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Psalm 109

Leaving vengeance to God

When someone throws all decency—all humanity—aside and subjects helpless victims to cruel, egotistical whims, you may want to pray this shockingly honest prayer, reserved for the worst offenders.

A David psalm.

You’re the God I praise—
don’t stay mute on me, unresponsive.
2 Liars bent on evil denounce me
their lying tongues maligning me.
3 They engulf me with hateful words
vilifying me for no reason.
4 In return for my love and kindness
they accuse me
despite all my prayers.
5 They repay my good with evil
my love with hatred.

6 Put a scoundrel on their case
accusing them—framing charges
that upend their life.
7 Let them be found guilty
and all their prayers fall flat.
8 Cut their life short
and have someone else take their position.
9 Make their children orphans
their wife a widow.
10 Make their children vagrant beggars
driven from the hovels they squat in.
11 May creditors seize all they have
strangers plunder all they’ve worked for.
12 Let no one be kind to them
or care for their orphaned kids.
13 May their descendants be eliminated
their family name blotted out
within a single generation.
14 Don’t overlook any of their ancestors’ crimes
or forget any of their mother’s sins, Yahveh.
15 Remember all their wrongs
till you’ve blotted all memory of them
from the earth, Yahveh.
16 For being kind never crossed their mind
as they hounded the poor and vulnerable
and drove the heartsick to their graves.
17 Since they loved cursing so much
may nothing but curses come to them.
And since they couldn’t stand blessing
make sure no blessing comes their way.
18 Because they wore cursing like a uniform
let curses soak them to the core
and drench them like an oily slick.
19 Make curses envelop them like a cloak
tied tight with a belt they can’t undo.[1]
20 May this be how Yahveh repays my accusers
who blacken my name.

21 But you, Sovereign Yahveh
defend me for the honor of your name—
rescue me out of the goodness
of your unfailing love.
22 Because I’m poor and needy
and my heart is pierced within me.
23 I fade away like a shadow at dusk
I’m shaken off like a grasshopper.
24 I’ve fasted so long I’m weak-kneed—
my body skin and bones.
25 I’ve become the butt of my accusers’ jokes.
They shake their heads on seeing me.
26 Help me, Yahveh, my God!
Save me in keeping with your unfailing love.
27 Save me so decisively
that they all know you’ve done it—
you and you alone, Yahveh.
28 Let them go on cursing
so long as you bless.
May they be disgraced
while your servant goes on rejoicing.
29 Humiliate my accusers—
wrap them in a cloak of shame.

30 I’ll thank Yahveh fervently
praising him when God’s people assemble
31 because he stands up to defend the poor
from those who condemn them.

This psalm is David’s response to false accusations and other attacks meant to bring about his death. The Psalms compiler doubtless place it here in Book V because Jerusalem’s post-exilic Jews dealt with similar threats.[2]

The harshness of this most imprecatory of psalms shocks us, as it should. But the theology behind it affirms that God unequivocally takes the side of victims of abuse and oppression. His unfailing love makes him so opposed to injustice that he’s determined to rid the world of it, which is why we pray, “Your will be done.”

When God’s love fills us, such abuse angers us, as it angers him—whether we or others are the victims. One way to respond to such abuse may be by praying this psalm, which is really an act of non-violence, of turning vengeance over to God—not taking vengeance ourselves.[3]

We’re shocked to learn how cruel David’s enemies only through his requests. His love repaid with hatred, he’s viciously accused, hounded, threatened. He asks only that his attackers’ punishment fit their crime. No more. They curse other—never bless them—destroying lives, wiping out whole families. So he asks God to do the same to them. And David takes refuge in God, whose blessing totally counteracts all his enemies’ curses.

Lord, thank you that, being a God of justice, you’ll bring all thuggery to a swift and sudden end, that you want me to take such evil seriously and address it honestly. Release its victims from terror, make its perpetrators reap the whirlwind they’ve sown, and make me more like you, I pray. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on these words:

I’ll thank Yahveh fervently
praising him when God’s people assemble
because he stands up to defend the poor
from those who condemn them.


[1] Commentators have long debated whether vv. 6-19 give the psalmist’s prayer or quote his evil accusers’ prayer. Verses 12 and 16 ask God to judge based on his “unfailing love,” which seems like something David would say (cf. vv. 21, 26). Either way, he’s asking God to return to his enemies only what they’ve done to him.

[2] For example, under Nehemiah (Neh. 6:5-7).

[3] As I write, the Russian army is raining down terror and destruction on the innocent citizens of Mariupol and a number of other Ukrainian cities, with President Putin justifying his aggression by falsely accusing the Ukrainian government of being Nazis. This makes Putin and his military thugs very appropriate targets of the psalm. The New Testament similarly applies the psalm’s imprecation to Judas, whose betrayal of Jesus was never forgiven (Acts 1:20; cf. Matt. 26:24).

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.