Psalm 109 – A Prophecy of Vengeance Against Hateful Enemies
Psalm 109 is titled To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. Some think the Chief Musician was the choirmaster for King David; others think it was a poetic reference to God Himself, the author of music itself.
This is a Psalm of David, and is thought to be the strongest of what are known as the imprecatory psalms, David’s songs that call down curses upon his enemies. It is important to remember that these are prayers, committing vengeance unto God. With the greater revelation of grace and truth that came by Jesus Christ, we understand that we are to pray for the good of our enemies, and not for their ruin.
Yet, we remind ourselves that David refused to act upon these curses; he left vengeance up to God. This is especially relevant regarding David, who knew what it was to take life with the sword. When David withheld vengeance, it was because he chose to, not because he lacked the opportunity, skill, or courage.
A. A prayer for deliverance.
1. (1-3) Deliverance from the hatred of enemies.
Do not keep silent,
O God of my praise!
For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful
Have opened against me;
They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
They have also surrounded me with words of hatred,
And fought against me without a cause.
a. Do not keep silent, O God of my praise: David was once again in trouble, beset by many enemies. The mouth of the wicked spoke against him, so he prayed that God would not be silent. He did not want the mouth of the deceitful to have the last word.
i. O God of my praise: “A resolute stand taken before the troubled thoughts surge in. The psalm will feel its way back to this vantage point, but only regain it in the last two verses.” (Kidner)
b. Fought against me without a cause: David was confident in his own innocence in reference to his enemies. Their harsh words were spoken with a lying tongue, and their words of hatred were without a cause.
i. “There is nothing more easy than to wag a wicked tongue.” (Trapp)
ii. “In all Satan’s armoury there are no worse weapons than deceitful tongues.” (Spurgeon)
2. (4-5) Deliverance from the ingratitude of those who hate.
In return for my love they are my accusers,
But I give myself to prayer.
Thus they have rewarded me evil for good,
And hatred for my love.
a. In return for my love they are my accusers: In the previous lines David insisted that the hatred of his enemies against him was without cause. Here he further explained that he extended love to these adversaries, but they gave David evil for good, and hatred for…love.
i. Accusers is the same basic Hebrew word that we also translate Satan – the accuser. “Hebrew, they satanically hate me. To render evil for evil is brutish, but to render evil for good is devilish.” (Trapp)
b. But I give myself to prayer: David’s response was proper, even using a New Testament understanding. The following lines are filled with bitter wishes that form something of a prophecy of doom against these enemies. Yet David did nothing to bring this doom against these enemies. That was God’s work, not his own. As for David, he would give himself to prayer and leave it with the LORD.
i. “The Hebrew is more abrupt and therefore even stronger. It says literally, ‘But I prayer.’ That is, ‘I am all prayer or characterized by prayer. While my enemies are uttering false words about me to other people, trying to do me harm, I am speaking to God. I am praying to God always.’” (Boice)
ii. “He did nothing else but pray. He became prayer as they became malice. This was his answer to his enemies, he appealed from men and their injustice to the Judge of all the earth, who must do right.” (Spurgeon)
B. A prophecy of doom.
1. (6-13) Destruction upon the enemy’s family.
Set a wicked man over him,
And let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is judged, let him be found guilty,
And let his prayer become sin.
Let his days be few,
And let another take his office.
Let his children be fatherless,
And his wife a widow.
Let his children continually be vagabonds, and beg;
Let them seek their bread also from their desolate places.
Let the creditor seize all that he has,
And let strangers plunder his labor.
Let there be none to extend mercy to him,
Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off,
And in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
a. Set a wicked man over him: David now speaks of his enemy in the singular, either having in mind the leader of the larger group mentioned in verses 1-5, or making a single target out of many. When David prophesied doom over his enemy, he began with the wish that in judgment his enemies would be ruled by a wicked man. Ungodly leadership is a form of God’s judgment upon a people.
i. This begins a long and intense set of curses that David pronounced against his enemy. There are some who think that verses 6-20 describe the lying words that David’s enemies spoke against him, and that the use of the singular in that section proves it – as well as later in verse 20. Morgan had this opinion: “I entirely agree with those expositors who treat this passage as the singer’s quotation of the language of his enemies against him.”
