What I want for my enemies (reflections on Psalm 110 part 1)

How do we respond when people falsely accuse us, slander and gossip about us behind our backs, isolate us and attack our characters?  Psalm 109, helps us to give voice to the way that this makes us feel. There is the desperate cry for justice.

David utters these words against his tormenters

Appoint a wicked man against him;
    let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
    let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
    may another take his office!

We may well find them deeply shocking. We don’t expect such sentiments to be found in the Bible on the lips of a righteous man. Surely we are meant to forgive our enemies. Yet if you have been subject to the kind of treatment and betrayal described in v1-6 or have seen people you care about treated in that way then you are highly likely to emphasise with David’s words.

Although this mini-series of articles is intended as a reflection on Psalm 110, I wanted to start back in Psalm 109 to give some context. We are meant to read Psalms together as part of the whole book, not in isolation. The whole book of Psalms acts as a meditation on God’s Word and what it means to be righteous. That’s why it opens with Psalm 1’s call to stay away from evil doers and learn to love God’s law. It’s why this is quickly followed up by a Psalm about our attitude to The Son (Psalm 2).

Psalms 109 and 110 are in the fifth and final volume of Psalms. The previous section (Psalm 90 – 106) had reflected on what it means to long for safety at home with God whilst experiencing life in exile, helpful words for people like us who live with all the tensions of “now and not yet” knowing we are saved but longing to be at home with God and to see Christ’s return. Then when we come to the fifth volume (Psalms 107-150), we read in Psalm 107 that God is worthy of praise and he is the one who gathers those who have been scattered.  The section includes the longest Psalm which mediates on the light that God’s Word gives for our path (Psalm 119) and then builds into the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120 -134) which God’s people sang as they went up to the temple in Jerusalem.  There they are once again encouraged to praise the one whose name endures forever (Psalm 135) before we move to the final section and the last Psalm which is once again a song of Praise (Psalm 150).  We might call these Psalms “Songs for the home-coming.” The faithful, righteous and praiseworthy God is leading his people home.

This then is the context for the Psalmist to express his desperation for vengeance and vindication in Psalm 109.  We are God’s people, we know where we have come from (out of sin through the Cross) and we know where we are going (to safety with the Lord).  This then shapes the cry for justice.

Psalm 109 helps us to face our tormentors.[1]  It does so in the following ways.

  • It helps us to see God’s Word giving voice to our own emotions. It shows that God knows the seriousness of the hurt done to us. Forgiveness when it comes does not require us to minimise the severity of the wrong done to us. It is when we know the true severity and the reasonable consequences that we can say “I forgive” not just “forget about it.”
  • It reminds us of Christ’s example. He was the one who patiently endured false accusation and mocking. He was the one who had every right to pray this Psalm against his accusers.[2]
  • It reminds us that Christ is the one who in fact had the curses of this Psalm turned on himself. I am reminded that I too deserve the curses of these Psalms because I stood, spiritually, with the mockers against Christ and because I so often hurt those who seek to love me. I too have let down those I love and thought and said things I shouldn’t have.  So, this Psalm points me to Christ on the Cross, his days cut short “In my place condemned he stood.”  I not only have his example but I have his atonement and I know that this is not just for me but for all sinners, even those who have hurt me.

I know what I want and wish for my enemies. That is natural but I am also challenged by what the Gospel wants for them. This is why forgiveness is so important.

[1] Here I mean metaphorically, it will be deeply unsafe emotionally, physically and spiritually for many victims to confront their abusers face to face.

[2] Note -from wider context again I am not saying that justice should not be done in terms of human justice, especially but not only where there have been criminal activities. Rather, Christ’s example helps me not to hold tightly to the injustice done to me and to move on with life. I will try and unpack this a little more in a future Faithroots article.

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