Psalm 109
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
It is by no means easy to imagine the whole nation of Israel singing such dreadful imprecations as those contained in vers. 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.). 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, vers. 1-5; the second, containing these imprecations, vers. 6-19; and the third, ver. 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 ver. 4, in the first section, David meekly says, "I give myself unto prayer;" which assuredly he did not, but to something very different, if vers. 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 vers. 6-19? And if such were his spirit, would he at ver. 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. Psalm 2:2; Psalm 22:7; Psalm 27:8; Psalm 41:8; Psalm 59:7; Psalm 105:15; Psalm 137:3, and many more.)

3. And there are numbers of passages where such signs should be given but are not: e.g. Psalm 2:6; Psalm 14.; 20. and 21. (liturgical psalms); 22:22; 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. Psalm 10:6; Psalm 22:8; Psalm 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 vers. 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. Take the vers. 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 ver. 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; ver. 8 shows this. Ver. 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 ver. 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 ver. 16 contains? But in the closing section of the psalm how exact the correspondences are with the moral history l The earnest pleading of ver. 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 vers. 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 Psalm 69:25 and Psalms 109:8, but that in Psalm 41:9 (see reference), which is plainly concerning Judas; and the quotations further down in ver. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.). 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.


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.

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