ii. The main argument against this approach is how Peter, in Acts 1:20, quoted Psalm 109:8, applying the verse to an evil man rightly condemned (Judas) and not to an innocent man wrongly condemned.
iii. “We therefore take these words to be David’s own, and while giving due weight to the element of righteous anger and of rhetorical hyperbole, we see them as comparable to the outbursts of Jeremiah and Job: recorded for our learning, not for our imitation; yet voicing the cry of innocent blood which God is pledged to hear.” (Kidner)
iv. It is fair to note that the tone of these curses are generally in the form of prophecies rather than immediate curses. David predicted the righteous judgment to come rather than pronouncing it – though, he certainly wished for this judgment.
v. “David was well known, even praised, for being a nonvindictive, long-suffering, and merciful man. We have only to think of the two occasions when David could have killed his archenemy King Saul if he had wanted to (1 Sam. 24, 26). David did not even think of killing Saul. He said instead, ‘I will not lift my hand against my master, because he is the Lord’s anointed’ (1 Sam. 24:10). All the imprecatory psalms have the flavor of Romans 12:19: ‘“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.’ They leave the execution of justice in God’s hands.” (Boice)
b. Let an accuser stand at his right hand: The curse David had in mind was of an accuser or adversary standing in the place of aid and help; the guilty one would be left without help and instead would have Satan at his right hand (considering that the Hebrew word for accuser is Satan).
c. When he is judged, let him be found guilty: David thought of every possible calamity that could come upon his enemy. In the court of law, he would be guilty. When he prayed, the prayer itself would become sin. His life would be short and another would occupy his office.
i. The phrase let another take his office was, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, quoted by Peter to determine that the apostles should replace Judas in their apostolic number (Acts 1:20). The hateful enemy described by David was certainly a preview of Judas, who fought against Jesus without cause (Psalm 109:3) and rewarded the good Jesus did to him with evil (as in verse 5).
d. Let his children be fatherless: David prophesied that the doom to come upon this hateful enemy would extend to his families. His short life meant his children would be orphans and his wife a widow. His orphan children would suffer great poverty and themselves have cursed lives (in the generation following let their name be blotted out).
i. “Psalm 109:10-15 extend the maledictions to the enemy’s children and parents, in accordance with the ancient strong sense of family solidarity, which was often expressed in practice by visiting the kindred of a convicted criminal with ruin, and levelling his house with the ground.” (Maclaren)
ii. “We are staggered to find the children included in the father’s sentence, and yet as a matter of fact children do suffer for their father’s sins, and, as long as the affairs of this life are ordered as they are, it must be so.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “A breach of the covenant resulted in the execution of the curses, including famine, sickness, exile, and death (Lev 26:14-39). Thus the psalmist prays that the Lord’s word will be fulfilled with regard to the profligate.” (VanGemeren)
2. (14-20) Destruction against the enemy’s many sins.
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD,
And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let them be continually before the LORD,
That He may cut off the memory of them from the earth;
Because he did not remember to show mercy,
But persecuted the poor and needy man,
That he might even slay the broken in heart.
As he loved cursing, so let it come to him;
As he did not delight in blessing, so let it be far from him.
As he clothed himself with cursing as with his garment,
So let it enter his body like water,
And like oil into his bones.
Let it be to him like the garment which covers him,
And for a belt with which he girds himself continually.
Let this be the LORD’s reward to my accusers,
And to those who speak evil against my person.
a. Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD: David hoped that the sins of his enemy’s ancestors would also be held against his enemy, and that the remembrance of those sins would be continually before the LORD.
b. Because he did not remember to show mercy: This enemy and his companions despised the goodness David extended to them (verse 5). Yet the hateful ways went beyond the wrong done to David; he also persecuted the poor and needy.
i. Matthew Poole thought that the poor and needy man was David himself, “who was desolate and miserable, who required pity, and not additions of cruelty.” (Poole)
c. That he might even slay the broken in heart: This merciless cruelty to the broken in heart was completely contrary to the nature of God. The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart (Psalm 34:18); God never despises a broken heart (Psalm 51:17).
