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Deeper Commentary


Psa 109:1

For the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David-
The Psalm was apparently initially written about his persecution by Saul, but then expanded and reapplied to his experiences with Shimei and Ahithophel at the time of Absalom's rebellion.

God of my praise, don’t remain silent-
The apparent silence of God is the abiding struggle of every true believer. But David juxtaposes this struggle with the statement that he will always praise God. Regardless of our difficulties with the problem of evil and the apparent silence of God, He is still to be the object of our praise. The problem of evil and God's silence is in fact built in to our human experience to test and develop our love and trust in God.

Psa 109:2

for they have opened the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of deceit against me. They have spoken to me with a lying tongue-
So many of the Psalms contain references to Saul's smear campaign against David (Ps. 27:12; 31:13 cp. 1 Sam. 26:19). This frequency of reference in itself indicates the weight with which this tragedy rested upon David's mind. It makes good homework to list all the lies Saul told David. But these words also apply to the lies told to David at the time of Absalom's rebellion, who for years prior to it had bad mouthed David to the men of Israel. Solomon repeatedly condemns "the mouth of the wicked" (Prov. 10:6,11,32; 11:11; 12:6; 15:28; 19:28). All he says is true enough, but he clearly enough has in view how his father David had condemned the supporters of Saul and Absalom as having "the mouth of the wicked" (Ps. 109:2). And these were the groups who were threatening his power and throne. Solomon presents himself by implication as having the mouth of the just / righteous. And yet we must note that David too had spoken multiple words of deceit in relation to the murder of Uriah. Indeed the phrase is used in Is. 53:9 as if the Lord Jesus was the only man who didn't have a "mouth of deceit". Solomon like David was in denial of the fact that we all sin with our mouths, as James makes clear in James 3:1-3.      

Psa 109:3

They have also surrounded me with words of hatred, and fought against me without a cause-
The continued emphasis in David's psalms upon "without cause" surely reflects a self righteousness (Ps. 35:19; 69:4; 109:3; 119:161). For David's righteousness was only impressive relative to the wickedness of his enemies; before God, it was filthy rags. It was true that Saul persecuted David "without cause" (s.w. 1 Sam. 19:5), but the experience of "without cause" persecution can lead us to an inappropriate self-righteousness. This is what happened to Job, who also suffered "without cause" (s.w. Job 2:3), and had to be convicted of self-righteousness at the end of the story. And it seems this happened to David. David himself intended to shed blood "without cause" and was only saved from it by grace (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:31).

Reading through the book of Psalms in one or two sittings reveals that frequent and intense self-examination was a leading characteristic of David:, especially while on the run from Saul and Absalom; as if he began to pick up false guilt from how he was being treated, wondering if it was all in fact justified (Ps. 4:4; 7:3; 17:3; 18:20-24; 19:12; 26:1; 39:1; 59:3; 66:18; 77:6; 86:2; 101:2; 109:3; 139:23,24).

Psa 109:4

In return for my love, they are my adversaries; but I am in prayer-
This clearly applies to David's love for Saul, refusing to kill him when he could have done, and lamenting over him as man mourns for his mother (Ps. 35:14). And likewise of his senseless love for Absalom. And yet again we could note that David speaks so much hatred for Saul in the Psalms; he is choosing to focus upon his own more positive side, rather than seeing that he too in the wider picture of human character and history had not always been so perfect. We recall his murder of his loyal friend Uriah.  

Psa 109:5

They have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love-
See on :4. Whilst David's lament is understandable, he shows himself out of step with the spirit of the Lord Jesus, who taught that we should love and do good to others without expecting "good" in return from them, and indeed accepting they may continue to do evil to us (Lk. 6:33,34). But David has the natural expectation that those we do good to ought to be loyal to us in return, and certainly not hate us.  

Psa 109:6

Set a wicked man over him, let an adversary stand at his right hand-
The plural slanderers and adversaries now become focused upon a singular person. Possibly David is personifying them all as one person. Or if a specific individual is in view, it perhaps was in the first context Shimei as he cursed David as he fled from Absalom. But verse 8 is quoted in the New Testament about Judas. This is not to say that everything about Shimei in this Psalm is true of Judas, indeed the bitter feelings of David as expressed here do not seem appropriate to the saving sorrow which the Lord felt for Judas.

