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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:A Prayer for Vindication in a Wicked World
Text:Psalms 109 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 98:1,4

Ps 79:3

Reading – Psalm 137; Revelation 1:1-19

Ps 109:1,3,5,11,13

Sermon – Psalm 109

Ps 68:1,2,8

Hy 14:1,6,7,10


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, when we open our Bibles we sometimes come across things that are very hard. Some things in the Scriptures we struggle to understand – and some things we struggle to accept.

For example, in the Psalms we find in several places words full of violence and hostility. In Ps 58:6 we read, "Break the teeth in their mouths, O God." In Ps 69:28, "May they be blotted out of the book of life." Or we stumble on the horrible saying in Ps 137:8-9, "O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he… who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." And finally, Ps 109, our text today, is full of the same; we read these words: "May his days be few" (v 8); "May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow" (v 9).

We are greatly astonished, for these are not quotations of evil men; they are spoken by the Psalm-writers, inspired by God. It’s hard not to be shocked when we read these words, apparently dripping with so much malice and hate.

As you might know, these sayings are from a certain type of Psalm within the Psalter; they’re from a group called the imprecatory Psalms. Imprecatory Psalms – for to imprecate means to curse. These Psalms are prayers for God to curse the wicked, to cut off those who abuse God’s people. With many variations on the theme, God is called upon to inflict terrible things on the wicked.

There have been many questions about these Psalms. And we can’t fully answer all these questions today. But with Scripture open, we can start making sense of these "Psalms of Cursing."

First, we need to see whether we should even look at these particular Psalms. For there are Christians who say such cursing is an "Old Testament thing to do." It’s pointed out that these nasty words, about children being killed and names being blotted out, were spoken long before Jesus told us to love our neighbor as our ourselves. Here the view is that the New Testament is all about forgiveness and love, while the Old is about justice and wrath. This is false: we know sincere love is at the heart of Old Testament law.

Others say we need to realize that the authors of these Psalms are simply getting caught up in their emotion. In their seething anger, they don’t really mean what they say – it’s all emotional exaggeration, like we can get carried away when we’re really excited. But while there is much emotion in these Psalms, we know all Scripture is given by God. It’s all for our instruction and encouragement – even if it’s uttered with intense feeling.

And we see this in how these Psalms are composed. They weren’t quickly written in the heat of the moment. Rather, they’re carefully put together, with structure and themes and development. We even see from the headings over these Psalms that they’re meant to be sung in public worship; look at the heading of Ps 109: "For the director of music." God wanted all his people to sing this Spirit-written Psalm, even to the sound of stringed instruments and horns. Let’s then take a closer look at Ps 109. On this Psalm, I preach to you God’s Word under this theme,

Hounded by evil men, David asks God to vindicate his Name. Consider:

    1. the intense suffering he endures
    2. the passionate prayer he offers

1. the intense suffering he endures: As we begin looking at this Psalm, we must pause for another moment at the heading. There we learn that this is a Psalm of David. That is striking, more so when we realize David wrote no less than five of these Psalms "of cursing." From Scripture we know David was "a man after God’s own heart." If anyone walked in God’s grace and favour, it was this shepherd boy who became king. It’s hard to picture David writing the kinds of things we find in these imprecatory Psalms. And yet this Psalm does fit in well with the suffering that God made his servant endure.

For David often had to deal with enemies – and not just the usual enemies of God’s people like the Moabites or the Philistines. David had to deal with people who mocked him, or attacked him, because of what he stood for. Think of how King Saul continually hounded David, though David had done no wrong. Or think of a person like the coward Shimei, who threw stones at David and cursed him for being a man of blood (2 Sam 16:5ff).

In settings like this we can imagine this Psalm being written. For the main thing that concerns David is this personal attack against him. "O God," prays David in the opening verses, "…wicked and deceitful men have opened their mouths against me" (v 1). Evil people were "opening their mouths" against David – not biting him, but doing much worse: They were tearing him down with their words.

And the things they said were completely untrue: "They have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me" (vv 2-3). This attack was false, and it was moved by their desire to see David destroyed.

What’s more, this attack was utterly without grounds. David complains to God, "They attack me without cause" (v 3). The godly David had done nothing to deserve their brutal attacks, yet they targeted him with their killing words.

What was the root cause of all this hatred? Why all the lies and deceit, spewed out at a man who tried to do what was right? Well, from David’s life we know that when he suffered, it was often for one reason alone: David was a servant of God. It’s true, there was much blood on David’s hands, but even this was for a purpose: He was doing the will of God.

Doing the will of God might be right, but it’s not often popular. People don’t like it when we insist this is God’s way – when we insist, never mind what the sinful heart wants to do. Saul couldn’t stand David, because in David he saw what a godly king was supposed to be. Absalom chased his dad out of town, because David ruled in such irritating humility and dependence on God.

Yes, the intense suffering David had to endure was because David was a man of God. For we notice how David begins this prayer by calling on the LORD, "O God, whom I praise…" (v 1). Even in his dire condition – with his life on the line – even then, David is sure about where his help will come from.

