Psalm 109

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The Hebrew expression natsách (preceded by the preposition “to”) is commonly thought to signify “to the musical director” or “leader.” In the Septuagint, the rendering is “to the end.” An ancient Latin translation of the Hebrew Psalter reads pro victoria (“for victory”), probably because of linking the Hebrew expression to a root meaning “to defeat.” This suggests that considerable uncertainty exists about the significance of natsách.

In the superscription, the composition is attributed to David and is called a “psalm.” The distressing circumstances in which he found himself appear to fit the period of Absalom’s revolt.


The expression “God of my praise” indicates that the psalmist recognized the Most High as the one deserving his exclusive praise. David prayed that the God whom he lauded would not “be silent,” failing to act in his defense.

He had become the object of malicious slander. The wicked spewed forth deceitful words from their mouths. They used their tongues to speak lies against David.

His foes spoke against him to such an extent that he felt “surrounded” by their hateful words, which were designed to harm him. They had no justification for their vicious attack. David had not mistreated them or in any other way provoked them to turn against him.

He had responded to them with love. In return for his love, they slandered him. The elliptical expression “and I—a prayer” probably means that David had prayed for them. All the good he had done for them and the love he had expressed to them, they “rewarded” with evil and hatred.

Verses 6 through 20 appear to express the deserved retribution to come upon any man guilty of the kind of malicious slander to which David had been submitted. May God appoint against the wicked one a man who is wicked like he is and have an opponent or “slanderer” (LXX) standing at his right hand. Positioned on his right, the opponent would be there as a counselor, giving the kind of advice that would prove to be injurious. When the wicked one faces judgment, he should be found guilty. His prayer (probably to escape the deserved punishment or to have it mitigated) should be reckoned as sin. The length of his life should be short (“his days few”), and someone else should take his position of “oversight.” (For additional comments on verse 8, see the Notes section.)

For the wicked one’s days to become few would mean that his “sons” or children would become fatherless and his wife a widow. Without a father to provide for them, the children would be forced to wander and to beg for food.

The Masoretic Text represents the divine retribution affecting the children to include their having to “seek out of ruins” or “ruined places.” This could mean that they would live in ruins or away from their ruined homes and would have to seek sustenance as beggars. A number of translations make the significance explicit. “Let his children wander about and beg; and let them seek sustenance far from their ruined homes.” (NASB) “Let his children wander as beggars, searching [for food] far from their demolished homes.” (HCSB) “May his children wander about and beg, seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!” (ESV) “May his children go around begging. And may they look for food far from their destroyed homes.” (NLB) “May his children wander from their hovels, beginning in search of [bread].” (Tanakh) “Let his children be vagabonds, and beg; and let them seek their bread out of their desolate places.” (Margolis)

According to the Septuagint, the children would be driven from their residences. This is also the thought expressed in numerous modern translations. “May his children be vagrant beggars, driven from their hovels.” (NAB) “May his children wander perpetually, beggars, driven from the ruins of their house.” (NJB) “May his children be homeless beggars; may they be driven from the ruins they live in!” (GNT, Second Edition) “May his children wander as beggars; may they be evicted from their ruined homes.” (NLT) “Make his children wander around, begging for food. Let them be forced out of the ruins in which they live.” (NCV)

Much of what the wicked one came to possess would have been acquired through questionable means. Retributive justice would require that he lose his possessions. May a creditor or a usurer take what he has, and may everything he may have gained through labor come to be the spoil of strangers, thus proving to be of no benefit to his family. May no one show kindness or compassion. There should be no pitying of his fatherless children.

The posterity of the wicked one should be cut off and no one of the second generation remain, their name being blotted out insofar as any record is concerned. According to the Septuagint rendering, his name should be blotted out in one generation. May YHWH take note of the guilt of his “fathers” or forefathers and let the sin of his mother not be blotted out, having the whole record of sin stand against the wicked one and then executing judgment against him according to this record. May YHWH have this cumulative sinful record (the guilt of the fathers and the sin of the mother) before him continually and abolish all memory of the wicked ones from the land.

The psalmist then set forth the reason for the severe retribution. The wicked one had not remembered to show kindness (“mercy,” LXX), giving no thought to those in need. Instead, “to their death,” he had pursued persons who were afflicted, poor, and brokenhearted (dejected in their inmost selves and overwhelmed with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness). His callousness in refusing to help the needy added to their suffering. When withholding from them provisions that could have preserved their lives, he contributed to their premature death. His failure to act compassionately was tantamount to murder.