d. As he loved cursing, so let it come to him: David’s prayer was rooted in simple justice. He wanted God to do to this enemy what that guilty man had done to others. David wanted the man to be clothed with curses.
i. “The wicked’s love for cursing became so much a part of him that the psalmist describes it as if ‘he wore cursing as his garment’.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “Retaliation, not for private revenge, but as a measure of public justice, is demanded by the Psalmist and deserved by the crime. Surely the malicious man cannot complain if he is judged by his own rule, and has his corn measured with his own bushel.” (Spurgeon)
e. Let this be the LORD’s reward to my accusers: This emphasizes that this is a prayer from David. As he said in verse 4, he would pray and leave the matter to the Lord. David wished and prophesied this doom; but it would be God’s job to perform it.
i. “All these maledictions shall be fulfilled on my enemies; they shall have them for their reward.” (Clarke)
C. A plea for help.
1. (21-25) Help requested because of weakness.
But You, O GOD the Lord,
Deal with me for Your name’s sake;
Because Your mercy is good, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
And my heart is wounded within me.
I am gone like a shadow when it lengthens;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting,
And my flesh is feeble from lack of fatness.
I also have become a reproach to them;
When they look at me, they shake their heads.
a. Deal with me for Your name’s sake: David understood that it wasn’t enough to have his enemy judged. David needed help from God, from Yahweh Adonai. David asked on the basis of God’s name and mercy, not on the basis of his own righteousness.
b. My heart is wounded within me: David was poor and needy, and shows that he was the one broken in heart mentioned in verse 16.
c. I am gone like a shadow when it lengthens: David’s misery was also physical. He felt his life was wasting away, complaining that his flesh was feeble from lack of fatness. The hateful enemy either caused this physical weakness or took advantage of it.
d. When they look at me, they shake their heads: People looked at David in his sorry condition and despised him (become a reproach), shaking their heads in both pity and disgust.
2. (26-29) Help requested with a heart for God’s glory.
Help me, O LORD my God!
Oh, save me according to Your mercy,
That they may know that this is Your hand—
That You, LORD, have done it!
Let them curse, but You bless;
When they arise, let them be ashamed,
But let Your servant rejoice.
Let my accusers be clothed with shame,
And let them cover themselves with their own disgrace as with a mantle.
a. Help me, O LORD my God: David’s plea was straightforward and simple. Like the woman of Canaan with the demon-possessed daughter (Matthew 15:21-25), he asked God for help. As in verse 21, he asked for it on the basis of God’s mercy, not his own merit.
b. That they may know that this is Your hand: It was very important to David that his enemies and all who looked on him knew that his rescue was from God’s hand; the LORD had done it. He didn’t want deliverance only for his own sake, but also for the glory of God.
i. That this is Your hand: “Ungodly men will not see God’s hand in anything if they can help it, and when they see good men delivered into their power they become more confirmed than ever in their atheism; but all in good time God will arise and so effectually punish their malice and rescue the object of their spite that they will be compelled to say like the Egyptian magicians, ‘this is the finger of God.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Let them curse, but You bless: David understood that the curses of his enemies could never triumph over the blessings of God in his life. This would make David rejoice and his enemies be clothed with shame, wearing their disgrace as if it were a mantle.
3. (30-31) Confidently praising God for His answer.
I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth;
Yes, I will praise Him among the multitude.
For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor,
To save him from those who condemn him.
a. I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth: David’s heart was to see God honored in this deliverance. He would praise God vocally and publicly (among the multitude).
i. “The psalm began with addressing ‘the God of my praise’; it ends with the confidence and the vow that the singer will yet praise Him. It painted an adversary standing at the right hand of the wicked to condemn him; it ends with the assurance that Jehovah stands at the right hand of His afflicted servant, as his advocate to protect him.” (Maclaren)
b. He shall stand at the right hand of the poor: God is to be praised for His love and care for the poor and for those oppressed by such hateful enemies who condemn the righteous.
i. The One who shall stand is “…replacing the figure of the accuser, who stands at the right hand of his victim, by the figure of God who stands at the right hand of the needy in a very different sense. It is the complete answer.” (Kidner)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org