Why Dost Thou Stand Afar Off, O Lord?


Ryan Goodwin


Psalm 10:1 – “Why dost Thou stand afar off, O Lord? Why dost Thou hide Thyself in times of trouble?”

          The writer of Psalm 10 propounds a question that has been asked by every human. He wonders why it is that God allows evil people to prosper and inflict great harm on those who are righteous. It is as if, as the text describes, God is standing far away and ignoring the plight of those crying – even to the point of hiding Himself from the pleas of His people. Isaiah remarks, “Truly, Thou art a God who hides Himself” (Isaiah 45:15), just as Job responds to his broken state with the words, “When he acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; when He turns on the right, I cannot see Him” (Job 23:9).

          When we suffer in our own individual ways, we are tempted to question God as well. A parent grieving for a lost child; a woman who finds herself afflicted by cancer; a Christian whose faith is tested by constant and horrible tribulations; a soldier on the battle field who sees the destruction and suffering of war firsthand. Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? One writer comments, “Why does God stand aloof? Why, after delivering His people from their foreign foes, does He not interfere to protect His true people from their domestic oppressors. . . He seems neither to see nor hear. The psalmist inquires – Why? It can only be answered, ‘In His wisdom; for His own purposes; because He knows it to be best” (Pulpit Commentary, Vol. VIII, Rawlinson, 65). Perhaps there is a grand reason why good people suffer – their spiritual growth, their maturation, etc. Or maybe there is no reason at all. In any case, we must remember what is said in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord.”

          This psalm brings up several very significant and difficult questions with regard to the success of the evil and the suffering of the good. By studying the text, it is my hope that we can each come to a greater understanding of the will of God in our lives. What we must first do is cease from blaming God for our troubles. Instead of asking ‘why am I suffering’ all of the time, we need to realize that it is more beneficial to ask ‘what can I do in response to my suffering?’


Psalm 10:2-4 – “In pride the wicked hotly pursue the afflicted; let them be caught in the plots which they have devised. For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord. The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’”

          The psalmist now turns to a description of those who afflict him. There are some valuable lessons we can learn from these verses, as we all know individuals very much like the ones described here – wicked, greedy, boastful individuals whose only purpose in life is to demean, brag, and punish those who attempt to live by righteousness. Notice how the wicked are not afraid to put effort in their labors; their pursuit is hot and intense, and their plots are intricate. Sometimes the most evil people in the world are the ones who are willing to put in the most effort to achieve their goals (such as Nazi Germany, the Homosexual Rights Movement, corrupt politicians, etc.). “Let them be caught in the plots which they have devised.” It is only fitting that evil people are foiled by their own plans, and there is nothing wrong with praying to God about this (as it is common in the psalms; Psalm 35:8, 141:8-10, 7:15-16, Ecclesiastes 10:8). Often, this is the fate that befalls sinners, such as Haman in Esther 7:10, who ends up being hung on the same gallows that he had built to kill the Jews.

          “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desire, and the greedy man curses and spurns the Lord.” Again, we may know people who fit this description perfectly, either from work or from school. The wicked people described here are those who actually take pride in their corruption. They boast in how many women with whom they have fornicated, or how much money they have made from illegitimate sources. Perhaps they brag about lies they have told, pornography they have acquired, even people they have killed. As for greedy people, they have no trouble prodding God with insults. Instead of giving Him the credit He deserves, they take their own credit and praise themselves over the mighty Father, who deserves every bit of gratitude we can muster. What foolishness to boast in evil!

          Beyond all of that, the psalmist examines the fundamental problem behind all wickedness. “The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek Him. All his thoughts are, ‘There is no God.’” Is this not atheism? Most atheists try to argue that their philosophies put them on a higher plain than everybody else – they are seeking true knowledge and the secrets of the universe. Yet, these pragmatic atheists end up rejecting true knowledge by not seeking God (James 3:13-18). The motivation behind every wicked deed is selfishness, with no regard to the Higher calling of the Lord. Without realizing it, though, the pragmatic atheist ends up hurting his own arguments in practice. For a man who claims to not believe in God, the fellow in this verse sure thinks about Him a lot! It is odd how unbelievers are consumed by the idea of God – with every sin that is committed, it takes constant and repeated self-reassurance to convince himself that there is no God!


Psalm 10:5-6 – “His ways prosper at all times; Thy judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his adversaries, he snorts at them. He says to himself, ‘I shall not be moved; Throughout all generations I shall not be in adversity.’”

          “His ways prosper at all times.” First of all, we must not assume that all wicked people prosper all the time. From our perspective it might seem like his life is pretty easy – as if wicked people always get the best jobs, the nicest cars, the most beautiful homes, the trophy wives, the fame and fortune, and all the magazine covers a person would want! We sometimes consider our own existence and become envious of the evil, just as another psalmist writes in Psalm 73:3-8, “For I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” What we fail to realize, though, is that the grass is never greener, the water is never warmer, and the honey is never sweeter. Wealthy, famous, wicked people are plagued by suffering – albeit different manifestations of it. They are usually bad at marriage and raising children (consider Britney Spears), in fear of abuse by the media, constantly concerned and worried about money, miserably addicted to drugs and alcohol, gluttonous, angry, depressed, stressed, and unfulfilled spiritually. Again it only seems like the wicked always win in life, from a negative perspective.