And even in his suffering, David continues to do God’s will. When we go through a time of hardship, it’s natural to slip into thinking only of ourselves, our present situation and our needs. When our mind is filled with troubles, it’s hard to think of the trials of others. But in his strife, David doesn’t forget to look out for his brothers and sisters; in v 16 he even points out how his enemy had also "hounded to death the poor and needy and the broken-hearted."

He prays for those who suffer from these wicked people, and he even prays for those who do such evil. Surely he prayed for their repentance, for God to be patient and to forgive them. Yet what do his enemies do in response? "In return for my friendship they accuse me… They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship" (vv 4-5). In their eyes, David could do no right; even if he prayed for them, even he extended to them the right hand of fellowship, they’d remain bent on violence, intent on killing this child of God.

And this shows us the true nature of those who attack God’s children, back then and today. They are determined to do us wrong. No matter what the church does, no matter what kindness Christians show, no matter how innocent of wrongdoing believers are – the enemies of the church do not relent. In the media, for example, they lie against us; they deceive others about us. In some places, unbelievers pursue God’s children in order to kill them; even when there’s no good reason to do so.

What David was facing – and what the church always has to face – is an enemy that is driven to destroy. Our enemy’s "reason for being" is none other than the demolition of what God has made. It’s impossible mission is to destroy those who belong to the Lord.

Yes, the enemies David describes weren’t just against him. They were against the God whom David serves. In other imprecatory Psalms we see this, too. For example, in Ps 79, Asaph mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem. He asks God to vindicate his Name, for this violence against God’s city was violence against God himself: "Pay back into the laps of our neighbors seven times the reproach  – the reproach they have hurled at you, O Lord" (v 12).

When God’s children are mocked for our faith, God also is mocked. When we are laughed at for doing God’s will, God also is laughed at. When God’s church is besieged because of her faithfulness, God also is besieged. An attack on David as a man of God – an attack on you as a man or woman of God – is an attack on God himself. For you belong to God! It’s in this light that we have to read David’s passionate prayer.

And it’s in this same light that we can start to understand the ending of Ps 137, where the Psalmist longs for the dashing of Babylon’s infants on the rocks. For what comes just before that brutal prayer? A remembrance of what the nations had first done to Israel on the day Jerusalem fell: "‘Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations’" (v 7). The holy city – the city of God – was torn down, and God would not stand idly by. And so in zeal for the honour and glory of the Lord, believers ought to pray that God will destroy all who stand against him.

2. the passionate prayer he offers: Sometimes when we’re in the presence of evil, we stand there without reacting, without even blinking. It's too easy to turn away. But David does no such thing. After describing his suffering as a man of God, he offers a fierce prayer, full of abhorrence for those who hate the Lord.

In this prayer, there’s no question, David uses language that is very strong. He asks that the one who falsely accused him be falsely accused himself: "Appoint an evil man to oppose him; let an accuser stand at his right hand" (v 6). He asks that his enemies receive a taste of their own bitter medicine; he asks that all the things they were plotting fall on their own heads.

And David asks that God do as God so often does, that He visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation. Punishment of a father was punishment for his entire family, and vice versa: "May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes" (v 10). What David’s asking for is lasting retribution: Their curses, their violence, their wicked deeds – may all these envelop those who conspired against him, David prays (v 19).

David, as he says himself, was a "man of prayer" (v 4). That may well be – but we’re still astonished: This is quite the prayer! He prays against his enemy, "May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children" (v 12). Those are hard words. Even if these people have attacked God himself, and even if this is a sincere prayer, isn’t all this a severe overreaction? Isn’t David getting carried away over a few lies?

But let’s notice again how David forms this prayer. It’s not a rant; it is, indeed, a prayer. We saw how he began, "O God, whom I praise…" Then especially in vv 21-31, David prays to God for protection, "But you, O Sovereign LORD, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love deliver me" (v 21). In his intense suffering for the sake of God’s Name, David can only do what we can do: Appeal to the perfect character of God. God is faithful, God is loving, God is good.

And God is also just. David knows that vengeance belongs to the Lord. For after all those different requests against his enemies, David simply prays: "May this be the LORD’s payment to my accusers, to those who speak evil of me" (v 20). David prays not for personal revenge. Rather, David prays as a servant of God. He knows it’s ultimately up to God to deal with those who attack the godly.

David practiced what he preached. We said earlier that David is the author of a good number of these imprecatory psalms. One might think then, that David was full of malice, that he lived out his days spitting in fury. But in his life he showed just the opposite of a vindictive spirit. Even when he was assaulted by people like Saul and Shimei and Absalom, David rested in God. He had ample opportunity to kill his enemies, but he waited for God’s time. God would vindicate his Name!

That’s why the name of these "imprecatory" Psalms is actually not a good one, it’s misleading. David is not cursing anyone, he is asking God to do it: God will vindicate his Name, God will answer cursing with curse. This "imprecatory" Psalm curses no one, but it prays for God to curse. It seems a small difference, but it’s an important one. We do not dare take an eternal thing like a curse into our mouth. For we’re often mistaken in our judgments, we’re often confused in our vision. We do not curse.

