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109. Psalm 109

Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;

2For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.

3They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.

4For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.

5And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.

6Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.

7When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.

8Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

9Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.

10Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.

11Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.

12Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.

13Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.

14Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.

15Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.

16Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.

17As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.

18As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment, so let it come into his bowels like water, and like oil into his bones.

19Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.

20Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord, and of them that speak evil against my soul.

21But do thou for me, O GOD the Lord, for thy name’s sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me.

22For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.

23I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust.

24My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.

25I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads.

26Help me, O Lord my God: O save me according to thy mercy:

27That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it.

28Let them curse, but bless thou: when they arise, let them be ashamed; but let thy servant rejoice.

29Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.

30I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.

31For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.

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1 O God of my praise! be not silent In these words, which may be considered as an introduction to the psalm, David declares that he neither could find nor would desire any other than God to stand forward in vindication of the integrity of his heart. For in denominating him the God of his praise, he intrusts to him the vindication of his innocence, in the face of the calumnies by which he was all but universally assailed. Some are of opinion that this clause is to be understood as referring to David’s having actually declared that he himself was the publisher of God’s praises; but the scope of the passage is opposed to such an interpretation; for we find David appealing to the judgment of God against the unjust and cruel hatred to which he was subjected in the world. There is in the words an implied contrast, because, when calumny is rampant, innocence is duly and properly estimated by none but God only. The meaning of the passage is this: Lord, although I may be regarded as the vilest of the vile, and exposed to the reproach of the world, yet thou wilt maintain the uprightness of my character, and on this account thou wilt also set forth my praise. 295295     The Septuagint and Vulgate attach the same meaning to the Psalmist’s prayer. The reading of the former being, Ω Θεὸς τὴν αἴνεσίν μου μὴ παρασιωπήσης, and that of the latter, “Deus, laudem meam ne tacueris,” O God! be not silent of my praise. The phrase, as it stands in the Hebrew text, is, however, capable of a double signification; for it may refer either to God’s praising David, or to David’s praising God. In the one case, it will intimate that God was the object of his praise; in which sense it is said, Deuteronomy 10:21, “He is thy praise, and He is thy God,” and will mean, Be not silent to refuse, neglect not my praising of thee. In the other sense the prayer is, as our author states, Whilst others reproach me, be not silent of my praise, be thou my advocate, plead my causes, proclaim and justify my innocence. This interpretation corresponds well with that which is immediately subjoined, be not silent For when we are overwhelmed by the aspersions of the wicked, it would surely be improper on the part of God, who is the witness of our innocence, to remain silent. At the same time, what I formerly stated must not be forgotten, that while David mourns over the injuries which he in particular was suffering, yet, in his own person, he represented Christ, and the whole body of his Church. From this we are taught, when we are subjected to every species of indignity by men, to repose with perfect confidence under the protection of God alone. No man, however, can, with sincerity of heart, surrender himself entirely into the hand of God, except he has first formed the resolution of treating with contempt the reproaches of the world, and is also fully persuaded that he has God as the defender of his cause.

2 Because the mouth of the wicked David here very plainly declares, that he was the more solicitous to obtain help from God, in consequence of justice not being found among men. And though it is probable that he was rashly and furiously assailed, nevertheless, he complains that the mouth of deceit and fraud had been opened against him, and that he was surrounded with false tongues. Whence, to those who were ignorant of his real situation, there would appear to be some plausible pretext for his being loaded with reproaches, so much so indeed, that he would not be able to evade the charge of criminality.

3 And they have encompassed me He complains, that from all quarters he was assailed with the most hostile and abusive epithets, and that, too, most undeservedly. And, under a beautiful similitude, he shows that the tongues of his enemies were so full of deadly poison, that it was harder for him to endure their attacks than that of a great army, and the more so that he merited no such treatment at their hands. This species of warfare, to the exercise of which God very frequently summons his children, must be carefully considered by us. For though Satan may assault them with open violence, yet as he is the father of lies, he endeavors, by the amazing dexterity which he possesses in heaping calumny upon them, to tarnish their reputation, as if they were the most abandoned of mankind. Now, as that which was prefigured by David was fulfilled in Christ, so we must remember, that that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ is daily filling up in believers, Colossians 1:24; because, he having once suffered in himself, calls them to be sharers and associates with him in his sufferings.

