We mentioned before the different categories of Psalms which the theologians have constructed: Lamentation, Praise, Wisdom, etc. But there's one type of Psalm which we haven’t really discussed, since it’s pretty uncomfortable for a lot of Christians. I’m referring to the imprecatory (cursing) Psalms, the best example of which is today’s passage.
Why would we feel uncomfortable about this type of Scripture? Well, first and foremost, it seems at first blush to be contrary to the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. He told us to pray for our enemies, do good to them, and forgive them. Of course he topped this all off with the perfect example for us on the cross. If anyone ever had a right to pronounce bitter curses on his enemies, it would be the Lord Jesus on the cross. But he didn’t.
But there are some things to consider when reading this and other Psalms like it. First, we need to remember that this is never a justification for personal vengeance. According to the superscript, David wrote this, and he's a great example of letting the Lord deal with his enemies instead of taking justice in his own hands. In fact, a prime candidate for the main foe cited in the Psalm is in fact Saul, whom David could've killed at least twice. Instead, he let God deal with him, and the Lord honored that.
Second, we need to recognize that the N. T. doesn’t disown the cursing Psalms. Did you realize that this particular Psalm is actually quoted in the N.T.? Verse 8 was directly quoted by Peter in Acts 1:20 when they were deciding what to do about filling Judas’ old position. So apparently the Holy Spirit considered Psalm 109 to have some type of fulfillment in the life of Christ himself. Jesus quoted from Psalm 69 or had it applied to himself, which is another harsh Psalm of this type, as did Paul.
Third, I think that these Psalms are an official appeal to the ultimate Judge to settle a complainant’s case. Yes, God was his personal Savior and Redeemer, but he's also the Judge of all the earth. David was bringing his case before him and asking him to intervene. He wasn't just asking for his own personal sake but in the interest of God’s kingdom. These enemies weren't just attacking David but the Lord's kingdom in the person of his representative.
So how do we interpret these Psalms? Is it right to quote them and incorporate them into our prayer lives? Well, Paul’s statement still stands—“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” The best explanation I’ve found is that we should treat it similarly to the Lamentation Psalms. The Lamentation Psalms are filled with bitter complaints and angry accusations against the Lord's goodness and providence. I think that when we feel that way, then we should be honest about that before the Father. But should that be our final word before God about the situation? Are we going to continue walking around in that spirit? Of course not. There has to come a point in which we let go of the anger. If not, it’ll eventually act like acid on our soul. It’s the same principle here.
We also need to keep in mind that we’re all sinners. It is possible to hate correctly, to be able to distinguish between a righteous zeal for God’s honor and purposes (which David had) and a desire for personal revenge (“because they did me wrong”). I’m not sure that I’m enough in tune with the Holy Spirit to do that safely. Until I can, I'm going to be very careful about quoting Psalms like this, and I'm going to move as quick as I can into the much safer territory of following the Lord Jesus in both his example and in his instructions.
To the degree that the Imprecatory Psalms are appropriate for us as N. T. believers, they can’t be the final word. He wants us to be honest. If we truly hate someone who's done us wrong, then we need to bring those feelings before the Lord. There’s certainly nothing wrong with asking the Father to intervene. But the final word on how to handle our enemies is not in Psalm 109 but in the Gospels and Epistles. By both command and example, Christ has called us to rise above our personal feelings. And I’ve found that the more time I spend in his presence complaining about my “enemies,” the more his Spirit calms my anger and changes my attitude. I find myself focusing less on myself and sounding more like the One who--while he was bleeding on the cross--said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Father God, I thank you and praise you for not only being my Savior but my Vindicator. Please fill me with your Spirit when dealing with people who’ve hurt me. May I treat them like you’ve treated me—slow to anger, quick to forgive.