A few years ago, some of us were reading Psalm 109 together during our noon prayer time. It may not be on your top-ten Psalms list, so give it a try.
When we read it, we had a groupthink moment and ALL got the wrong impression about what was going on. When we heard verses 6-19, we thought the psalmist was pronouncing a long curse on someone! We suspected something like that was in the Bible, and here it was! It was hard to take thirteen verses of curse! We are nice, of course, and we at least keep our curses short.
Sometimes the Psalms feel a little rough to us, since we’ve all been taught to keep our emotions subject to our theories and politics. What’s more, a lot of us just don’t trust anyone, so we never share what we really think or feel. So all that angry, vulnerable poetry in the Psalms jars our sensibilities a little. This one seemed VERY jarring:
“May his children become orphans
and his wife a widow.” (v.9)
Who would say such a thing!? We were uncomfortable reading it. How did THIS prayer get in the Psalms?
Oh, it is SOMEONE ELSE talking
The prayer had started off in a way we could relate to more easily:
“In return for my love, they accuse me,
though my prayer is for them.
And they offer me evil in return for good
and hatred in return for my love: (Psalm 109: 4-5)
That we could pray. We’ve all been abused and misunderstood. I’m not very good at seeing it—but I am sometimes hated. I’m usually shocked when I find out about what someone feels about me or says about me, but sometimes I do find out that I have an opponent who doesn’t mind taking me out behind my back. In return for my love, they hate me.
We thought what came next was the Psalmist pronouncing a long curse on the people who returned hate for love:
“Appoint a wicked man over him,
let an accuser stand at his right…
Let his days be few,
may another man take his post….
May his offspring be cut off,
in the next generation his name wiped out”
It was going on and on. One of us finally said, “Whew!” Because we usually think—“If it is in the Bible, then it is an example for us.” If the Psalms are a prayer book, this is a wild prayer! But we were more than a little hesitant to say the prayer.
We didn’t understand that vv. 6-19 is a quote of what someone else is saying about the psalmist, not what he is saying about them. The prayer is about being taken out, being hated, being attacked by an evil person. He ends up crying out for mercy:
“And You, O Lord, Master,
act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,
for Your kindness is good. O save me!
For poor and needy am I,
and my heart is pierced within me.”
My realization after using this Psalm and studying what it really says is this: I can get surprisingly out of touch with the forces that are coming against me! Evil and its allies want me destroyed. You may have the opposite problem and think I am kind of nutty, since you’re effectively paranoid all day—so have some mercy. I had such a resistance to pronouncing a curse that I didn’t see the curse coming at me—even in the safety of my own prayer book!
Poor, needy, opposed—admit it
In Celtic Daily Prayer it says “Our society teaches us to be suspicious of what is good, and to listen passively to whatever is evil.” We are even getting used to Trump’s daily lies! We may not even be aware that evil is coming at us! Look at how so many have sacrificed children to screen domination and allowed porn to provide a generation’s sex education. When evil does come at us, we may invite it in for a drink because we are committed to being nice, or at least committed to appearing nice—”Who am I to judge whether any screens or sexual practices are unhealthy?”
I want to love and trust first, but I don’t want to be nice to evil. Even worse, I don’t want to impassively stew in what’s wrong until it cooks me.
So I recommend some appropriate drama today. Let’s pray it together: “I am surrounded! I am needy! Save me!” 2018 could be 2017 doubled, Lord!
Let’s be appropriately concerned that we might be mean to someone. But for those of you who are like me, let’s be appropriately aware that we have opponents. We’re doing good things and they will be opposed—so opposed that our opponents might wear us down or throw us into defensive apathy. Lord knows that if we keep harping on mass incarceration there is a domestic army willing to defend itself! We are made good in Jesus and we, because of that good at work within us, are dangerous, as far as the Lord’s opponents are concerned. They just might try to take us out. We just might need a Savior!