This psalm has been a challenge to many Christians for centuries. It is an imprecatory psalm, and of the most bracing variety. Many commentators have been reduced to saying something like, “Well, we know it is inspired, but we don’t have to like it.” The great C.S. Lewis stumbled over it, saying that God put it in Scripture so that we might have an example of how not to behave. And even Charles Spurgeon said the psalm represented “no small difficulty,” and that “we have need of all our faith and reverence to accept them as the voice of inspiration.” This psalm, he says, “tests our teachableness.” And so it does.
“Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise; For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: They have spoken against me with a lying tongue . . .” (Psalm 109:1–31).
Summary of the Text:
The psalmist begins by asking God to not hold His peace (v. 1), and the reason given is that the wicked are not holding theirs. They are speaking, they are telling their lies (v. 2). For no good reason, they surrounded David with words of hatred (v. 3). They turn David’s love into their grievance, but as a consequence David gives himself to prayer (v. 4). They returned evil for good, and hatred for love (v. 5). This ends the first section of the psalm, which is a statement of David’s dilemma.
He then uncorks, and the next section contains some of the fiercest words in all Scripture. Let the accuser be at his right hand, and let Herod have a Herod rule over him, and Stalin a Stalin (v. 6). When he comes to judgment, let the verdict come back as guilty. When he prays, let even that prayer be sin (v. 7). Cut his days short, and let another take his position. This is the verse that was quoted when the apostles replaced Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:20), which is significant. Remember that. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow (v. 9). May those children be turned out into the street, hunting for scraps in waste places (v. 10). May an extortioner take everything, and may strangers pillage him (v. 11). May no one show mercy, whether to him or to his children (v. 12). Cut his posterity off, Lord (v. 13). May the Lord remember the sins of his fathers, and also of his mother (v. 14). May God remember them all, such that He cuts off their memory from earth (v. 15). And why? Because he was merciless (v. 16), and no, this is not lack of self-awareness on the part of the psalmist. The evil man loved to curse, and so may it all return upon him (v. 17). He wore clothing dyed in venom; may that venom sink down into his bones (v. 18). May he be covered with a garment like that (v. 19). Let this be the return that my adversaries receive from the Lord (v. 20). This is the conclusion of the second section, the imprecatory section.
The third section is a plea for deliverance (v. 21), for the sake of the Lord’s name. For David is poor and needy, and his heart is wounded (v. 22). He dwindles like a declining shadow; he is tossed like a locust in a stiff breeze (v. 23). His knees are weak because of fasting, a fast most likely forced on him through his adversity (v. 24). He was a reproach to his foes, they shook their heads at him (v. 25). He pleads for God to save him, according to God’s mercy (v. 26). He wants his foes to know that God undertook for him (v. 27). If God blesses, then let them curse. Let them be ashamed when David rejoices (v. 28). May his enemies be wrapped up in confusions (v. 29). The psalmist will praise God with his mouth in the midst of the multitude (v. 30), for God will stand at the right hand of the poor in order to deliver him from those who condemn his soul (v. 31).
Surrendered to Christ:
We are supposed to sing this. To the end of the world, the Christian church is supposed to sing this (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). But we know we are not supposed to sing bad attitudes back to the Lord. And Peter was not shy about applying the imprecatory section of this psalm to the desolation that Judas brought down upon himself (Acts 1:20), and this means that if the antagonist in the psalm was Judas, then the protagonist must be Christ. “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads” (Matt. 27:39). “I became also a reproach unto them: When they looked upon me they shaked their heads” (Ps. 109:25). This is Christ in His humiliation on our behalf. David in his troubles served as a type, but this is really about Christ.
And Christ responded to His foes in two stages—in the first act, He was like a sheep before the shearers, answering not a word (Is. 53:7). In the second, He was the one who destroyed His enemies with the breath of His coming (2 Thess. 2:8). We want to reverse that order (Luke 9:55), but we must not. When we recoil from the words of this psalm, it is because we have reversed the correct order. We are invited to turn it all over to Him, therefore. Psalms of imprecation are a surrender to the judge of the whole earth who will do right. And we know that He will do right because of the meekness He displayed in the course of His passion. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” is the foundation stone. Imprecations may only be safely settled on that kind of a foundation, which is ultimately Christ Himself.
God is Not Mocked:
We sometimes complain about psalms like this on the grounds of “injustice,” but what really troubles us is the sheer justice of them. We have quietly and surreptitiously switched the categories of mercy and justice. We somehow think that mercy is owed to us, and that if we don’t get it, then that is somehow unjust. But grace that is owed is no grace at all. So the wages of sin is death, and the gift of God is eternal life (Rom. 3:23). Note that death is the pay check, death is the wage, and death is what we have earned. There is an asymmetry between death and life that extends beyond the categories of death and life. There is also the asymmetry of wage and gift.
So God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows (Gal. 6:7-8). If you plant thistles, you will harvest thistles. If you sow cursing, then your crop in the fall going to be cursing, and your barns will be full of it. Of course, this is not talking about salvation (Eph. 2:8-10). We are not saved by our works—but we are most certainly damned by them. Never forget the stark difference between law-righteousness and faith-righteousness. The former is damned by works while the latter is saved by grace.
In addition to all of that, remember the fact that justification is by grace through faith alone. But this does not abrogate the principle that God is not mocked with regard to your sanctification.
Let us assume that a man is a converted man, by grace through faith. Now consider two other realities of the Christian life—the blessings that come from obedience and the obedience itself. These are joined together in Christ and only in Christ. The temptation to separate them (by various means) is always the attempt to obtain the blessings of obedience without the obedience itself. The name of this sin is—at the foundation—sorcery.
“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23).