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“This,” says Perowne, “is the last of the Psalms of imprecation, and completes the terrible climax. In the awfulness of its anathemas, the Psalm surpasses everything of the kind in the Old Testament. Who the person was who was thus singled out for execration, it is in vain to conjecture. Those who hold, in accordance with the Inscription, that the Psalm was written by David, suppose that Doeg or Cush, Shimei or Ahithophel, is the object of execration.
“In Acts 1:20, St. Peter combines a part of the 8th verse of this Psalm, ‘His office let another take,’ with words slightly altered from the 25th [Hebrews 2:06th] verse of the 69th Psalm, and applies them to Judas Iscariot. Hence the Psalm has been regarded by the majority of expositors, ancient and modern, as a prophetic and Messianic Psalm. The language has been justified not as the language of David, but as the language of Christ, exercising His office of Judge, or, in so far as He had laid aside that office during His earthly life, calling upon His Father to accomplish the curse. It has been alleged that this is the prophetic foreshadowing of the solemn words, ‘Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; it were good for that man if he had not been born’ (Matthew 26:24). The curse, in the words of Chrysostom, ‘is a prophecy in form of a curse.’
“The strain which such a view compels us to put on much of the language of the Psalm ought to have led long since to its abandonment. Not even the woes denounced by our Lord against the Pharisees can really be compared to the anathemas which are here strung together. Much less is there any pretence for saying that those words, so full of holy sorrow, addressed to the traitor in the Gospels, are merely another expression of the appalling denunciations of the Psalm. But, terrible as these undoubtedly are—to be accounted for by the spirit of the Old Dispensation, not to be defended by that of the New—still let us learn to estimate them aright. This is the natural voice of righteousness persecuted. These are the accents of the martyr, not smarting only with a sense of personal suffering, but feeling acutely, and hating nobly, the triumph of wickedness.”
THE PITIABLE, THE COMMENDABLE, AND THE REPREHENSIBLE, IN THE TROUBLED LIFE OF A GODLY MAN
I. The pitiable in the troubled life of a godly man. The Psalmist is to be commiserated because of the cruel treatment he received at the hands of unprincipled enemies. He complains of their—
1. Slander. “The mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.” (See “Hom. Com.” on Psalms 41:5-8; Psalms 101:5.)
“No might nor greatness in mortality
Can censure ’scape; back-wounding calumny
The whitest virtue strikes: what king so strong,
Can tie the gall up in the slanderous tongue?”
“Virtue itself ‘scapes not calumnious strokes.”
“Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny.”
2. Malignity. “They compassed me about also with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause.” Hengstenberg says: “The words of hatred are malignant accusations. The swords with which they fight are their tongues. The language used in the Psalm refers only to false accusations, not to deeds.” Their bitter hostility to the Psalmist was unprovoked. He had given them no cause for it. He had done them no wrong.
3. Ingratitude. He had done them good, and they injured him in return. “For my love they are my enemies. And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.” This is base and atrocious wickedness, yet David often suffered from such conduct. “At the battle of Alma, in September 1854, a wounded Russian was calling piteously for water. Captain Eddington, whose heart was kind and charitable, ran to him, and, stooping, gave him the much-desired beverage. The wounded man revived. The captain ran forward to join his regiment, when the wretch, who had just been restored by his kindness, fired, and shot him who had been his friend in the time of need.”
“Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.”
Kind and godly men are still exposed to the slander, malignity, and base ingratitude of the wicked. When they suffer from these they should be sustained by the sympathy of all true men. A good man smarting under the unmerited assaults of the wicked should be encouraged and defended by all upright men.
II. The commendable in the troubled life of a godly man. The troubled Psalmist is to be commended because he committed his cause to the Lord in prayer. Notice—
1. The object of his prayer. He prayed that God would vindicate him from the slanders of his enemies. “Hold not Thy peace.” Hengstenberg and Perowne: “Be not silent.” The desire of the Psalmist was that God would interpose for his help, and so witness for him against his adversaries.
2. The intensity of his prayer. “ ‘But I give myself unto prayer,’ lit. ‘I (am) prayer,’ i.e., one who prays, having recourse to no other means of defence.”—Perowne. Matthew Henry, Barnes, and others are wrong in representing him as praying continually for his enemies. The spirit which breathes through the Psalm is utterly irreconcilable with such a view. In the most terrible manner he prays against his enemies, not for them. He devoted himself entirely to prayer; his supplications were continuous and absorbing.
3. The ground of his prayer. “O God of my praise,” i.e., the God whom I praise. This title contains the ground of the prayer. In former times the Lord had given the Psalmist reason to praise Him, and He will now interpose for him, and so give him fresh reason for praise. Hengstenberg: “The representation of all that the Lord has already done for us, and the appeal to it, form a sure ground of answer, and a mighty quickening of hope. He cannot be unlike Himself.”
