They are Satan but I am prayer — Psalm 109

Psalms of David

“It’s good to talk.” So said the BT (British Telecom) adverts back in the 1990s. This is true, it is good to talk, even if it is a complaint. But it is also good to complain well. Psalm 109 is a complaint to God, a complaint which has been sung by Jews and Christians in synagogues and churches for centuries. We have taken the complaints of David and made them our own.

Claiming things as our own is the theme of this post.

Cartoon: A clown in full make up is manning a window marked "Complaints Dept."
Complaints – The clown
Free stock picture from Public Domain Pictures

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

109 Be not silent, O God of my praise!
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
    speaking against me with lying tongues.
They encircle me with words of hate,
    and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
    but I give myself to prayer.
So they reward me evil for good,
    and hatred for my love.
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!
May his children be fatherless
    and his wife a widow!
10 May his children wander about and beg,
    seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
11 May the creditor seize all that he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
12 Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
    nor any to pity his fatherless children!
13 May his posterity be cut off;
    may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before 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 For he did not remember to show kindness,
    but pursued the poor and needy
    and the broken-hearted, to put them to death.
17 He loved to curse; let curses come upon him!
    He did not delight in blessing; may it be far from him!
18 He clothed himself with cursing as his coat;
    may it soak[d] into his body like water,
    like oil into his bones!
19 May it be like a garment that he wraps round him,
    like a belt that he puts on every day!
20 May this be the reward of my accusers from the Lord,
    of those who speak evil against my life!

21 But you, O God my Lord,
    deal 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 stricken 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, with no fat.
25 I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
    when they see me, they wag 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!
    They arise and are put to shame, but your servant will be glad!
29 May my accusers be clothed with dishonour;
    may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a cloak!
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 one,
    to save him from those who condemn his soul to death.

Psalm 109 ESV UK


Many people do not like to complain. They are afraid that they will be met by someone like the clown in the cartoon at the top of this post, or be insulted, ignored, or given promises that are not kept. We have all been fobbed off like that.

Others do not complain well. Instead of taking their complaints to authorities that can do something they complain to people with no power in that area. Most people’s family and friends will not be able to help.

God is able to help. God listens to our complaints and does not fob us off. There is absolutely no reason not to bring our complaints to God, it does not show a lack of trust, but faith that God can not only help but will help. Some people complain about the complaining psalms, as well as the lamenting psalms and those which are rants. This is because God cares and wants to be involved in all parts of our lives. So on to Psalm 109: Let the complaining begin.

It’s a longish psalm, so this is a tour of the main themes. Verse 4 says In return for my love they accuse me, but I give myself to prayer. The word for accuse in Hebrew is the same as we translate as Satan and the Hebrew of I give myself to prayer can also be translated as I am prayer, so we can read this verse as “In return for my love they are Satan, but I am prayer.”

Claiming God’s Promises

Verse 6 continues: Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. Ungodly government is a form of God’s punishment. This theme started in the book of Judges and goes through Jeremiah John Calvin wrote: “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers”. The Bible also says in Jeremiah 23:19 “See, the storm of the LORD will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked.” That does not mean that every bad government is the judgement of God. Bad government in democracies can be treated as bad choices and overthrown in a few years at the ballot. But God can judge people by giving them bad government. The old oriental curse comes to mind, “May you live in interesting times and come to the attention of the authorities.

The second half of verse 6 says: let an accuser stand at his right hand. A Jewish translation into English has Let Satan stand at his right hand. They are working for Satan, give them over to Satan to deal with them. I am saying them although the Hebrew is singular because it is clear that more than one person is speaking against David. Firstly David is claiming the promises of God for the end of time when all shall be judged for himself so that his enemies get judged in the present. He is not asking for immediate judgement, Gud’s judgement is nor yet, but it is sure. The judgement is not yet but fair – God allows rime fir people to repent and we hear in the New Testament that God wishes that everyone will come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

The singular in verses 7-16 Is not calling for judgement but prophesying what would happen using prophetic language to describe Gods judgement on those who are against David as if they were just a single person. God will judge fairly. Whether we feel it or not God is among us.

Verse 16 Says: He did not remember, we are still using a prophetic singular tense here; he, the accuser, had been told or shown to show kindness. It is not that he never knew, you cannot remember things you have not been shown.

In verse 21 David looks at his own misery and prays for help, again showing faith by claiming God’s promises for himself and showing how he lives by them. He concludes by promising to praise God. At the end, in verse 31 God stands at the right hand of the poor, the same place where Satan stands on the right hand of the wicked earlier in the psalm. Be like God. Do not stand with people who would exploit others, stand with the poor and vulnerable.

< Psalm 108 | Psalm 109 | Psalm 110 >
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