Sin's Terrifying Power
(H) For the director of the choir, set to “Do not Destroy,” of David, a Miktam. (1) Do you indeed speak what is right, rulers? Do you judge uprightly, sons of men? (2) No, in your hearts you do injustice. On the earth you mete out the violence of your hands. (3) The wicked are estranged from the womb. They go astray from birth speaking lies. (4) They have venom like the venom of a snake, like the deaf cobra that stops up its ears (5) so that it does not hear the voice of charmers, the skillful casters of spells.
The psalm opens with two questions (vs. 1) followed by negative responses (vss. 2-5). The questions point to what should have been, rulers speaking truth and governing justly, while the responses show that injustice and violence prevail instead. These verses contain two strong statements about the lifelong nature of wickedness (vs. 3) supported by an illustration from the exotic world of snake charming (vss. 4 & 5).
The phrase, “the deaf cobra that stops its ears” (vs. 4), needs further explanation. Herpetologists, biologists who specialize in the study of amphibians and reptiles, tell us that while snakes have no external ears, they can sense vibrations with their jawbones and thus “hear” the movements of their prey. However, in the ancient world, the deafness of snakes was an accepted fact. This led David to compare those who stood opposed to God with poisonous cobras. They are dangerous for two reasons: their deadly venom which quickly kills the person they attack and their refusal to listen to reason.
I. Earthly rulers govern unjustly. (1 & 2)
II. The nature of their evil (3-5)
- They are wicked from birth. (3)
- They are as deadly and deaf as poisonous cobras. (4 & 5)
Earthly rulers govern with the same kind of injustice that characterizes unredeemed humanity, deadly as a cobra’s strike.
The problem of sin in our lives is far greater and more deep-seated than most of us want to acknowledge. David’s statement, “estranged from the womb” (vs. 3), reflects the truth found in a previous psalm: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). In other words, indwelling sin is a lifelong vexation for all of us. The psalmist’s vivid comparison of sin’s danger to the venom of unpredictable cobras used by snake charmers reminds us that there is only one outcome for those infected with sin apart from God. As Paul phrased it in Romans, “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Perhaps the best way to gauge the power and perversity of sin is to consider what it took to defeat iniquity, namely Christ’s death on the cross. Only the willing sacrifice of God’s own Son, the one who had lived a perfect life and died a perfect death, was sufficient to overcome the power and neutralize the poison of the sin that so thoroughly pollutes our lives and the lives of all humanity. No wonder Paul exulted at the end of 1 Corinthians: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).