George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 109

1. Structure

David is distressed because of his enemies
Their curses against him
David’s distress
His enemies

Psalm 109 =
The sufferings of Christ, and
Psalm 110 =
The glory that should follow.

(Compare the links between these two psalms: 109:6,31 with 110:1,5.)

2. Imprecations

It is suggested (see Psalms Studies, Intro., Part 3) that the imprecations in vv. 6-19 are not the utterances of David. Is it conceivable that such a man as David would allow himself to lapse into such an explosion of hatred for his enemies? The study of the psalm’s pronouns provides the clue to a solution. In vv. 1-5: “they... they... they... ”; then, in vv. 6-19: “he... his... him... ”; then in vv. 20-29 “they” is resumed. Here is an indication of a change of speaker in the middle, imprecatory verses.

All that is needed grammatically, then, is to supply the word “saying” at the end of v. 5, and then to read vv. 6-19 as the curses hurled at David by his adversaries (this is the plural of Satan: vv. 4,20,29). (There are many other examples of this in the psalms: 2:6; 9:12; 22:7; 30:8; 39:3; 41:5; 52:6; 116:4; 132:2,11.)

Also, as further evidence, note how v. 20 runs when the italics are ignored: “This is the reward of mine adversaries (but it is from the Lord!), and of them that speak evil against my soul” — the meaning being: ‘This is how they reward me... ’ Note also v. 28: “Let them curse [i.e., me], but bless thou [i.e., me]”.

Did Jesus ever speak such imprecations, or will he? Rather remarkably, the Hebrew imperative which expresses them can also be read as a straight future tense, e.g., (v. 7): “he shall be condemned... his prayer will become sin”, and so on through the rest. This is quite different than an out-and-out imprecation! The Judge of all mankind does not wish an evil fate upon his enemies, but he must declare that — barring repentance — such a fate is inevitable (cp. Psalms Studies, Intro., Part 3).

3. The historical setting

Absalom’s rebellion, Ahithophel’s deceptions, and especially the cursing of David by Shimei (2 Sam. 16:5-13) as the king fled from Jerusalem, provide the historical setting here. So, first of all, the curses (vv. 6-19) should be considered from Shimei’s point of view:

Let another take his office. Absalom’s ambition to be king.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. This expresses Shimei’s eagerness to see David slain.
Let the strangers spoil his labour. May the Gentiles, among whom David will have to seek refuge, plunder him remorselessly.
Let his posterity be cut off. Absalom attempted this (for his own reasons) when he had Amnon slain, and when he gave his other brothers cause to fear for their own lives (2 Sam. 13:29,30).
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Is this looking back to Ruth, a virtuous woman who nonetheless brought reproach upon herself by innocent actions (Ruth 1:4; 3:8,14)? And thus David is indirectly maligned because of his antecedents.
Because that he remembered not to shew mercy but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart. Uriah? 2 Sam. 12:3,4.
As he loved cursing... as he clothed himself with cursing. Is there any truth in this regarding David? Or is it simply another lie spoken by a “lying tongue” (v. 2)?

Now come the words spoken, even in the first instance, by David himself:

(It is) from the Lord. David had said as much when beset by Shimei:

“Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him” (2 Sam. 16:11).
For I am poor and needy (Psa. 40:17; 69:29; 70:5; 86:1), and my heart is wounded within me. I am gone like the shadow when it declineth (Psa. 102:11)... My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness. This supplies details of David’s sickness at this time (cp. Psalms 38 and 41 for further details).
I am tossed up and down like the locust. The flying locusts are tossed up and down, and whirled round and round by the ever-varying currents of the mountain winds (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 419; cp. Exod. 10:19; Joel 2:20). However, the RSV, NEB, and NIV all have: ‘I am shaken off like a locust’ — a reference to the shaking off from a garment of an unwelcome insect, puny and repulsive.
O save me according to thy mercy; that they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it. These words might imply a miraculous recovery.
I will praise him among the multitude. David’s hope to be restored to Jerusalem: “If I shall find favour in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me again, and shew me both it [the Ark], and his habitation” (2 Sam. 15:25).

