Psalm 109 is another of the so-called imprecatory psalms. Many Christians find the imprecatory psalms challenging and downright “unchristian” because they are so full of anger and unforgiveness toward a perceived enemy. Sometimes the psalmist calls down curses on his enemy, actions that are contrary to Christ’s command that we bless our enemies.
How shall we explain these psalms? Firstly, the psalms are honest. It’s a good thing to be honest about our hatreds as we stand before God. We certainly don’t want to hide our hearts from an all-seeing God or put on a front of false piousness. By spilling out all our hateful thoughts to God, we are giving presenting God with our true self. We also acknowledge that God is a loving Father who cares about our hearts and understands our pain.
Another aspect to remember is that very often the enemies spoken of in these hateful, cursing psalms are not human entities. If we view these psalms as containers of spiritual truths, we might be able to see that David is speaking against demonic enemies who are working behind the scenes. As St Paul writes, “We don’t battle against flesh and blood but against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
One does have to laugh though at the words at the beginning of the psalm: “To the chief Musician.” Who writes a hate song as a worship lyric? And yet, aren’t there cultures around the world with communal war chants? Still, it’s funny to imagine the Chief Musician saying to the alto: “Once more: ‘Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.’ But not the D-note. Make it a C this time. And add a little more venom.”
As Christians we’re supposed to be forgiving and to cleanse our heart of hatred. What spiritual growth or communion is one supposed to get from reading a psalm about someone else’s anger? What truth can one glean from this psalm as we read of the psalmist calling down debt, usurious fees, and childlessness upon his enemy and his posterity? Is it possible that many people are in credit card debt or childless because of cruel things done by their ancestors? I’m not sure. While the sins of the fathers can come down to the third or fourth generation. Jesus took our sins and debt upon himself. So while we often have to suffer the consequences of those sins — because sins are often like seeds planted in the lives of our children— God has truly forgiven us. The effects of our ancestral sins might be in our lives but God is not the one punishing the sinner.
Yet, there is a power in cursing and blessing, in wishing someone well and wishing someone badly. The psalmist understands this. He also understands that God stands in between the sinner’s curse and the believer, protecting the believer from any curse being slung at him. The psalmist even asks God for preferential treatment.
When it comes to sins, Christians indulge in self-forgiveness too frequently. We easily forgive ourselves, and often do not rectify the situation. The Bible speaks often of return what was stole -- money, possession, spouses, etc— but Christians often retain what they stole. The Bible also says that if anyone has something against us, we should go to them. Yet, Christians often think more about what we are owed by others rather than what we owe others. And there are few sermons about “winning back one’s wounded friend” while sermons abound on “how to forgive those who have wounded us.”
Still, some evils cannot be repaired. If lives were destroyed, or people killed, if children turned to drugs because of a divorce and went down a wrong path, or if someone ended up in hell because of our sin, there is nothing one can do. God has forgiven us, but how then should we live, knowing the high cost to God -- and to others-- for our sin?
1Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
3They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
4For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
5And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
6Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
7When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
8Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
12Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
13Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
14Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
16Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.
17As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.
18As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.
19Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.
20Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the LORD, and of them that speak evil against my soul.
21But do thou for me, O GOD the Lord, for thy name’s sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me.
22For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
23I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust.
24My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
25I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads.
26Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy:
27That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it.
28Let them curse, but bless thou: when they arise, let them be ashamed; but let thy servant rejoice.
29Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
30I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
31For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.