4 On account of my love they have been opposed to me 296296     “This expression,” says Hengstenberg, “finds its full truth in Christ. Christ’s love to man was daily manifested by his miraculous healing all the infirmities of the body, which was returned by man’s hatred of Him, as displayed in his general conduct.” The Psalmist had already solemnly declared, that his adversaries, unprovoked by any injury inflicted upon them by him, and without any just cause, became, through mere diabolical rage, his most implacable foes. Here he confirms the truth of that declaration by saying, that he had been their friend. For there is far more merit in showing kindness to an enemy than simply abstaining from doing that which is evil. And from this we may perceive, that the influence of Satan must be awfully powerful when he takes the hearts of men captive at his will. For nothing can be more unnatural than to hate and cruelly persecute those who love us. To love he also adds deeds of kindness, meaning, that it was his aim to secure their good will by outward acts of beneficence.

5 But I gave myself to prayer 297297     In the Hebrew, the sentence is very short and imperfect, “But I prayer;” I am a man of prayer; or, I betake myself to prayer. Thus “I peace” is put for “I am for peace.” — Psalm 120:7. Some are of opinion, that these words refer to David’s pouring out a prayer for his enemies at the very moment when they were furiously assaulting him, and with this opinion corresponds that which we have stated in Psalm 35:13. But the more plain, and, to me, the preferable interpretation, is, that when he was attacked in a cruel and hostile manner, he did not betake himself to such unlawful means as the rendering of evil for evil, but committed himself into the hand of God, fully satisfied that he alone could guard him from all ill. And it is assuredly a great and desirable attainment for a man so to restrain his passions as directly and immediately to make his appeal to God’s tribunal, at the very time when he is abused without a cause, and when the very injuries which he sustains are calculated to excite him to avenge them. For there are some persons who, while it is their aim to live in terms of friendship with the good, coming in contact with ill men, imagine that they are at perfect liberty to return injury for injury; and to this temptation all the godly feel that they are liable. The Holy Spirit, however, restrains us, so that though oftimes provoked by the cruelty of our enemies to seek revenge, we yet abandon all fraudulent and violent means, and betake ourselves by prayer to God alone. By this example, which David here sets before us, we are instructed that we must have recourse to the same means if we would wish to overcome our enemies through the power and protection of God. In Psalm 69:13, we have a parallel passage: “They that sit in the gate spake against me; and I was the song of those who drink strong drink. But my prayer was made to thee, O Jehovah!” In that passage, as well as in the one under review, the mode of expression is elliptical. Besides, it is the design of David in these words to inform us, that although he was aware that the whole world was opposed to him, yet he could cast all his cares upon God, and this was enough to render his mind calm and composed. And as the Holy Spirit taught David and all the godly to offer up prayers like these, it must follow, that those who, in this respect, imitate them, will be promptly helped by God when he beholds them reproachfully and vilely persecuted.

6 Set thou over him a wicked person. 305305     Dr Geddes translates the 6th verse thus: —
   “May he be tried by a wicked judge;
And at his right had be placed the accuser.”

   On which he has the following note: — “May he be tried by a wicked judge. He alludes to courts of judicature: and wishes that his enemy may have a severe, nay, wicked judge, — certainly one of the greatest curses that can befall one. — And at his right hand be placed the accuser. Instead of a friend or advocate to stand by him, let his only attendant be an accuser. What imagery this! But the height of the metaphor is in the next verse: —

   ‘When he is judged, may he be found guilty:
And may his deprecation only aggravate his crime.’”

