If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 109. Psalm 109 is a hard psalm. It is the last of the imprecatory psalms. That is, it is a psalm of imprecation of curse. It calls down God's curse on the wicked. And it is well that it is the last of the imprecatory psalms because it is perhaps the strongest and certainly the most sustained of the songs of curse. There are something like twenty-four curses called down in verses 6 to 20 in the middle section of the psalm in the portion of imprecation. The curses in this psalm are so strong that even writers like C.S. Lewis, when looking at this passage, said that “it strikes us in the face like heat from the mouth of a furnace.” And if you've looked over these words before now, you’ll know exactly what Lewis meant. However, Lewis and others have gone on to say that this psalm and psalms like it is “sub-Christian” and it expresses an ungodly anger and vendetta and vindictiveness on David's part. In this, our dear teachers C.S. Lewis, I believe was seriously wrong. This is God's Word. It is hard to understand. It certainly should not be incorporated into the rota of our prayers without a full understanding of what is going on here, but it is not “sub-Christian.” As we will see, this psalm is said to be fulfilled even in God's judgment against Judas for his betrayal of Jesus. And we would not want to say that that was “sub-Christian.”
FIVE THINGS ABOUT THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS
But understanding the imprecatory psalms is hard. Let me say five things about the imprecatory psalms before we even read this one together tonight. The first thing we need to note about these songs that call down God's curse on the wicked who are attacking God's people, and especially God's king, is that the songs themselves need to be seen in light of an assault on God's anointed king, which necessarily entails an assault on God. The imprecatory psalms are based on an understanding of God working His redemptive purposes out in a king who is representative of His people, so that opposition to that king is opposition to God. In this, David voices prayers about that opposition to his kingship as a foreshadowing of opposition to Jesus’ kingship. And we need to understand the imprecatory psalms in light of that. They are praying in the context of an assault on God's anointed king and thus an assault on God.
Secondly, notice that even the imprecations in this psalm that are so extensive and so intensive and dramatic and emphatic, the imprecations in this psalm leave God to administer the curse and judgment. David does not take matters into his own hands. He does not administer these curses himself. He calls on God, in His own way and His own time, as He sees fit to bring down judgment upon the wicked.
Third, it's always important for us when we see these psalms of curse to remember that the curses picture a deserved judgment. These curses do not picture a judgment against the innocent. They picture a judgment against the wicked. And what's more — this is what makes me tremble even as I'm going to read this psalm — they picture a judgment that will come to pass. The words of verses 6 to 20 will come to pass and you will see them. That ought to stir our hearts to be more faithful in sharing the Gospel. These words of curse will come to pass on all who do not rest and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel.
Fourth, as we read these words of curses it's important for us to remember that it is right to desire the punishment of the wicked. It is right to desire the punishment of evil and it is right to desire the vindication of God's people, of good people. Those are not wrong things to desire. Surely you've have the experience of looking out in the world and seeing a good man whose character has been assassinated and an indignation rises up in your belly and you ache for that man, for that woman, whose reputation has been wrongly sullied and who has been assailed by untrue words that have deeply injured them and you long for vindication. That is a right thing to long for. And again, that vindication will come.
Fifth and finally, as we read these words of curses though, we need to also remember that it is right to desire the wicked to turn from their evil ways and to trust in Christ. Even as we desire the punishment of the wicked, so the awesome just judgment of God against the wicked ought to move our hearts to tenderness and for a yearning that the wicked themselves would turn to God and so not fall under this just judgment. So it is also right to desire that the wicked turn from their evil and trust in God.
Those five things — we could say many, many more things about the imprecatory psalms — but I think those five things help us a lot. Now let me outline this prayer because it's rather long. Let me outline it before we begin to look at it together tonight. It comes in four parts that I'm going to look at with you together. First, in verses 1 to 5 you will find a complaint. That is, the psalmist in prayer cries out to God because of the situation that he's in and he describes for you that situation, especially in verses 2 to 5. He leaves it not to your imagination to figure out the plight that he is in. He offers up a complaint. That reminds us, by the way, that we should take our complaints to God rather than to complain about our situation secondhand without going to the only One who can do anything about our situation. So it begins with a complaint in verses 1 to 5.
Then, the curse section of the psalm appears in verses 6 to 20. This is the second part of the psalm that we’ll study together tonight.
Third, in verses 21 to 29, you will see the specific prayer for relief and deliverance and salvation that King David offers up to God.
And then finally in verses 30 and 31, you will see his words in which he promises to praise God when God delivers him.
