A Heart of Darkness
(7) His mouth is filled with curses, deceit, and oppression. Under his tongue are mischief and evil. (8) He lies in wait near the villages. From ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes secretly watch for the helpless. (9) He lies in wait secretly like a lion in his den. He lies in wait to seize the poor. He seizes the poor when he draws them into his net. (10) The helpless are crushed, bowed down, and fall by his strength. (11) He says in his heart, “God has forgotten. He has hidden his face. He will never see it.”
This segment of Psalm 10 furnishes us with a vivid analysis of the behavior of the wicked. In the opening and closing verses, the psalmist considers what an evil person would say and think (vss. 7 & 11). In the middle three verses, he describes how an evil person acts towards his victims (vss. 8-10).
Five negative synonyms describe how the wicked talk: with cursing, lying, oppression, mischief, and evil (vs. 7). Later, the psalmist describes how the wicked think, summed up in the phrase, “God will never hold me accountable” (vs. 11). As to behavior, the psalmist compares the wicked person to a lion hunting his prey. Note the dramatic progression as the scene unfolds. First, we see him hidden and watching, waiting to ambush the helpless (vs. 8). In the following verse, the psalmist uses repetition to heighten the dramatic effect: “He lies in wait, he lies in wait to seize the poor...he seizes the poor” (vs. 9). Finally, three vivid terms show us what results. “The helpless are crushed, bowed down, and fall” (vs. 10).
I. What the wicked person says (7)
II. How the wicked person acts (8-10)
III. What the wicked person thinks (11)
From evil hearts that disregard God come evil words and actions that damage and destroy like a lion attacking its prey.
For those who know the Lord, who have been cleansed of their sin and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, it can be difficult to imagine or remember what goes on in the hearts of the wicked. Those who have been saved out of lives of rebellion and alienation have put those dark days far behind them. Paul sought to remind the Ephesians what alienation from God looks like: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live...gratifying the cravings of (your) sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts” (Eph. 2:1 & 3). The psalmist helps us remember that the wicked are virtual atheists, either excluding God from their thoughts (vs. 4) or thinking him to be too distant and too indifferent to notice the evil that they do (vs. 11). Out of such thinking arises beastly behavior (vss. 8-10). Like a lion, the wicked seem concerned with only one thing, satisfying their own cravings at the expense of others.
What kind of response should such images produce in the hearts of those who know the Lord? In the animal world, the typical reaction to aggressive behavior is briefly described as “fright and flight.” We humans likewise have a tendency to become fearful and cautious, taking whatever steps we can to avoid such predators. However, when we consider how miserable and conflicted an existence far from God can be, our response should be modified to include compassion and concern for those who are so clearly alienated from their creator and isolated from their fellow human beings. While it may seem that the beastliness of the wicked can never be transformed into something beautiful, we should remember that no one is beyond God’s redeeming grace. Instead of reacting with fright and flight, we should respond with prayer, strategizing how we might show the grace of God to those who certainly do not deserve it but who desperately need it. Who knows how a gentle, loving response to the animosity of an evil person might be used by our gracious God to turn a savage into a saint?