Judge the Nations
(17) The wicked, all the nations that forget God, shall descend to Sheol (the grave), (18) for the needy will not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever. (19) Arise, Yahweh! Do not let humanity prevail. Let the nations be judged in your presence. (20) Put them in fear, Yahweh. Let the nations know that they are only human. (Selah)
Four words are repeated in these four verses: the noun “nations” (vss. 17 & 20), the verb “to forget” (vss. 17 & 18), the noun “man” or “humanity” (vss. 19 & 20), and the name “Yahweh” (vss. 19 & 20). The theme of this closing segment involves God's dealing with the nations of the earth which are also called “wicked” and “only human.” After describing the fate of those who “forget God” as opposed to the “needy” and “afflicted” whom God will not forget, the psalmist twice uses Yahweh’s name to describe how God will deal with those who oppose him.
I. God will not forget the needy. (17 & 18)
II. God will judge the nations. (19 & 20)
Knowing that God has promised to deal justly with both the perpetrators and the victims of evil should motivate our constant intercession.
In the middle of his prophecy against the wealthy who oppressed the poor and exploited the needy, the prophet Amos cried out, “Let justice roll down like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:24). Like David, Amos had reached a point of frustration where all he could do was beg the God of justice to right the wrongs of his day and usher in the promised rule of righteousness. That appeal has been the constant prayer of generations of those who anticipate that day when “the Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces…and remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth” (Is. 25:8).
In the meantime, we should be praying earnestly and working faithfully with the resources God has given us to bring his righteousness to bear in the settings in which we find ourselves. While intercession for God’s justice to prevail is indispensable to the process, we should also be asking God for opportunities to serve as ambassadors of his righteousness wherever we are even when our efforts may seem small and ineffectual and the tide of evil seems like an unstoppable tsunami.