirmative sense: “Once again, he will continue to execute judgment for orphan and oppressed, to terrify mere earthlings!” (for the basis, see C. F. Whitley, “The Positive Force of the Hebrew Particle בל,” ZAW 84 : 213–19).
The idiom “man, who is of the earth” expresses the weakness of people (ʾenôš; cf. 9:19–20). People are weak and confined to the earth, an “earthling” (Craigie, 123), whereas God is King. Calvin, 1:157, comments appropriately, “The phrase of earth contains a tacit contrast between the low abode of this world and the height of heaven” (cf. Isa 2:22).
10:17–18 (Tāw) The psalm closes with a final expression of confidence: The desires of the afflicted, O Lord, you hear. As one might expect, the poetic references to the body feature prominently: You make firm their hearts, you make ready your ear. Throughout the psalm, a pressing issue has been that the wicked oppress the innocent. The psalm ends with the affirmation that God judges the wicked for the very purpose of protecting the innocent—there is no separation between the two actions.
The Lord is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more (vv. 16–18). The psalmist ends with a song of complete confidence in the Lord, and he was so certain of being heard by him that he describes the result of his prayers as a present reality. He recognises that the Lord exercises his kingship over the whole land, and will even destroy the enemies from it. That thought is remarkable, because in the psalm the enemies are opponents within Israel. However, the concept of judgment on the enemies reminds him that God will also deal with the external enemies of Israel. Verse 17 contains the assurance that the prayers he has already expressed for the afflicted are indeed heard by God (notice the variety of terms the psalmist uses for the needy: weak, verse 2; innocent, verse 8; helpless, verse 12; fatherless, verses 14 and 18; afflicted, verse 17; oppressed, verse 18). What God does is to make the heart firm (niv ‘encourage’; for the negative use of this expression, see Ps. 78:8). Man, who boasts of his might, is but frail man (Heb., ʾenôsh, cf. Ps. 9:19) who will no longer be able to terrify others. He is ‘of the earth’, a mere earthling who cannot stand before the judge of all. This psalm reminds us that under persecution and oppression we must turn to God for relief. Our pattern is Jesus who, ‘when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly’ (1 Pet. 2:23–24). The same epistle counsels us that if we suffer we are to commit ourselves to our faithful creator and continue to do good (1 Pet. 4:19).
10:16–18 / The psalm’s closing verses return to hymnic forms, which do offer praise to God but also serve to remind him of the actions he must now reenact. Again, the verbal echoes tie the psalm into an integrated unit:
|The Lord reigns forever (v. 7).
|The Lord is king forever and ever (v. 16).
|You have rebuked the nations …
|The nations will perish from his land.
|The memory of them has perished (vv. 5–6).
|Nor the hope of the afflicted ever perish (v. 18).
|You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted (vv. 16–17).
|He will judge the world in righteousness …
|… judging the fatherless and the oppressed (v. 18).
|The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed (vv. 8–9).
Declaring One’s Confidence in the Judge (10:16–18)
10:16–18. The psalm concludes with a declaration of praise: The Lord is King forever and ever. He has a confident look at the final, future state, when everyone will recognize the Lord for who He is and always has been—the true King of all the earth (cf. 47:7)—and nations (lit., “Gentiles,” i.e., those opposed to the true God and His people) will have perished from His land (i.e., all of the redeemed/recreated “new earth”; cf. Zch 14:9; Rv 21:1). The use of the past (i.e., perfect) tense verbal expression—in this case, have perished—is a common feature of prophetic-predictive statements in the OT and is intended to underscore the absolute certainty of a future event. Such events are described, as it were, from God’s timeless perspective, as if they had already happened. The Lord had heard the request of the humble and would vindicate the orphan and the oppressed. The man who is of the earth, the person who is not following God, will no longer cause terror because they will no longer be in power over the righteous and innocent (cf. 49:12, 20; 56:4, 11; 62:9; 118:6–9).
16–18. Nothing can be more beautiful than this close. By strong faith in the divine goodness, though the Psalm began under the deepest sorrow, in the apprehension of God’s withdrawing, yet now, taking confidence in the faithfulness of Jehovah, here is full triumph. The cause of Christ, his Church, his redeemed, is God’s own cause; and while the Lord Jehovah is preparing mercy for his redeemed, and deliverance from all their enemies, he is preparing their hearts to receive it. And the deliverance shall be so great, their triumphs so complete, and their salvation so finished, that the man of sin shall no more be permitted to oppress them. Hallelujah. Amen.
