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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 109

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.

This has been called, by way of eminence, the “Imprecatory Psalm,” and on that account has been a stumbling block to not a few. It has been supposed to conflict with the spirit of the New Testament, and of all true piety. On the other hand, it appears in the sacred canon in lyrical form, for public use in worship, and is assigned to the chief musician for performance. It must, therefore, contain truth, and harmonize in spirit with an acceptable worship of God. Like all inspired Scripture, its tendency, even though of a warning tone, must be edifying. We must accept the psalm in this character or reject it altogether, as we must all other psalms containing similar expressions.

The error which has misled so many comes from supposing the psalmist to be actuated by personal feelings of revenge upon his enemies. But this contradicts both the psalm itself, the ethics of the Old and New Testaments, and the known character of David. In the psalm, (Psalms 109:1; Psalms 109:30,) David professes “praise” to God for the answers which he expects to these petitions. In Psalms 109:4 he gives himself wholly to prayer, expecting help from God only. In Psalms 109:26-27, he professes to have laid the matter so completely before God, submitting it to his will and method of redress, that when it should be accomplished even his enemies should know that “the Lord had done it.” In Psalms 109:31 he wishes the moral result to be a public conviction that God shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from them that would condemn his soul.” These sentiments cannot harmonize with feelings of private revenge, but belong to the loftiest conceptions of the character of God, and of what is due to public law, human rights, and moral government. From Psalms 109:6 to the end the psalm is typically predictive. The quotations of the apostle and of Christ, (Matthew 26:24; Acts 1:20,) decide this point. As the probable occasion of the psalm is found in 1 Samuel 22:18, the execrated person is, historically, Doeg; prophetically, Judas Iscariot. The plurality of enemies refers to the conspirators against David and against Christ, from which one is selected as the representative of all. “The persecution of David was a sin, also, against the Christ in him; and because Christ is in David, the outbursts of the Old Testament wrathful spirit take the prophetic form; so that this psalm, like Psalms 22, 69, is a typically prophetic psalm, inasmuch as the utterance of the type concerning himself is carried by the spirit of prophecy beyond himself.” Delitzsch. According to this view, in so far as the psalm applies to Christ and his persecutors, especially the betrayer, David speaks in the person of Christ. This is just reasoning, and applies to Psalm lxix, and all other typically predictive psalms as well.

Verse 1

1. Hold not thy peace Be not a silent witness of my wrongs.

God of my praise Taken in the genitive, for the object of “my praise,” the fundamental passage is Deuteronomy 10:21. Compare Jeremiah 17:14. But the Septuagint and Vulgate read the whole line, “O God, pass not over my praise in silence.” Do not omit to speak in my praise while others slander me. This would accord with Psalms 109:2, but the former is to be preferred.

Verse 3

3. Compassed… fought Military terms; enemies surrounded and fought him with the words of falsehood and hatred. These were their weapons and their policy of war.

Without a cause In the absence of all just ground of hostility they could deal in nothing but falsehood. Compare, in the Messianic sense of the psalm, Matthew 26:59

Verses 4-5

4, 5. For my love Instead of “my love,” or instead of returning love for “my love,” they are my adversaries. And so, Psalms 109:5. This “rewarding evil for good and hatred for love” is the purest diabolism. Psalms 109:3-5 set forth the true moral relation of David to his enemies, both as to past conduct and present feelings, and have an essential bearing on the import and true spirit of the psalm. It is impossible to construe the psalm in the spirit of personal hate or vindictiveness. But the higher application is to Christ and his persecutors.

But I give myself unto prayer Literally, But I prayer; that is, “But I am wholly prayer.” Furst. I use no other means of vindication or defence. The form is intensive, as in Psalms 120:7, “I peace” I am wholly given to peace. The hatred of the psalmist’s foes is not of to-day or of yesterday, but of old, and of years past.” Canon Cook.

Verse 6

6. Set thou a wicked man over him Cause a wicked man to be appointed over him; that is, as a judge, as the next member and Psalms 109:7 show. The verb is in Hiphil imperative, grammatically the proper form of prayer. All other verbs in the psalm, which are rendered optatively (“let”) in our English version, (according to the rule that in a connected discourse the first verb in the series fixes the character of those which follow,) are in the future the predictive or declarative tense and should be so translated, as in the following notes. Whatever sense the verbs should take, the translation should conform to the original. The special sense belongs to the province of commentary, not to that of translation.

