How Long Shall the Wicked Exult?
An Exposition of Psalm 94
By Michael Aubrey
December 13, 2006
In Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for
Psalms - BI0213
Psalm 94 mixes together multiple elements of Psalm types together. “Gunkel classifies Ps 94 as a poem of mixed styles: a communal lament in vv 1–7; a sermonic section directed toward those who despise God in vv 8–11; a speech of blessing and encouragement in vv 12–15; and an individual lament in vv 16–23.” The seeming appearance of an individual lament in the last verses instead suggests the leader of the worshiping group. Likely, the Psalm is a combination of the first two, though perhaps sermonic is not the best terminology. Verses 12-15 contain many of the rhetorical and thematic features of wisdom literature. The Psalm seems to be a unified poem. Psalm 94, thus, seems to be the application of the communal lament for didactic purposes in the Israelite wisdom tradition. As to any title or inscription, the Hebrew text has none. The LXX has, “A Psalm of David himself, on the fourth day of the week.” There is no reason to accept the LXX’s superscription as being original.
Social / Historical Setting:
Potentially, Psalm 94 was written in the postexilic period when the rulers over clearly had no respect or recognition of the sovereignty of YHWH. The language and descriptions are reminiscent of Isaiah 58 and Malachi 3. “The situation resembles that faced by Amos and Micah, in which an unscrupulous ruling class oppressed the defenseless in society, those whom the prophets insisted were God’s special care.” It possibly refers to the evil kings of Israel and Judah during the Divided Kingdom, but unlikely. The petition for theophany in the first verses suggests a communal context. Jerusalem’s evil kings would hardly allow such a gathering to petition God against him. The Psalm is located in the current situation of evil leaders, but the main purpose is instruction for the people’s response of prayer. “In general, Ps 94 has the same genre as Ps. 91 and 112. These psalms were probably developed for use as liturgical instruction in the Jewish communities of the post-exilic period … although their use in the temple at Jerusalem should not be ruled out.”
History of Usage:
In later Judaism, Psalm 94 continued to be used in the liturgical setting. Thus, the superscription of the LXX, “A psalm of David, for the fourth day of the week.” VanGemeren writes of this superscription, “It reflects a later liturgical usage, as in the Talmud (b. Rosh Hashanah 31a).” Psalm 94.11 is reference a once in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 3.20. Paul’s use of this Psalm seems to reveals his affirmation of man as completely lost in sin and unrighteousness. While the Psalmist refers to the evil rulers, Paul applies the statement of futile thoughts to the men of the world. Psalm 94.11 is also most commonly cited by the Church Fathers than the other verses of the Psalm because of Paul usage in 1 Corinthians as well.
Interpretation of the Passage:
A clear connection exists between Psalm 93 and Psalm 94. The former is a consistent expression of the Lord as Sovereign over the entire world, how all creation is completely at his command, but coming to Psalm 94, the image seems to change. The Psalmist is in distress over the turmoil of the world and its evil rulers, who essentially spit in God’s face. Previously the Lord was declared and worshiped as King, but now the writer distresses because evil men rule with wicked deeds. Thus, these two Psalms together form a balanced picture of the fallen world. God does reign and maintains complete control. But the evil deeds on earth now still away the eschatological judgment of Psalm 93’s Sovereign King.
The prayer of the psalmist in 94 is utterly dependent upon the picture of God as described in Psalm 93. The editor placed these two Psalms together as if to point out that the psalmist prayer according to God’s will because his prayer is anchored in the character of God as portrayed in the previous Psalm and is expounded even more in the final verses of ninety-four, particularly in the rhetorical questions of verse 20. “Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute?” (ESV).
