This verse read strangely to me this morning and called me to burrow a little deeper. Verses like this one are a simple matter to take as they are translated, but what called to me about this verse is what it implies about God.
In scripture, in most poetry of the ancient world, the arm was symbolic of strength. An odd choice, since the leg is significantly more powerful than the arm, but thighs/loins are also often synonymous with strength. A little digging and I learn that the choice of arm refers to a particular type of strength, namely influential strength. If a person has governing authority, then that power might be referred to as the person’s arm. We, in American English, used to refer to “the long arm of the law.” What the psalmist — David, in this case — is asking God to do is to break the authoritative power of the wicked and the evildoer. And who doesn’t want that? Everyone, except the wicked and evildoer, wants their power broken. The people oppressed by the wicked want the power of the wicked broken. Those wronged by the evildoer want the evildoer to lose authority. Those of us who witness the wicked and evildoer employing their power long for that power to be broken. It may not even be used against me and I want it broken. We, people, long for good and just rulers. More, we want those who wield power to do so for the good of the people they have power over.
The first part is pretty straightforward, really.
The psalmist then asks God to seek out the wickedness of the wicked and the evildoer until He (God) finds none. The seeking out that the psalmist seems to have in mind is an inquiry; a looking into the wickedness; a ferreting out of all the evil done by the evildoer. What fascinates me about the nature of the request is the result that the psalmist wants God to go after the wickedness in the wicked person and the evil in the evildoer until their is no wickedness or evil to go after any more. This result would leave a righteous person. What God does in the life of every believer is exactly what the psalmist is requesting in this verse. God justifies (saves) a believer. We are washed clean. We start anew. But, as Paul noted, there is an Old Man (capitalized to avoid confusion with a person who is merely geriatric) living inside of every believer and the Old Man is full of wickedness and evil. When I offer myself to God, He begins to ferret out the Old Man. God seeks out the wickedness still within the believer and removes it, bit by bit. God’s goal is to render the believer perfect; spotless; free of wickedness and evil deed.
And that may be why this verse struck me as it did this morning. I, just like every believer, began my walk with God as the wicked and the evildoer. I was reprobate. I have lived the vast majority of my life in the church and do not remember a time when I was not aware of God. I recall a time when I was a Pharisee and trusted in my own “righteousness” to get me through, but that ship has sailed. Regardless of how long I’ve walked with God, I began in the same place as all believers: wicked and evil; contrary to God. And God broke what I thought was my strength. Now; today; this very moment, God is seeking out the wickedness and evil deeds that remain in me. He is not looking for them in order to condemn, Romans 8:1 tells me that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. God is not trying to condemn, but to sanctify. He began salvation by forgiving my sins, but the Old Man is still in here trying to mess me up. God wants to cut the Old Man away so that the New Man — the life He put into me the moment He saved me — has power. The more power the New Man has and the less the Old Man has the more like Christ I will become. Like Paul, I do not consider myself to have arrived and those who know me will verify that I am not perfect, but there is progress. God is seeking out the wickedness and evil in me so that He can reach His goal. His goal is to find none. That is His goal. He wants to get me to the place where He looks for wickedness in me and finds none. He wants to look at what I’ve done on a particular day and see not one evil deed. That is His goal. And a grand and glorious goal it is. It makes me grateful that God is faithful to complete what He began in me (Philippians 1:6).
I know that the psalmist had other wicked people in mind when he wrote those words, but they just fit so well into what God is doing in the life of the believer that I felt I must write it down. God, please break what power I may think I have and seek out the wickedness; the evil deed in me until You find none.