The Hebrew imperative is used variously to express a command, a prayer or entreaty, a warning, a prophecy, or promise. When used in the first or the third person it takes the form of the future tense of some one of the conjugations, the Hebrew having no other mode, in such cases, of expressing the imperative. This future form is marked by a slight grammatical peculiarity. In each particular instance the connexion and the known facts in the case must determine which of the several senses of which it is susceptible is to be adopted. But in each and every case the imperative discovers itself by the tone of absoluteness, of certainty and authority, which gives assurance that the thing denoted will come to pass according to the moral conditions expressed or implied. The great error of many, in the interpretation of this psalm, is in limiting the so-called imprecatory verbs too rigidly to the sense of request, or wish, as if they proceeded from a vindictive feeling. There is no rule in Hebrew, however, to justify or allow this as a necessary grammatical construction; and the ethics of Holy Scripture, and the facts of David’s history, absolutely forbid it. The verbs in question, therefore, must have a future predictive sense, to be construed as warnings, like beacon fires lighted up along the way of the wicked to deter them from their course; and the imperative tone evinces the sanction of law and the certainty of judgment under the divine moral government. This sense is not infrequent. Indeed, it is common for imperatives in the first and third persons future to drop the precatory and take the declarative sense. Thus, in Isaiah 23:1, “Howl, ye ships of Tarshish,” etc., the form is imperative, but the sense is that of predictive warning: “Ye shall howl,” etc., that is, unless repentance avert the judgment. So in Numbers 16:26, “Depart from the tents,” etc.; the verbis in the imperative, but the sense is that of entreative warning, and hence the particle of entreaty, ( נא ,) is added, “Depart, I pray you,” etc. In Psalms 128:5, “Thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem,” the original is imperative, “see thou the good,” etc., but the sense is that of predictive promise, as in the English version. In Psalms 22:27, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn,” etc., the form is Kal (indicative) future, and is a predictive promise, but the verb is imperative. When the imperative form is intended as an optative, expressing a wish, the particle just alluded to is commonly employed, as in Psalms 7:9, “Let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but,” etc. But though this is the common use of the particle, (to excite and express desire,) it is not once used in Psalm cix, a strong indication that not a wish of vengeance is intended, but, as we have said, a solemn warning predictively uttered. The verbs in question, therefore, should be translated as in the original, in the future tense, carrying the force of the imperative, that is, an authoritative warning under sanction of divine law.

Let Satan stand at his right hand An adversary, or accuser, shall stand, etc. The Hebrew “satan,” here, is without the article, and is an appellative, not a proper name. It is noticeable that it occurs four times in this psalm; once, in its verb form. Psalms 109:4; Psalms 109:20; Psalms 109:29. As a proper name for the chief of the evil spirits, ( τω αρχοντι των διμονιων , the chief of the devils, Matthew 9:34,) it occurs Job 1:6; Zechariah 3:1-2, et al., whose children David’s enemies might well be called. John 8:44. The language of the text is forensic. In the Hebrew courts the judge sat, and the parties stood up. The accuser, or adversary, (plaintiff,) is here placed at the right hand of the accused, the proper place of the advocate. See Psalms 109:31. The allusion is more fully carried out in Zechariah 3:1-2, where the phrase “to resist him” is literally to prosecute him, to accuse him, to be his adversary.

Verse 7

7. When he shall be judged The narrative shows that it is of human courts, not the divine tribunal, that David speaks.

Let him be condemned Literally, He shall go out [from court] guilty.

Let his prayer become sin His prayer shall become sin; that is, when he shall plead innocence, and pray against judgment due to guilt, it shall be counted as adding sin to sin. See Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:15; Psalms 66:18

Verse 8

8. Let his days be few His days shall be few. A prediction and a warning founded on the justice of God, by which “bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” Psalms 55:23. The verbs in this last passage quoted, and in the text, are in the same conjugation and tense, and should be rendered alike, in the declarative future, not the imperative. The full meaning is: “As he intended to have shortened my days, so let his days be few.” Hengstenberg.

