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"Save With Your Right Hand" January 3-4

In Psalm 109, often referred to as an imprecatory (cursing) psalm of lament, David calls on God to judge and punish his wicked enemies who have attacked him with lies and hateful accusations (verses 1-4). Their fabrications are baseless, "without a cause" (verse 3), and they have betrayed David, returning, he says, "evil for good, and hatred for my love" (verse 5).

In its opening and closing, David refers to his enemies in the plural. Yet in verses 6-19, the psalm refers to a singular individual. Some take these verses to be David's quoting of his enemies regarding himself, yet it more likely seems that David is the one speaking here-referring to a primary antagonist, evidently one holding an office of responsibility (see verse 8).

In very strong language, David calls on God to settle accounts (verses 6-20). The Nelson Study Bible states: "Here the psalm takes a decidedly negative tone. The description of the wife of the enemy becoming an impoverished widow and the children becoming beggars [verses 9-12] seems particularly harsh. However, the psalmist directs these strong requests to the Lord; he does not actually take the sword into his own hand. He may feel compelled to vent his anger in words, but the psalmist understands that vengeance itself belongs to the Lord" (note on verses 6-8).

Still, we might wonder why David would pray for calamity on innocent family members. Of course, they may not have been innocent at all. We do not know the exact circumstances here. It may be that the children mentioned were older-and that David understood them and the wife to be fully supportive of the wicked man's attacks on him. They may even have been participants in slandering him. The enemy's parents may also have been involved (see verse 14).

Moreover we should consider, as the Zondervan NIV Study Bible says, that "the close identity of a man with his children and of children with their parents, resulting from the tightly bonded unity of the three- or four-generation households of that ancient society, is alien to the modern reader, whose sense of self is highly individualistic.... That deep, profoundly human bond accounts [along with passed down behavior and consequences] for the ancient legal principle of 'punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation' (see Ex 20:5...)" (note on Psalm 109:12). Furthermore, since it was considered that "a man lived on in his children...the focus of judgment [when mentioning the cutting off of descendants] remains on the false accuser (see 21:10; 37:28)" (note on 109:13).

It also seems that the curses David calls for are ones his accusers have pronounced against him-that he is merely praying for their curses against him to be turned back on themselves (compare verses 17-20). The psalm thus forms an "appeal for judicial redress-that the Lord will deal with them in accordance with their malicious intent against him, matching punishment with crime" (Zondervan, note on verses 6-15).

Indeed, we must also remember that David was Israel's king and judge as well as an inspired prophet of God. His song here, though no doubt personally heartfelt, was more importantly a declaration of God's judgment rather than a model for us on how to pray about enemies. This is what God's law decreed concerning false accusers: "If the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you. And those who remain shall hear and fear, and hereafter they shall not again commit such evil among you. Your eye shall not pity: life shall be for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (Deuteronomy 19:18-21).

As for how we are to pray about our enemies, Jesus gave us this instruction: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28). Of course, this does not preclude asking God to deal with them with "tough love" if they persist in harm-as this would ultimately be for their own good.

Demonstrating Psalm 109's prophetic aspect, the apostle Peter later cited the end of verse 8, "Let another take his office," in regard to selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot among the 12 apostles after his betrayal of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:20). This does not necessarily mean that all of Psalm 109 is applicable to Judas. For instance, we have no other evidence that he had a wife and children-though it is possible that he did. The important point is that the judgment decreed on a betrayer of God's anointed king would, in an even greater sense, fit Judas. Judas betrayed Jesus, the King of Kings, returning evil for the love that Christ had shown him.

Psalm 109:14-15 should not be understood as a prayer for removing all possibility of repentance and forgiveness for David's enemy and the enemy's family. Rather, David is asking that God not forget what they did to him so as to ensure their punishment. Yet David himself would have accepted an enemy's repentance-just as God accepted David's own repentance. Some, it should be noted, see the verses here as indicating that Judas cannot be forgiven for his sin upon repentance in the second resurrection. These verses indicate no such thing.

Finally, David describes the effect of the enemies' attacks on him (verses 22-25)-foreshadowing what Jesus Himself would experience. And he prays for God to powerfully intervene in a way that would make it clear to the enemies that God was doing so (verses 26-27). David closes with praise, confident in God's coming intervention on his behalf (verse 31)-just as God will intervene for all of His people suffering such assaults and persecution from others.

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