          “Thy judgments are on high, out of his sight.” While the wicked claim to not believe in God, and mock Him with proud words of blasphemy, we must trust that God is working behind the scenes in this world. For the evil person, though, it is unfortunate that his mind is so clouded by self-absorption that he cannot see the judgments of God working in his life – they are “out of his sight.” It is only when it is too late can the unrighteous man finally see God (1 Thessalonians 5:3).

          When a wicked person considers his ways, all he sees is his own success. He is deluded into thinking he is safe, creating a false sense of security and opening him up to self-destruction. The man in this psalm snorts at his enemies, scoffing them with an overconfident strut. Let us fear this kind of attitude, especially when we read the words of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” Also we must understand that this boastful, self-assured attitude is only the beginning of ruin (Proverbs 16:5,18-19). By pride, men have lived and died; in death, though, the discovery is that pride really does nothing for us but make the final judgment harder, the final fall more excruciating. The king of Tyre displayed this same attitude during the time of Ezekiel, but the Lord quickly pronounced judgment against this self-proclaimed ‘god’ (Ezekiel 28:2,7-10).


Psalm 10:7-11 – “His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and wickedness. He sits in the lurking places of the villages; in the hiding places he kills the innocent; his eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate. He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair; he lurks to catch the afflicted; he catches the afflicted when he draws him into his net. He crouches, he bows down, and the unfortunate fall by his mighty ones. He says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; He has hidden His face; He will never see it.’”

          We are now given a description of the kind of actions that this wicked man takes. Not only is he boastful and proud, but he uses cruelty to back up his great words. “His mouth is full. . .” He is not just cursing every now and then, but refuses to stop. Everything he says is devoted to deriding or harming someone else, especially those who are already weak. Every thought, every word, every facial expression, every obscene gesture – it is all conducted for the purpose of evil. Within this mouth, he also keeps mischief and wickedness stored up for whenever the time for abuse arises. This is the kind of person who always has a response to the Gospel, or a quick comeback; he has the slick argument, or the question of the century. He knows just what to say to get under a righteous person’s skin!

          It is necessary that we understand what kind of victims this wicked person seeks. The words used to describe them include “the afflicted,” “the innocent,” and “the unfortunate.” These are all very powerful words, indicating the true weakness behind evil people. The man in this psalm never attacks or harms the strong, the influential, the dedicated, or the warrior because he knows he cannot defeat them. Instead, he looks to pick on somebody smaller than him, like little children or widows (Isaiah 10:1-2). For a similar interpretation consider Psalm 94:4-7, especially in the words, “They crush Thy people, O Lord, and afflict Thy heritage. They slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the orphans.” Do these kinds of injustices enrage us? They should, and if we can look at these vile deeds with no feeling then it is to our shame. That is why God makes it clear that there are few things more abominable in His sight than cruelty to the weak (Proverbs 6:16-19). Unfortunately, we meet a number of people who try to argue that there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of feeble (or feeble-minded) individuals; they would say, “Survival of the fittest, right? Well, if somebody’s stupid enough to get tricked by me then he deserves to be taken advantage of!” Not according to Psalm 10! In the same way, our Lord condemns such voracity in Matthew 23:14 when He accuses the Pharisees of devouring the meager holdings of widows.

          “He sits in the lurking places. . .” This is a fascinating term because it so precisely describes the activities of wicked people. Like lions, or hideous beasts lying in wait, the person in this psalm lives his life in a constant state of readiness. He seeks his victims, eludes detection, pounces on them in the night, in the dark places of the street. Do we ever find ourselves in the “lurking places?” Is that kind of place a Christian ought to be? What is so shameful is that many people walk directly into the snare of the wicked without even realizing that it was entirely preventable. How many once-strong Christians have been led astray while working in disreputable environments, or how many believers have died in a moment of weakness when faced with great temptation, or how many of us have become jaded and cynical because we spend all day around sinners and no longer feel fervor for the Gospel? The path of the wicked only leads to dark alleys and mysterious roads – there is danger in those “lurking places” and we must learn to fear them (Philippians 3:18-19).

          “He crouches, he bows down, and the unfortunate fall by his mighty ones.” There are two interpretations to this verse. Either the phrase means that people are destroyed because of the claws of the wicked (like a pathetic rodent being ensnared by talons), or that the wicked work in teams. “His mighty ones” could mean his thugs, or his goons. “The ‘strong ones’ are the ruffians whom the wicked man employs to effect his purposes” (Rawlinson, 67). It is interesting that many evil people would be nothing without their followers! What strength, after all, would Goliath had had without the rest of the Philistines? How far would the Babylonians and Persian kings gotten by themselves? Sanballat would not have caused such a great disturbance to Nehemiah without the help of the Arabians, Ammonites, and Ashdodites!


