Psalm of Wednesday 94: Where is Justice? Part One
The basic theme of the Wednesday Psalm, Psalm 94, is analogous to Psalm 82, the Psalm of Tuesday. Both Psalms touch on the massive evil that afflicts society. However, whereas Psalm 82 concludes with an entreaty, this one opens with one. Psalm 82 is a vision about celestial affairs; Psalm 94 treats in greater detail the oppressive reality that exists on earth.
And it goes further: it tries to understand why he the unprincipled scoundrels in power act as they do, and it offers a polemic designed to expose the folly of the kind of thinking that produces such irresponsible behavior.
There are three key repetitions, the opening Divine Appellation, “God of retribution,” the agonizing, searching question, “how long?” and the final, confident, unwavering declaration of faith that God “will annihilate” the evildoers.
The first two lines are an impassioned plea to God to manifest this quality of justice:
“God of retribution, Lord,
God of retribution, appear!
Rise up, Judge of the earth,
gives the arrogant their just desserts!”
At the outset, King David affirms his concept of an active God. This is necessary because, as he says later, the wicked believe in an essentially inactive deity. “God of retribution,” is paralleled by “Judge of the earth.” In this way, the understanding of “retribution” is clarified: it is not an arbitrary or vindictive act, but a judicial intervention against the guilty. Moreover, the epithet itself indicates that such is an essential and intrinsic characteristic of the Divine Personality.
We must note that the Hebrew term here that we are translating “retribution,” is often misleadingly rendered “vengeance” in many other translations. But that word conveys to the popular mind a negative, primitive conception of religion. “Vengeance” is usually taken to be synonymous with revenge, and implies actions prompted by base emotions. The Hebrew root, however, means nothing of the kind, in most instances, it signifies an action worthily motivated, purposeful, intended to serve the ends of justice. Unlike “revenge,” which is essentially antisocial, “retribution” is concerned with the indication, not with vindictiveness, with upholding or restoring a just social order, not primarily with retaliation.