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Psalms Series Two

Imprecation

Psalm  109

Lesson audio

It sometimes astonishes the Christian to discover the imprecatory Psalms. It seems unimaginable that Scripture would contain such things – but it does. We shall examine one here and attempt to deal with the difficulties.

Complaint

Psalms 109:1-5 NASB For the choir director. A Psalm of David. O God of my praise, Do not be silent! (2) For they have opened the wicked and deceitful mouth against me; They have spoken against me with a lying tongue. (3) They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, And fought against me without cause. (4) In return for my love they act as my accusers; But I am in prayer. (5) Thus they have repaid me evil for good And hatred for my love.

The nature of God

One of the principles found in the Psalms is the constant appeal to the nature and character of God. David points out two such characteristics – which also outline his complaint:

  • First, God is the “God of my praise.” No reader of the Psalm could doubt that David praised God continually in his life. It is to that God that David makes his appeal, as if to say, “I praise you; you are worthy of it.”
  • So then it makes some sense to ask God not to be silent in return. It seems that this silence is now grating, and David pleads for God to act. It’s “just do something.”
The nature of the righteous

Please note that David does not bring up his many sacrifices to God, nor his following the Law. His complaint comes down to this:

  • He is being persecuted by the wicked without cause. He has done nothing to deserve any such treatment as this.
  • Indeed, his actions are characterized not so much by obedience as by love. He has followed Christ’s dictum to “love your enemies.”[1]
  • So much does David love them that he has done the ultimate in love: he has gone to the Almighty in prayer on their behalf.

Do you see the point? It’s not David’s obedience to the Law, but his following God in loving his enemies that counts.

The nature of the evil

This is a very penetrating analysis of the nature of evil people. This is not a description of David’s enemies in the field; rather, of those who surround him. See if any of this sounds familiar:

  • First, there is false accusation. Something rises in the human heart which wants to point the finger. Often enough the accusation is so outrageous, so out of character that its very improbability argues for it. No one would accuse him of that unless it were true, so to speak. This is very difficult to defend against.
  • Look at this phrasing: “surrounded by words.” It’s that halo of misrepresentation, misquotation, scorn and satire that makes such talk attractive. (This is why the Scripture calls gossip and slander sin). The attack is not legal but social.
  • Worst of all, because I love, they hate. It’s a commonplace today. As C. S. Lewis once said of “moderns,” they hate. Period.[2]

Imprecation

This is the hard part:

Psalms 109:6-20 NASB Appoint a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand. (7) When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, And let his prayer become sin. (8) Let his days be few; Let another take his office. (9) Let his children be fatherless And his wife a widow. (10) Let his children wander about and beg; And let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes. (11) Let the creditor seize all that he has, And let strangers plunder the product of his labor. (12) Let there be none to extend lovingkindness to him, Nor any to be gracious to his fatherless children. (13) Let his posterity be cut off; In a following generation let their name be blotted out. (14) Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, And do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out. (15) Let them be before the LORD continually, That He may cut off their memory from the earth; (16) Because he did not remember to show lovingkindness, But persecuted the afflicted and needy man, And the despondent in heart, to put them to death. (17) He also loved cursing, so it came to him; And he did not delight in blessing, so it was far from him. (18) But he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment, And it entered into his body like water And like oil into his bones. (19) Let it be to him as a garment with which he covers himself, And for a belt with which he constantly girds himself. (20) Let this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, And of those who speak evil against my soul.

Fundamental problem

Let us state the obvious question: how can a loving God approve of such a request from a loving follower? After all, God is the God of mercy, right?

Take it from first principles: the Christian is a follower of Christ, an imitator of Christ. Does Christ ever show such anger? Indeed he does, in clearing the Temple. He shows such imprecation towards the Pharisees too, often starting with, “woe to you, Pharisees …” Evidently it is permissible – particular when its object is the hypocritical religious leader.

There exists such a thing as righteous anger. It is a part of God’s character, called the wrath of God. Indeed:

Psalms 7:11 NIV God is a righteous judge,

a God who expresses his wrath every day.

