March 23: Psalm 109
A prayer for God’s vindication against betrayal and deceit
87.87 Arise (Come, ye Sinners, Poor and Needy)
Beach Spring, p. 170
God, my Praise, O be not silent! Wicked and deceitful mouths
Now are opened wide against me; lying tongues against me speak.
They with hateful words beset me; they attack me without cause.
Spurning love, they do accuse me, even while I pray for them.
So for good they pay me evil, give me hatred for my love.
Set a wicked man against him, an accuser let him face.
When he’s tried, let him be guilty; let his prayer be counted sin.
May his days be few in number; may another take his place.
Without father be his children; may his wife a widow be.
May his children beg and wander, driven from their ruined homes.
May the lender make him bankrupt; strangers steal his hard-earned cash.
Let not one show kindness to him; let none help his orphan sons!
His posterity be cut off! May none live to claim his name!
May the evil of his fathers be recalled before the Lord.
May no wrong deed of his mother from the record be erased.
May they all before the Lord stand, pruned from earth their memory.
For he thought not to show mercy, but he persecuted still;
And he chased the brokenhearted, poor, and needy to their death.
He loved cursing; curses on him! He loathed blessing; give him none!
Like a coat he put on cursing; as with water entered him.
Let his cursing soak into him, be like oil within his bones,
Like the garb he wraps around him, like the belt he daily wears.
May this be to my accusers from the Lord their just reward;
This to those who speak but evil, who speak out against my life.
But may You, my God, Jehovah, do for me for Your name’s sake.
Great in goodness is Your mercy! Rescue me in steadfast love.
I am very poor and needy; stricken in me is my heart.
I am gone like ev’ning shadow, like a locust shaken off.
Both my knees are weak from fasting; gaunt my body has become.
Scorned am I by my accusers; seeing me, they shake their heads.
Help me, O my God, Jehovah; save me in Your mercy great.
Let them know that this is Your hand; You, O Lord, have done it all.
They may curse me, but You bless me. Let my foes be put to shame;
But may gladness fill Your servant, while dishonor covers them.
Clothed with shame be my accusers, wrapped up in their own disgrace.
With my mouth then will I offer great thanksgiving to the Lord.
In the midst of thronging people I will praise Him, for He stands
At the right hand of the needy, saving him from men of death.
(If using Beach Spring, repeat the second half of the tune for these lines)
In several places throughout this psalm, we see allusions to Christ’s suffering on the cross (verses 2-5, 25), and we also see the anguish of betrayal voiced in the cry for vindication (verse 8) which the apostles quoted in Acts 1:20 about Judas. And yet these very curses voiced throughout this psalm are the curses carried by Christ on the cross. He is both the betrayed and the one who bears the curse of the betrayer. Jesus, who alone is truly innocent, bears the very curses of this psalm upon Himself, releasing us from its grip. How does one learn to pray for enemies, as Jesus demonstrates on the cross? By first wrestling with the truth of the anguish, even voicing it to God, as the psalmist does here. Only then can the soul be cleansed of bitterness by the grace of Christ’s mercy and the power of His life within us. This psalm contains the very seeds of the Gospel, and singing this psalm enables us to enter into the voice of anguish and the emotion of betrayal, emerging on the other side as through a window into the power of redemption and forgiveness which is only possible in Christ.
Some modern folk evidently find Psalm 109 difficult to pray. The sentiments contained in it, after all, seem so violent and vengeful, so greatly at odds with the sorts of feelings that one would prefer to have during prayer. The real problem, nonetheless, is not with the psalm, but with ourselves. We modern Christians are far too disposed to establish our personal sentiments, our own spontaneous feelings, as the standard for our prayer. It is a big mistake to adopt this attitude, for it places even the authority of God’s inspired Word under the tribunal of our subjective sentiments. Is it not obvious that to set up our own feelings as the measure of our worship is utterly arrogant? If we are going to pray as Christians, it is essential that we submit ourselves unreservedly to the authority of the Holy Spirit who speaks in the inspired words of the psalms. In the present case, this will likely mean ignoring our feelings on the matter and going on to understand exactly what this psalm does, in fact say. It is recorded that the true meaning of our present psalm was one of the subjects that explicitly preoccupied the Apostles during those ten days that they spent in prayer in the upper room awaiting the coming of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, in our limited record of those ten days, this psalm is one of only two passages of Holy Scripture actually quoted on their lips. In the calamitous career of Judas Iscariot, then, we have the interpretive key and context to this very disturbing Psalm 109. It is no wonder that this psalm is unsettling, for it is concerned with the danger of damnation. During the several minutes that it takes to pray through this psalm, we are brought face to face with the real possibility of eternal loss. No one enjoys being warned that the apostasy of Judas could be chosen by any one of us. Such is the distressing, but very necessary, sane, and sobering thought raised in this important psalm. (Reardon, p. 215-216)