1 Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise;
2 For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me: they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.
3 They compassed me about also with words of hatred; and fought against me without a cause.
4 For my love they are my adversaries: but I give myself unto prayer.
5 And they have rewarded me evil for good, and hatred for my love.
6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
11 Let the extortioner catch all that he hath; and let the strangers spoil his labour.
12 Let there be none to extend mercy unto him: neither let there be any to favour his fatherless children.
13 Let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out.
14 Let the iniquity of his fathers be remembered with the Lord; and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15 Let them be before the Lord continually, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
16 Because that he remembered not to shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man, that he might even slay the broken in heart.
17 As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him: as he delighted not in blessing, so let it be far from him.
18 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.
19 Let it be unto him as the garment which covereth him, and for a girdle wherewith he is girded continually.
20 Let this be the reward of mine adversaries from the Lord, and of them that speak evil against my soul.
21 But do thou for me, O God the Lord, for thy name's sake: because thy mercy is good, deliver thou me.
22 For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.
23 I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting; and my flesh faileth of fatness.
25 I became also a reproach unto them: when they looked upon me they shaked their heads.
26 Help me, O Lord my God: O save me according to thy mercy:
27 That they may know that this is thy hand; that thou, Lord, hast done it.
28 Let them curse, but bless thou: when they arise, let them be ashamed; but let thy servant rejoice.
29 Let mine adversaries be clothed with shame, and let them cover themselves with their own confusion, as with a mantle.
30 I will greatly praise the Lord with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude.
31 For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.
Those who are not merciful will not obtain mercy.
We feel wounded and brutalized. But it is worse than that; we have been betrayed by those whom we considered to be friends. These enemies are relentlessly, unrepentantly sadistic and cruel in their treatment of the saints of God. Yet, must we respond in vindictive, self-oriented vengeance? The concern is not self-oriented. At the root of this Psalm is a heart that loves mercy. Where there is no mercy, we plead that God would show His vengeance, (not ours). Where there is only pride and cruelty, we plead for God’s hard justice to act. God will not save the proud, but He is deeply concerned about the humble and the needy. Toward the end of the Psalm, we are self-conscious of the fact that we are the poor and the needy. We are in need of God’s blessings even as we are surrounded by the vile curses of wicked men. Others may be sadistic and cruel to the poor and the cast down, but God is looking to show mercy to those who see themselves in need of mercy.
The Psalmist realizes that he is in the presence of wicked and deceitful men who hate God. That is the very definition of wicked men, and they are still to be found everywhere in this sin-sick world. First, they are wicked men who hate God, and second, they hate the righteous, which hopefully includes present company. In case the reader should be tempted to think that the Psalmist acts in personal vindictiveness towards his enemies, do remember that this is David, the man who was ever so gracious towards mortal enemies like Saul, Absalom, and Shimei. Even in this psalm, he refuses to identify the particular enemy that afflicts him. For all he knows, it may be Satan and his demonic host! By using the term “they,” David is careful not to direct the Psalm towards any particular person. We learn later in the Scripture, that this Psalm is especially directed towards Judas Iscariot.
David does not feel as though he has committed any crime against these enemies, such that they should torment him as they have (verses 4, 5). You would think that these words would best fit Jesus, the Son of David, who spoke nothing but truth and ministered mercy while He was here on earth. Yet, He was crucified at the hands of wicked men. How then do His dying words, “Father, forgive them,” comport with these cries for justice in this Psalm? The fact is that every wicked man will be judged at the end, and verses 6 through 20 will very well apply to them. At the judgment seat, you can be sure that Jesus will not say, “Father, forgive them.” Certainly, Jesus must have been aware of the final judgment even when He hung there on the cross. It would not be many years later that Jesus Christ Himself would sit in judgment over those wicked Jews and Gentiles who did the dirty deed.
The time will come when the wicked man will be condemned, and his prayers will be of no use. There is a time for mercy, and there is a time for judgment. There are times when it is appropriate to cry out for mercy for ourselves and others. Then, there are other times when we ought to appeal for God’s justice. James 2:13 ties in directly with this passage. “For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment.” All of the imprecations in this Psalm are directed towards the one who refuses to show mercy (verse 16). It is the merciful that obtain mercy. Ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ is the only One who can identify which of our persecutors will be judged according to the James 2:13 principle. Certainly, we must be merciful ourselves, even under persecution. We may look at a particular persecutor in the eye and say, “God have mercy on your soul, that you may learn to show mercy yourself.” But we can also turn around and pray this imprecatory prayer: that God would bring judgment upon the merciless who live and die without mercy.
While it is true that some, like the Apostle Paul, will repent of their persecution of the righteous and they will learn to show mercy, this is not true for every wicked Herod or Nero that ever lived. To this day, we hear of stories in places like India where wicked men burn down Christian orphanages and toss the Christian workers into the fire. Praise be to God, some of these men have repented, and we read these stories too. But others are not granted the gift of repentance, and for their unmerciful treatment of men and women of true piety, they will experience God’s severe judgments.
Now the Psalmist suggests a form of judgment for those unmerciful men who will have “judgment without mercy.” He lists seventeen curses, some of which clearly applied to Judas who betrayed the Son of David to His death. Later, the eleven Apostles applied this passage to Judas in Acts 1:20, even as they selected another apostle “to take his office.” According to Luke 22:3, Satan entered into Judas prior to committing the arch-crime of all human history. So it is fair to say that there were at least two personalities, arch-enemies of David and his son Jesus Christ, involved in this plot to rid the world of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Regardless of whether Judas knew what he was doing in this horrific deed, certainly Satan must have known. For this and other reasons, our Lord would never have said, “Forgive Satan, for he knows not what he does.”