   With this corresponds the interpretation of Phillips. With Hammond, he understands to set over as denoting to set over as a judge or inspector. “This notion of setting over,” he observes, “corresponds with the next member; for there it says, and an enemy shall stand at his right hand, which shows that the wicked man was to be appointed to act as a judge. The man at his right hand denotes an accuser, agreeably to the custom which prevailed in a Jewish court of justice, of placing the accuser at the right hand of the accused, (see Zechariah 3:1;) and hence we understand in this verse רשע to be mentioned as acting in the capacity of a judge, and רטן in that of an accuser.” Cresswell gives a similar explanation of the passage. Green, who follows Dr Sykes in thinking that the imprecations from this verse to verse 17 were pronounced not by David upon his enemies, but by David’s enemies upon him, reads the verse thus: — “Set a wicked man over him, say they, to hear his cause, and let a false accuser stand at his right hand.”
Hitherto he poured out his complaint against a vast number of persons; now he seems to direct it against a single individual. Probably he speaks of each of them individually. It is, however, equally probable that he refers in very marked terms to some one in particular among these wicked persons, the most notorious transgressor of any of them. Some conjecture, and not without reason, that Doeg is the person here aimed at, who, by his treason and revolt, sought to bring ruin, not only upon David, but also upon all the holy priests; and we know that this psalm is applied by Peter to Judas, (Acts 1:20) But with equal propriety, and certainly not less forcibly, may this complaint be considered as applicable to some most intimate and particular friend of the Psalmist. Respecting the imprecations contained in this psalm, it will be proper to keep in mind what I have said elsewhere, that when David forms such maledictions, or expresses his desires for them, he is not instigated by any immoderate carnal propensity, nor is he actuated by zeal without knowledge, nor is he influenced by any private personal considerations. These three matters must be carefully weighed, for in proportion to the amount of self-esteem which a man possesses, is he so enamoured with his own interests as to rush headlong upon revenge. Hence it comes to pass, that the more a person is devoted to selfishness, he will be the more immoderately addicted to the advancement of his own individual interests. This desire for the promotion of personal interest gives birth to another species of vice. For no one wishes to be avenged upon his enemies because that such a thing would be right and equitable, but because it is the means of gratifying his own spiteful propensity. Some, indeed, make a pretext of righteousness and equity in the matter, but the spirit of malignity, by which they are inflamed, effaces every trace of justice, and blinds their minds.

When these two vices, selfishness and carnality, are corrected, there is still another thing demanding correction, the repressing the ardor of foolish zeal, in order that we may follow the Spirit of God as our guide. Should any one, under the influence of perverse zeal, produce David as an example of it, that would not be an example in point; for to such a person may be very aptly applied the answer which Christ returned to his disciples, “Ye know not what spirit ye are of,” Luke 9:55. How detestable a piece of sacrilege is it on the part of the monks, and especially the Franciscan friars, to pervert this psalm by employing it to countenance the most nefarious purposes! If a man harbour malice against a neighbor, it is quite a common thing for him to engage one of these wicked wretches to curse him, which he would do by daily repeating this psalm. I know a lady in France who hired a parcel of these friars to curse her own and only son in these words.

But I return to David, who, free from all inordinate passion, breathed forth his prayers under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Then, as to the ungodly, who live as the contemners of God, and who are constantly plotting the overthrow of the unsuspecting and the good, casting off all restraint, so that neither modesty nor honesty proves a check to them, surely they are deserving of the punishment of having a wicked person set over them And since, by means of intrigue and perfidy, they are constantly aiming at the extermination of the good, they are most justly punished by God, who raises up against them an adversary that should never depart from their side. Only let believers be on their guard, lest they should betray too much haste in their prayers, and let them rather leave room for the grace of God to manifest itself in their behalf; because it may turn out that the man, who to-day bears towards us a deadly enmity, may by to-morrow through that grace become our friend.