Psalm 94 can be divided into six strophes: Verses 1-3, 4-7, 8-11, 12-15, 16-19, 20-23. The first strophe could either be described as a chiasm or an inclusio. Whichever it is, the result is the same, emphasis lies on the middle colon. The first bicolon stands in contrast to the third with the call to God as Judge to rise up and judge the earth, dealing with them as they deserve. Nahum Sarna dislikes the translation, “God of vengeance,” because of the modern connotations of the word as thoughtless, emotional reaction. James Mays defines the Hebrew word as, “an act to enforce or restore justice where the regular legal processes were not competent or had failed.” These first three verses set the tone for the rest of the Psalm. Verses one and three also relate in form. The incomplete parallelism introduces the subject in the first line; then in the second, the subject is repeated with the verb as compensation for the first and completing the thought.
The central bicolon appears simply to be synthetic parallelism. Yet this synthetic parallelism comes from the necessity of external parallelism with the surrounding lines. The “???”at the end of verse one connects directly to the “Rise up” of the next line. ??? is used in Job 3.4 and 15.37 in a manner that suggests sunlight. Often times this word is used in order to find a existential connection with God's glory. What else could Israelites compare his glory to but the brightest object in creation? And just as the sun shines forth and rise over the earth, so also does God, who avenges shine forth and rise as judge over the earth. The next two lines also express external parallelism by introducing the antagonists of the Psalm, the proud. The next line develops these people, equating the proud with the wicked.
These three couplets also express a linear development as well. The Psalmist first names God as the avenger. He calls God to shine forth and rise up. Next the Psalmist gives the petition behind his call to God, namely, to “pay back to the proud what they deserve.” And lastly, he gives the cause or reason for his emphatic petition. The wicked are jubilant.
These verses act as an explanation of the psalmist's cry to God in verses 1-3. He wants God to rise up and judge because of the evil deeds of the wicked. They flow directly from verse three, "How long will the wicked, O Lord, how long will the wicked be jubilant?" The NIV translates these verses well with the repetition of "They" at the beginning of each verse (They pour out ... They crush ... They slay ... They say....) With in the Hebrew, these four verses the continuing repetition of the letter, "yod," pervades the text, repeated at least three times in each verse, creating a delightful assonance in the text.
Consistently the subject, verb and object present in the first line parallels the second in this stanza. In four and seven the subject is renamed, but has the same referent (They / evildoers; The Lord / God of Jacob). The verbs are morphologically different, but have similar meanings. Thus, they pour out in 4A because they are full in 4B. In five, they crush and oppress, and in six the Lord does not see, the God of Jacob pays no heed. Lastly, arrogant words parallels boasting in four, the LORD's people are his inheritance in five, and the widow and the alien and the fatherless are all killed in verse six. Verse seven stands out with no object for either line.
As with the previous strophe, the middle couplets are bracketed in by the outer two. The first two lines in verse four describe the attitude of these proud and wicked men. The tone of their words is arrogant and full of boasting. Verse seven reveals the actual arrogant words themselves. These proud, wicked men boast that God does not care what they do and more than that, he does not see their actions.
By the end of verse seven, a rather ugly picture has developed of the wickedness of these people. Their pride is expressed in their conceited words, the boldness of their arrogant actions which essentially spit in God’s face. And when no response or retribution for their evil comes form God they confidently say all the more that God does not see and does not care. This shocking and emotional image created by the Psalmist guides the reader to side with him in his initial prayer to God to shine forth and judge.
Here in verse eight, the object of the psalmist's words changes. While in verses one through seven the focus has been to God, verse eight shifts to exhortation to those who are senseless. The context clearly indicates that these people are the wicked of verses 3-7. As will be seen below, this strophe comes completely as a response to the words of the wicked in verse seven.
The psalmist's response comes in the form of eight lines. The first to describing the state of the wicked's knowledge and the last two describe the state of God's knowledge in relation to the wicked. In the center, are found four rhetorical questions. These directly correlate with words of the wicked above. "The LORD does not see; the God of Jacob pays no heed." And now the psalmist replies, "Does he who implants the ear not hear? Does he who formed the eye not see? Does he who disciplines the nations not punish? Does he who teaches man lack knowledge?” (NIV). He challenges the wicked’s view of God, as one who is uncaring, who created and then left everything on its own, to be ignorant and foolish.
