For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.
My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my friendship.
Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.
May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labour.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord,
that he may blot out their name from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness,
but hounded to death the poor
and the needy and the broken-hearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse –
may it come back on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing –
may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
like a belt tied for ever round him.
May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil of me.
But you, Sovereign Lord,
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is wounded within me.
I fade away like an evening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees give way from fasting;
my body is thin and gaunt.
I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads.
Help me, Lord my God;
save me according to your unfailing love.
Let them know that it is your hand,
that you, Lord, have done it.
While they curse, may you bless;
may those who attack me be put to shame,
but may your servant rejoice.
May my accusers be clothed with disgrace
and wrapped in shame as in a cloak.
With my mouth I will greatly extol the Lord;(Ps. 109:1-31 NIV)
in the great throng of worshippers I will praise him.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save their lives from those who would condemn them.
This Psalm is one of what are called the Imprecatory Psalms. If you look at v7-10 of this Psalm you get a shock and wonder is it right for a Christian to pray such vindictive phrases. (We are inconsistent here in our avowed sensitivity. Many Christians can be quite vindictive when it comes to criticising others.) Nevertheless, we’re left wondering how we could make these Psalms part of our prayers. I want to look generally today at this type of Psalm and then tomorrow we’ll look in more detail at Psalm 109.
The problem arises because we feel that the NT teaches a different approach. Jesus told us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-44). From the cross, Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who did not know what they were doing (Luke 23:34). Stephen, when he was being martyred, prayed that the sin should not be held against those who were murdering him. Paul tells us to bless those who persecute you and do not curse Rom 12:14. So with these NT examples how do we deal with the Psalms that pray down a curse?
Some have sought a solution by explaining that the Psalmist is being open and honest about how he feels. Therefore CS Lewis calls them ‘profoundly natural’. Anyone who has had persecution that threatened their lives and had witnessed Christians being tortured for their faith might be able to identify with this kind of feeling better than those who live in a Western democracy. While Lewis understands the emotion as ‘profoundly natural’ he says they are ‘profoundly wrong’. Lewis is not alone. There are evangelical commentators like Craigie and Kidner (I’m using their commentaries at the present time) who agree with Lewis’s sentiment and conclusion. This is not a satisfactory approach. It is wrong to drive a wedge between the OT and the NT.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”(Rom. 12:19-20 NIV)
Paul uses the OT here to forbid the Christian from taking personal revenge. In the OT David refuses to take revenge on Saul but leaves it to the Lord (1 Sam 24:12). Paul in the NT says that if anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed (1 Cor 16:22). Anyone who preached another Gospel, let them be under God’s curse (Gal 1:8). So the NT calls down God’s curse as does the OT.
These Imprecatory Psalms are woven into the complete Psalter and we need to understand how we should pray them. The Psalms are God-given responses to show us how we should shape our prayers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that we should not ‘pick and choose’, for ‘otherwise we dishonour God by presuming to know better than He what we should pray.’
These curses are in line with the covenant promises that God has made. God promised that He would bless whoever blessed Abram and curse whoever cursed him (Gen 12:3). The law that God gave to Moses is replete with curses for those who break the covenant. To pray for God to do what God has said He will do, is very different from taking the law into our own hands and seeking to exact revenge upon our enemies. Our enemies should be God’s enemies.
When we pray for the destruction of God’s enemies, there are two ways that God can deal with this. Take Saul in the NT, he was God’s enemy and the enemy of the Christians. They could pray for God’s curse to be on Saul. God intervened in Saul’s life and defeated him, and Saul surrendered and was saved. Saul could have hardened his heart against the Lord, but he surrendered and was defeated by God. Those who do harden their hearts will fall under the final judgement and have God’s curse upon them eternally. Both Saul and his sins were cursed, but that curse fell on Jesus.
If we are squeamish about God’s curse falling on anyone, let us recall that the curse of God fell upon the Lord Jesus Christ. We can pray down God’s curse upon those who are evil and persecuting the church, and God may answer more deeply and richly, with conversion rather than destruction.
When we pray for the furtherance of the Gospel, we need to have in mind that the Gospel succeeds in hardening the heart of the unrepentant as well as softening the heart of those who will be saved. We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and for God’s kingdom to come. The coming in of God’s kingdom will mean an end to all God’s enemies. In the book of Revelation (chs 18 & 19), when Babylon (the whole anti-God system) falls, the people of God sing hallelujahs. God is gloried in the judgement of the wicked as well as the salvation of His people.
Lord God there are times when we feel incredibly angry about what other people are doing. We are angry with them personally and what they do. Lord we repent that we have these thoughts. Teach us when it is appropriate to pray for Your curse to fall upon Your enemies. Help us to understand that the answer to the prayer for cursing may result in the salvation of the person. Lord we acknowledge that Your curse is upon all sin and all sinners, and for those who will be saved that curse has fallen on the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord help us to hate sin the way You do, to hate it in ourselves and in others. Lord many of our struggles are because we do not understand the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Help us to learn from Your word how to cope emotionally and spiritually with sin, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.