“He loved to curse,” expressing himself abusively toward anyone who incurred his displeasure. Likely this would have included the poor whom he would have regarded with contempt. Therefore, he was the one who should have the curse come upon him. Having no concern for the welfare of others, the wicked one did not wish for YHWH’s blessing to be upon others. He did not like to bless. Consequently, he should be deprived of the blessing he had no desire to express. It should be “far away from him.”

For the ungodly one, cursing was so much a part of his way of life that he was clothed with it like a garment. So he should be made to feel the effect of his cursing. It should soak into his body like water and into his bones or his whole frame like oil. At all times, he should experience the consequences of his cursing. Just as a man daily clothed himself and girded himself, the wicked one should continually experience the bitter consequences of his cursing, which would enwrap him like a garment and gird him like a belt.

Relating the judgment that should befall the wicked one to his own foes, the psalmist declared that this is YHWH’s “reward” or “repayment” to those opposing or “slandering” (LXX) him and to those speaking evil against his “soul” or those who, by their talk, wanted to bring about his ruin.


David prayed that YHWH, for his own name’s sake, would come to his aid. He had put his full trust in him. Therefore, if YHWH did not provide the needed help, this would bring reproach on his name, making it appear that he was unable to deliver David. Indicating that he did not doubt God’s willingness to assist him, the psalmist acknowledged that YHWH’s abiding love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX) is “good.”

To call attention to the urgency of God’s action to deliver him, David portrayed himself as “poor and needy” or in a helpless and hopeless state. Within him, his heart was “pierced” or “wounded.” This may denote that he was distraught in his inmost self, overwhelmed with anxiety. According to the Septuagint, his heart was troubled inside him.

He thought of himself as being like a shadow in the evening, a shadow that is about to disappear. So he would soon be gone. He likened himself to a locust that is shaken off, perhaps meaning by the person on whom the insect alighted. This may refer to David’s being subjected to intense pressure, without anything to which he could cling to resist the forces arrayed against him.

Fasting had depleted his strength. He appears to have found it difficult to stand, for his knees had become weak. His “flesh” or his body had become emaciated. A literal reading of the Masoretic Text would be, “And my flesh became lean from oil [or fat].” Similarly obscure is the Septuagint reading, “And my flesh has been changed because of oil.” The thought may be that he had become thin on account of loss of fat or because of not having consumed olive oil.

To his enemies, the psalmist had become an object of reproach. Whenever seeing him, they would wag their heads in expression of mockery and contempt.

David again made his plea for YHWH to help him, saving him in expression of his abiding love, compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX). He wanted his enemies to know or be forced to recognize that he had been delivered by YHWH’s hand or power.

The psalmist was willing to let the godless ones continue with their cursing, but he longed for YHWH to bless him. Although hateful enemies had arisen or taken their stand against him, he looked confidently to the time when they would experience shame and he would be able to rejoice as one whom God had helped.

Those who opposed David, maliciously slandering him, should be clothed with dishonor, wrapped in their shame as with a garment.

The psalmist, however, resolved to give thanks to YHWH for his aid. He would open his mouth to express praise exceedingly, appreciatively acknowledging him. This he would do publicly, lauding God in the midst of many worshipers.

This psalm concludes with the reason for praise. God stands at the right hand of the needy one, revealing himself to be a dependable helper. YHWH is the one who saves the “soul” or life of the needy one from those who would hand down an unjust judgment against him. The extant Septuagint text ends with the psalmist speaking of God as saving his “soul” or life from his pursuers.


In verse 8, the Hebrew word pequddáh appears. This term, depending on the context, can mean “oversight,” “visitation,” “charge” (like something that has been entrusted), “commission,” or “punishment.” The Septuagint rendering is episkopé (“overseership,” “guardianship,” or “visitation”). Unlike many translations that render the Hebrew term as meaning an office or position, the Revised English Bible translates the term to mean possessions. “May his hoarded wealth be seized by another!” This rendering, however, does not agree with the Septuagint and how the words are applied in Acts 1:20.

The Septuagint reading (“may another take his overseership”), with the exception of a different form of the verb for “take” or “seize” (lambáno), is the same as the wording in Acts 1:20. The Acts account refers to Peter as using the expression of the psalmist to show that it was appropriate to find a replacement for Judas Iscariot, whose position had been vacated when he betrayed Jesus and subsequently committed suicide.

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.