Let another take his office Quoted verbatim from the Septuagint, and applied to Judas Iscariot, Acts 1:20. The word “office” means, a superior office, that of oversight; Greek, επισκοπη , episcope, English version, (Acts 1:20,) bishopric. See Numbers 1:50; Nehemiah 12:44; Jeremiah 1:10. Doeg, David’s enemy, held the office of overseer of Saul’s herdsmen, an important position, (1 Samuel 21:7,) and it would seem, also, that of a prime minister of his court. 1 Samuel 22:9. High in office and base in character, he was a fit type of the arch traitor who “by transgression fell.” Acts 1:25

Verse 10

10. Continually vagabonds Hebrew, wandering, his sons shall wander: without a fixed habitation, homeless: the condition to which David had been already reduced by the treachery and falsehood of his enemy. The same word expresses David’s exilement (Psalms 56:8) and Cain’s punishment, (Genesis 4:12; Genesis 4:14,) where, “for fugitive and vagabond,”

the Septuagint have στενων και τρεμων , groaning and trembling. The parallel passage is Psalms 59:11; Psalms 59:15, where also the same word occurs. The consequences of crime and impiety often reappear in the offspring of the wicked, according to the declarations of Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7, and of this the psalmist now forewarns them. “Every consequence of sin is a punishment, and every punishment is from the living God. And is not man permitted to desire that God should do what he really does, provided he desires it in that sense in which God does it? Tholuck.

Out of their desolate places “Out of” should here read from, that is, far from. The fall of the wicked father brings ruin and desolation upon the household, and from, far from, the ruins of a home from which they are shaken out, they wander up and down, and ask and search for bread. See Psalms 37:25. A description of human poverty and wretchedness which has not a parallel.

Verse 11

11. Extortioner The lender, whether of money or other property for a pledge, especially one who takes occasion of the necessity of the borrower to extort and oppress. The idea is that of a merciless creditor. See Exodus 22:25; Psalms 89:22.

Strangers spoil his labour Foreigners, heathens, shall make a spoil of his wealth; a special dishonour to a Hebrew. See Deuteronomy 28:33; Deuteronomy 28:51; Jeremiah 5:17

Verse 12

12. Let there be none to extend mercy There shall be none. The word “extend” takes the sense of lengthened time, as Psalms 36:10, “O continue,” etc. Psalms 85:5, “Wilt thou draw out,” etc. Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred,” etc. And the quality of mercy here denoted is that of requital remitting the claim of a creditor as in 2Sa 9:1 ; 2 Samuel 9:3; 2Sa 9:7 ; 2 Samuel 10:2; 1 Kings 2:7. The idea is, that the life and character of the father had been such as awakened no regrets at his downfall, and none felt obligated to requite his acts with favour, or to prolong kindness to his family for the father’s sake. In the divine constitution this is a penal consequence of accumulating wealth by a merciless and unprincipled life. Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 28:8; James 2:13

Verse 13

13. Posterity be cut off The word “posterity” literally signifies the end, or future of the man, and the form answers to Psalms 37:38, “ The end of the wicked shall be cut off.” But the second member requires the sense of “posterity,” as in the English version, (Septuagint, τεκνα αυτου , their children,) which sense the Hebrew admits, though it is of extreme rarity.

The idea is, in one generation his family name shall be blotted out. Thus his future shall be cut off. And this implies also the extinction of all his hopes and plans.

Verse 14

14. Iniquity of his fathers… the sin of his mother So called because they were of like character before him. The law forbade the transfer of punishment due to personal sins, (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20;) but where the wickedness of the parents repeated itself in the children, the punishment followed down also. See Exodus 20:5

Verse 15

15. Cut off the memory of them That is, the honourable memorial of them, as the word commonly signifies. Their crimes are their only memorial, as in the case of Judas Iscariot; and this is equal to “cutting off, blotting out,” or forgetting the memory of them. See Exodus 17:14; Deuteronomy 25:19; Psalms 34:16

Verse 16

16. Because… he remembered not He remembered not to show mercy, and therefore God will remember to punish his iniquity. Here begin the reasons for the foregoing judgments. The judgments predicted or invoked should always be considered in connexion with the assigned moral causes.

