Prayer for Vindication and Vengeance
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.
1 Do not be silent, O God of my praise.
2 For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
speaking against me with lying tongues.
3 They beset me with words of hate,
and attack me without cause.
4 In return for my love they accuse me,
even while I make prayer for them.
5 So they reward me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
6 They say, “Appoint a wicked man against him;
let an accuser stand on his right.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty;
let his prayer be counted as sin.
8 May his days be few;
may another seize his position.
9 May his children be orphans,
and his wife a widow.
10 May his children wander about and beg;
may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit.
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil.
12 May there be no one to do him a kindness,
nor anyone to pity his orphaned children.
13 May his posterity be cut off;
may his name be blotted out in the second generation.
14 May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord,
and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
15 Let them be before the Lord continually,
and may his memory be cut off from the earth.
16 For he did not remember to show kindness,
but pursued the poor and needy
and the brokenhearted to their death.
17 He loved to curse; let curses come on him.
He did not like blessing; may it be far from him.
18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat,
may it soak into his body like water,
like oil into his bones.
19 May it be like a garment that he wraps around himself,
like a belt that he wears every day.”
20 May that be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
of those who speak evil against my life.
21 But you, O Lord my Lord,
act on my behalf for your name’s sake;
because your steadfast love is good, deliver me.
22 For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is pierced within me.
23 I am gone like a shadow at evening;
I am shaken off like a locust.
24 My knees are weak through fasting;
my body has become gaunt.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads.
26 Help me, O Lord my God!
Save me according to your steadfast love.
27 Let them know that this is your hand;
you, O Lord, have done it.
28 Let them curse, but you will bless.
Let my assailants be put to shame; may your servant be glad.
29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;
may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.
30 With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
31 For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save them from those who would condemn them to death.
If you were to ask most Christians—and probably most people—if it was OK to wish for bad things to happen to others, they’d likely say no. It’s no secret that resentment and a desire for revenge can eat us alive. There’s a reason why Christ commands that we forgive our trespassers. Even the Book of James warns people of cursing people with the same mouth they use to bless God (James 3:9). So why in the world would cries for vengeance be included in the Bible’s prayer book? Aren’t we supposed to be above that? Surely, it’s wrong to pray to God asking for destruction. Surely, these psalms don’t belong in our Bibles.
Psalm 109 is a cursing psalm, and there is nothing vague about them. They beg God for specific things to happen to specific people—people who have betrayed and brought harm to the author of these psalms. These psalms, much like psalms of lament, are honest cries to God. But they are honest in a very particular way, a way that strips us of our own self-righteousness, our own right to be right. It is the honesty that God desires from us.
An Old Testament professor at Duke Divinity School told of a time when she was betrayed by a fellow student while she was in seminary. When she confided to one of her professors, they told her to go into the chapel when it was empty and shout the words of Psalm 109 at the top of her lungs. She did, and to her surprise, she felt better. And she would vent her anger to God every evening until one day she heard in her own voice a tinge of self-righteousness and even pettiness.
The grace of the cursing psalms holds us accountable to God and to one another. These psalms can just as easily be prayed by our peers about their anger with us just as we can go to God with our anger against them. When we use these cursing psalms responsibly, we are able to name the wrongs people commit against us and others, giving them their full weight directly to God. But these psalms don’t just leave us there. They push us beyond our blind rage, no matter how justified it is, and lead us to God’s abundant grace—grace that God gives us, that God gives our enemies, and that we extend to one another.
God, we thank you for the psalms. We thank you for all the ways they help us express the depths of our anger and give us words to praise you through it. The cries of your people are never far from your ears. Amen.