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THE title of this psalm—"To the chief musician, a psalm of David"—is thought to be not inappropriate. We may have here David's own appeal to God against his persecutors, and especially against a chief persecutor, who may be Saul, or Doeg, or Ahithophel, or Shimei. The psalm opens with mingled complaint and prayer. The adversaries are spoken of in the plural (Psalms 109:2-5). They have abused and maligned the writer, have returned evil for the good that he has sought to do them, and given him hatred for his love (Psalms 109:5). The psalmist, in return, utters against them, or rather against his chief persecutor, a series of male dictions (Psalms 109:6-15) which constitute a standing difficulty to all biblical apologists. They are certainly entirely alien to the Christian, though not perhaps to the Jewish spirit. It is impossible to read or re hearse them without pain. The attempt made to explain them as the utterances of David's adversaries (Kennicott, Mendelssohn, Westcott) is unsatisfactory. We must admit that they are the psalmist's own anathemas, and judge them from this standpoint (see the comment on Psalms 109:6-15). They are followed by an analysis of the evil tern-per in the adversaries which has led them into their evil courses (Psalms 109:15-20). The psalmist then turns to God in prayer, on-treating his help, and setting forth his own necessities (Psalms 109:21-29). Finally, he winds up with a short burst of praise, since he is confident that his prayer is heard, and that he will be delivered from his persecutors (Psalms 109:30, Psalms 109:31).
The initial prayer and complaint. The prayer occupies one verse only (Psalms 109:1); the complaint four verses (Psalms 109:2-5).
Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise (comp. Psalms 28:1; Psalms 35:22; Psalms 39:12). If God makes no sign when men arc grievously persecuted, he seems to be indifferent to their sufferings. Surely he will not thus treat one who praises him continually (Psalms 22:26; Psalms 71:6).
For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful; literally, of deceit—the abstract for the concrete. Are opened against me; literally, hare they opened upon me (Kay, Cheyne, Revised Version). They have spoken against ms with a lying tongue (comp. Psalms 27:12; Psalms 35:11). Calumny and misrepresentation are ever the portion of the children of God. David was calumniated by Saul (1 Samuel 22:7-13), by Absalom (2 Samuel 15:3, 2 Samuel 15:4), by Shimei (2 Samuel 16:8), and others. One more perfect than David was even more calumniated (Matthew 11:19; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 26:61; Luke 23:2, etc.).
They compassed me about also with words of hatred. The hatred of the wicked for the good is a plain fact of history, and quite indisputable. "Words of hatred" are less patent, since they are often restrained from prudential considerations. But sometimes free vent is given to them (see 2 Samuel 16:5-8). And fought against me without a cause (comp. Psalms 35:7, Psalms 35:19; Psalms 69:4; Psalms 119:161). Saul's hatred towards David was markedly of this character—un-provoked by either act or word from its object.
For my love they are my adversaries. The tenderness and kindness of the good towards wicked men does not soften them. Rather it provokes them to greater hostility. This was seen clearly in the instance of Saul. But I give myself unto prayer; literally, but I prayer; i.e. "but I am wholly prayer," "I do nothing during their attacks on me but pray for them."
And they have rewarded ms evil for good, and hatred for my love; or, "thus they rewarded me." The verse is a corollary from what has gone before, not anything additional.
The imprecatory portion of the psalm now begins. It is no doubt true to say, with Tholuck, that "no passion is discernible in the imprecations, dreadful as they are." Clearly the writer is not moved by personal feelings of hostility, but by a spirit of justice, and an intense abhorrence of sin. He delivers a calm judicial sentence. Still, the spirit of Christian love must ever shrink from such utterances, which belong to an earlier and less perfect dispensation (comp. Luke 9:51-56).
Set thou a wicked man over him; i.e. to judge him (see Psalms 109:7). A persecutor deserves to be himself persecuted, an oppressor to be himself oppressed. "Nec lex justior ulla est, Quam necis artifices arte periresua." And let Satan stand at his right hand; rather, an adversary, or an accuser. In courts of justice the accuser stood at the accused person's right hand.
When he shall be judged, let him be condemned; literally, let him go forth condemned; Let him quit the court under sentence. And let his prayer become sin. The most terrible of all the imprecations. "Let him even be unable to pray to God acceptably," and so let any prayer that he offers when he is brought low be an additional sin (comp. Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:12-15).