So we see a compliant, verses 1 to 5, curses, verses 6 to 20, a prayer in verses 21 to 29, and then a praise in verses 30 and 31. Let's look to God in prayer before we read His Word and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We need Your help to understand it. And if You have called us to go through anything like the psalmist is going through here, we need Your sustaining grace. I ask this Lord, especially for any who are gathered here under the Word whose souls know these burdens; minister to them. Lord, open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Word and then to give You all the praise and all the glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF DAVID.
Be not silent, O God of my praise! For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow! May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit! May the creditor seize all that he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! Let there be none to extend kindness to him, nor any to pity his fatherless children! May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation! May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth!
For he did not remember to show kindness, but pursued the poor and needy and the brokenhearted, to put them to death. He loved to curse; let curses come upon him! He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him! He clothed himself with cursing as his coat; may it soak into his body like water, like oil into his bones! May it be like a garment that he wraps around him, like a belt that he puts on every day! May this be the reward of my accusers from the LORD, of those who speak evil against my life!
But you, O God my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name's sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me! For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat. I am an object of scorn to my accusers; when they see me, they wag their heads.
Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love! Let them know that this is your hand; you, O LORD, have done it! Let them curse, but you will bless! They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad! May my accusers be clothed with dishonor; may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!
With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This psalm affords so much teaching for us. We could pause and meditate on how it is written to the choirmaster so that the complaints and trials of believers are to be sung about in the public worship of God's people. Isn't God kind to minister to us in that way, to ask us to bring our complaints and our trials and our struggles into His house with His people in His presence to sing? We could spend much time meditating on the whole section on imprecation and curse and discourse at some length on all the ramifications of that. I want to concentrate with you tonight on three or four things.
First, the complaint, in verses 1 to 5, because here in this section of the psalm we see a desperate prayer in a dire situation to the only One who can deliver the psalmist. He beings actually with the very first words of the psalm being, “O God of my praise.” He begins by stating who his God is — the God of his praise — and then he begs, “be not silent!” Why? Because he is the object of character assassination. Look at verses 2 and 3. “For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues. They encircle me with words of hate, and attack me without cause. In return for my love they accuse me. So they reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love.” It's a picture of character assassination and if you have never been the object of character assassination, the target of deceitful and violent and malignant and destructive words, then perhaps you cannot appreciate the terrors of the heart of the psalmist here. Some have had their reputations so unjustly called into question, they have been so accused and reviled, that they have lost all sense of self-possession and they are plunged into a constant self-doubt. They don't know up from down or left from right and they’re left in a constant state of anxiety. That's where the psalmist is, and in that context, he cries out this desperate prayer in this dire situation to the only One who can deliver him.
Now there's a message for us in that and the message is this — we need to remember that in every trial of life, we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against powers and principalities and forces of darkness in the spiritual world. And behind the reviling of men, are the stratagems of the evil one against the people of God. My favorite devotional commentator on the Psalms is William Plumer, the great southern Presbyterian Old Testament scholar, and I've modified slightly his words to update them from 19th century Victorian style, but here's what he says. “A thousandth part of the opposition against the church would have long sense exterminated us were it not for a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God, the intercession of the saints, and the mediation of Christ.” Do you realize that? Do you realize that you and I would have long sense been exterminated were there not a prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God? Do you realize that there is one who wants to sift you like wheat and he will use any means he can against you and the one thing that stands in his way is the prayer-hearing and prayer-answering God?
And don't you love the way that David asks for His help? What does he say? “Be not silent!” Now I understand, because you get the rest of the context, much of the psalm is in the context of a courtroom, right? And in that courtroom, false accusations are being brought and judgment is being brought, and then vindication is being given. So it's the picture of a courtroom. And I understand the cry, “Don't be silent! Speak up for me, Lord! Speak up for my reputation! Speak up for my character! They’re assassinating my character! Won't You speak up for me?” But I think there's something else even more glorious about it. The psalmist knows that all it takes is one word from God to dispel all the accusations of all his enemies in all the world for all time. Just one word. Have you ever thought of that? The God who spoke this world into being, when He speaks one word for you, there is no opposition in the world that can stand against it. Do you see why prayer to this prayer-hearing, prayer-answer God is so important? Apart from Him, you and I would have been exterminated a thousand times over. With Him, one little word shall fell him. So that's where we begin, with this prayer in a dire situation, begging God to speak a word on his behalf.
