Psalm 109 — Should we say terrible things? — Reading the Psalms

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

1 Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of deceit have they opened against me:
They have spoken unto me with a lying tongue.
3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred,
And fought against me without a cause.
4 For my love they are my adversaries:
But I give myself unto prayer.
5 And they have rewarded me evil for good,
And hatred for my love.
6 Set thou a wicked man over him:
And let an adversary stand at his right hand.
7 When he is judged, let him come forth guilty;
And let his prayer be turned into sin.
8 Let his days be few;
And let another take his office.
9 Let his children be fatherless,
And his wife a widow.
10 Let his children be vagabonds, and beg;
And let them seek their bread out of their desolate places.
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath;
And let strangers make spoil of his labour.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him;
Neither let there be any to have pity on his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off;
In the generation following let their name be blotted out.
14 Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD;
And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15 Let them be before the LORD continually,
That he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
16 Because that he remembered not to shew mercy,
But persecuted the poor and needy man,
And the broken in heart, to slay them.
17 Yea, he loved cursing, and it came unto him;
And he delighted not in blessing, and it was far from him.
18 He clothed himself also with cursing as with his garment,
And it came into his inward parts like water,
And like oil into his bones.
19 Let it be unto him as the raiment wherewith he covereth himself,
And for the girdle wherewith he is girded continually.
20 This is the reward of mine adversaries from the LORD,
And of them that speak evil against my soul.
21 But deal thou with me, O GODthe Lord, for thy name’s sake:
Because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me,
22 For I am poor and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me.
23 I am gone like the shadow when it declineth:
I am tossed up and down as the locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting;
And my flesh faileth of fatness.
25 I am become also a reproach unto them:
When they see me, they shake their head.
26 Help me, O LORD my God;
O save me according to thy mercy:
27 That they may know that this is thy hand;
That thou, LORD, hast done it.
28 Let them curse, but bless thou:
When they arise, they shall be ashamed, but thy servant shall rejoice.
29 Let mine adversaries be clothed with dishonour,
And let them cover themselves with their own shame as with a mantle.
30 I will give great thanks unto the LORD with my mouth;
Yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
31 For he shall stand at the right hand of the needy,
To save him from them that judge his soul.

What a collection of difficult & terrible ideas in this psalm! It is no hard thing to imagine David’s anger and frustration as we read his words. This great man of God is beset by those who hurt others, seemingly without any purpose. As David tries to work good they return it with evil. Is it no wonder David proclaims such terrible things?

What, then, do we do with these words? Do we reject them as if spoken by an evil man? This is hard, as they’re written by the pen of David and preserved for us in God’s own word. Stepping back and looking at the whole may help our view of the psalm.

These evil ones are destroyers of God. David, failing in his efforts to do good for them, gives them over to the judgment of God. His petition to God is that they suffer; but notice the manner of suffering. For instance, vs. 12 reads, “let there be none to extend mercy … to have pity”. These, among other pronouncements sound like David asking that God’s gifts of blessing be withheld. The ones who’ve always cursed will be covered by curses themselves. They ran up a tab of injustice and the collection agency is around the corner. David’s wish is that they come to collect.

How does this psalm make you feel? What forms of injustice you’ve suffered may make a difference to your interpretation. Suffering is indeed great in this world, but it is not evenly spread. Some suffer more than others. What we ought to do with this psalm is heed the warning it provides for unjust behavior and strive to be like the man David describes at the end of the psalm: dependent on God’s mercy, not trying to use his own strength to hurt others.

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