What comes to your mind when you think of the Psalms?
I tend to think of peaceful streams and quiet comforts, of God’s loving protection and provision in man’s sorrows. I don’t often jump to images of turmoil-ridden souls or to their curses upon the children of their persecutors. Surprisingly, however, the latter are all present in the Psalms alongside the former, and their inclusion may serve to comfort us in our moments of anger and desperation.
Psalm 109, attributed to David, shows a man in the throes of suffering praying for God to bring justice. He begins by briefly stating his case: his love and goodness are met with hatred and evil. Rather than responding with vengeance, as might be expected for one facing such injustice, David responds with prayer (Psalm 109:4). So far, the psalm beautifully depicts the way God’s people ought to respond to evildoers. Then David starts a new section of his prayer, and his requests are not nice.
David first seems to prays that his adversary will be wrongly accused and will be found guilty, adding that he wants the evildoer’s prayer to “be counted as sin” (vv. 6-7). He asks for a short life for his enemy, emphasizing his desire for the man’s children to be fatherless and for the man’s wife to become a widow (vv. 8-9). David prays for poverty for the man’s family, and for no sympathy to be offered them (vv. 10-12). He asks for the man’s sins (along with the sins of his parents) to be held against him (vv. 13-15). He concludes the section by praying for all of the injustices this man has committed to be returned to him (vv. 16-20). David then ends by recalling his hope in the Lord (vv. 21-31).
This is a brutal passage. At first, I was repulsed by David’s prayer. Here we read the cries of a man who prayed for God to curse his enemy, and that is no light request. A few thoughts came to mind, however. First, although we read David’s request here, we don’t have here any idea of how God answered him. We don’t know if God cursed the enemy or let him go free. We can speculate, but we can’t speak with certainty (at least I can’t after a brief study). What we can do, however, is recognize David’s willingness to be completely real with his Lord. He didn’t calm himself before approaching the Almighty. He didn’t mask his emotions when he felt himself to be torn apart. He simply prayed, pouring his anger and frustration out to his Father, the same Father who led him beside still waters and restored his soul (Psalm 23).
Second, while we don’t see within Psalm 109 how God responded to this particular situation, we know how the story ends. In the cross of Christ, sin was eternally defeated. We may see evildoers prosper in our lives, and we may go to our graves without seeing justice upheld: we wouldn’t be the first to do so (Hebrews 11:35-40). Even so, we know, through Christ, that God will have the final word. Justice will be upheld. Sin will not stand in the last day, for Christ has overcome.
How does this apply to us? First, we can confidently approach our God. When we feel oppressed by enemies, crushed before persecution with no apparent hope of rescue, we can turn to the Lord. He loves us even through the masks we often wear to hide our true emotions. Second, we can rest in his justice. We know that God is just, and that he will not be overcome by evil. Nothing escapes his gaze. Furthermore, he causes even tragedy and wrongdoing to accomplish his purposes (remember the story of Joseph). So let us rest in his love, let us trust in his justice, and let us rejoice in his salvation.
With my mouth I will give great thanks to the LORD; I will praise him in the midst of the throng. For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.