Sarna describes the perspective of the wicked as "practical atheism."  Clearly, while they are not true atheists since they acknowledge God’s existence, they still behave as if God does not exist. These wicked men believe God does not notice or even care about their deeds. Considering their actions of verses 4-7, they may as well be atheists. Their perspective is utter nonsense. God created the ear and the eye. He hears all, knows all, and sees all. As the Judge of the earth, judges accordingly.
Verses 12-15 form the fourth stanza of the Psalm. Standing in apposition to the previous verses this strophe portrays the contrast existing between the wicked (verses 8-11) and the righteous (12-15). Verses 12-15 form the fourth stanza of the Psalm. Standing in apposition to verses 4-76, this strophe portrays the contrast existing between the wicked (verses 8-11) and the righteous (12-15). These verses are all directed to God. The wicked pour out arrogant words, but the blessed man teaches God's law. While the wicked views God as having not concern for man, the psalmist describes the man who teaches God's law blessed. Showing clearly the very fact that since God gave his law to Israel, he logically also cares for man. Verse 13 continues in the same manner God does see and does pay heed to men, by granting relief from the days of trouble. The next line acts in an epexegetical manner for "days of trouble." These days of trouble are the digging of the pit for the wicked. The psalmist is confident of coming judgment on the wicked.
The two lines of verse 14 are unique in the direct connection between the second strophe and this one in the repetition of "people" and "inheritance." While the wicked crush and oppress God's people, his inheritance, God will never reject and never forsake them. The last two lines, verse 15, is a response to verse seven. The Lord does see and the God of Jacob does pay heed. The psalmist expresses eschatological hope, knowing that judgment will come and that it will be founded on righteousness.
In fifth strophe, the psalmist cries out to the Lord, asking for his aid against the wicked. "Who will rise up for me against the wicked? / Who will take a stand for me against evil doers?" The next verses mark an unusual shift. Up until this point the text has suggested a present even for which the psalmist is in need of deliverance, but here, the focus changes to a past event from which he has already been delivered. Most likely the psalmist is remembering God's past faithfulness for two reasons. It is an expression of confidence, while also acting as part of his prayer to God, reminding the Lord of his previous work. The psalmist knows that YHWH is the only one who can deliver him from death (lit. my soul would have dwelt in silence). Silence and death were synonymous in Hebrew culture. In Sheol, the semi-existence of people, there was only silence and thus, non worship.
The final stanza contains three distinct units. Verses 20-21 focus primarily upon the wicked in a manner that stands in contrast to verses 22-23. The third unit is the single colon ending the Psalm, “the Lord our God will destroy them.” Verses 20 is a rhetorical question, “Can a corrupt throne be allied with you [the Lord]—one that brings on misery by its decrees?” The obvious negative answer to the question anticipates the conclusion of the Psalm, since the wicked cannot be allied with God, the wicked are thus the Lord’s enemies to be destroyed.
These first four lines overflow with external parallelism: corrupt throne / the Lord as a fortress, band together / the Lord will repay, and condemn the innocent / destroy them for their wickedness. The contrast is clear. While the wicked are on the throne, God is ruling and protecting the righteous and innocent as a fortress of a king. Though the wicked band together, they will be overcome by the Lord. And though the wicked condemn the innocent; eschatologically, God will judge and destroy them. The final line of the Psalm leaves the words hanging in the minds of the listeners and readers. While the line acts as the conclusion to a tricolon, it could be considered only half a bicolon, concluding the Psalm with an abruptness that catches the audience and forces them to think back on the words, “The Lord our God will destroy them.”
Outline of the Text:
- Initial Petition to God (Verses 1-3).
- Prayer for God’s self revelation (Vs 1).
- Prayer for God’s judgment of the wicked (Vs 2).
- Plea for action (Vs 3).
- The Deeds of the Wicked (Verses 4-7).
- Arrogance (Vs 4).
- Oppression of God’s people (Vs 5).
- Murder of the Innocent (Vs 6).
- Denial of God (Vs 7).
- Instruction (Verses 8-15).
- Correcting the foolish ways of the wicked (Verses 8-11).
