An Uncomfortable, But Honest Prayer.
“May his children become fatherless, and may his wife become a widow. May his children wander as beggars; may they be evicted from their ruined homes. May creditors seize his entire estate, and strangers take all he has earned. Let no one be kind to him; let no one pity his fatherless children. May all his offspring die. May his family name be blotted out in a single generation.” – Psalm 109:9-13 NLT
One word comes to mind when I read a Psalm like this: Uncomfortable. Or maybe even shocking. I read it and am surprised that these words came out of the mouth of David, the man after God’s own heart. But there they are in black and white for all to see and read. Psalm 109 is what is known as an imprecatory prayer. It is a prayer for evil or misfortune to come on someone else – usually an enemy. In the Bible, an imprecatory prayer is the prayer of a righteous man who is asking God to carry out justice by bringing punishment or destruction on those who have done evil and have been mistreating or abusing him. A first read of this Psalm can be a little disconcerting. The requests of David are severe and seem to be motivated by an extreme hatred. He is obviously upset and has been suffering greatly at the hands of this enemy. We are not told who this person or persons is, but David wishes nothing but ill-will against them. He makes it painfully clear what he would like God to do to them. He basically wants him dead, leaving his wife a widow and his children to beg. Is David wrong for praying this prayer? Is he letting his anger get the best of him? If so, why does God include this Psalm in the Bible?
While the things David requests may make us a bit uncomfortable, we can probably relate at some level. We have all had someone in our lives who we wished evil upon. We may not have put it in the form of a prayer, but we thought about it, even dreamed about it. We may not have been quite as harsh as David was, but we probably wanted to see some kind of harm come to the one who had harmed us. This is a purely human reaction. We want revenge. We want vengeance to be done. This is not necessarily wrong. Especially if the evil done to us is truly evil and sinful. But David knew something we all need to know: Vengeance is God’s business, not ours. That’s why David took his issue to God. I think there is a point at which David knew that what this person had done to him was in direct opposition to the will of God. David had shown them love and their response had been nothing but evil. “I love them, but they try to destroy me — even as I am praying for them! They return evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Psalm 109:4-5 NLT). Their actions were sinful and ungodly, and he knew that God was opposed to everything they had done to him. So he took his case to God and pleaded for justice in the form of vengeance. He was only asking God to do to this individual the same thing he had done to David and probably others. Basically David was asking God to let this man reap what he sowed. Where it gets really uncomfortable for most of us is when David starts asking for bad things to happen to the guys wife and kids. This seems a bit extreme. But this does not mean David had unbridled hatred for the man’s family. It only reveals David’s understanding of how things worked in their society. These are the natural consequences of life in the culture of David’s day. A man and his offspring were inseparably linked. The actions of one directly influenced the other. The sins of this man and their punishment would be felt by his wife, children, and ancestors. That was the way things worked in their society. So David is really praying out the consequences of this man’s deserved punishment.
David knew that God hated sin and injustice and so his prayer is not inappropriate or sinful. He is simply expressing a hatred for sin that mirrored that of God. He wants to see God’s will be done. Sure, he is not shy in expressing his own opinion as to what that will should be, but at the end of the day, he wants to see God mete out justice and vengeance on this person who was not only David’s enemy, but an enemy of God. But what balances this Psalm out is David’s request that God express His love and faithfulness to him. “But deal well with me, O Sovereign LORD, for the sake of your own reputation! Rescue me because you are so faithful and good” (Psalm 109:21 NLT). David understands that God wants to bless the righteous and punish the wicked. That is what this prayer is all about. It is a request for God to be God and do what only God can do. Only God can rescue David and turn the evil this person has done to him into blessing. Only God can punish this individual justly and righteously, returning on him the kind of evil he has been dishing out.
Imprecations are effective only when we see sin as God does and when we ask Him to deal with sin as He has promised to deal with it in His Word. David was simply praying back to God what he knew to be true about God and His divine view of sin. David was praying the kind of punishment for sin that God had already expressed as proper and just. And the most important point is that David was praying with a clean and innocent heart. He had done nothing to deserve the treatment he was receiving. He was innocent. That is a critical point in praying an imprecatory prayer. Had David been guilty of mistreatment of this man, his prayers would have been improper and unheeded by God. He stood guiltless before God and was suffering unjustly, so he knew that God would step into that kind of situation. God protects His own. He defends His sheep. David’s prayer came out of a firm understanding of who God was and what He stood for more than a hatred for his enemy. His prayer was driven by a desire to see justice done and God intervene. “Help me, O LORD my God! Save me because of your unfailing love. Let them see that this is your doing, that you yourself have done it, LORD” (Psalm 109:26-27 NLT). David wanted to see God’s will done and His power manifested to all those around him. God’s glory was David’s foremost desire.
Father, give me a hatred for evil that is more powerful than my hatred for any particular individual and what they might do to me. May I learn to see any injustice done to me as an injustice done to You. This is more about You than me. May I learn to desire Your glory by seeing Your will be done – in my life and circumstances. Give me a greater understanding of Your hatred of evil and the manner in which You punish it, so that I might pray according to Your will and not mine. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men