Let his days be few. There were Divine promises that "bloodthirsty and deceitful men" should not "live out half their days," which might naturally be regarded as justifying this wish (see Psalms 55:23; Proverbs 10:27; Ecclesiastes 7:17). And let another take his office. Τὴν ἐπισκοπὴν αὐτοῦ, LXX. Applied by St. Peter to Judas (Acts 1:20).
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Necessary consequences of his own condemnation to death.
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg. If it be just that the sins of the fathers be visited upon the children, the psalmist may be regarded as justified in this wish. Still, it is not one that a Christian will readily echo. Let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places. Professor Cheyne corrects דָרְשׁוּ into גֹּדְשׁוּ, and translates, "Let them be driven from their desolate houses."
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; rather, the creditor, or the usurer; i.e. the man from whom he has borrowed money. And let the strangers (rather, let foreigners) spoil his labor; i.e. plunder his lands, carry off his crops, and leave him destitute.
Let there be none to extend (literally, continue) mercy unto him. In his need, let none of his neighbors continue to show him mercy and loving-kindness. Let them stand aloof, and remain passive, while punishment overtakes him. Neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children. Let them too be suffered to endure the woes which come naturally upon them (see Psalms 109:10) through their father's fault, without any one thinking it necessary, because they arc fatherless, to show them favor.
Let his posterity be cut off. If he have children; let them die without offspring; literally, let them be for extinction. And in the generation following let their name be blotted out. This would be the natural result if the preceding wish were accomplished. The family having come to an end, their very name would be soon forgotten (comp. Job 18:18; Psalms 37:28; Proverbs 10:7).
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord. Let the threatening of Exodus 20:5 take effect in his case, and the sins of his forefathers be remembered by God, and visited upon him. And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out; i.e. erased from God's remembrance. Let it also be visited on him, as Jezebel's was on her children.
Let them be before the Lord continually; i.e. let these sins be present to the mind of God constantly, that he may visit for them constantly, even to the bitter end; and so may cut off the memory of them (i.e. of the original sinners) from the earth (comp. Psalms 109:13).
A portraiture of the wicked man, who was David's chief adversary at the time, is now given, in explanation, and perhaps in justification, of the numerous and severe anathemas. He was merciless (Psalms 109:16), a persecutor of the poor (Psalms 109:16), given to cursing (Psalms 109:17, Psalms 109:18), and one who spoke evil against the innocent (Psalms 109:20).
Because that he remembered not to show mercy. Saul certainly was a persecutor of this kind—implacable; one whom compassion never touched; who, after he had once become David's enemy, never under any circumstances showed him mercy. But otherwise the description scarcely seems to point to Saul. But persecuted the poor and needy man (see 1 Samuel 18:10; 1Sa 19:1, 1 Samuel 19:10, 1 Samuel 19:11; 1 Samuel 20:31; 1Sa 23:8, 1 Samuel 23:14, 1 Samuel 23:25; 1Sa 24:2; 1 Samuel 26:2-20; 1 Samuel 27:1, etc.). That he might even slay the broken in heart; literally, and the broken in heart (or, yea, the broken in heart) to slay him. It was certainly Saul's object to slay David (1Sa 18:11; 1 Samuel 19:1, 1 Samuel 19:10; 1 Samuel 20:1, etc.). It was probably also Ahithophel's (2 Samuel 17:2).
As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him; rather, so it came upon him (Revised Version), or so it shall come upon him (LXX; Cheyne). The one of David's enemies who "loved cursing" most was Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-12). As he de lighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him; rather, so it was, or so it will be, far from him.
As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment (comp. Psalms 10:7; Psalms 59:12; Psalms 62:4). Extreme malevolence vents itself in curses, which tend to become frequent, and, so to speak, habitual. So let it come; rather, so it cams, or so it will come. Into his bowels like water. Dr. Kay sees here an allusion to the "water of cursing" which was drunk by the woman whose husband taxed her with unfaithfulness (Numbers 5:22); and so also Hengstenberg. But this is doubtful. Perhaps the mere penetrative power of water is alluded to. See the next clause. And like oil into his bones. The oil, wherewith it was usual to anoint the frame, was believed to penetrate, not only into the tissues, but into the very bones and marrow.
Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him. Let it cling to him both outwardly and inwardly—inwardly, as the penetrating oil; outwardly, as the everyday dress. And for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually. The "girdle" or "waistcloth" was even more inseparable from the wearer than his beged, his "cloak" or "wrap."
Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord; rather, this is the reward, or the wages. This is what their conduct has earned, and what they have received, or assuredly will receive. And of them that speak evil against my soul (see above, Psalms 109:2).
The psalmist now turns to God in prolonged prayer, setting forth his needs (Psalms 109:22-25), and entreating for help (Psalms 109:26), deliverance (Psalms 109:21), blessing (Psalms 109:28), and triumph over his enemies (Psalms 109:29).
But do thou for me; or, "deal thou with me" (see the Revised Version). O God the Lord; literally, Jehovah the Lord, as in Psalms 68:20; Psalms 140:7; Psalms 141:8; Habakkuk 3:19. For thy Name's sake; i.e. suitably to thy Name—according to thy historically manifested attributes. Because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me. A variant echo of the preceding clause (comp. Psalms 69:16).
For I am poor and needy (comp. Psalms 109:16). David was "poor and needy" both when hunted upon the mountains by Saul, and when forced to flee from Absalom. And my heart is wounded within me. The wound to David's heart was, on the former occasion, from the malignity of Saul; on the latter, especially from the desertion of his "own familiar friend whom he trusted."
I am gone like the shadow when it declineth; rather, like a shodow (comp. Psalms 102:11). When shadows "decline," they are just about to cease and disappear. I am tossed up and down as the locust; or, "I am carried away"—swept off, i.e; or just ready to be swept off, from the face of the earth (see Exodus 10:19; Joel 2:20; Nahum 3:17).
My knees are weak through fasting. I have brought myself down to extreme weakness by penitential fasting for my sins (comp. Psalms 35:13; Psalms 69:10). And my flesh faileth of fatness; literally, of oil. In my state of mourning and penitence I have abstained from anointing myself (2 Samuel 14:2), which has still further weakened me.
I became (rather, am become) also a reproach unto them; i.e. to my enemies. I am an object of their reproach and scorn. When they looked upon me they shaked their heads. In derision (comp. Psalms 22:7; Psalms 44:14; Matthew 27:39).
Help me, O Lord my God. Connect with Psalms 109:21. O save me according to thy mercy; i.e. "as thou art wont to show mercy, show mercy now to me."
That they may know that this is thy hand (comp. Psalms 59:13). "Deliver me," prays the psalmist, "in some signal way, so that my enemies may be forced to recognize thy hand in my deliverance, and to confess that thou, Lord, hast done it."
Let them curse, but bless thou; i.e. "Let them curse, if they will. What matters it? Provided only that thou blessest." When they arise. When they attempt to put their malevolent designs in act. Let them be ashamed; or, "they shall be ashamed" (Revised Version); i.e. they shall fail so utterly, that they shall be covered with shame. But let thy servant rejoice; rather, but thy servant shall rejoice. "Thy servant" is the psalmist himself (comp. Psalms 69:17). He will rejoice at their failure, which secures his safety.
Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame; rather, my adversaries shall be clothed with shame. "The prayer is now, in conclusion, changed into a confident expectation" (Dean Johnson). And let them (rather, and shall) cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle (comp. Psalms 109:18). Instead of the "cursing" with which the wicked delighted to clothe themselves, they shall be forced to wear a covering of shame and confusion of face.
Psalms 109:30, Psalms 109:31
The psalm terminates with a short burst of praise, the writer feeling assured that his prayer is granted, and that he will shortly triumph over his enemies.
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth. The expression "greatly praise" does not occur elsewhere in the Psalms. It is indicative of an unusually strong feeling of thankfulness. Yea, I will praise him among the multitude; i.e. in the congregation.
For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor. God will always come to the assistance of the poor and needy, when unrighteous men oppress them, and will give them help and deliverance. To save him from those that condemn his soul. The salvation is not always from the death of the body, or there could have been no martyrs; but in all cases it is a deliverance of the soul.
Explanation, warning, encouragement.
This psalm of David contains—
I. AN EXPLANATION TO BE SOUGHT. How came these strong imprecations to be used by the servant of the Lord? Are they worthy to find a place in the pages of Holy Scripture? Two things, at least, have to be considered in defense of them.