Persecuted the poor and needy man The description is of one afflicted in straits and broken hearted his enemy eagerly pursuing to slay him. Such are the special objects of divine pity and care. Psalms 34:6; Psalms 34:18

Verse 17

17. As he loved cursing, so let it come unto him Hebrew, And he loved cursing, and it came to him; and so the second member, “and he delighted not in blessing, and it was far from him.” He not only cursed devoted to destruction the object of his hatred, but he “loved cursing,” “clothed himself with it.” In the unerring judgments of God his anathemas returned upon his own head. Psalms 7:15-16

Verse 18

18. Into his bowels Hebrew, his inward parts; penetrating like oil his whole being. It is an advance upon the figure of clothing garment as an outside covering, in the previous member. The allusion is to the waters of jealousy, (Numbers 5:22,) “And this water that causeth the curse shall go into thy bowels.”

Verse 19

19. Continually This garment and girdle are to be worn perpetually, not to be intermitted, or laid off, as with common apparel.

Verse 20

20. Let this be the reward Literally, this is the work, or wages, of my adversaries. The word signifies both work and wages, or reward, as Leviticus 19:13; Proverbs 10:16

Verse 21

21. But do thou for me, O God The phrase is peculiar. The object of the verb is not expressed. The psalmist does not specify what he would have done, but leaves all to God, with the reverent and qualifying words “for thy name’s sake.” Similar forms elsewhere occur, as Psalms 119:124; Jeremiah 14:7

Verse 22

22. I am poor and needy A plaintive confession, often made, and always urged as the counterpart of exclusive hope in God.

My heart is wounded Pierced as with a sword. So the word, Ezekiel 32:26. The adjective almost always has this sense, as Lamentations 2:12. In this pathetic strain the psalmist tells his misery and suffering in the three verses following.

Verse 23

23. Gone like the shadow Like a disappearing evening shadow, till its form and outline are lost in the darkness.

I am tossed up and down I am shaken out. I have been violently cast out of home and country. So Exodus 14:27, “The Lord shook off [margin] the Egyptians” Nehemiah 5:13, “So God shake out every man from his house.”

As the locust An allusion to their being tossed up and down by violent winds. Thus Morier: “On looking up we perceived an immense cloud, here and there semi-transparent, in other parts quite black, that spread itself all over the sky, and at intervals shadowed the sun. This we soon found to be locusts, whole swarms of them falling about us; but their passage was but momentary, for a fresh wind from the southwest, which had brought them to us, so completely drove them forward that not a vestige of them was seen two hours after.”

Verse 24

24. Fasting “The word is never used of that want of eating which proceeds from want of appetite, but always of the exercise of penitence, as practised by men when overwhelmed, or when threatened, with severe suffering.” Hengstenberg.

Verse 25

25. Shaked their heads Wagged their heads as a token of scorn and insult. See Psalms 22:7; Psalms 44:14; Lamentations 2:15; 2 Kings 19:21

Verse 27

27. That this is thy hand Here again appears the pious end sought in all the psalmist’s prayers for help, or against his enemies. Both his sufferings and his deliverances were providential, and this he wished might be made to appear, for his own and the divine vindication.

Verse 28

28. Let them curse, but bless thou Hebrew, They will curse and thou wilt bless. The idea is, though they curse thou wilt bless, as 2 Samuel 16:12, “It may be the Lord will requite me good for his cursing.”

When they arise Namely, for hostile purposes.

Verse 29

29. Clothed… cover… mantle These several words are for intensity, denoting complete covering from head to foot. The “mantle” ( מעיל , me’eel,) is to be taken as the outer tunic of the orientals, reaching from the neck to the ankles, and was the most complete covering for the whole body of any one article of dress. The dress itself is shame and confusion.

Verse 30

30. I will greatly praise As the answer of the psalmist’s prayers and the fulfilment of his forewarning predictions would be to him a signal deliverance as well as a vindication of righteous principles, so his praise for the same would be rendered greatly, exceedingly, with all his might. This shows that the spirit and example of this psalm are in harmony with the mind of God, and hence with the essential ethics both of the law and of the gospel.

Verse 31

31. For he shall stand at the right hand of the poor The כי , ( for, because,) is here most emphatic. This is the sum and object of all that is sought or desired in the psalm, and this is the reason for his “greatly praising the Lord.” Because “he shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save.” See Psalms 109:16. The “right hand” was the place of the advocate and defender. See on Psalms 109:6, and Psalms 142:4; Psalms 16:8.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 109". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.