- A Call to Understanding (Vs. 8).
- God does hear, see, and will discipline (Vs. 9-10).
- God knows man futile thoughts (Vs. 11).
- Blessings on the Obedient (Verses 12-15).
- Who is blessed (Vs 12).
- The Disciplined man
- And Obedient man
- Form of blessing – Rest (Vs 13).
- Reason for blessing (Vs 14-15).
- The Lord will not forsake His People.
- Justice will return to the righteous.
- Second Petition to the Lord (Verses 16). #. Recognition of the Lord (Verses 17-23).
- Recognition of the Lord’s past protection (Vs 17-19).
- Recognition of the Lord’s justice (Vs 20-23).
- A Righteous God cannot be allied with evil (Vs 20-21).
- The Lord is with the righteous (Vs 22).
- The Lord will judge the wicked (Vs 23).
1. The believer must understand the difference between vengeance and vindication. The former being emotional outbursts, but the latter deals with justice and making the wrong right.
2. Following the line of thought in the previous point, prayer should always be the believer’s first line of response to the evil events which take place in the world.
3. The believer can consistently depend and rely upon the Lord’s faithfulness to punish the wicked, though waiting will be involved and judgment might come fully only eschatologically. Thus the believer’s hope is in the Lord, God. The believer must learn to understand that the Lord’s silence toward the deeds of the wicked is the evidence and even beginning of His judgment.
4. The believer ought to follow the psalmist’s example in recognizing that regardless of the circumstances, vengeance and retribution are the Lord’s doing not man. The believer must observe that the psalmist does not act, but rather he prays, petitioning God to act on his behalf in accordance with His character, that is, the Lord’s character as holy and as just. God cannot allow sin to go unpunished because of his character.
5. The believer needs to desire to grow in his relationship with the Lord and knowledge of who God is so that he also can petition God in such a way that is in line with God’s will and eternal character. Such knowledge only comes by dilligent study of scripture, God’s revelation to man.
6. J. A. Motyer states it well when he writes, “Our faith rests on his untroubled sovereignty (Ps. 93), but in life we find ourselves in the place of difficulty (Psalm 4–7), opposed in word, deed and by a philosophy of life which does not necessarily deny God’s existence, but thinks of him as inactive, non-interventionist and irrelevant.”
7. The believer’s enemies are both physical and spiritual. The believer ought to remember to pray for God’s judgment and retribution against the spiritual enemies of this world.
Broyles, Craige C. Psalms. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publisher, 1999.
Carson, D. A. New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996, c1989.
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations, vol. XV, The Forms of the Old Testament Literature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
Mays, James L. Psalms. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994.
Sarna, Nahum M. On the Book of Psalms. New York: Schocken, 1993.
Tate, Marvin E. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Dallas, TX: Word Inc., 2002
VanGemeren, Willem. Psalms, Expositors Bible Commentary vol. 5, electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997
 Marvin E. Tate, vol. 20, Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas, TX: Word Inc., 2002), 485.
 Cf. Craige C. Broyles, Psalms (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publisher, 1999), 371. Though Broyles occasionally goes overboard in his search for liturgy, he correctly observes, “The speaking ‘I’ who confesses the Lord as ‘my God’ (v. 22) refers to ‘the LORD our God’ in the very next verse.”
 Ibid, 486.
 Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible (electronic ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996, c1989), Ps 94:1.
 “Theophany for its part being a communal affair, this kind of plea could have been used only in congregational contexts.” Erhard. S. Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations, vol. XV, The Forms of the Old Testament Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), 177.
 Tate, 487.
 Willem VanGemeren, Psalms, Expositors Bible Commentary vol. 5 (electronic ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), Psalm 94:1.
 James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1994), 302. Cf. Nahum M. Sarna, On the Book of Psalms (New York: Schocken, 1993), 192-193. Sarna concludes a better translation would be retribution. “…retribution is concerned with vindication, not vindictiveness, with upholding or restoring a just social order, not primarily with retaliation.”
 Sarna, 199.
D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (electronic ed., Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Ps 94:1.