1. David identifies his own cause with that of God, and therefore his own enemies with God's. He is animated by the spirit which breathes in the words, "Do not I hate them that hate thee? … I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Psalms 139:21, Psalms 139:22). So that his bitterness is not so much personal as public; it is moral indignation rather than individual and personal resentment. He speaks as one who feels that what is said and done against himself is aimed at the cause of Jehovah; there is more of righteousness than rancor in his soul. But if, as may be fairly urged, this does not provide a full explanation, it must be further considered:
2. That David could indulge wishes and take action against his enemies which are impossible to us, without injury to his conscience. He had not sat at the feet of Jesus Christ. He had not read, "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt … hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies," etc. (Matthew 5:43). He felt that he was well within the limits of the Law, if indeed he was not eagerly and dutifully championing the cause of God and of righteousness, by uttering these maledictions.
II. A WARNING TO BE HEEDED. It did not need that David should imprecate thus in order that his adversaries should be humbled.
1. Evil would certainly overtake them. They were guilty of unprovoked assault (see Psalms 109:4, Psalms 109:5); they were utterly heartless in their course of cruelty (see Psalms 109:16); they would inevitably meet with the condemnation of a righteous God, and with the visible and tangible tokens of his displeasure. All sin has to pay its penalty sooner or later; and it is certain that they who wantonly injure the people of God, and mercilessly afflict the poor and the un-befriended, will have to meet their doom (Psalms 33:16).
2. The penalty which the wicked have to pay answers closely to the character of their crimes (Psalms 109:17-19). He that curses others will himself be cursed of man, as well as condemned of God. "With what measure ye mete," etc. The hard-hearted and close-fisted will have no pity shown them in their hour of need. He that taketh the sword may expect to perish by the sword. To none are we so apt to be uncharitable as to those who have no charity in their hearts towards others. Every one is inclined to excuse cruelty when it is shown to the cruel. Whatsoever we sow, that shall we reap.
III. AN EXAMPLE TO BE FOLLOWED. Not, indeed, in these imprecations; we have not so learned Christ; we have been taught the much more excellent way of pitying those who are wrong (even when they have wronged us), and of seeking to turn their hearts, that they may be saved from the consequences of their own sins. But:
1. In maintaining innocency in the midst of transgression. The psalmist had the peace-bringing consciousness that the wrongs inflicted on him had not been provoked by him; his hands were clean. In the darkest hour of our distress it is a priceless consolation that we have preserved our own integrity, that nothing has left a stain upon our soul. "Poor and needy, and wounded in heart," we may be (Psalms 109:22), but we are true and pure, and our heart is right with God.
2. In looking to God for Divine succor (Psalms 109:1, Psalms 109:4, Psalms 109:26-28). We, too, must "give ourselves to prayer," and look to the Strong for strength. Let who will curse us, if God bless us we shall be blessed indeed.
3. In a joyful assurance that all will be well at last (Psalms 109:30, Psalms 109:31). Whatever the situation now, the future will show a Divine Redeemer at our right hand, rescuing and exalting us.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The dreadful psalm.
It is by no means easy to imagine the whole nation of Israel singing such dreadful imprecations as those contained in Psalms 109:6-19. "Thousands of God's people," says Mr. Spurgeon, "are perplexed by it." Not a few would like to be rid of it altogether. And the explanation given by many of the old commentators, that these fearful curses are those of the Lord Jesus Christ on Judas, who betrayed him, has only made the difficulties connected with this psalm ever so much worse. What is to be said? The solution we have to offer is that given by a learned theological writer, Mr. J. Hammond; and it is this—that these frightful cursings are not David's at all, but Shimei's (see 2 Samuel 16:1-23.). They are what he heaped upon David, not David upon him. For—
I. SUCH CURSING IS UNLIKE DAVID. No doubt David was capable of saying and doing terrible things. Still, such brutal malignity, such diabolic depths of cruelty, as are reached in these cursings, are not what David's life, even where the worst has been said of it, would lead us to expect. He was not himself, though passionate, a vindictive man. And if David's dying injunctions concerning Joab and Shimei be cited, we venture to say that, deplorable as they were, they are mildness and meek ness itself compared with what we find here. They do not take in the parents and innocent children, nor stretch into the far future, as these delight to do; they are limited to the individual criminal and to the present life. But this cannot be said of the curses of this psalm. No, they are not like David; we do not believe they could have come from him.