Apparently, then, we have neglected this part of the Scripture, for righteous anger is nowhere to be found in the church today. The main argument against it is something like this: after all, those folks are sinners just like us. To answer this, we must take a side trip into a little bit of philosophy.

Concept of “just desert”

The modern concept of justice is rather different from the ancient one. Our system of justice says there are three reasons for locking up a criminal:

  • One is to warehouse the criminal. If he’s off the streets, he won’t commit the same crime until he’s out. Warehousing reduces crime.
  • A second reason is deterrence. By locking up someone we think is guilty, we discourage others from doing the same thing.
  • The third reason is rehabilitation – that the prisoner might become, somehow, a productive member of society.

But will you please note that not one of these reasons cares about the guilt or innocence of the prisoner? You don’t need to be guilty; only convicted.

The ancient theory started with a different concept: just desert. Even if the punishment did nothing to warehouse the criminal, or deter others, or rehabilitate the criminal, punishment was inflicted because the prisoner deserved it.

And, prophetically, this one does deserve it. In the first chapter of Acts Peter applies this to Judas. Now you see the just desert. He earned it.

So we see the possibility of invoking God’s wrath. But do not neglect the righteousness needed to stand before God.

Why doesn’t God just slay the wicked?

So, then, to take the other side, why is it that God doesn’t just automatically slay the wicked? It would save us so much time and trouble, right?

  • There is the problem of free will. If one is free to choose righteousness and love, one is free to chose evil and hatred. God earnestly desires that you love him. Evil is the price of that desire.
  • God is also patient. He is giving the wicked a chance to repent.[3]
But deal with me…

Psalms 109:21-31 NIV But you, O Sovereign LORD,

deal well with me for your name's sake;

out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. (22) For I am poor and needy,

and my heart is wounded within me. (23) I fade away like an evening shadow;

I am shaken off like a locust. (24) My knees give way from fasting;

my body is thin and gaunt. (25) I am an object of scorn to my accusers;

when they see me, they shake their heads. (26) Help me, O LORD my God;

save me in accordance with your love. (27) Let them know that it is your hand,

that you, O LORD, have done it. (28) They may curse, but you will bless;

when they attack they will be put to shame,

but your servant will rejoice. (29) My accusers will be clothed with disgrace

and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. (30) With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;

in the great throng I will praise him. (31) For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,

to save his life from those who condemn him.

But deal with me

It’s a logical question: why should God treat me any differently? We’re all sinners. David’s answer is found in two things: the nature of God and David’s affliction.

The nature of God

Note that the appeal is made not on David’s merits but upon the mercy, the loving kindness of God. There are two threads of thought here:

  • First, David appeals for the sake of God’s name. It is to God’s glory that he is ever constant, ever ready to help us. It’s God’s reputation at stake.
  • Next, he appeals to the character of God – who delights to help the helpless and defend the widow and orphan.
The Suffering Servant

Next, David appeals on the basis of his suffering. He is human; he has human needs. Three appeals may be seen:

  • There is physical suffering.
  • There is also social suffering. We are social animals; to be the object of ridicule and whisper is genuinely painful.
  • There is spiritual suffering; it is the wounded heart. A man betrayed by a good friend knows such suffering.

In this way David establishes his appeal to God. God is loving; David is needy.

At the judgment

Finally, this poem is a prophetic one as well. It is a picture of the Last Judgment. Our accusers will put forth the charges, but do not fear. The wicked will rise from the dead only to be clothed in shame and dishonor. The righteous will find Christ at their right hand, defending them, now and forever.

There is comfort in this: you are not alone. Many other children of God have been slandered, whispered about and condemned. But God knows your name; he knows your character. Go on doing good, loving your enemies and praying for them. The Lord, He knows.


[1] Matthew 5:43-48

[2] I remember the bitter venom of the National Organization of Women towards the Promise Keepers movement – a man’s marital fidelity was somehow equal to enslaving his wife.

[3] 2nd Peter 3:9

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