10:16–18. God is King
Because God is King, the nations that seek to destroy him and his people will come to nothing (v. 16). While the wicked person boasts about the cravings (tā’ăwâ, v. 3) of his heart, so God hears the desire (tā’ăwâ, v. 17) of his afflicted people and will encourage them. God takes care of those who are weak and vulnerable (the fatherless and the oppressed), with the result that no mere person will ever again strike terror in God’s people.
The psalmist (of Pss 9 and 10) celebrates God’s past victories over the evil nations, while at the same time calling on him to intervene in the midst of a present crisis. The enemy in view is a hostile nation, although the threat leads the psalmist to reflect on the nature of the wicked man (10:2–11). While the psalmist believes God is absent at present (10:1), he is confident that he will have the final victory (10:16–18).
Christians today are in the midst of a spiritual battle (Eph. 6:10–20), but they can call on Jesus their Warrior to battle the ‘powers and authorities’. They can be confident that Jesus will have the final victory. Jesus himself was killed by wicked men (‘with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross’, Acts 2:23), but God had the final victory through the resurrection (‘it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him’, Acts 2:24).
While the psalmist speaks of the wicked man as opposed to the righteous (10:2–11), Paul cites verse 7 along with a number of other passages from Psalms and Isaiah in order to describe the pervasive sinfulness of all humanity (see Rom. 3:9–20). He makes this point in order to emphasize that our salvation is not the result of our own efforts, but rather through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (‘all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’, Rom. 3:23–24).
Ver. 17. Thou hast heard the desire of the humble.—The desire of the humble encouraged:—
- The characters here spoken of. Though there be great difference between man and man with regard to natural character, yet the truly humble before God are those only whom He has humbled. The humble are those whom God doth teach the plague of their own hearts. He humbles them by discoveries of themselves.
- The desires here spoken of. The soul of man is a restless principle. The souls of the humble ones do desire. The humble soul wants a clearer inward witness of his adoption; a renewed application of the blood of Christ to his conscience; a deeper sense of his acceptance in the Beloved; a closer walk with God.
III. The encouragements here spoken of. Three expressed in the text—
- “Thou hast heard the desire of the humble.”
- “Thou wilt prepare their heart.”
- “Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear.” (J. Evans.)
The desire of the humble:—
- Here is a character described—“the humble.” It is a characteristic of all Christians. Humility befits us if we regard—
- The meanness of our origin—“dust.”
- Our sinfulness.
- That pride is hateful in the sight of God. What evil it has wrought; how unwarrantable it is.
- But God hears the desire of the humble. What is that desire? It is to know the want of Himself. To have an interest in Christ. To think highly of others. To adore the goodness of God, and to be obedient to His will.
- God prepares such a heart.
- By giving conviction of sin.
- By encouraging trust in Christ.
- By giving desire after holiness.
- By emptying him of self.
III. God hears and answers prayer.
- Because they come in Christ’s name. Because—
- He is their Father.
- He Himself has bidden us pray; and
- Prepared their hearts to do so. He who will not pray has no excuse. (T. Scott, M.A.)
- The lowliest form of prayer may be most true and acceptable. “The desire of the humble.” It is only a desire. It may not be uttered. Many prayers are very prettily expressed, in fact, so grandly that their tawdry fineries will not be tolerated in heaven. God will say, “They were meant for men, let men hear them.” The desire of the humble may not be recommended by any conscious attainments. If your stock-in-trade is made up of empty vessels, and little else, the Lord can deal with you as He did with the prophet’s widow, “who had empty vessels not a few.” Your little oil of grace He can multiply till every vessel is filled; and you may have no confident expectation. I would chide your unbelief, but I would encourage your desires, for that desire which God hears is not to be despised. Note that it is “the desire of the humble.” It has this advantage about it that it is free from pride. Now, to be humble is a sweet thing; there is no lovelier spot on the road to the Celestial City than the Valley of Humiliation: he that dwells in it dwells among flowers and birds, and may sing all day long. The desire of the humble is saturated with a gospel spirit, and therefore is acceptable to God.
- And He is quick to hear it. “Thou hast heard the desire.” This must be a Divine science. We hear much about thought-reading now. Whatever this may be, here is a wonderful instance of it with the Lord. It is an act which God has exercised in all ages. “Thou hast heard,” &c. It is a matter of frequent fact, the record of a deed.
III. The heart is the main matter in prayer. Desires are the fruit of the heart. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” When a fair wind fills the sails of desire, then make all possible headway.
- God Himself prepares the hearts of His people. “Thou wilt prepare their heart.” I am rejoiced at this statement, because preparation is such an important business. And it is often difficult as it is important. Surely none but the Lord can prepare the heart for prayer. One old writer says it is far harder work to raise the big bell into the steeple than to ring it when it is there. This witness is true. In that uplifting of the heart lies the work and the labour. Now, God prepares the heart by restraining wandering thought, by giving us deep sense of need, and by working in us strong faith.