The contrast is with how Yahweh stands at the right hand of the righteous (:31), i.e. as his guide. A satan at the right hand is a similar situation to the description of the court of Heaven which we meet in Zechariah 3. I suggest that all human situations on earth are reflected in the court of Heaven, and vice versa. David wished that an Angel adversarial to Shimei would be actively involved in his life, and that Angel [a righteous one] would be represented by the actions of a "wicked man" on earth leading Shimei [or Judas] to destruction. So perhaps it was a Satan-Angel that stood at Judas' right hand (i. e. to influence him), confirming him in the way he had chosen to go, as God hardened Pharaoh's already hard heart. The question is, who was this individual on earth in the life of Shimei, and perhaps also of Judas? Perhaps it was the High Priest in the case of Judas.

The book of Job is frequently alluded to by David (see on :24); it was likely about the only scripture he had access to apart from the Pentateuch. So it is unsurprising that he should apparently hold the same idea of a Satan-Angel, under God's control, which we find in Job. That Angel represented and was manifest through adversaries on earth, who may themselves have been evil. Perhaps David thought in terms of a wicked man on earth, controlled by the Satan-Angel in Heaven.

Psa 109:7

When he is judged, let him come forth guilty, let his prayer be turned into sin-
This is clearly wishing for the person in view to be condemned at the last day, and for God to consider this person's prayers as sin. David seems totally lacking in any desire for repentance and salvation for his enemies, but rather wishes their absolute condemnation from God.

Psa 109:8

Let his days be few, let another take his office-
Although quoted about Judas, the initial application would have been to the likes of Saul, Ahithophel and Shimei. And on :19 I will suggest Joab may also be in view. Their "office" would have respectively been as king, chief adviser and head of Saul's herdsmen, and in Joab's case, head of the army. In the application to Saul, David's desire to see "another take his office" would have been a request for himself to be made king after Saul, as he had been promised.

Psa 109:9

Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow-
A quotation from Ex. 22:24, of God's especial condemnation of those who abuse the stranger, the poor and weak. David feels he is in that situation whilst persecuted by Saul, often describing himself as a stranger and "poor and needy" (:16).  

Psa 109:10

may his children be wandering beggars, let them be sought from their ruins-
In the application to Saul, this would have included David's best friend Jonathan. He seems to have been far too quick in his wishing of the worst condemnation on his enemies. Perhaps he is using standard phrases of condemnation, without thinking of their implication. We can take a warning here; we can all use standard forms of cursing another, the implications of which we need to think through.

Psa 109:11

Let the creditor seize all that he has, let strangers plunder the fruit of his labour-
The Mosaic law forbad the exercise of such usury (s.w. Ex. 22:25). But what is envisaged is a man in debt to Gentiles ("strangers", paralleled with "the creditor"). As noted on :10, this is perhaps a standard curse which David is appropriating perhaps without undue thought as to the implications (see on :10).

Psa 109:12

Let there be nobody to extend kindness to him, neither let there be anyone to have pity on his fatherless children-
It is God who 'extends kindness', for the phrase is alone used of Him (Ps. 36:10; Jer. 31:3). David wishes this person to be outside the realm of God's grace; and we reflect why ever David felt the need to say this about anybody. Perhaps his grief over the deaths of Saul and Absalom was partly because he realized he had cursed them too deeply in prayers like this.

Psa 109:13

Let his posterity be cut off, in the next generation may their name be blotted out-
As noted on :10, David is not thinking of the implications of this with regards to Saul. David does all he can to ensure that the name of Saul and Jonathan was not blotted out, showing extraordinary grace to their descendants. Perhaps he did this aware that such prayers as this had been going far too far. 

Psa 109:14

Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered by Yahweh, don’t let the sin of his mother be blotted out-
"Blotted out" is the word David used when begging for his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah to be blotted out: "And blot out all of my iniquities" (Ps. 51:9). We note with concern that in this Psalm written apparently after this time concerning the time of Absalom's rebellion, David asks that the sins of his enemies not be blotted out. Again we wonder as to whether David maintained an awareness of the enormity of God's grace to him.