II. AND THEY ARE INCONSISTENT WITH THE PSALM ITSELF WHEN TAKES IN ITS ENTIRETY. There are three plainly marked divisions in the psalm. The first, Psalms 109:1-5; the second, containing these imprecations, Psalms 109:6-19; and the third, Psalms 109:20 to the end. Now, nothing could be in greater contrast than the central, the cursing portion, and that which both precedes and follows. The first and last sections tell of "adversaries," many of them; but the central one points to one solitary individual: "Let him be condemned;" "He loved cursing," etc. And not in form only, but how utterly different in spirit! See the frequent references to God in the first and last sections; but they are scarcely to be found in the central one. In Psalms 109:4, in the first section, David meekly says, "I give myself unto prayer;" which assuredly he did not, but to something very different, if Psalms 109:6-19 are the utterances of his mind. Is it likely that all at once, as by a leap, he would pass from the spirit of meek devoutness and lowly trust in God, to the very spirit of hell, which breathes and burns in Psalms 109:6-19? And if such were his spirit, would he at Psalms 109:20 suddenly return to the bitter spirit of the beginning of this psalm? We think not.
III. THEIR AUTHORSHIP CAN BE SETTLED ONLY BY THE CONTEXT, and that is in favor of the view we have maintained. Note:
1. That in Hebrew there are no quotation marks. Such contrivances as inverted commas and the like, to make clear when the words of another are given, were unknown to Hebrew writers. You can tell only by the context and the general sense when such quotations occur. Hence:
2. Our translators continually add some word or words to mark them. (Cf. Psalms 2:2; Psalms 22:7; Psalms 27:8; Psalms 41:8; Psalms 59:7; Psalms 105:15; Psalms 137:3, and many more.)
3. And there are numbers of passages where such signs should be given but are not: e.g. Psalms 2:6; Psalms 14:1-7.; Psalms 20:0. and 21. (liturgical psalms); Psalms 22:22; Psalms 39:4; and the writer I am indebted to for these references says, "I have counted a score of passages in Perowne's translation of the Psalms where he employs either the one or the other." And then:
4. The reproaches of enemies are cited frequently: e.g. Psalms 10:6; Psalms 22:8; Psalms 35:21, etc. Now, may we not ask, that seeing the Hebrew has no quotation marks, and that the context only can decide when they should be inserted, could any context more plainly indicate that these Psalms 35:6-19 form an instance in which our translators should, as they have done elsewhere, have given such signs?
IV. IN DAVID'S OWN HISTORY WE HAVE AMPLE EXPLANATION OF THIS PSALM, and confirmation of the view we have maintained. The correspondencies between the history and the psalm are clear, constant, and minute, as well as obvious. The history is in 2 Samuel 16:1-23. Take the 2 Samuel 16:1-5, and what could more faithfully depict the condition, the spirit, and the enemy of David at the time of Absalom's revolt, and when he was cursed by Shimei? And if, as we believe we should, we introduce the word "saying ' after 2 Samuel 16:5, then do we not get a vivid representation of the curses that Shimei heaped upon him? And the imprecations themselves are just those that would have been spoken. They indicate the fact that he against whom they were directed held some great office; 2 Samuel 16:8 shows this.
2 Samuel 16:14 points to facts told of in the Book of Ruth. David's ancestors were Israelites, but they had committed the great sin of marrying Moabitish women. This was "the iniquity of his fathers." Then verse 16, which at first sight seems not to correspond with David's character, finds its warrant in that dark page of his history when he slew Uriah, having first taken from him his wife. Nathan distinctly charged him with having "no pity." What wonder that the foul-mouthed Shimei should exaggerate and enlarge this with the charge which verse 16 contains? But in the closing section of the psalm how exact the correspondences are with the moral history l The earnest pleading of verse 21 seems but the echo of the words in the history, "It may be that the Lord will look upon mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day" (2 Samuel 16:12). Thus, then, from first to last the psalm "fits into the folds of the narrative of David's flight; the key turns without the slightest strain in the wards of the lock," and the whole of these correspondences go to show that the impious speeches in verses 6-19 are not those of David against Shimei, but his and others against David.
