Psalm 109
Barnes' Notes
This psalm is ascribed to David, and there is nothing in the psalm to make us doubt the correctness of the title. Kimchi supposes that it refers to the enemies of David in the time of Saul. Grotius and Knapp suppose that it refers to Ahithophel; Dathe, to Shimei; DeWette, that it refers to national foes at a later period than the time of David. It is impossible now to ascertain the occasion on which it was composed. It would seem to have been one of the most trying in the life of David, when his enemies were most bitter against him. It is one of the "imprecatory" psalms, and one which is as difficult to reconcile with a kind and forgiving spirit as any other in the book.

In the New Testament Acts 1:20 a part of the psalm is applied to Judas the traitor, but without its being necessary to conclude that it had any original reference to him. The conduct of Judas was like the conduct of the enemy of David; the language used in the one case might be properly used in the other.

The psalm consists of three parts:

I. A description of the enemies of the psalmist Psalm 109:1-5, as

(a) deceitful and lying;

(b) as using words of hatred;

(c) as fighting against him without cause;

(d) as returning evil for good, and hatred for love.

From this it would seem that the persons referred to were some who had been closely connected with the author; who had received important benefits from him; who had been the subjects of his prayer; and who pursued him from mere malice.

II. A prayer for the punishment of those who had thus wronged him - referring particularly to some one person who had been prominent, or who had instigated others, imploring the infliction of just punishment on him as if he were alone responsible, Psalm 109:6-20. It is in this part of the psalm that the principal difficulty in the interpretation consists, as this is made up of severe and apparently harsh and revengeful imprecations. All is in fact invoked on him that any man could ever desire to see inflicted on an enemy.

III. A prayer for the sufferer's own deliverance, with a promise of thanksgiving, Psalm 109:21-31. The psalmist here describes his miserable and suffering condition, and prays that God would interpose - expressing a willingness to suffer anything at the hand of man if God would be his friend - a willingness that they should continue to "curse," if God would "bless." As the result of all, he says that he would find delight in praise - in the public acknowledgment of the goodness of God.

On the phrase in the title, "To the chief Musician," see the notes at the title to Psalm 4:1-8,

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
Hold not thy peace - That is, Speak for my defense - as if God had looked with unconcern on the wrongs which were done to him. See the notes at Psalm 83:1.

O God of my praise - The God whom I praise; whom I worship and adore. It implies that he was accustomed to praise him, and desired still to praise him. He sought that God would interpose now that he might have new occasion for praise.

For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful - literally, "The mouth of wickedness, and the mouth of deceit." This acquaints us with the nature of the wrong which had been done him. It was slander; undeserved reproach.

Are opened against me - Margin, "have opened;" that is, have opened themselves.

They have spoken against me with a lying tongue - They have accused me of things which are not true; they have made false charges against me. David, as has not been uncommon with good people, was called repeatedly to this trial.

They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
They compassed me about also with words of hatred - They attacked me on every side; they assailed me, not merely in one form and direction, but in every form, and in every direction. I could turn no way - I could go nowhere - where I did not encounter these slanderous reports.

And fought against me without a cause - Contended against me, or fought against me, with "words." They sought to do me all the harm they could. The phrase "without a cause "means that he had given them no occasion for this conduct; he had not wronged them; it was mere malignity. See Psalm 35:7; Psalm 69:4. Compare John 15:25.

For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
For my love ... - As a recompence for my love; or, this is the return which I get for all the expressions of my love to them. The enemies referred to were those whom he had treated kindly; to whom he had done good. This is not uncommon in the world. It was illustrated in an eminent degree in the life of the Saviour.

But I give myself unto prayer - literally, "I - prayer;" that is, I am all prayer; I continually pray. This may mean, either, that he bore these trials with a meek spirit, and did not allow these things to disturb his devotions; or, more probably, that he prayed constantly "for them;" he desired their good, and sought it from above.

And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
And they have rewarded me evil for good - literally, "They have placed against me." They have put it in my way; it is what they had to set before me. See the notes at Psalm 35:12, where the same expression occurs.