4. The enemies’ curses rebound on themselves

“Let them cover themselves with their own confusion” (v. 29) seems to imply the curses coming back upon the heads of those who uttered them originally (see also especially 2 Chron. 6:21-23). So we may study the curses also as they rebounded upon the heads of the rebels... Shimei, Absalom, and Ahithophel especially.

Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand. When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin. David did not treat Shimei like this; nor would he have done so even to Absalom or Ahithophel. But note his words of advice to Solomon in 1 Kings 2:9: ‘Suspect him; he is not to be trusted’ — and he was not!
Let his days be few (Psa. 55:23). The life of Absalom was cut off in his prime (2 Sam. 18:17).

Let another take his office. The astute Ittai the Gittite took over Ahithophel’s preeminence (2 Sam. 15:19-22; 18:2,5). Ahithophel, like his New Testament counterpart Judas, afterward committed suicide (2 Sam. 17:23).
As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. As 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. Shimei’s cursing came back upon himself eventually (1 Kings 2:36-46).

5. Messianic fulfillment

Here is to be found the real meaning of the psalm. All else is relatively unimportant.

They have spoken against me with a lying tongue (Psa. 27:12). Compare v. 4 in the LXX: “Instead of loving me, they falsely accused me.” (The same construction is to be found in v. 5 also.) See Mark 14:55-59, and observe how the Lord’s silence — “Answerest thou nothing?” (vv. 60,61) — is explained in this psalm, and in this psalm only: “But I give myself to prayer” (v. 4; cp. Isa. 53:7; 1 Pet. 2:23).
They compassed me about, as in John 10:24:

“Then came the Jews round about him.”

And fought against me without a cause. “They hated me without a cause” (John 15:25; cp. Psa. 35:19; 69:4; 119:161).
And they have rewarded me evil for good (35:11-13). These words imply that those who testified against Jesus at his trial had themselves been the recipients of his healing miracles. (Or, to put the same point the other way round, had Judas been the subject of some unrecorded healing at the hand of his Master?) (See Psalms Studies, Psa. 35, Par. 4.)

Verses 6-20 are now to be read as the imprecations of Christ’s enemies against him:

Let Satan (LXX: a devil) stand at his right hand. Jesus used the word diabolos about Judas (John 6:70 and 13:2, and cp. v. 26 there), who was to have been chief witness for the “prosecution”. (“Stand at the right hand” is legal language — cp. v. 7 here; Judg. 6:31; Zech. 3:1. The RSV has: “Let an accuser bring him to trial”.) But at the last minute, apparently even after coming to the very scene of judgment (note the implication of “saw” in Matt. 27:3), Judas refused to play his assigned, and paid-for, part. Thus he left the prosecution in a quandary with no organized case against Jesus (Matt. 26:60). And instead of Judas standing at his right hand, Jesus had an angel there (Psa. 109:31, and 110:5)!
When he shall be judged, let him be condemned.

“And they all condemned him to be guilty of death” (Mark 14:64).
Let his days be few. Jesus lived less than half a normal life.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Read this figuratively, of the disciples and the ecclesia. So also in v. 12: Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
Let his posterity be cut off. Compare Isa. 53:8,10: “Who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living... his soul an offering for sin.”

And in the generation following let their name be blotted out. This anticipates the persecutions of the “seed” of Christ in the rest of the first century.
Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord. The fall of Adam, and the resultant inheritance of “sin” for all his posterity (Rom. 5:12-19), came through all the way to Jesus (Psalms Studies, Psa. 6, Par. 3; Psa. 38, Par. 5; Psa. 40, Par. 3; Psa. 51, Par. 4; Psa. 69, Par. 7; Psa. 89, Par. 7, v. 50

And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. Compare the innuendo in John 8:41:

“Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication... ”
Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart. Is it conceivable that any would speak such an extreme slander as this against Jesus?
As he loved cursing... As he clothed himself with cursing like as with his garment. This sounds like the sort of words one might expect from those who had been targeted by the denunciations of Matt. 23.

