Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 109

They’ve pulled deep heaven down on their heads

When people throw all decency and humanity aside and subject helpless victims to cruel, egotistical whims, we may identify with this shockingly honest prayer call for judgment.

A David psalm.

You’re the God I praise—
don’t stay mute on me, unresponsive.
2 Wicked and deceitful mouths denounce me
their lying tongues malign 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 fathers’ crimes
or forget any of their mother’s sins, YHWH.
15 Remember all their wrongs
till you’ve blotted all memory of them
from the earth, YHWH.
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.
Since they wanted no part in blessing
make sure no blessing comes their way.
18 Because they put on cursing like a garment
let curses soak them to the core
and coat them like an oily slick.
19 Make curses envelop them like a cloak
tied up tight with a belt they can’t undo.
20 May this be how YHWH repays my accusers
who blacken my name.

21 But you, Sovereign YHWH
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, YHWH, 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, YHWH.
28 Let them go on cursing
so long as you bless.
May they be disgraced
while your servant goes on rejoicing.
29 Let my accusers be dressed in shame
wrapped up in the cloak of their own disgrace.

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


This psalm is David’s response to false accusations and other attacks meant to cause his death. The Psalms anthologist doubtless placed it here in Book V because Jerusalem’s post-exilic Jews dealt with similar threats under Nehemiah (e.g., Neh. 6:5-7)

The harshness of this imprecatory psalm shocks us. But its theological basis is familiar: 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. That’s what we’re asking for when we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”

When God’s love fills us, such abuse angers us just 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 can be seen as an act of non-violence, David’s turning vengeance over to God—not taking vengeance himself.

As I write this, Russia is raining down terror and destruction on the innocent citizens of Mariupol, with President Putin justifying his violence by falsely calling the Ukrainian government Nazis. This makes Putin and his military thugs appropriate targets of the psalm. The New Testament similarly applies the psalm’s imprecation to Judas, who died unforgiven (Acts 1:20; cf. Matt. 26:24).

We’re shocked to learn of the cruelty of David’s enemies only through his prayers that the same be done to them. His love repaid with hatred, he’s viciously accused, hounded, threatened. He asks only that his attackers’ punishment fit their crime. They curse others—never blessing. They destroy entire lives, wiping out whole families. So he asks God to do the same to them.

Even so, David’s prayer does seem a bit over-the-top, but that’s okay: God knows what he’s thinking—so, there’s nothing wrong with his saying it to God. Such honesty frees David to take refuge in God, whose blessing alone nullifies 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 YHWH fervently
praising him when God’s people assemble
because he stands up to defend the afflicted
from those who condemn them.

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH 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. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.