And hatred for my love - Instead of loving me in return for my love, they have met me with the expressions of hatred. This often occurred in the life of David; it was constant in the life of the Saviour; it is habitually manifested by people toward God; it is often experienced by good men now; it "may" occur in the life of any man - and if it "does" occur to us, we should not think that any strange thing has happened to us.

Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
Set thou a wicked man over him - This commences the imprecatory part of the psalm, extending to Psalm 109:20. The first thing that the psalmist asks is, that his foe might be subjected to the evil of having a man placed over him like himself: a man regardless of justice, truth, and right; a man who would respect character and propriety no more than he had himself done. It is, in fact, a prayer that he might be punished "in the line of his offences." It cannot be wrong that a man should be treated as he treats others; and it cannot be in itself wrong to desire that a man should be treated according to his character and deserts, for this is the object of all law, and this is what all magistrates and legislators are endeavoring to secure.

And let Satan stand at his right hand - As his counselor and adviser. The language would be properly applicable to one who had been a counselor or adviser to a king in the administration of the government; and the prayer is, that he might know what it was to have such a one as his counselor and adviser. The language used would seem to make it not improbable that David here refers particularly to someone who had occupied this position in reference to himself, and who had betrayed his trust; who had given him crafty and malignant counsel; who had led him into bad measures; who had used his position to promote his own interests at the expense of his master's. David had such counselors, as anyone in authority may have. The prayer, then, would be, that such a man might be punished in his own line; that he might know what it was to have a bad and wicked adviser. The word rendered "Satan" - שׂטן śâṭân - is in the margin rendered "adversary." In the Septuagint it is διάβολος diabolos; in the Vulgate, "diabolus." See the notes at Job 1:6, for its meaning. The prayer here seems not to be that the devil or Satan might stand near him as his counselor; but that a man - a real adversary - an accuser - one with a malignant heart - one who would make use of his position to accomplish his own purposes, and to betray the interests of his master, might give him counsel, as seems to have been done in the case of David.

When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
When he shall be judged ... - When for his offences he shall be arraigned. The psalmist supposes that he "might" be put on trial; he seems to suppose that this "would be." Such wickedness could not always escape detection, and sooner or later he would be arrested and brought to trial. "When" this should occur, the psalmist prays that justice might be done; that he might be condemned, as he "ought" to be. Such a prayer could not in itself be wrong, for assuredly it cannot be proper for magistrates to pray that the wicked man may escape, or that they may themselves fail in the very object for which they are appointed. See the General Introduction, 6 (5) e. f.

And let his prayer become sin - Evidently his prayer in reference to his "trial" for crime; his prayer that he might be acquitted and discharged. Let it be seen in the result that such a prayer was wrong; that it was, in fact, a prayer for the discharge of a bad man - a man who ought to be punished. Let it be seen to be what a prayer would be if offered for a murderer, or violator of the law - a prayer that he might escape or not be punished. All must see that such a prayer would be wrong, or would be a "sin;" and so, in his own case, it would be equally true that a prayer "for his own escape" would be "sin." The psalmist asks that, by the result of the trial, such a prayer might be "seen" to be in fact a prayer "for the" protection and escape of a "bad man." A just sentence in the case would demonstrate this; and this is what the psalmist prays for.

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
Let his days be few - Let him be soon cut off; let his life be shortened. It cannot be wrong for an officer of justice to aim at this; to desire it; to pray for it. How strange it would be for a magistrate to pray "that a murderer or a traitor should be long lived!"

And let another take his office - So every man acts, and practically prays, who seeks to remove a bad and corrupt man from office. As such an office must be filled by someone, all the efforts which he puts forth to remove a wicked man tend to bring it about that "another should take his office;" and for this it is "right" to labor and pray. The act does not of itself imply malignity or bad feeling, but is consistent with the purest benevolence, the kindest feelings, the strictest integrity, the sternest patriotism, and the highest form of piety. The word rendered office here is in the margin "charge." It properly denotes a "mustering, an enumeration;" then, care, watch, oversight, charge, as in an army, or in a civil office. In Acts 1:20, this passage is applied to Judas, and the word - the same word as in the Septuagint here - is rendered in the text "bishopric," in the margin, "office." See the notes at that passage. It had no original reference to Judas, but the language was exactly adapted to him, and to the circumstances of the case, as it is used by the apostle in that passage.

Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
Let his children be fatherless - Hebrew, "his sons." This is what "always" occurs when a criminal who is a father is executed. It is one of the consequences of crime; and if the officer of justice does his duty, of course, the sons of such a man "must" be made fatherless. The prayer is, simply, that justice may be done, and all this is but an enumeration of what must follow from the proper execution of the laws.

And his wife a widow - This implies no malice against the wife, but may be consistent with the most tender compassion for her sufferings. It is simply one of the consequences which must follow from the punishment of a bad man. The enumeration of these things shows the enormity of the crime - just as the consequences which follow from the execution of a murderer are an illustration of the divine sense of the evil of the offence.

Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg - Let them continually wander about with no home - no fixed habitation. Let them be compelled to ask their daily food at the hand of charity. Here we enter on a part of the psalm which is more difficult to be reconciled with a proper feeling than the portions which have been considered. It is, indeed, a frequent consequence of crime that the children of those who are punished "are" vagabonds and beggars, but this is not a necessary consequence; and there "seems" here, therefore, to be a mixture of personal feeling, or a feeling of revenge. This runs through the remaining portion of the imprecatory part of the psalm. I confess that it is difficult to explain this without admitting that the expressions are a record only of what actually occurred in the mind of a man, truly pious, but not perfect - a man who thus, to illustrate the workings of the mind even when the general character was holy, was allowed to record his own feelings, though wrong, just as he would record the conduct of another, or his own conduct, though wrong, as a simple matter of fact - a record of what actually was felt. The "record" may be exactly correct; the sentiment recorded may have been wholly incapable of vindication. See the General Introduction, Section 6 (6).

Let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places - In places uninhabited by man; in barren regions; in deserts: let them be compelled to live on the scanty food which they may pick up there - the roots, or the wild fruits, which will simply keep them alive. See the notes at Job 30:4.

Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath - literally, "Let the extortioner cast a snare over all that he hath;" that is, let him seize all his property. The word rendered "catch" - נקשׁ nâqash - is a word which means to lay a snare, as for birds and wild animals, and hence, it means to ensnare, to entrap, to catch. The word rendered "extortioner" means literally one who lends or borrows money; a money-loaner; in our times, a "broker." Here it refers to one who loaned money on interest; or who took advantage of the necessities of others to lend money at high rates - thus sooner or later seizing upon and securing the property of another. The prayer here is, that he might be in such circumstances as to make it necessary to fall into the hands of those who would thus come into possession of all his property.

And let the strangers spoil his labor - Let strangers "plunder" his labor; that is, the fruit of his labor. Let them seize and possess what he has earned and gained to enjoy it themselves. The remarks made on Psalm 109:10, will apply to this verse and the following.

Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him - Let him find compassion and sympathy in no one. When he suffers, let him be left to bear it alone. Let there be none found to shed a tear of compassion over him, or to relieve him. Literally, "Let there be no one to draw out kindness to him."

Neither let there be any to favor his fatherless children - To show them mercy or kindness. See the notes at Psalm 109:10.

Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
Let his posterity be cut off - To have a numerous posterity, to have the name and family perpetuated, was regarded among the Hebrews as one of the greatest and most desirable blessings. Hence, to pray that all one's family might be cut off was one of the severest forms of malediction which could be employed.

And in the generation following - The very next generation. Let not his family be perpetuated at all.

Let their name be blotted out - As a name is erased from a catalogue or muster-roll when one dies.

Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the LORD; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
Let the iniquity of his fathers - Of his ancestors.

Be remembered with the Lord - Or, by the Lord. The doctrine of the Bible is, that God "visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate" him Exodus 20:5; the matter of fact is that children and children's children often suffer from the errors, the crimes, and the follies of their parents, as in the case of intemperance, murder, and treason (compare the notes at Romans 5:12 ff); and the prayer here is, that this regular effect of sin might follow in this instance; that these consequences might not be arrested by divine interposition.