V. BUT, IT WILL BE SAID, ST. PETER DISPROVES ALL THAT HAS BEEN MAINTAINED. And doubtless the common interpretation has been upheld by his words in Acts 1:16. But "the Scripture" (not "this" Scripture, see Revised Version) which "it was needful should be fulfilled" is not that in Psalms 69:25 and Psalms 109:8, but that in Psalms 41:9 (see reference), which is plainly concerning Judas; and the quotations further down in verse 20 are not concerning Judas, but are simply applied as apposite to him—just as we constantly quote texts and sentences when they suit any particular case, without any idea that they were designed specially for such case. And even if this be questioned, and it be said, "the quotations do refer to Judas," it does not follow that David actually spoke the words. The psalm was his, and as a whole it is assigned to him—the part which belonged to his enemy, as well as those bitter portions which undoubtedly belonged to him. But we do not believe that they do refer to Judas in any other way than that which we have said; for if so, then the dreadful denunciations upon him must be attributed to our Lord Jesus Christ! But that he who when on the cross prayed for his murderers, "Father, forgive them," etc; should utter such cursings as these, is altogether and horribly unbelievable.
VI. AND THE INTERPRETATION IS WELL SUPPORTED. It is that of many Jewish rabbis, of Mendelssohn, of Kennicott, Lowth, etc. (see Mr. Hammond's article); and, above all, it must commend itself to the heart and conscience of those who love God's Word, and desire that others should love it too. The view we have combated lays a burden grievous to be borne on those who believe that in the Scriptures "holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." And this burden we have thus tried somewhat to relieve.—S.C.
The Helper of the poor.
I. THE POOR. Who are these? Not alone those that are poor in this world's good, for such may often be rich in heavenly wealth. But the poor are those of whom Christ says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:1-48.). Nor is it those only who are spiritually poor, for many such, like the people of Laodicea, do not think themselves poor, but the reverse. But those of whom we speak know and feel and confess themselves to be poor. They disclaim all merit, goodness, righteousness, of their own. Their only hope is in Christ.
II. THOSE WHO CONDEMN THEM.
1. There is the Law, the strength of sin.
2. Their own indwelling sin and its deeds.
3. Their miserable unbelief.
4. Those whom, ere they were saved, they led astray.
5. Those whom, since then, they have failed to pray for and warn as they should.
All these have just accusations to bring; but there are others which are unjust.
III. THE LORD WHO HELPS THEM. "He shall stand at his right hand to save him." As a friend, close at hand, full of love and power through his sacrifice and his Spirit.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Complaining to God.
"I am for prayer." "I find refuge in prayer, committing myself and my cause unto thee." The point of the psalm which seems to be missed is this—the psalmist, deeply moved in his feeling by the treacherous wrong done to him, nevertheless does not express his feeling to his fellow-men, nor act revengefully toward his enemies, but lets out his heart to God, speaking quite freely to him all that he thought and felt. It may, indeed, be said that the psalmist should not have felt so bitterly under any provocation. But we can clearly see that, if he did feel thus, he did what was altogether the wisest and most hopeful thing, when he spoke his bad feelings to God rather than to men. It is generally agreed that David was the author of the psalm, and that the treachery and wickedness of some individual is the cause of David's extreme anger and distress. Doeg, Cush, Shimei, and Ahithophel have been suggested. The treachery of his trusted friend Ahithophel perhaps affected David more than any other wrong done to him. But Shimei was brutal in his enmity. The expressions David uses must be judged in the light of his age.
I. ACTING IN VINDICATION OF SELF MAY BE WRONG. And acting includes speech and deed. In David's case—if the association is the rebellion of Absalom—he could not act; he was helpless to defend himself. But if he had been able, it was clearly wiser not to attempt such defense. There are many forms of trouble to which men are subject which they must leave alone. Attempted vindications only make matters worse. Men often make grave mistakes through over-anxiety about self-vindication; and their own heat of feeling, and the public prejudice excited, make the methods of vindication imprudent, and the results ineffective. "Avenge not yourselves." On David's side it should be urged that he did not attempt to avenge himself.