- Prayer from prepared hearts must be heard. “Thou wilt cause Thine ear to hear.” He will, for if God had love enough to prepare your heart He has grace enough to give you the blessing. His goodness and faithfulness ensure that He will. Where God leads you to pray, He means you to receive. Be comforted, therefore, you beginners in prayer. God is inclining His ear to catch the faintest moan of your spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gracious desires and prayers of the humble:—
Lord Bolingbroke once asked Lady Huntingdon how she reconciled prayer to God for particular blessings with absolute resignation to the Divine will. “Very easy,” answered her ladyship; “just as if I were to offer a petition to a monarch of whose kindness and wisdom I have the highest opinion. In such a case my language would be, ‘I wish you to bestow on me such a favour; but your majesty knows better than I how far it would be agreeable to you or right in itself to grant my desire. I therefore content myself with humbly presenting my petition, and leave the event of it entirely to you.’ ”
Verse 17.—There is a humbling act of faith put forth in prayer. Others style it praying in humility; give me leave to style it praying in faith. In faith which sets the soul in the presence of that mighty God, and by the sight of him, which faith gives us, it is that we see our own vileness, sinfulness, and abhor ourselves, and profess ourselves unworthy of any, much less of those mercies we are to seek for. Thus the sight of God had wrought in the prophet (Isaiah 6:5), “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” And holy Job speaks thus (Job 42:5, 6), “Now mine eye seeth thee: wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” This is as great a requisite to prayer as any other act; I may say of it alone, as the apostle (James 1:7), that without it we shall receive nothing at the hands of God! God loves to fill empty vessels, he looks to broken hearts. In the Psalms how often do we read that God hears the prayers of the humble; which always involves and includes faith in it. Psalm 9:12, “He forgetteth not the cry of the humble,” and Psalm 10:17, “Lord thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou will prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.” To be deeply humbled is to have the heart prepared and fitted for God to hear the prayer; and therefore you find the Psalmist pleading sub forma pauperis, often repeating, “I am poor and needy.” And this prevents our thinking much if God do not grant the particular thing we do desire. Thus also Christ himself in his great distress (Psalm 22), doth treat God (verse 2), “O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season am not silent. Our fathers trusted in thee. They cried unto thee, and were delivered. But I am a worm, and no man; reproached of men, and despised of the people; (verse 6) “and he was “heard” in the end “in what he feared.” And these deep humblings of ourselves, being joined with vehement implorations upon the mercy of God to obtain, is reckoned into the account of praying by faith, both by God and Christ. Matt. 8.—Thomas Goodwin.
Verse 17.—“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” A spiritual prayer is a humble prayer. Prayer is the asking of an alms, which requires humility. “The publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Luke 18:13. God’s incomprehensible glory may even amaze us and strike a holy consternation into us when we approach nigh unto him: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee.” Ezra 9:6. It is comely to see a poor nothing lie prostrate at the feet of its Maker. “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.” Gen. 18:27. The lower the heart descends, the higher the prayer ascends.—Thomas Watson.
Verse 17.—“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble,” etc. How pleasant is it, that these benefits, which are of so great a value both on their own account, and that of the divine benignity from whence they come, should be delivered into our hands, marked, as it were, with this grateful inscription, that they have been obtained by prayer!—Robert Leighton.
Verse 17.—“The desire of the humble.” Prayer is the offering up of our desires to God in the name of Christ, for such things as are agreeable to his will. It is an offering of our desires. Desires are the soul and life of prayer; words are but the body; now as the body without the soul is dead, so are prayers unless they are animated with our desires: “Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble.” God heareth not words, but desires.—Thomas Watson.
Verse 17.—God’s choice acquaintances are humble men.—Robert Leighton.
Verse 17.—He that sits nearest the dust, sits nearest heaven.—Andrew Gray, of Glasgow, 1616.
Verse 17.—There is a kind of omnipotency in prayer, as having an interest and prevalency with God’s omnipotency. It hath loosed iron chains (Acts 16:25, 26); it hath opened iron gates (Acts 12:5–10); it hath unlocked the windows of heaven (1 Kings 18:41); it hath broken the bars of death (John 11:40, 43). Satan hath three titles given in the Scriptures, setting forth his malignity against the church of God: a dragon, to note his malice; a serpent, to note his subtlety; and a lion, to note his strength. But none of all these can stand before prayer. The greatest malice of Human sinks under the prayer of Esther; the deepest policy, the counsel of Ahithophel, withers before the prayer of David; the largest army, a host of a thousand Ethiopians, run away like cowards before the prayer of Asa.—Edward Reynolds, 1599–1676.
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