And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out - This is probably added to complete the parallelism; the sin of his father and his mother. There may, however, if this is a composition of David, be a similar allusion to that which occurs in Psalm 51:5, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." The prayer is, that whatever effects might properly follow from the fact that his mother was a sinner - either in some special sense, or in the general sense that all are sinhers - might come upon him.

Let them be before the LORD continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
Let them be before the Lord continually - Let their sins never pass from the mind of God. Let him never so forget them as not to inflict punishment for them.

That he may cut off the memory of them from the earth - That they may be wholly forgotten among people. Let their very name perish; and let the offender in this case be in the condition of those who have no ancestors to whom they can refer with pride and pleasure. The idea here is drawn from the honor which is felt in being able to refer to ancestors worthy of being remembered for their virtues.

Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.
Because that he remembered not to show mercy - He had no compassion; he was severe, harsh, unjust, unfeeling.

But persecuted the poor and needy man - The man that was destitute of friends; that was a wanderer and a beggar. There were times in the life of David when this would be strictly and literally applicable to him.

That he might even slay the broken in heart - The man whose heart was crushed by sorrow - that he might put "the finishing stroke" to all, and send him to the grave. Whatever might have been the "feeling" which prompted to this prayer, or however difficult it may be to vindicate the psalmist's expression of feeling, there can be no doubt as to the propriety of inflicting punishment on such a man. The sufferings invoked are none too severe to be inflicted on a man who persecutes the poor and needy, and seeks so to multiply sorrows that the man already crushed and broken in heart shall sink to the grave.

As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.
As he loved cursing ... - As he loved to curse others; as he seemed to have a pleasure alike in the act of cursing and in the feeling which prompts to cursing, let him see what it is; let it come upon him in its fullness. He has chosen this as his portion; let it be his. This, in the original, is in the indicative mood, and not, as in our version, in the optative form: "He loved cursing, and it has come upon him; he did not delight in blessing, and it is far from him." Still, the connection would rather seem to require that we should understand this as a prayer, and not as an affirmation, for the object of the whole seems not to be to state what had come upon him, but what the psalmist wished might come upon him.

As he delighted not in blessing ... - As he had no pleasure in wishing that others might be happy, or in any measures which would tend to promote their happiness, so let everything that could be regarded as a blessing be put far from him; let him know nothing of it.

As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.
As he clothed himself with cursing like as with a garment - Moral qualities are often compared with raiment - as that in which we "appear" to our fellow-men. See 1 Peter 5:5; Job 29:14.

So let it come into his bowels like water - Margin, "within him." Hebrew, "In his midst." Let it penetrate him through and through. Let no part of him be unaffected by it.

And like oil into his bones - As if oil flowed through all his bones, so let the effects of cursing pervade his whole frame. The prayer is, that his entire nature might feel the effects of cursing; that he might know to the full what he was endeavoring to bring on others.

Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.
Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him - He has chosen to put it on, to wear it, to appear in it; so let him constantly feel its consequences. As he is always obliged to wear clothing, so let this be as constantly with him and upon him as his mantle and his sash.

And for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually - The belt or girdle which he constantly wears. See the notes at Matthew 5:38.

Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the LORD, and of them that speak evil against my soul.
Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord,... - The word rendered "reward" means usually work, labor, occupation, business; then, what one earns by his work - reward, recompence, Leviticus 19:13. The meaning here is, Let them constantly receive these things which I have prayed for Psalm 109:6-19; let them be constantly treated in this manner. This is a summing up of his entire wish - his whole desire. It cannot be proved that they did "not deserve" all this; it cannot be shown that if all this came upon them at the hand of God, it would be unjust; it cannot be denied that such things as these, either singly, in groups, or in succession, do actually come upon wicked people; and the prayer in the case "may" have been merely that justice might be done. Still, as before remarked, it is not easy wholly to vindicate the expressed feelings of the psalmist. See the notes at Psalm 109:10.