II. APPEALING TO GOD FOR VINDICATION IS ALWAYS RIGHT. And he who goes to God may be, and should be, genuine with God; and if he does feel strongly, he should say what he feels. Illustrate by the way in which a mother encourages her boy to tell everything to her when he is in a passion. The boy tells how he hates, and wishes evil done to, the person who has injured him. The mother does not misunderstand, and her work is to get the boy soothed and calmed. We may freely speak out our bad feelings to our Father-God. That very unreserve he uses to bring us to our right minds. We may show how wrongly we feel by what we say to God, as David did; but the saying it to God is certainly right. Take your very anger to God in prayer.—R.T.
Committing our enemies to the judgment of God.
It should be borne in mind that David was not a merely private person, and that he does not write this psalm as a private person. He was a king, placed in an official position, responsible to his people for the due punishment of all wrongdoers. And the treachery and wickedness of which he complains was committed against him as king. (This is clearly seen if the association of the psalm be with either Shimei or Ahithophel.) And there is another thing. David was not an independent king He was the anointed of Jehovah—the true king. When David had a case of unusual difficulty, one in which personal feeling was likely unduly to influence him, every way the wisest thing for him to do was to refer the matter to the supreme Sovereign, and let him decide. The psalm is to be regarded as the appeal of a vicegerent to his superior. This view relieves the psalm of its burden, because we can see that the superior will only take the representations of his subordinate into due consideration. He will be sure not to be unduly influenced by them. He will act on the eternal principles of righteousness.
I. EVERY MAN HAS A POWER TO PUNISH. Presently David would have been able to punish these men of whom he complains. When a man wrongs us we can punish
(1) by slighting him;
(2) by speaking of him so as to take away his character;
(3) by injuring him in his circumstances.
It is a fatal power—one of the most dangerous trusts a man has. Man seldom uses it well See the uncertainty, and frequent injustice, of magistrates' decisions. Feeling guides rather than judgment. Custom tends to exaggerate sins, and so exaggerate judgments. As in the case of poaching. The Christian spirit puts strict limitation on the desire to punish.
II. EVERY MAN SHOULD LEAVE GOD TO PUNISH. That is what David does. And that is the good side of the psalm. True, he seems to prescribe what God ought to do, but that we may put down to the intensity of his feeling. He leaves God to punish both his own enemies and the enemies of the kingdom. That is precisely what we ought to do always. And we may be quite sure
(1) that God will punish;
(2) will punish justly;
(3) will punish efficiently;
(4) will punish mercifully;
(5) will vindicate us by the punishment.—R.T.
Psalms 109:9, Psalms 109:10
The vicarious feature in judgments.
"Let his children be orphans, and his wife a widow." There are few Bible difficulties more perplexing than that which is created by the fact, that a man's punishments are recognized as righteously affecting, not himself only, but also his children, and those dependent on him. We naturally resist this, and say, "Every man ought to bear his own burden," and a man's punishment should be limited to himself. It is not so; it never has been so; it never can be so, because men are so closely bound together, and related, that if "one member suffers, all the members suffer with it." While this has a trying side, involving a sad extension of suffering, we should never forget that it has also a bright side, involving a most glorious extension of our privileges and pleasures. The vicarious feature in life is the sweet secret of three parts of its blessedness.
I. VICARIOUS SUFFERING IS THE UNIVERSAL FACT OF LIFE. Diseased parents involve their children in disease. Sinful parents convey evil tendencies to their children. Unthrifty parents bring their children into misery. Unfortunate parents lead all belonging to them into misfortune. So unworthy kings bring woe on all their people. The consequences of wrong-doing never can be circumscribed. Every man that lives is the victim of some vicarious disability. However we may explain it, we must take the principle into account.
II. VICARIOUS SUFFERING IS TAKEN UP, AND USED, BY RELIGION. It is recognized in the Divine punishment of the first act of self-will; and in the first act of murder. Cain's posterity suffer for Cain's sin. It is declared as a principle in connection with the Decalogue (Exodus 20:5). It is illustrated in the judgments on Korah and Dathan and Achan; and also in the family of King Saul. It is seen on its brighter side in the Christian baptism of a man and his household; as see Acts 16:31-33.
III. VICARIOUS SUFFERING IS PLACED UNDER STRICT CHRISTIAN LIMITATIONS. It is seen to concern only physical and temporal disabilities. And the Christian rule of life ever tends to limit the conveyance of bodily evils.—R.T.
Suffering that which we make others suffer.
