The Outrageous Prayer of David in Psalm 109 and Charles Spurgeon

I recently read Psalm 109 and was troubled.  I’ve  spent the last week trying to wrap my head around David’s prayer.   I’ll just give the highlights here.  The specific situation that prompts David to write this Psalm is unknown, but he is being accused, slandered, and cursed by an individual or a group of people.  To add injury to insult, it is someone whom David loves and has treated with nothing but kindness and goodness.  He laments that he is repaid “evil for good and hatred for [his] love.”  (vs. 1-5)  This wasn’t what I found to be outrageous.  This happens to good people all the time.  It is a hurtful and wicked thing when those you love hate you.  So, what does David have to teach us about what to do in this situation.  After all, this Psalm is the inspired Word of God.  That’s why I was taken by surprise with what David says next, and prays will happen to this person(s):

Vs. 6 – That someone just like this man treat him the way he has treated David (No problem)

vs. 7 – That he will be found guilty and his prayers considered sin (I’m tracking with David)

vs. 8 – Kill him and give his position and title to someone else (Um…Sure.  Take his job away.  Don’t know I would ask for God to kill the guy though.)

vs. 9 – Kill him – Make his children fatherless and his wife a widow (Ok.  Should I be asking God to kill people?)

vs. 10 – Make his children beggars on the street who live in a ruined home (What?!  His children? Ex. 34)

vs. 11 – Take away all of his families possessions and make his family still living destitute (Ouch!)

vs. 12 – While his children are begging for food and money, don’t let anyone show pity or kindness to them (Is David a God-follower?!?!)

vs. 13 -15- Let his name be two generations away from being forgotten and condemn his family to hell!  (WOW!!)

David goes on again to ask that this man and his family be treated in the very way that he has treated others (Vs 16-20), but that God would treat David with mercy according to his steadfast love.  David confesses that he is needy, poor, hurt, and trusting in the Lord alone.  Something his accuser is not doing.

Didn’t Jesus say in the New Testament to “pray for your enemies and to bless those who curse you”? (Mt. 5:44)  Was this type of language only used in the Old Testament, but now since Jesus and the cross, Christians aren’t to pray or think like this any longer?  Apparently not.  Jesus says of Judas in Mat. 26:24 that it would have been better for him if he had never been born.  Jesus reserved his harshest words for the Pharisees (Mat. 23:13-26).  Paul said that if he or an angel preached any gospel contrary to the one about Jesus, let them be condemned to hell. (Gal. 1:8)  So my question is: Is what David prays for here in contradiction to how Jesus tells us to pray for those in the NT?  The conclusion I’ve come to is: No.  Why?

1.David was praying this about a man who presumably would not repent.  He was an unfaithful Israelite who was wicked to the core of his very being and would not turn from his wickedness. (Ps. 7:12-16)  All who will not repent of sin ultimately face the same judgment as this man (Jn. 3:36).

2. David was asking the Lord to do exactly what God had said he would do to the proud and wicked.  (Ex. 34:6-7; Job 40:12; Prov. 15:25; Jer. 50:32; Is. 13:11)  According to James 4:6 God’s mind on the proud and wicked has not changed.

3. David trusted himself to the good and just judgment of God to deal out the retribution. David would not take matters into his own hands.  The Christian in the New Testament is still called to this. (Rom. 12:19)

God’s steadfast love is a powerful and unchanging reality for those who love Jesus.  However, for those who remain unrepentant and love wickedness, this prayer may still be applicable today.  Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on this was insightful as well:

Those who regard a sort of effeminate benevolence to all creatures alike as the acme of virtue are very much in favor with this degenerate age; these look for the salvation of the damned, and even pray for the restoration of the devil.  It is very possible that if they were less in sympathy with evil, and more in harmony with the thoughts of God, they would be of a far sterner and also of a far better mind.  To us it seems better to agree with God’s curses than with the devil’s blessing; and when at any time our heart kicks against the terror of the Lord we take it as proof of our need of greater humbling, and confess our sin before our God.

Concerning David’s prayer that this man’s children be consigned as beggars and shown no mercy, Spurgeon writes:

We confess that as we read some of these verses we have need of all our faith and reverence to accept them as the voice of inspiration; but the exercise is good for the soul, for it educates our sense of ignorance, and tests our teachableness.  Yes, Divine Spirit, we can and do believe that even these dread words from which we shrink have a meaning consistent with the attributes of the Judge of all the earth, though his name is LOVE.  How this may be we shall know hereafter.

Finally, the actual writing of this Psalm and the detriment to this man’s children may have been a great mercy.  It is addressed to the choirmaster and was probably sung in the Jewish synagogue.  It may be that many who sang this song would have heeded the warnings within it and repented themselves.  I wonder what would happen if we sang songs in our churches today that had such warnings in them.  Can you imagine singing a song that had lyrics like: “May all those who lie and gossip about other people and refuse to repent lose their loved ones and all their earthly possessions in hopes they may turn to Christ.”  Not sure what tune that would go to or how popular it would be.  It may also be that as this man’s children lived in destitution because of the sins of their father, they would realize the wickedness of their fathers way, and walk after the Lord.  It might be that even in this prayer of judgment, David is seeking mercy for later generations.