Psalm 10:12-15 – “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Thy hand. Do not forget the afflicted. Why has the wicked spurned God? He has said to himself, ‘Thou wilt not require it.’ Thou hast seen it, for Thou hast beheld mischief and vexation to take it into Thy hand. The unfortunate commits himself to Thee; Thou hast been the helper of the orphan. Break the arms of the wicked and the evildoer, seek out his wickedness until Thou dost find none.”

          Why is this psalm important to the Christian? Because it describes very real people; there are cruel, terrible, vicious people out there who spend every moment of their lives finding ways to harm others, especially those already oppressed. Perhaps we may never see such affliction in the physical sense, but we must open up our eyes to the suffering of our brethren all over the world. In a closer sense, we may find ourselves afflicted spiritually every day. Consider the imagery in this psalm in a non-physical manner: there are wicked men in organized religions who corrupt the Bible and abuse it to accomplish their greedy ends; they boast about the droves of souls who have been caught up in their new religious fads or apostasies; unbelievers are always looking for ways of disproving the Bible and smearing foulness all over the morals presented therein. When it all boils down, friends, it can be quite disturbing and discouraging for a Christian today. This psalm offers us hope!

          “Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up Thy hand.” The very fact that the writer asks for help from God is evidence that he believes in Him. He has faith that God can exact justice at the appropriate time, and he refuses to give up that faith. Though his enemies are “vigorous and strong” (Psalm 38:19) he will not stop believing in the Lord! “He has said to himself, ‘Thou wilt not require it.’” This a response for anybody who wants to believe that there is no Hell. Indeed, there is Hell, and anybody who thinks that God does not have the capacity for such a revenge ought to consider His words!

          What is so encouraging about this section of scripture is the final, utter resolve of God, and the writer’s unerring, unwavering belief in Him. Where is the doubt? Where is the disbelief? Where is the faltering mind of the lukewarm Christian? Gone is any fear, friends! Having considered the evil in the world, this psalmist can confidently cry to the Lord for justice! “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). But is this not in direct contradiction to what the wicked man proclaims so boldly, that God does not hear, neither does he have the capacity to rescue? In the end, every deed that a wicked man does will be remembered (Colossians 3:25).
Every time he takes advantage of a widow, or abuses an orphan, or steals from the poor, or entices weak women to follow him in his error (2 Timothy 3:6), or mocks God and challenges Him to show Himself; the Lord hears it all.

          “Break the arm of the wicked and the evildoer.” We even get to see a little bit of the mercy of God here, in that the life of the wicked person is spared for a time. The arm is broken so that his deeds are impeded, but he is allowed to live on in that state. In the same way, we should never want to see unrighteous people dead – for we are all unrighteous before God, and thus all deserve death. “Seek out his wickedness until Thou dost find none.” When that final judgment comes, there will be no room left for error, not even minor wickedness. God will completely destroy this earth and its works, and bring His children into a dwelling place where sin and death will never exist. There will be no hiding place for wicked people!


Psalm 10:16-18 – “The Lord is King forever and ever; Nations have perished from His land.  Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble; Thou wilt strengthen their heart, Thou wilt incline Thine ear to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, that man who is of the earth may cause terror no more.”

          The writer ends with a few statements about the nature of God in wrath and mercy. The thoughts of these verses are reminiscent of the Christ’s sermon from Matthew 5. The meek inherit the earth, whilst those who are engaged in constant evil find themselves cast out from the presence of God. “Nations have perished from His land.” I like this phrase because it places even the greatest kingdoms in a very humble place compared to God. Nations come and go every few generations – even Rome only lasted for a few hundred years – but the earth remains forever (Ecclesiastes 1:4). No matter how strong mankind becomes, God is still Master and King of everything and He can destroy a nation at a whim (remember Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and eventually Rome).

          As we close, I want to tie things all together with the last two verses of Psalm 10. When we look out to the world and see how successful evil people are – apostate teachers and their false religions, corrupt politicians and businessmen, cruel war lords, unbelievers who mock us and spurn God – it can be discouraging. Although it may seem that God is doing nothing – sometimes – we  must always bear in mind the simple truth that God works mysteriously and in His own time. We must remember the sweet words of Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” While the wicked and greedy go about taking advantage of the weak and helpless people, God hears and sees it all. Every prayer offered by a suffering believer is heard by God, who redeems the humble of this world to everlasting life (James 4:6). As was noted at the beginning of the lesson, the psalmist asks ‘why’ when presented with all the impiety of the world. But instead of always asking ‘why,’ we ought to ask ‘what’ – that is, ‘what can I do in response to this evil?’ What can we each do when faced with adversity, or affliction? What can we do in spite of all the evil of this world? The people of Acts 2:37-38 ask the same question: “‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. . . Be saved from this perverse generation!’”