Psa 109:15

Let them be before Yahweh continually, that He may cut off their memory from the earth-
Again we note that there is not a word of desire for the repentance and salvation of the person, but rather verse after verse expressing a desire for their eternal condemnation. 

Psa 109:16

because he didn’t remember to show kindness, but persecuted the poor and needy man, the broken in heart, to kill them-
David had seen himself as "poor and needy" and broken hearted, needing grace after his sin with Bathsheba and its consequences (Ps. 40:17; 70:5; 86:1; 109:16,22), and also during his persecution by Saul. We noted on :9 that David felt himself to be the "poor and needy" who had been abused by Saul. He wished Solomon to likewise have pity on the "poor and needy" amongst the Gentiles, those who had likewise repented (Ps. 72:13). And David was especially desirous to himself see the "poor and needy" blessed and accepted as he had been (Ps. 82:3,4; 113:7). It is our personal experience of needing grace which leads us to have a heart for those like us, the poor and needy. Any other motivation will ultimately not abide. Solomon appears to glorify his mother Bathsheba for likewise pitying the poor and needy (Prov. 31:9,20). But we have to note that David had received grace when he was broken and needy, as a result of his sin with Bathsheba. But he doesn't want to reflect that to this adversary, who had likely been raised up by God (at least in the application to Ahithophel, Shimei and Absalom) as a consequence for his sin. We note too that Nathan had likened Uriah to a "poor man" abused by David (2 Sam. 12:1). But David here asks God to eternally condemn those who persecuted the "poor" (see on Ps. 109:9,16). And it seems Ps. 109 was used by David not only about his persecution at the time of Saul, but also of his sufferings at the time of Absalom's rebellion, after the time of his sin. So it seems David didn't maintain his sense of humility before Nathan.

Psa 109:17

Yes, he loved cursing, and it came to him. He didn’t delight in blessing, and so it was far from him-
This points towards Shimei, whose cursing of David at the time of Absalom's rebellion clearly hurt David very deeply. At the time, David forgave him. But he didn't maintain that intensity of forgiveness, because on his deathbed he asks Solomon to ensure Shimei even as an old man is slain because of it. His statement here that the cursing "came to him" may be a 'future perfect', stating the future as if it has already happened, as a way of stating intention. And David expressed this intention to Solomon to ensure Shimei was cursed with death for his cursing. We too struggle to maintain levels of forgiveness we grant to people, and we perceive how God's "frank" and permanent forgiveness (Lk. 7:42) is of an altogether higher quality and nature than our forgiveness.

Psa 109:18

He clothed himself also with cursing as with his garment; it came into his inward parts like water, like oil into his bones-
As noted on :17, David graciously overlooked Shimei's cursing, promising him that he would not die because of it (2 Sam. 16:10,11; 19:23). But he didn't keep up that level of grace to the end: he later asked Solomon to ensure that Shimei  was killed for that incident (1 Kings 2:8,9). And one wonders whether it was Shimei’s words which so broke David’s heart that he later wrote these words.

Psa 109:19

Let it be to him as the clothing with which he covers himself, like the belt that is always around him-
Whoever the individual is in view, he was known for always wearing the same belt. The only person in David's life whose belt is noted is Joab (2 Sam. 20:8; 1 Kings 2:5). See on :8. Perhaps this Psalm began with reference to Saul, but was reapplied to Ahithophel, Absalom, Shimei and then finally to Joab when Joab rose up against David. In the previous verses, David has himself wished cursing upon this person, but now he appears to try to justify it by saying that the person who has cursed him will simply receive his own curses.

Psa 109:20

This is the reward of my adversaries from Yahweh, of those who speak evil against my soul-
David had himself spoken evil against innocent people (s.w. 1 Sam. 25:17). But David was so sensitive to words spoken against him that he breathes out the deepest condemnation upon those who had spoken them. Again we get the impression that David is not adequately aware of the huge grace he himself had received. Otherwise there would have been at least some desire for the repentance and salvation of his enemies. This is so markedly lacking in the Psalms of David. See on :21.