But do thou for me, O GOD the Lord, for thy name's sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me.
But do thou for me, O God the Lord, for thy name's sake - That is, Interpose for me; exert thy power in my behalf. The phrase "for thy name's sake" implies that the motive which prompted him was a desire that God might be honored. It was not primarily or mainly for his own happiness; it was that God might be glorified, that his character might be illustrated, that his plans might be accomplished. Compare the notes at Daniel 9:18-19.

Because thy mercy is good - That is, It is the characteristic of mercy to do good; to show kindness.

Deliver thou me - He prays that God would "manifest" himself as he really was, as a God of mercy.

For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
For I am poor and needy - I am helpless and dependent. I am in a condition where I need thy gracious interposition.

And my heart is wounded within me - I am as one that is prostrated by a weapon - as if my heart had been pierced. I have no courage, no strength. I am like one who lies wounded on a battlefield.

I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust.
I am gone like the shadow when it declineth - See the notes at Psalm 102:11.

I am tossed up and down as the locust - Agitated, moved, driven about, as a cloud of locusts is by the wind. The meaning of the whole is, that he was frail and weak, and needed strength from on high.

My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
My knees are weak through fasting - Hunger; want of food. Strength to stand is connected with firmness in the knee-joints, and hence, weakness and feebleness are denoted by the giving way of the knees. Compare Hebrews 12:12.

And my flesh faileth of fatness - I am lean and weak. There is not the proper supply for my strength. The idea seems to have been that fatness (Hebrew, oil) was necessary to strength.

I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads.
I became also a reproach unto them - They reproached or reviled me as a bad man. Compare the notes at Psalm 22:6. The plural here - "unto them" - shows that there were more than one to whom the psalm had reference, though one of them was so prominent that a considerable part of the psalm might properly be spoken of him alone.

When they looked upon me, they shaked their heads - In contempt. See Psalm 22:7. Compare Matthew 27:39.

Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy:
Help me, O Lord my God ... - Stand by me; interpose.

That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, LORD, hast done it.
That they may know that this is thy hand - That this has been done by thee; that it has all occurred under thy direction, or has been ordered by thee. The reference seems to be particularly to God's interposition: "Let it be manifest to all that thou hast interposed in my behalf; that thou hast undertaken for me; that thou art my Friend." He desired an interposition from God that he might be vindicated before all his enemies.

That thou, Lord, hast done it - Let it be such an interposition that it will be manifest to all that no other one but God could have done this.

Let them curse, but bless thou: when they arise, let them be ashamed; but let thy servant rejoice.
Let them curse, but bless thou - See Psalm 109:17. Let them continue to curse me, provided thou wilt bless me. I am willing to bear all these reproaches, if I may have thy favor. That favor I value infinitely more than I do theirs; and it is a small matter that I am reviled and cursed by people, if I may secure the favor and friendship of God.

When they arise - When they rise up against me; when they attempt to persecute me.

Let them be ashamed ... - Let them be disappointed; let them not be successful in their designs against me. On the word "ashamed," see Job 6:20, note; Psalm 25:2-3, note.

Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame - Let confusion and disappointment seem to cover them, so as to constitute a garment. See the notes at Psalm 109:18-19. They had "clothed themselves with cursing" Psalm 109:18, and the prayer now is, that the covering of shame might be as complete and entire.

And let them cover themselves with their own confusion as with a mantle - As with an outer garment - the mantle or robe - which they might wrap all round them. Let it be so abundant that they may entirely wrap their person in it. Let their confusion correspond with their sin in the fullest manner.

I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth - I will sing abundant praises to him. Compare the notes at Isaiah 38:20.

Yea, I will praise him among the multitude - In the great congregation. I will publicly acknowledge his goodness and mercy. See the notes at Psalm 22:25.

For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.
For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor - He will thus show that he befriends the poor and the helpless.

To save him from those that condemn his soul - - Margin, "from the judges of his soul." The Hebrew is, "from those that judge his soul." The meaning is, from those that pronounce a harsh or unjust judgment; from those that condemn the innocent.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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