7 When he is judged, let him depart guilty Another imprecation is, that, being summoned to judgment, he might be punished without mercy, and that, though he humbly crave forgiveness, the judge should remain inexorable. This might with propriety be understood to relate not merely to his being judged at the bar of men, but also at the tribunal of God. But as it accords very well with the decisions awarded by an earthly judge, and as this is the commonly received interpretation, I have no wish to depart from it. There are two things which must be noticed here; that the wickedness of the wicked may be so palpable as to leave no room to escape from the execution of justice, and that all their entreaties for pardon may be disregarded. Accordingly, the Psalmist represents him as a condemned criminal leaving the presence of the judge, bearing the ignominy of the condemnation which he righteously merited, having his nefarious deeds disclosed and detected. With respect to the other interpretation which places the ungodly before God’s judgment-seat, it by no means appears absurd to say that their prayers should be turned against them to sin, the more especially as we know that all their sacrifices are an abomination unto him. And by how much they themselves are filthy, by so much do all their plausible virtues become offensive and displeasing to God. But as the scope of the passage is in favor of that interpretation which applies it to earthly judges, I do not consider it necessary to insist farther upon this point.

8 Let his days be few Although this world is the scene of much toil and trouble, yet we know that these are pledges and proofs of God’s loving-kindness, inasmuch as he frequently, and as a token of his love, promises to prolong the lives of men; not that it is absolutely necessary for us to remain long here, but that we may have an opportunity of sharing of God’s fatherly love which he bears towards us, by which we may be led to cherish the hope of immortality. Now, in opposition to this, the brevity of human life is here introduced as a mark of God’s disapprobation; for when he cuts off the wicked after a violent manner, he thus testifies that they did not deserve to breathe the breath of life. And the same sentiment is inculcated when, denuding them of their honor and dignity, he hurls them from the place of power and authority. The same thing may also happen to the children of God, for temporal evils are common to the good and to the bad; at the same time, these are never so mingled and blended together, but that one may perceive occasionally the judgments of God in a very manifest and marked manner. Peter, quoting this verse, Acts 1:20, says it behoved to be fulfilled in Judas, because it is written here, “let another take his bishopric.” And this, he does on the assumed principle of interpretation that David here spoke in the person of Christ. To this it cannot be objected, that the Hebrew term פקודה, pekudah, signifies generally superintendence, 306306     “Paefecturam generaliter significat.” — Lat. Signifie generallement Superintendence.” — Fr. because Peter very properly applies it to the apostleship of Judas. In expounding this passage, sometimes in reference to a wife, or to the soul, (which is a precious jewel in man,) or to wealth and property, there is good reason to believe that, in doing so, the Jewish interpreters are actuated by pure malice. What purpose can it serve to pervert the sense of a word, the meaning of which is so pointed and plain, unless that, under the influence of a malignant spirit, they endeavor so to obscure the passage, as to make it appear not to be properly quoted by Peter? From these words we learn, that there is no cause why the ungodly should be proud while their reputation is high in this world, seeing they cannot after all escape from that doom which the Holy Spirit here declares awaits them. Here too we are furnished with very valuable matter of comfort and patience, when we hear that, however elevated may be their rank and reputation now, their downfall is approaching, and that they will soon be stript of all their pomp and power. In the two succeeding verses the malediction is extended both to the wife and children; and the desire, that she may be left a widow and they become fatherless, depends upon the brevity of that life to which the prophet formerly adverted. Mention is likewise made of beggary, and the want of all the necessaries of life, which is a proof of the magnitude of their guilt; for assuredly the Holy Spirit would not denounce against them a punishment so grievous and heavy for a trivial offense. In delivering up his property 307307     “Quand il donne les biens en proye aux exacteurs.” — Fr. as booty to the extortioners, David must be understood as alluding to the poverty which was to overtake his children; for he is not speaking of a poor and mean person who at his death can leave nothing to his family, but of one who, regardless of right or wrong, has amassed wealth to enrich his children, but from whom God takes away the goods which he had unrighteously taken from others.