For thus committing his cause to God in prayer, the Psalmist is to be commended. His example is well worthy our imitation. Let the good man who is slandered and calumniated by the wicked commit his cause to God, and in due time he shall be amply vindicated.
III. The reprehensible in the troubled life of godly man. Psalms 109:6-20. Various attempts have been made to free the Psalmist from the charge of revengefulness. Some have said that in these verses he speaks as a prophet, and simply declares what would come upon his enemies, and not what he desired concerning them. Others seek to get rid of the difficulty by regarding the Psalm as Messianic, and Christ as the speaker; others by supposing the words to be merely recorded by him as the words of his enemies. We have met with no satisfactory explanation which seeks to exonerate the Psalmist from blame. To us these laboured and strained attempts to exculpate the Psalmist do not seem very creditable to their authors, or in any way necessary. Religious experiences find utterance in the Psalms which are not commendable. In them the poets express their doubts as well as their confidences, their depressions as well as their exultations. Many things are recorded which are also condemned. The Bible faithfully records the defects and sins of the best men. One of the chief elements of the worth of the Psalms is that in them we have a faithful utterance of the varying religious experiences of imperfect yet unquestionably godly men. But it is essential to bear in mind that it is not just to judge David by the principles and spirit of this Christian dispensation. His utterances must be estimated in the light of the Decalogue, not in that of the Sermon on the Mount. But, after we have made every legitimate allowance tending to mitigate the harshness and bitterness of spirit here manifested, still the Poet appears to us here as a beacon, not as a pattern. His spirit and its expressions are to us things not to be imitated, but to be sedulously avoided. Without entering into a detailed exposition of these verses we would call attention to three considerations which they have suggested to us.
1. To pray for the wrath of God on any one is (to say the least) unbecoming in man. A due sense of our own sin and demerit ought effectually to repress such petitions. “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?”
2. To pray that even a man’s prayer might “become sin” is much worse than unbecoming. “Let his prayer become sin.” Perowne: “His prayer, not addressed to the human judge for mitigation of the sentence, but here, as always, prayer to God. The criminal, looking in vain for pity or justice at the hands of man, turns in his extremity to God; but even there, at the very fount of mercy, let mercy fail him, let his prayer aggravate his guilt. The utterance of such a wish is the most awful part of the imprecation. That prayer may thus draw down not forgiveness but wrath, see Isaiah 1:15; Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 28:9. But it is one thing to recognise this as a fact in the Divine government of man, it is another thing to imprecate it.”
3. To pray for such curses as are here invoked on the wife and children of an enemy is to us unspeakably dreadful. We shudder as we read Psalms 109:10; Psalms 109:12, and are reminded of the words of Shakspeare:—
“Oh that the slave had forty thousand lives;
One is too poor, too weak for my revenge!
I would have him nine years a killing.”
So unappeasable seems the revenge of the Psalmist. Antoninus well says, “The best sort of revenge is not to be like him who did the injury.” But David resembled his enemies in this, that they “fought against him without a cause,” and he invokes the most dreadful injuries upon those who had done him no wrong, because they were related to one who had. Let good men as they read this portion of the Psalm take warning. The holiest of men in the present state may be tempted into the manifestation of a most unbecoming and sinful spirit. There is a revenge which is noble and God-like. Let us greet our enemies with it. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him,” &c. (Romans 12:20-21).
COMPLAINT, PRAYER, AND CONFIDENCE
In this portion of the Psalm we have—
I. A mournful complaint. The Poet complains of—
1. Mental distress. “I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” He was miserable and in need of help. His troubles had pierced his heart as with a sword. It is trying to be troubled in our circumstances, or to be afflicted in body, but the sorest trials are those of the heart. “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?”
2. Physical exhaustion. “My knees are weak through fasting, and my flesh faileth of fatness.” “Or it may be rendered, hath fallen away from fat.”—Perowne. The fasting spoken of is probably that of penitence, because of sin; or humiliation, because of suffering. It was a voluntary, not a compulsory fasting. By reason of this the Poet’s strength had failed. The knee joints no longer afforded him firm support, and his body was wasting to mere skin and bones.
3. Approach to death. “I am gone like the shadow when it declineth; I am tossed up and down as the locust.” Henstenberg: “I must go hence like the shadow when it declineth, I am carried away like the locust.” Perowne: “As a shadow, when it lengtheneth, am I gone hence, I have been driven away as the locust.” As the lengthening shadows of evening show the near approach of night, so the afflictions of the Psalmist seemed to indicate his learness to death and the grave. The Poet gives special prominence to the irresistibleness of his approach to death. He says literally, “I am made to go hence.” And as the locusts are seized and carried away by the wind, being powerless against its force, so he was being urged towards the gates of death by a force which he was unable to resist.