Posted on August 19, 2010, in Film & Music, Ministry, Misc, Prayers. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Good, hard questions. And, so many things worth commenting on. But I’m pressed for time, I’ll just stick to these two:

    “Vs. 6 – That someone just like this man treat him the way he has treated David (No problem)”

    Really? You don’t have any problem with that? If someone sinned against you, would you actually pray that someone else sin against them in the same way? You’d probably think and feel it, but would you actually pray it?

    “and the detriment to this man’s children may have been a great mercy.”

    I’m not sure that I followed you here. How exactly does praying for the children to be ignored beggars on the street qualify as a great mercy? And, you briefly mentioned Exod 34 in this context. How do you reconcile that with what David is saying?

  2. I think what Billy is referring to is God’s mercy on the people of Israel who would heed the warning and repent, not necessarily the children themselves. I could be off but that is how I read it.

    This is a difficult Psalm and it makes me want to join in with the Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake and ask, “Where is the love?” I think we neglect to note the kindness AND severity of God (Rom 11:22). I will have to chew on this one. Thanks for posting it.

    • That makes sense, but it’s still seems like an awkward kind of mercy. It’s kind of like saying, “I want to mercifully warn you about the danger of falling off that cliff by pushing that little kid over there off the cliff so you can see what happens when he hits the ground.”

  3. Marc,
    When I said, “No problem” I didn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t have a issue praying something like that. I just meant that I was tracking with what he was saying, and this comment didn’t seem as harsh to me as his later comment about people taking no pity on his children. The comments of David seemed to get worse as he continued to pray, ultimately asking for the Lord to condemn his family to hell in vs. 14.

    As for the detriment to this mans children being a great mercy, I guess I meant it both way. For example, God would bring destruction and captivity upon Israel when they were rebellious. Their captivity was judgment upon them. Yet, it was in captivity that their hearts returned to the Lord. Captivity then was judgment and mercy. It was the instrument of Lord to turn the hearts of the people. So, this can be a mercy to: 1) other Israelites that heed the warning in this Psalm and repent of their own sin, and 2) to his own children. Many times children follow the example of their parents. If suffering reveals to this man’s children that walking in sin is wicked and that God will judge all such wickedness, and thus they turn and follow the Lord (and not their father), then wouldn’t you agree that suffering was a mercy of God that he used to change their hearts?

    • The only problem with that is that the psalm says nothing about the condition of the children’s hearts. I suppose you could try to argue that God wouldn’t treat them like this if their hearts were right, but the status of the children seems pretty irrelevant in the psalm.

      I also find it interesting that you want to read a redemptive component into the psalm. I can understand why you’d do this, but it’s hard to find in the psalm itself (unless I’m missing something). Indeed, wouldn’t v. 15 seem to undermine the idea that David intended this to be read as a redemptive judgment?

  4. I mentioned Exodus 34 because here the Lord says he will visits the sins of the fathers on their children to the third and fourth generation. Not that God holds the children accountable for their fathers sin, but this his sin has consequences that can have lasting effects long after he is gone.

  5. Wow, Great post, very thought provoking…

    We many times fail to realize that when God punishes sinful people by cutting off their lineage (posterity?) he is being very merciful. He is preventing untold thousands of their (the very sinful people) decedents who would surely follow their evil steps from ever being born.

    I believe this is what David is praying for. That this man and his horrible spirit would be cut off and that God would prevent him from having dependents who would perpetuate this evil.

    Psa 109:13 May his posterity be cut off; may his name be blotted out in the second generation!

    If this man’s dependents continued to reproduce, they would keep the evil going and cause problems for who knows how many others…

  6. Marc,
    Good thoughts. I guess what I was getting at with the mercy and repentance comments was that it was POSSIBLE. I agree that there is no redemption spoken of in the Psalm. David is pretty straight forward about what he wants to see happen. I only mean that there might be mercy given to those who listen to this Psalm, heed the warning, and repent. Or IF (and I have no idea if this did happen) this guys children saw the error of their fathers sin, chose rather to follow the Lord, and escaped the same fate. God does punish other so that they may be examples to later generations – 1 Corinthians 10

    • So, where does that leave us with respect to whether we should use psalms like this as models for our own prayer and worship lives? Is it legitimate? Or, do we need to say that although David was a godly man, he really didn’t understand God’s grace and mercy the way people do on this side of the cross? So, the psalm is a model of being open and honest about our feelings and frustrations, but not necessarily an adequate model in very aspect. Or, do you see a third option?

  7. I would have to say that I think this is still a legitimate model for prayer today. David asks for justice. It would be revenge (sin) if he was going to make this guy pay for all of the wrongs done to him: David was going to kill him, make his children fatherless, make it illegal to show his children mercy, and somehow make sure his whole family went to hell (although I understand that’s not David’s call). This isn’t what David was going to do, however. He was open an honest about what he wanted to see happen to a man who hated him, hated the Lord, and hated the people of God. He trusted the ultimate outcome to the Lord. I don’t think it is wrong to pray open and honest prayers, but at the same time trust the Lord for the results. We don’t know if any of these things ever happened to this man. Maybe he lived a long happy life on earth. His children inherited his wealth. As far as I can tell, we don’t know the rest of the story. I don’t believe that it was wrong to pray for God to hand out justice to this man.

    However, let me also say that I don’t think it’s wrong to pray the very opposite of what David did for those who persecute you. Jesus did both. Cursed Judas and asked God to forgive the Roman Soldiers who crucified him.

    Am I getting this wrong?!

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