12 Let there be none prolonging mercy to him. To continue to show humanity and mercy is, according to the Hebrew idiom, equivalent to constant and successive acts of kindness; and it also sometimes denotes pity, or the being moved to sympathy, when, through the lapse of years, anger is appeased, and even one’s calamity melts the heart of the man who bore hatred towards him. 309309     “Et mesmes la calamite de quelqu’un amollit le ceur de celuy qui luy portoit haine.” — Fr. Accordingly, there are some who understand this clause to mean, that there will be none to show kindness to his offspring; which interpretation is in conformity with the next clause of the verse. David, however, includes also the wicked man himself along with his children; as if he should say, Though he visibly pine away under such calamities, and these descend to his children, yet let no one show pity towards them. We are aware it not unfrequently happens, that the long-continued misfortune of an enemy either excites the sympathy of men of savage dispositions, or else makes them forget all their hatred and malevolence. But in this part of the psalm, David expresses a desire that his enemy and all his posterity may be so hated and detested, that the people may never be wearied with beholding the calamities which they endure, but may become so familiarised with the spectacle, as if their hearts were of iron. At the same time, let it be remarked, that David is not rashly excited by any personal anguish to speak in this manner, but that it is as God’s messenger he declares the punishment which was impending over the ungodly. And verily the law accounts it as one of the judgments of God, his hardening men’s hearts, so that they who have been passionately and unmercifully cruel, should find no sympathy, Deuteronomy 2:30. It is just that the same measure which they have used towards others, should also be meted out to themselves.

13. Let his posterity be cut off. This is a continuation of the same subject, upon the consideration of which the prophet had just now entered, that God would visit the iniquities of the fathers upon their children. And as he had to deal with the whole court of Saul, and not with any single individual, he here employs the plural number. But as in deeds of wickedness, there are always some who are the prime movers, and act as the ringleaders of others, we need not be surprised that having spoken of one person, he next addresses the many, and then returns to the same person. The more natural and simple mode of explanation is to refer it to his offspring, for the Hebrew term which signifies posterity is collective, implying a multitude, and not a single individual only. This is a heavier imprecation than the former. It sometimes happens, that a family, overthrown by an unexpected disaster, rises up again at a subsequent period; here, however, it is the wish of the prophet, that the wicked may be so completely ruined, as never to be able to regain their former state; for thus much is implied in their name being effaced in the next generation, or after the lapse of ages.

And as the destruction which he denounces against the houses and families of the wicked is so extensive, that God punishes them in the person of their posterity, so he desires that God may remember the iniquities of their fathers and mothers, in order that their condemnation may be complete; and this is a principle in perfect accordance with the commonly received doctrine of Scripture. God, out of regard to his covenant, which is in force to a thousand generations, extends and continues his mercy towards posterity; but he also punishes iniquity unto the third and fourth generation. In doing this he does not involve the guiltless with the wicked indiscriminately, but by withholding from the reprobate the grace and illumination of his Spirit, he prepares the vessels of wrath for destruction, even before they are born, Romans 9:21. To the common sense of mankind, the thought of such severity is horrifying: but then we must recollect, that if we attempt to measure the secret and inscrutable judgments of God by our finite minds, we do him wrong. Struck with horror at the severity of this threatening, let us improve it as the means of filling us with reverence and godly fear. In reference to the language of Ezekiel,

“The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, but the soul that sinneth, it shall die;” Ezekiel 18:20

we know that in these words he disproves the groundless complaints of the people, who, boasting that they were guiltless, imagined that they were punished wrongfully. When, however, God continues his vengeance from the father to the children, he leaves them no room for palliation or complaint, because they are all equally guilty. We have already said, that vengeance commences when God in withdrawing his Spirit, both from the children and the fathers, delivers them over to Satan. Some may inquire how it comes to pass, that the prophet, in desiring that their sin may be continually before God’s eyes, does not likewise add, let their name be blotted out from heaven, but merely wishes them to be cut off, and to perish in the world? My reply is, that he spoke agreeably to the custom of the age in which he lived, when the nature of spiritual punishments was not so well understood as in our times, because the period had not yet arrived, when the revelation of God’s will was to be full and complete. Besides, it is the design of David, that the vengeance of God may be so manifest, that the whole world may acquiesce in his equity as a judge.




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