But is the Psalmist turning unmerciful himself even as he condemns the unmerciful man? Or might we ourselves turn into an unmerciful bunch if we were to recite this Psalm too often? Our commitment to mercy must not quench our commitment to and appreciation of God’s justice. But secondly, we are only applying this Psalm to the man who has never and will never show mercy all of his life long. We do not assign a name to this man because only God knows who would fit that bill. We do know that there is at least one enemy who will never show mercy, and his lot is hell- fire forever, and at the least we can apply the words of this Psalm, (at least in the metaphoric sense) to him. That is Satan himself.
If these curses and imprecations sound severe, they should! God’s judgment that came upon Judas was swift and sure. He hung himself, his body fell on the ground and his intestines gushed out. God will not be mocked, even by those malicious souls who attempt to kill His Son, and our Messiah. After that cruel execution on the cross, God provided a brief opportunity for repentance for the bystanders, the angry mob, and the religious rulers. Then, He destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
The curses here extend to the man’s children and other family members (reference verses 9, 10, 13, 14). That is because the judgment of God does extend to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him (Exod. 20:4, 5). This is how God works. He shows mercy unto hundreds, if not thousands, of generations of those who love Him, while at the same time extending a curse to three or four generations of those who hate him.
As already mentioned, verse 16 is the critical verse in the Psalm. David is describing the horrific character of the wicked man, but all of this hinges on his refusal to show mercy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7), and this man neither shows mercy nor receives it. Obtaining mercy and being merciful are concomitant things. As is fairly common in the New Testament, conjunctions (like “for” or “that”), do not always imply a causal relationship. In other words, being merciful does not get you mercy from God or prime God’s mercy pump. It is just that unmerciful people are also the ones who will not receive mercy from God. Technically, God is already merciful to everybody on earth all of the time by providing them with rain and sunshine and other blessings. But this wicked man remains both proud and merciless. In the face of God’s mercy, he hardens himself against mercy and takes sadistic delight in cursing and persecuting the poor and needy man.
God will punish a man for his sin, and at least a part of that sin is a failure to show mercy to others. Consider the man in the parable who was forgiven a billion dollars. He was turned over to the “tormenters,” because he would not forgive his brother the twenty dollars he owed him.
Now the Psalmist describes himself as one who is in desperate need of mercy. It is both the humble and the merciful that obtain mercy. In contrast to the proud, wicked man who beats down poor humble people, David sees himself as beaten down. He is utterly incapable of overcoming the enemies of sin, the world, the devil, and death on his own. If every person on earth were brutally honest, they would have to admit the same thing. But instead, they will deceive themselves into thinking they are something when they are nothing. Ironically, the man who does not show mercy to others, does not see that he is in great need of mercy himself. He should have cried out with the Psalmist, “Help me, O LORD my God: O save me according to thy mercy!” But sadly, his pride would not allow that.
David also contrasts God’s mercy with the relentless cruelties of the wicked. He wants God to glorify Himself by demonstrating His mercy in the midst of the cruel dealings of the wicked. With so many martyrdoms (beginning as early as Stephen’s in Acts 7), wicked men grind their teeth in frustration as they see their machinations met with peaceful spirits, rapturous expressions, and words laced with indomitable faith and love. Let them curse, but God will bless His saints! Such a sight is praiseworthy, indeed. Those who witness God’s blessing on His persecuted saints walk away with an impression that continues to resonate in their worship services for generations afterwards. The missionary John Paton was enervated to his amazing, intrepid service in the dangerous islands of the South Seas, largely because the blood of the Scottish martyrs still ran strong and hard in his veins. These people had lived 150 years before he was born.
“I will greatly praise the LORD with my mouth; yea, I will praise him among the multitude. For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those that condemn his soul.”
1. Do you see how important it is to be merciful to others, especially to the poor and needy? How very important it is to live as those who have received mercy! If we have been forgiven, certainly we ought to be ready to forgive those who beg for mercy from us.
2. In case you missed it, verse 4 contains an important little application. Here is a man who is terribly persecuted by those whom he loves, so what does he do? He gives himself to prayer! One thinks of Daniel in Babylon, the three men communing with a fourth in the fire, or Stephen who enjoyed sweet fellowship with Christ in his execution. The more persecution you face, the more time you must devote to prayer. There is a time for work, and a time for prayer. When the heat turns up, every Christian knows that it is a time for prayer.
Worship maintains a solid commitment to mercy and to justice. Although this Psalm may appear to be tilting towards judgment on the wicked, it really constitutes a warning to any who would be tempted to harden their hearts against God’s mercy. The Psalms force us to identify either with the righteous or the wicked. If Judas Iscariot was reading this Psalm after his wicked betrayal of the Savior, he would either identify with the righteous or the wicked. Either he would turn from his wicked ways and seek the mercy that David was seeking, or he would reject God’s mercy and remain the sin-hardened man he always was.
1. What is the hinge verse of this Psalm? What is the major problem with the wicked man who is the subject of the imprecations?
2. Who is the New Testament exemplar of the wicked man referred to in this Psalm, at least according to the Apostles (Acts 1)? What specific references from the Psalm seem to point to this man?
3. How do we reconcile Jesus’ merciful cry, “Father, forgive them,” with what is said here?
4. How does David look upon himself in this Psalm?
5. How does the Psalmist draw a contrast between God and the wicked persecutors?
6. Give several examples of Imprecatory Psalms.
1. Are we a merciful family? How might we best show mercy to others?
2. Are we committed to God’s justice upon those who refuse to show mercy? What is the right spirit in which we should recite this Psalm?