Psalm 109 – Giving Ourselves to Prayer Instead of frustration
It is an uncomfortable truth of the human heart that we are often filled with emotions that we would rather not have. When we are hard done by, frustrated or opposed even the most merciful saint finds feelings of anger or vengeance rise. The real question is how we should and do deal with these. Sin is universal, but mercy is a learned art, a virtue which must be nurtured and developed, a part of our character which most benefits from prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit.
There is obviously a wrestling match going on in the heart of the psalmist – at the core a person of love and mercy:
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
but I give myself to prayer
5 So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
But the majority of this psalm seems filled with bitterness and vengeance.
17 He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!
18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
may it soak into his body like water,
like oil into his bones!
But Jesus was very clear – we should bless those who curse us, and we should love our enemies.
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. –Luke 6:28
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. – Luke 6:35
Clearly, this psalm is not meant to be read by the Christian as an example to follow. And we could reject these verses out of hand – but maybe there is something more profound to be learned? For, in addition to the bitterness, there are glimpses of the type of spirituality in this psalm that Jesus was clearly wanting to grow in his disciples:
30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy one,
to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.
There are two other options which the church through the ages have followed. The first is to suggest that the followers of Jesus are to see Old Testament language of warfare, enemies and vengeance as a reference to sin and spiritual rather than human foes, but this will not work here.
The second option makes more sense, which is to recognise in this psalm a diagnosis of the condition of the human heart. To ask whether these harsh words have ever been on our lips or on our consciences, and use them as a knife to cut out the cancer of bitterness and hatred that can so easily rise up when we feel aggrieved, abused or attacked. And then hold on to the confusion of emotions and begin to long and yearn for a purer and healthier character.
Can we then these use the harder verses as a confession – and can we end with a prayer for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
‘Lord I am in need of your purifying work in my own heart – help me to be real about the state of my conscience, and bless instead of curse, build up in stead of pulling down, and be a person of mercy instead of bitterness.’ Amen.