Summary: Psalm 109 is a prayer that sticks in our throats – quite rightly, for we realize how serious it is. But this Psalm teaches us to realize what’s at stake in this life.
When we open our Bibles we sometimes come across things that are very hard. Some things in the Scriptures we struggle to understand – and some things we struggle to accept.
For example, in the Psalms we find in several places words full of violence and hostility. In Ps 58:6 we read, “Break the teeth in their mouths, O God.” In Ps 69:28, “May they be blotted out of the book of life.” Or we stumble on the horrible saying in Ps 137:8-9, “O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he… who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” And finally, Ps 109, our text today, is full of the same; we read these words: “May his days be few” (v 8); “May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow” (v 9).
We are greatly astonished, for these are not quotations of evil men; they are spoken by the Psalm-writers, inspired by God. It’s hard not to be shocked when we read these words, apparently dripping with malice and hate.
As you might know, these sayings are from a certain type of Psalm within the Psalter; they’re from a group called the imprecatory Psalms. Imprecatory Psalms – for to imprecate means to curse. These Psalms are prayers for God to curse the wicked, to cut off those who abuse God’s people. With many variations on the theme, God is called upon to inflict terrible things on the wicked.
There have been many questions about these Psalms. And we can’t fully answer all these questions today. But with Scripture open, we can start making sense of these “Psalms of Cursing.”
First, we need to see whether we should even look at these particular Psalms. For there are Christians who say such cursing is an “Old Testament thing to do.” It’s pointed out that these nasty words, about children being killed and names being blotted out, were spoken long before Jesus told us to love our neighbor as our ourselves. Here the view is that the New Testament is all about forgiveness and love, while the Old is about justice and wrath. This is false: we know sincere love is at the heart of Old Testament law.
Others say we need to realize that the authors of these Psalms are simply getting caught up in their emotion. In their seething anger, they don’t really mean what they say – it’s all emotional exaggeration, like we can get carried away when we’re really excited. But while there is much emotion in these Psalms, we know all Scripture is given by God. It’s all for our instruction and encouragement – even if it’s uttered with intense feeling.
And we see this in how these Psalms are composed. They weren’t quickly written in the heat of the moment. Rather, they’re carefully put together, with structure and themes and development. We even see from the headings over these Psalms that they’re meant to be sung in public worship; look at the heading of Ps 109: “For the director of music.” God wanted all his people to sing this Spirit-written Psalm, even to the sound of stringed instruments and horns. Let’s then take a closer look at Ps 109. On this Psalm, I preach to you God’s Word under this theme,
Hounded by evil men, David asks God to vindicate his Name. Consider:
1) the intense suffering he endures
2) the passionate prayer he offers
1) the intense suffering he endures: As we begin looking at this Psalm, we must pause for another moment at the heading. There we learn that this is a Psalm of David. That is striking, more so when we realize David wrote no less than five of these Psalms “of cursing.” From Scripture we know David was “a man after God’s own heart.” If anyone walked in God’s grace and favour, it was this shepherd boy who became king. It’s hard to picture David writing the kinds of things we find in these imprecatory Psalms. And yet this Psalm does fit in well with the suffering that God made his servant endure.
For David often had to deal with enemies – and not just the usual enemies of God’s people like the Moabites or the Philistines. David had to deal with people who mocked him, or attacked him, because of what he stood for. Think of how King Saul continually hounded David, though David had done no wrong. Or think of a person like the coward Shimei, who threw stones at David and cursed him for being a man of blood (2 Sam 16:5ff).
In settings like this we can imagine this Psalm being written. For the main thing that concerns David is this personal attack against him. “O God,” prays David in the opening verses, “…wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me” (v 1). Evil people were “opening their mouths” against David – not biting him, but doing much worse: They were tearing him down with their words.