A Vengeful Heart
(6) Appoint a wicked person over him. Let an accuser stand at his right hand. (7) When he is judged, let him be found guilty, and let his prayers be counted as sin. (8) May his days be few. Let another take his position. (9) May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. (10) May his children wander about and beg. Let them seek (sustenance) far from their ruined homes. (11) May the creditor seize all that he has, and let strangers plunder his labor. (12) Let there be no one to show him steadfast love, nor let anyone be gracious to his fatherless children.
We encounter two repetitions in these grim verses: “children” or “sons” (vss. 9 & 10) and “fatherless” (vss. 9 & 12). The psalmist is asking God to destroy the families of his enemies in this vindictive series of petitions. The verbs are mostly jussives, imperatival in mood, as the author forcefully pours out his bitterness before God. Contemporary readers cringe as we read through the maledictions of this section, each request a curse on the psalmist’s enemy and on his offspring. We ask ourselves, “Can a passage like this really be part of the text of Scripture?”
Prayer for vengeance against the enemy
- against him personally (6-8)
- against his family and all that he owns (9-12)
Due to the horrible ways our enemies have treated us, we cry out to God for vengeance.
Is it ever right to curse a fellow human being because of ill treatment? Is there ever a place in a disciple’s heart for the kinds of emotions expressed in this psalm? When confronted with a passage like this, its author filled with anger and the desire for retribution, serious followers of Christ invariably think of Jesus’ command in his Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). We might add to this Paul’s exhortation to believers at the end of Romans 12: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Do not take revenge, my 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’” (Rom. 12:17-20).
What can we possibly learn from a segment where the psalmist cries out for vengeance? Two answers come to mind. First, David was expressing his strong emotions openly and frankly before God. He was not trying to hide nor deny the depth of his anger toward those who had betrayed him and had treated him with contempt. If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that on occasion we share the same animosity toward those who have wreaked havoc in our lives.
Then, we should take note that David went to the right place with his strong feelings, to Yahweh in prayer. While he was quite specific in telling God how he wanted his enemies treated, he left revenge in God’s hands rather than seeking retribution on his own. That sets a good example for us. We must learn to turn our hateful thoughts and desires over to God’s care and keeping, knowing that he has promised to vindicate us when he is ready to do so.