"God of my praise, do not be silent."
April 10th, 2019
From: "Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God's Lovingkindness"
"A Prayer of Honest Rage"
God of my praise, do not be silent.
For wicked and deceitful mouths open against me;
they speak against me with lying tongues.
They surround me with hateful words
and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
but I continue to pray.
They repay me evil for good,
and hatred for my love.
Set a wicked person over him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
When he is judged, let him be found guilty,
and let his prayer be counted as sin.
Let his days be few;
let another take over his position.
Let his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.
Let his children wander as beggars,
searching for food for from their demolished homes.
Let a creditor seize all he has;
let strangers plunder what he as worked for.
Let no one show him hesed,
and let no one be gracious to his fatherless children.
Let the line of his descendants be cut off;
let their name be blotted out in the next generation.
Let the iniquity of his fathers
be remembered before the LORD,
and do not let his mother's sin be blotted out.
Let their sins always remain before the LORD,
and let him remove all memory of them from the earth.
For he did not think to show hesed,
but pursued the suffering, needy, and brokenhearted
in order to put them to death.
He loved cursing - let it fall on him;
he took no delight in blessing - let it be far from him.
He wore cursing like his coat -
let it enter his body like water
and go into his bones like oil.
Let it be like a robe he wraps around himself,
like a belt he always wears.
Let this be the LORD's payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil against me.
But you, LORD, my Lord,
deal kindly with me for your name's sake'
because your hesed is good, rescue me.
For I am suffering and needy;
my heart is wounded within me.
I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak from fasting,
and my body is emaciated.
I have become an object of ridicule to my accusers;
when they see me, they shake their heads in scorn.
Help me, LORD my God;
save me according to your hesed
so they may know that this is your hand
and that you, LORD, have done it.
Though they curse, you will bless.
When they rise up, they will be put to shame,
but your servant will rejoice.
My accusers will be clothed with disgrace;
they will wear their shame like a cloak.
I will fervently thank the LORD with my mouth;
I will praise him in the presence of many.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy
to save him from those who would condemn him.
We usually skim or completely skip passages like Psalm 109. It does not belong in our modern world. It comes from a darker time. (As if there has ever been a time as dark as ours.). And after all, precisely because of hesed, aren't we supposed to love our enemies (Lk 6:27)?
Yet this is a psalm of hesed. The word occurs four times, in two negative examples and two positive. It is a psalm of David, who as we will see was a particular focus of hesed. If, like me, you've tended to pass by Psalm 109, then it is time to stop and look it squarely in the face. Perhaps we have not understood this psalm because we have violated the first commandment: to love God by listening (Deut 6:4-5).
If you pay close attention to Psalm 109, you will hear the anger of King David, who cares deeply for the poor. He mourns for them and with them and is outraged that an unnamed official, someone from his inner circle, someone David has actually loved and trusted, has violated that trust, has abused his authority, and, beyond all else, has failed to return the hesed that was shown to him.
The psalm opens with David's plea to the Lord to speak up, to no longer remain silent. This parallels the next verse, where David points out that someone is speaking up against him. (Note also Psalm 83, of Asaph, which is another "enemy psalm" and opens with a similar plea to God to speak.) David petitions God to become involved in what is pictured as a courtroom scene, whether figurative or actual. David pleads to the God of Exodus 34 to enter into a share his outrage that someone who was shown hesed has willfully and intentionally chosen not to return that lovingkindness to those who need it most, the poor.
Verse 16 is the key that unlocks the psalm. The nameless guilty official pursued the suffering and brokenhearted, going so far as to murder them. The severity of his crime explains the imprecations of verses 6-15. Each curse hopes that what this person has done to the poor, God, the One who will not leave the guilty unpunished, will in his hesed allow to happen to him: that someone equally wicked will be placed over him, for that is what the poor experienced under his evil term of office; that his days will be few, even as the lives of poor people were cut short under his tenure; that his children and wife will suffer in ways similar to how poor women and children have suffered; that he will wander as a beggar; that his home will be torn down, as their homes were destroyed; that creditors will seize his possessions. All because "he did not think to show hesed" (Ps 109:16).
David had placed this nameless official in a position of power to help the poor, had shown him royal hesed. He responded with hatred and evil (Ps 109:5). It is not some sort of official covenant he has violated. After all, hesed does not come from covenant; covenant comes from hesed. This unnamed evil person has desecrated a loving relationship of trust. David's expectation had been based on the hope that hesed would be returned to the poor with whom he stands in solidarity.
This psalm is not simply poetic words in black and white on a page. It represents the raw emotions of someone whose heart has been broken and who mourns and rages that the poor have suffered in the process. David, in fact, radically identifies with the poor (Ps 109:22).
David has learned that the only place he can take these dark emotions, his sense of outrage, his righteous anger, is to the God of hesed, who does not leave the guilty unpunished. On the basis of God's lovingkindness, David makes his appeal for God to act. His plea is that the Lord will respond because he shares the same outrage, the same deep disappointment, the same solidarity with the poor.
Walter Brueggemann says that such rage belongs in our prayer lives. If we understand and take seriously the God of hesed, along with David we will share the same outrage when those who have been given positions of power to help the suffering use that power to make themselves rich and abuse the poor in the process. In one sense they have become our enemies, who Jesus himself says we must love (Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27, 35). But in order to love our enemies, we must first acknowledge that we have enemies and identify just who they are. Too often Jesus' radical command to love our enemies is watered down, reduced to a platitude. In fact, it is a fundamental demand, but it's impossible to accomplish without his mercy at work in us, his hesed becoming enfleshed in our lives.
Loving your enemies is a grueling task. The significant lesson we learn from David and Psalm 109 is that we do not take our anger and outrage to the streets or to Washington first, but to the One we hope and trust and believe cares more deeply for the poor than we ever will, even as at the same time he cares for our enemies. The failure to show hesed has consequences (Mt 5:7). When our hearts have been sufficiently transformed to feel the outrage, David teaches us to offer it up as an act of worship to the One who we trust is even more disappointed and outraged himself and who will act on behalf of the poor out of his just mercy, out of infinite and enduring hesed.