Psa 109:21

But deal with me, Yahweh the Lord, for Your name’s sake; because Your grace is good, deliver me-
As noted on :20, David appears totally lacking in any grace toward his enemies; but he here and in :26 begs for grace to be shown to him, aware at least subconsciously of his own desperate need for deliverance / salvation by grace. He rightly perceives God's Name to be essentially "grace". The Name of Yahweh is essentially His characteristics (Ex. 34:5-7), and they are epitomized in "grace".

Psa 109:22

for I am poor and needy. My heart is wounded within me- See on :16, where David appeals to God's anger with those who abuse the "poor and needy" to condemn any who had not had pity upon him. He is acting just like Saul whom he condemns here, for he too breathed curses upon any who didn't feel sorry for him (1 Sam. 22:8).

Psa 109:23

I fade away like an evening shadow, I am shaken off like a locust-
David's feelings at this time are also appropriate to Hezekiah, whose feelings were responded to by God by making the shadow of the sundial reverse. The same words are used in 2 Kings 20:10. The locust was an unclean animal, and this is how David felt.

Psa 109:24

My knees are weak through fasting, my body is thin and lacks fat-
Here again is another indication that David has the book of Job in mind, for this is how Job describes himself. See on :6,25.

Psa 109:25

I have also become a reproach to them; when they see me, they shake their head-
Again the allusions to Job continue (see on :6,24); this time to Job 16:4; 19:5; 20:3. The situation here seems more appropriate at this point to the plans of Absalom, Ahithophel, Shimei and Joab. For Saul rarely "saw" David at the time of his persecution of him.

Psa 109:26

Help me, Yahweh, my God. Save me according to Your grace-
As noted on :20, David appears totally lacking in any grace toward his enemies; but he here and in :21 begs for grace to be shown to him, aware at least subconsciously of his own desperate need for deliverance / salvation by grace.

Psa 109:27

that they may know that this is Your hand; that You, Yahweh, have done it-
Although David seeks for personal salvation by grace (:26), his motivation for that salvation was still not totally pure. For here he states that he wants that salvation in order to demonstrate that his sufferings were the result of God's hand rather than his own sins. Even though his sufferings at the hands of the likes of Joab, Ahithophel and Shimei were all the consequence of his own sins. But he so struggled with a sense of wrongful shame, when he ought to have finally accepted that his shame was a consequence of his sins regarding Uriah and Bathsheba.

Psa 109:28

They may curse, but You bless. When they arise, they will be shamed, but Your servant shall rejoice-
Frequently the rejected are threatened with both shame and anger / gnashing of teeth; shame and anger are going to be connected in that awful experience. They will "curse [in anger]... and be ashamed". The final shame of the rejected is going to be so great that "they shall be greatly ashamed... their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten" (Jer. 20:11). Seeing they will be long dead and gone, it is us, the accepted, who by God's grace will recall the terrible shame of the rejected throughout our eternity. "When they arise" would be a reference to resurrection. David clearly expected a future day of resurrection and judgment, when shame, cursing and blessing would all be ultimately and eternally articulated.

Psa 109:29

Let my adversaries be clothed with dishonour, may they cover themselves with their own shame as with a robe-
Although David has wished condemnation upon his enemies, he likes to imagine that actually their condemnation and shame is a direct result of their own actions in this life. And this is true enough. They had clothed themselves with cursing in this life (:18), as Shimei had; and David sees this as related to their clothing themselves with shame at the last day (:28). And yet David seems remarkably uncritical of himself; for he himself is clothing himself with cursing against his enemies in this Psalm. And what if he were wrong? What if the likes of Joab are to be finally saved...?

Psa 109:30

I will give great thanks to Yahweh with my mouth, truly I will praise Him among the multitude-
This is the same idea as often in the Psalms; David imagines himself surrounded by the "multitude" of the righteous, praising God at the last day (:28 "when they arise"), when the wicked are destroyed and he is finally justified (Ps. 22:22,25; 35:18; 40:10). We too can look forward to eternal salvation not simply on a personal level; but seeing our eternal place amongst the true people of God.

Psa 109:31

For He will stand at the right hand of the needy, to save him from those who judge his soul-
See on :6. David rightly perceives that there is a higher hand in human life, someone or something standing at our right hand. And he wishes this to be God's influence toward condemnation for his enemies, and God's influence toward salvation in his own case. This is the difference between the evil spirit from the Lord, and the Holy Spirit.