"As he loved cursing, so let it come to him." We have a popular sentence which illustrates. When a man suffers what he planned to make others suffer, he is said to be "hoist with his own petard;" and human nature, in every age, is specially pleased with cases of retributive justice, such as that of Haman, who was hanged on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai. "The psalmist felt that he was praying in accordance with the Divine will, when he prayed that the ungodly might fall into their own nets together, while he ever escaped them. So again with his prayer that the mischief of their own lips might fall upon the heads of them that compassed him about. For it was a matter at once of faith and of experience with the psalmist, that the evil-deviser and evil-doer, travailing with mischief, conceiving sorrow, and bringing forth ungodliness, who had graven and digged up a pit, was apt to fall himself into the destruction he made for other. 'For his travail shall come upon his own head, and his wickedness shall fall on his own pate.'"
I. A MAN'S PUNISHMENT DOES OFTEN COME IS THIS WAY. See the punishment of those who arranged the den of lions for Daniel. "Owen Feltham delights to recall, from the stores of ancient and mediaeval story, how Bagoas, a Persian nobleman, having poisoned Artaxerxes and Artamenes, was detected by Darius, and forced to drink poison himself; how Diomedes, for the beasts he had fed on human flesh, was by Hercules made food; and how Pope Alexander VI; having designed the poisoning of his friend Cardinal Adrian, by his cup-bearer's mistake of the bottle, took the draught himself, and so died by the same engine which he himself had appointed to kill another." Many other illustrations may be found.
II. STRONG IMPRESSIONS OF A MAN'S SIN ARE MADE BY THIS FORM OF PUNISHMENT. There is something striking and arresting in it; it takes public attention. There is often the element of humor in such judgments. But a sin which would otherwise have been passed over, is shown up in all its baseness when the wrongdoer suffers his own designed wrong. He feels the wrong; and others see it.—R.T.
Psalms 109:30, Psalms 109:31
The power of prayer to change our moods.
There is clearly a different tone in the closing portion of this psalm. It may not be so evident as we should like it to have been, but it is there. The storm of angry feeling dies down, and we only hear mutterings after the loud thunder-peals. There is gradually more earnest prayer for himself, less concern about his enemy, and a fuller confidence that God will answer his prayer, and, in his own wise way, bless the good and shame the evil. It is his praying on that has wrought this change of mood. He has prayed himself into a better mind, by the very saying out so freely all the bitter things he had thought and felt.
I. PRAYER CHANGES OUR MOODS BY EXHAUSTING THE BAD MOODS. Here is a most singular thing. Saying out all our bad feelings to a fellow-man would only intensify the badness. We should excite ourselves even to plan revengeful things. But if we say out all our bad feelings to God, we find they get exhausted. Somehow, in his presence, we cannot keep them up. We soon come to the end, and the very Divine silence seems to be waiting until we have said it all; and presently we feel as if there was nothing more we could say. Another mood must come, as tears come when passion has expended itself. So prayer helps by finding us the opportunity for safely saying out all that is in our hearts.
II. PRAYER HELPS US BY ENCOURAGING NEW AND BETTER MOODS. Gradually, as we pray on, the sense of God's presence makes us feel kinder. We cease to want our enemy punished, we want ourselves vindicated; and then presently we feel as if we could just leave our enemy in the hands of God. The Judge of all the earth will surely do the right. At last we find ourselves filled with pity for them; it comes to us, as we pray, that it is far sadder to be a wrong-doer than to be a wronged one; the injurer is much more to be pitied than the injured. So mood after mood changing for the better, we come at last to the Christian mood, and do as the Lord Jesus did, and as St. Stephen did—pray for our enemies. In all the strain-times of life we may prove the soothing, correcting, and comforting power of prayer.—R.T.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
This is a psalm of the most awful imprecations, in which the writer unrestminedly pours forth the fiercest hatred of his enemy, and pleads with God to load him with the most dreadful curses. He justifies his vindictive spirit by pleading that his enemy had fought against him without a cause; had rewarded his good with evil, and his love with hatred. He says he will give himself unto prayer; but the words which follow breathe a spirit such as we wonder that a man dare utter before God—the God of mercy. The best commentary on the whole psalm would be a sermon on Matthew 5:43-46, and another on Romans 12:17-21.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 109". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28