Let it come into his bowels like water: “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34).
And my heart (i.e., ‘mind’ in Hebrew) is wounded (sick) within me. Hence the Lord’s lament about being forsaken on the cross (Psa. 22:1; Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). Of course it was not true, not at any time. But as lesser mortals tend at times to feel forsaken by God, so also did Jesus in his greatest extremity.
My knees are weak. Thus his inability to carry his own cross to the place of execution (Mark 15:21).

Through fasting. Here is the explanation of the Lord’s collapse on the day of crucifixion. The disciples ate the Last Supper, but he evidently did not.

My flesh faileth of fatness becomes, in the LXX, ‘My flesh is changed because of oil’. This is an allusion to Mary’s anointing of Jesus as the Passover Lamb — “for my burial” (John 12:3,7).
I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads. Psa. 22:7,8; Matt. 27:39: “And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads.”
That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it. Compare Psa. 22:31 and Matt. 27:54. And the last lesson learned by his crucifiers was taught them by the resurrection:

“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:23,24; cp. 4:28).
When they arise, let them be ashamed. (1) When they arose on the morning of resurrection? Or (2) When they will arise on the Day of Judgment?
Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle. Because of vv. 18,19?
I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth: yea, I will praise him among the multitude. Psa. 22:25; 31:5.
For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul. Contrast v. 6; compare Psa. 110:1,5; 16:8; 1 John 2:1.

6. Judas and the Lord’s enemies

On the principle of 2 Chronicles 6:21-23 (as in Par. 4), the curses came back upon the heads of those who sought Messiah’s destruction.

And let his prayer become sin. Hence his hopeless end. Judas could not believe that he might be forgiven. Yet he would have been!
And let another take his office (Acts 1:20). See notes on Psa. 69:25. “Office” becomes episkope (AV “bishoprick”: signifying oversight, or responsibility as overseer) in the New Testament of Acts 1:20.

The move by Peter to select another apostle was correct. Note “the twelve” in Acts 6:2 — this phrase validates the choice of Matthias as the twelfth apostle.
Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Judas’s family? True of the chief priests and others also?
Let his children be continually vagabonds. “May his children wander about and beg” (RSV). Because, like Cain, he slew his brother (Gen. 4:12)! But they would not necessarily be vagabonds “continually” (which is in AV, but not in RV, RSV, NIV, and NEB); they would probably have been helped by the early church.
Let the extortioner catch all that he hath: and let the strangers spoil his labour. The centuries-long pogroms in various nations.
Let there be none to extend mercy unto him. When Judas sought for some relief — or forgiveness — from the chief priests, all he got was a curt “What is that to us?” (Matt. 27:4). In this case there was certainly no “honor among thieves”!
Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. Compare and contrast Jesus in Isa. 53:8,10. The LXX has: ‘In one generation let his name be blotted out’: One generation = 40 years; and Jesus said:

“All these things shall come upon this generation” (Matt. 23:36).
Because that he remembered not to shew mercy. One meaning of this phrase is ‘charity to the poor’ — which was Judas’s special responsibility, and neglect (John 12:6).

But persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart. Here, in half a verse, is Judas’ settled intention to betray his Lord, and also the Lord’s disappointed and flagging spirit (Isa. 49:4).
As he loved cursing, so let it come upon him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him. These were the bitter imprecations against Christ by the chief priest who should have pronounced the high priestly blessing (Num. 6:24-26).
So let it come into his bowels. Here, and also in v. 14 (“let not the sin... be blotted out”), there are allusions to the trial of the bitter waters — and the unfaithful wife!

“Then the priest shall charge the woman with an oath of cursing, and the priest shall say unto the woman, The Lord make thee a curse and an oath among thy people, when the Lord doth make thy thigh to rot, and thy belly to swell: and this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels, to make thy belly to swell, and thy thigh to rot” (Num. 5:21,22).

With this compare the end of Judas, an unfaithful part of the “Bride” of Christ:

“Falling headlong, he burst asunder... and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).
Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually. A comparison, and a contrast, with the high-priestly robe rent in anger at the words of Christ: Matt. 26:65.

7. Links with Psalm 35

Psalm 109
Psalm 35
Mouth of the deceitful
Lying tongue
Without a cause
Reward evil for good
Poor and needy
Clothed with shame

Cover themselves with their own confusion
Praise him among the multitude
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