But – and here’s the real crux of this Psalm and all the so-called imprecatory Psalms – we must earnestly take up the cause of the kingdom of God. That’s what moves these prayers from start to finish: not personal vendettas, but zeal for the glory of God!

As we said, David knew it was much more than a clash of personalities he was dealing with when the wicked drew near for battle. It was an orchestrated attack – a Satanic attack – on David as a servant of God. If David would fall, God’s people would suffer. If David would go under, God’s Name would be blasphemed. Eternal things are at stake, so David fervently prays for God to powerfully fight his battles.

And in our lives, too, eternal things are at stake. "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph 6:12). Beloved, we’re at war – we need to pray that God the Mighty Warrior will fight – and even destroy – on our behalf.

It’s true, we’re not David. David was a very special servant of God. He was the king of Israel, given the task of shepherding and defending the Lord’s people. If anyone was on the front lines of spiritual warfare, it was King David. We’re not David, yet every child of God is called to earnestly take up the cause of our Lord as David did.

Think of what we confess in Lord’s Day 12: "As a Christian, as a king or a queen, I’m called to fight against sin and the devil in this life." This battle has very sharp lines: Scripture tells us very clearly that in this world there are only two camps. There are those for God, and those against him. We have to ask: For which side are we working every day?

Or think again of Lord’s Day 12: "As a Christian, as a prophet, I’m called to confess the Name of Christ" – we’re called to confess him, even if people oppose us, and try to drown out our words, and try to twist what we say. It’s when we realize our total calling as Christians that we can take Ps 109 on our lips. It’s when we see all our actions as not for our own sake but for God’s, that we can sing Ps 109 with conviction.

Yet we must pray such a Psalm with great caution. For we must be aware of how, even when someone attacks us for being Christian, how we can feel personally slighted. Instead, at such times we must be consumed with zeal for God! The suffering we sometimes have to endure for being Christians, the ridicule that is thrown our way – it’s not about us or about our reputation. It’s about the honour of God!

And so a good way to counteract our pride when attacked is to pray for our enemies, as David did. Instead of dwelling on what was done to him, he gave it away to God in prayer. May we do the same. Let us pray for the repentance, and even for God to forgive, those who lobby against Christians; let us pray for those who persecute the church, and those who seek to further Satan’s kingdom in this world.

When it comes to praying Ps 109, we also have to be sure we’re innocent in the matter at hand. If we’ve done all we can to defend the cause of God and truth, to no success, we may pray it. If we’ve offered unceasing prayers for our enemies, without avail, we may pray it. If we’ve even tried to reach out to them, and only been rejected and scorned all the more, then we may call on God to curse those who oppose us.

Only when it’s clear that our enemies are completely hardened, may we ask God to judge them. And again, we ask it because of God’s standards of justice, not because of our own opinions and pride; as David prays, "Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O LORD, have done it" (109:27).

As brothers and sisters, we might discuss together: Is it time to pray this prayer? Have we as church in this country experienced such hatred, such unrepentant violence, that it’s now time to ask for God’s curse upon the followers of Satan in this country? Beloved, have we known such malice that it’s now time to take Ps 109 on our lips?

This is a serious matter. Let us not forget that many Christians have rightly prayed this Psalm. For many brothers and sisters have died for the faith, at the hand of those who hate the Lord. In Rev 6, we read how even in heaven there’s a constant prayer that goes up from the martyrs. The martyrs’ cry goes up against those who killed them; they pray, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" (v 10).

Our Lord Jesus himself quoted probably the most difficult line of these Psalms. Alluding to Ps 137, that text about children who are dashed against the rocks, in Lk 19 Jesus speaks about the fate of those who reject him as Christ: "They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls" (v 44). And why would this happen? Why all the violence and bloodshed? Jesus says, "Because [they] did not recognize the time of God’s coming" (v 44).

And the same will be true at the end of time. We read from Rev 1, where Jesus is portrayed as a fearsome soldier: with "eyes like blazing fire," and "a sharp double-edged sword" coming out of his mouth (vv 14, 16). Beloved, this means our Saviour will come in judgment! Those who have opposed him will certainly not escape his sword. No wonder such mourning will take place on that day: "Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him" (1:7). They will mourn because they’ll finally see the truth, and then it will be too late!

Psalm 109 is a prayer that sticks in our throats – and even quite rightly, for we realize how serious it is. But this Psalm teaches us to realize what’s at stake in this life. It teaches us that we must do everything we can to turn unbelievers away from the road they’re on!

And on the day when our enemies rally against us, and when they do not turn away, we may pray Ps 109. We can pray it, as David did, confident of vindication. Not that our name is so important. But we pray it so that God’s holy Name, the Name He has placed on us – that God’s Name might be upheld and adored. Let us pray Ps 109, confident that God will defend his own, even to the very end! Amen.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2006, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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