The morning psalm in today’s Daily Office is Psalm 109. However, the recommended reading includes on the beginning (verses 1-5) and the ending (verses 21-31). And if there’s one thing I’m learning as I read the Daily Office this year, it’s that “omitted verses” are often the ones that require the most attention.
Psalm 109 begins in a fairly typical way; the poet calls on the Lord because he feels like he’s a victim of the evil schemes of others:
My God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for people who are wicked and deceitful
have opened their mouths against me;
they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
With words of hatred they surround me;
they attack me without cause. (verses 1-3)
The ending, too, calls out to God for deliverance and expresses trust that the Lord will answer the psalmists prayer:
But you, Sovereign LORD,
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. (verse 21)
With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD;
in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
to save their lives from those who would condemn them. (verses 30-31)
But what comes in between is a rather bitter and mean-spirited rant in which the psalmist calls on the Lord to destroy his foe:
May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow. (verse 9)
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor. (verse 11)
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. (verse 14)
May this be the LORD’s payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil of me. (verse 20)
Now, I don’t know how you feel about these words. But they seem to me to be somewhat “out of step” with the spirit that we’re encouraged to adopt in the rest of scripture (and especially in the teaching of Jesus). There’s no acknowledgement of personal fault. There’s no grace offered to the enemy. There’s no movement toward reconciliation and peace.
Then again, if we’re honest, sometimes (and maybe too often? we are “out of step” with the spirit that God is trying to create within us. Sometimes we feel bitter and vengeful and full of hate. But there are some feelings, I think, that only God need hear. What this psalm suggests, I believe, is that we can (and should) bring even our dark and less-than-godly feelings to the Lord and leave them there, trust Him to be the One who defends us and who works both within and around us for our redemption.
Many years later, the Apostle Paul would put it like this:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Someday, our transformation will be complete. Someday, we’ll be like Christ and will no longer struggle with feelings of hatred and revenge. But until that day comes, may we take “what only God need hear” – and ask Him to work in both our hearts and our lives in such a manner that the character of Christ comes shining through.