DAVID CURSES HIS ENEMY
And then we come to the curses. In verses 6 through 20 the word of curse is spoken and it's a litany of curses upon the accuser and the accusers. In fact, it's a litany of deserved curses. This is not a calling down of a spell on an innocent victim. This is a litany of curses of judgment against evildoers. And isn't it interesting that, whereas in verses 2 and 3, the psalmist has been speaking in the plural, now suddenly the object of his curse is singular. “They” are against him in verses 2 and 3, but when it comes to curse, the curses are in the singular. Now this sets the commentators into considerable discussion. Why from the plural to the singular? And there are many answers that could be given to that. We know, because we can read Acts chapter 1 verse 20, that this section of this psalm does apply to Judas who stood in betrayal and opposition to Christ. That, perhaps, supplies a hint. Commentators sometimes say, “Well, perhaps the multitude that are speaking against David are being symbolized as one.” And sometimes they say, “Well, perhaps the one who is spoken of in the language of curse here represents the worst among David's accusers.” But again, I think that the hint that we need is to remember that our opposition ultimately is not against flesh and blood but from evil one, an accuser. And that language is used here. The language of Satan, the language of accuser, is used in verse 6 and then again in this psalm so that the curses focus on the one who is the instrument of the evil one raging against God. And a litany of deserved curses are called down upon the accuser and the accusers.
Just a couple of things to think about this. Remember that David himself was not, in his practice, a vindictive man. Remember, he had on more than one occasion the opportunity to do in his enemy Saul and he refused to do that by his own hand. He was a man who very often spared those who had done wrong against him in his life. We've learned that as we have studied the books of Samuel together with Derek over these last years. So these are not the words of a bitter, petty, vindictive, self-justifying man. What are they? They’re a picture of what sin deserves. They’re a picture of what our sins deserve. Have you ever thought of that? As you look at the litany of curses that fall down on this violent man, have you ever thought of it that apart from God's grace, apart from God's mercy, apart from the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work that's what we deserve? And have you ever thought that Jesus stood under this curse, that He bore this curse from His Father and He bore it on our behalf that we might not bear it ourselves? Oh, if you wonder at the rightness of Jesus administering these words, just remember that He alone, of all the people who will dwell in the presence of God forever, knows what it is like to receive this curse. And He took that in your place so that you might never receive it. So in these words of curse we see the judgment that is deserved by the wicked.
There's a third thing I want you to see and that's the prayer in verses 21 to 29. And especially I want you to see the basis of the psalmist's pleas for help. Look at verse 21 to begin with. “O God, my Lord, deal on my behalf” — because I'm good? Because I'm innocent? — “for Your name's sake; because of Your steadfast love, deliver me! Lord, base my deliverance not on me but on who You are. Do it for Your name's sake; do it because of Your goodness and Your steadfast love.” Verse 22 to 24 plea that God would do this because of his predicament. “I am poor and needy, my heart is stricken, my knees are weak, I'm the object of scorn. Do this, O God, because my predicament is great. Do it because of who You are. Do it because my predicament is great.” And then when you get to verse 26 it's back to God again. “Help me, O Lord my God! Save me according to Your steadfast love! Let them know that it is Your hand, Lord. You’re the one who is going to deliver me from this, therefore You’re going to get the praise. Turn their curses into blessing. Put them to shame. Clothe them with dishonor.” Over and over the psalmist bases his prayer for salvation on God, God's character, God's mercy, and his need. That is the basis of his prayer for aid.
DAVID’S PROMISE OF PRAISE
And then finally, his promise of praise in verses 30 and 31. “With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.” I'm going to take you to a scene in the book of Acts when a righteous man named Stephen had been wrongly condemned to death by a mob for the testimony of Jesus. And as the stones smashed around his ears and broke his bones, he saw heaven open and Jesus standing. You see what Jesus is saying? “I am standing in the posture of intercession, ever living to intercede for My chosen ones. And whatever situation they find themselves, and whatever trial they find themselves enduring, I am interceding for them.” And what is He doing? He is praying for God's judgment on their enemies and He is praying for God's vindication of their persons. And there is no power in this universe that can thwart or resist that prayer. As the accuser is standing in verse 6 next to the man in court, so now the Mediator is standing next to His accused people. And who will bring a charge against them? Who will prevail against the Mediator?
You know, Andrew Bonar, who wrote the wonderful devotional meditation on the Psalms in which he considered how the Psalms showed Christ and His Church, says that this psalm is “the Messiah's prayer of judgment against Judas and all Judas-like men, and the Messiah's praise for God's deliverance of His believing people.”
Our Lord and our God, some in this room know all too well the deliverance that they need, some do not know it yet, but will. For all of them, show them the Savior, standing, calling down judgment against all who would undo them, and calling down God's mercies because of grace, because of the love of God, in the face of our need, for Your own glory. Help us to remember that, O Lord, and to live accordingly. We ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand and receive God's blessing? Peace be to the brethren and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.