4. The reproach of his enemies. “I became also a reproach unto them, they looked upon me, they shaked their heads.” The wicked reviled the Poet as a bad man, and shook their heads in insult and mockery. Or it may be, as Henstenberg says, that they shook the head to express the desperateness of the Poet, saying by the movement, “It is all over with him.”
Such is the mournful complaint of the Psalmist. It is sometimes a relief to express our afflictions and griefs to God. It lightens the burden of the heart, &c. This is especially so when complaint is followed by prayer.
II. An earnest prayer. Consider here—
1. The objects sought in his prayer. The Psalmist petitions God for
(1) Salvation from his afflictions. “Deliver Thou me. Help me, O Lord my God; O save me according to Thy mercy.” He seeks support from God in his trouble, and deliverance from his trouble. The Lord can turn the shadow of the darkest night into the light of joyous day.
(2) Vindication from reproach. “That they may know that this is Thy hand, that Thou, Lord, hast done it.” In the view of the Psalmist, if the interposition he sought from God were granted unto him, it would completely silence the reproaches of his enemies.
(3) Confusion for his enemies. “When they arise, let them be ashamed, let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion as with a mantle.” Baffle their dark designs, and clothe them with shame from head to foot.
2. The pleas by which he urges his prayer. “Do Thou for me, O God the Lord, for Thy name’s sake; because Thy mercy is good, deliver Thou me. O save me according to Thy mercy.” The grace of God is the grand plea of the Psalmist. He urges his petition not on the ground of his own merit, but of God’s mercy. This he sets forth
(1) As the reason of salvation. “Do Thou for me, for Thy name’s sake; because Thy mercy is good,” &c. The originating cause of salvation is the infinite generosity of God.
(2) As the measure of salvation. “Save me according to Thy mercy.” The salvation that is measured by the infinite grace of God will be gloriously complete. The pleas urged by the Psalmist (α) Indicate confidence in God. (β) Honour God. (γ) Are mighty with God. We shall do well to imitate them.
III. An encouraging confidence. The Poet expresses—
1. An assurance of salvation from God. “For He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.” He shall stand at the right hand of His afflicted people, to plead their cause against those who would unjustly judge them, and to deliver them. Take heart, ye tried and true, ye suffering and godly souls, for your Deliverer is mighty and your salvation sure.
2. A determination to offer praise to God. “I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth, yea, I will praise Him among the multitude.” He resolves that he will offer praise, and that it shall be
(1) Hearty. “I will greatly praise the Lord.”
(2) Expressed. “With my mouth.”
(3) Public. “Among the multitude.”
“Awake, my soul! not only passive praise
Thou owest! not alone these swelling tears,
Mute thanks and secret ecstasy! awake,
Voice of sweet song! awake, my heart,
A PATTERN PRAYER
(Psalms 109:21. “But do Thou for me, O God the Lord, for Thy name’s sake.”)
This is a brief yet a model prayer for a good man.
I. It is true in its direction. It is addressed to “God the Lord.” There is but One all-sufficient being to whom we can address our prayers. Think what is requisite to be able to answer prayer at all times—infinite intelligence, unlimited goodness, universal sovereignty, &c. The petition of the Psalmist indicates his belief that he was approaching such a being; if he could but secure the help of God, he would leave everything else to Him. He could do so only in approaching a being of whose perfection he had no doubt. Only the Lord God can hear and answer prayer.
II. It is personal in its aim. “Do Thou for me.” Man’s first business is to secure the blessing of God for himself. We should not keep the vineyard of another and neglect our own. We should not attempt to lead others unto Jesus Christ until we know Him as our own Saviour. Unless we are assured of the Divine blessing, we should seek it first for ourselves, and then for others. This is not selfish, but benevolent. Show this.
III. It is submissive in its spirit. The Psalmist leaves everything to God, only praying that His interposition may be “for” him. He leaves the manner of the interposition to God. God delivers His people by different methods; sometimes by removal of their afflictions, and sometimes by increase of their strength. He blesses His people by different means; sometimes by adversity, and sometimes by prosperity. The wise and good man leaves the means and the manner of the blessing to God. He leaves the time also to God. Now or in the future, early or late, as may seem good unto Him. This submission is both wise and pious.
IV. It is powerful in its place. “For Thy name’s sake.” The name represents the character of God. The honour of the Divine name is bound up with His treatment of His people. If any one trusting in God were to perish the glory of His name would be sullied. This is a plea which prevails with God.
This prayer is suitable for all occasions; it is brief and comprehensive. And if it is answered in our experience, we shall “have all, and abound.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 109". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29