The Accused and the Accuser: Commentary on Psalms 108
Psalm 108 (Douay Rheims) reflects a common problem which we have all experienced. The psalm describes the reactions of a man who has been unjustly accused, wrongly treated. He has been set upon by those who are attempting to destroy him, yet without a cause.
It is clearly a psalm of someone who is deeply, deeply disturbed.
The opening words of the psalm, set before us the problem that the falsely accused faces.
Unto the end, a psalm for David. O God, be not thou silent in my praise: for the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful man is opened against me. They have spoken against me with deceitful tongues; and they have compassed me about with words of hatred; and have fought against me without cause. Instead of making me a return of love, they detracted me: but I gave myself to prayer. And they repaid me evil for good: and hatred for my love. (Psalms 108:1-5)
Here is a man who is under attack and that from rather unscrupulous persons. Those who attack him so bitterly are obviously not to be trusted. "They are deceitful," he says, "they are wicked","they are opened against me", that is to say they are to publicly attack the man and they are thoroughly unscrupulous; they do not care what they say or what they do. With deceitful tongues they are out to destroy him.
Perhaps some of you have had this experience. You have been unjustly accused by someone who has deliberately sought to slander you, to smear your character, or ruin your reputation, and you know just how this man felt. Furthermore, these people are wholly unjustified in this attack. He says they do this "without cause," at least as far as the Psalmist can see, and we take him to be an honest man. He sees absolutely no reason for their accusations. They are afflicting him, upsetting him, and attacking him without him having given them any reason to do so.
In verses 4-5 it is apparent that this man has tried to remedy the situation, but it has come to a place where it is humanly hopeless. He has tried to answer these people in the right way. He says,
Instead of making me a return of love, they detracted me: but I gave myself to prayer. And they repaid me evil for good: and hatred for my love. (Psalms 108:4-5)
This man understands that "a soft answer turns away wrath,"....
and he has tried that with them. He has followed the Catholic Churches standard by praying for those who hate him and despitefully use him. We are to love those who persecute us and try to do good toward them. This man has done that, yet it has not altered the situation. His enemies have not ceased their attack; they are just as vicious, just as malicious, just as fiercely hostile as they were before, and now he does not know what to do next. This is the problem that faces him at this point.
Now according to the next verses it sounds as though he gives up. He has tried the right thing, and it doesn't work so he gives up. It is very much as you sometimes hear the Sermon on the Mount quoted. "If someone smites you on the right cheek, turn to him the other cheek" -- and then, POW, let him have it! It almost sounds as though this man is doing this. He has tried the right thing and when it didn't work he lets them have it. Listen to the harsh criticism that pours out!
Set thou the sinner over him: and may the devil stand at his right hand. When he is judged, may he go out condemned; and may his prayer be turned to sin. May his days be few: and his bishopric let another take. May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be carried about vagabonds, and beg; and let them be cast out of their dwellings. May the usurer search all his substance: and let strangers plunder his labours. May there be none to help him: nor none to pity his fatherless offspring. May his posterity be cut off; in one generation may his name be blotted out. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered in the sight of the Lord: and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. May they be before the Lord continually, and let the memory of them perish from the earth: (Psalms 109:6-15)
What strong language! What hostility! How fierce is the insults and abuse here!
Some who read this would think that the accused is the one who is saying this. This man is not saying this himself, but is quoting what his enemies say about him. In Hebrew there is no way of indicating a quotation, as we do in English, with quotation marks. There are no quotation marks in Hebrew, so the Psalmist simply has to run on. But there are several things which give us a clue that it is the false accuser who is being quoted:
First, you will notice a very remarkable and immediate change of attitude between verses 5 and 6. In verse 5 he says, "They repaid me evil for good," ( I am doing good to them; they do evil back), "and hatred for my love." Now it seems to me incredible that a man should so suddenly turn from an expression of love and of warmth to one of such violent and appalling insults. So there is a drastic change of attitude which comes in here.
Second, there is a change of number that occurs. We must have a little lesson in grammar here. Notice that in verses 1-5 you have his enemies referred to in the plural, "them," "they;" but now suddenly it has become "he." If this Psalmist is going on now describing what he wants to have happen to his enemies, it is difficult to explain this sudden change of number. Why does it suddenly become "he" instead of "they"? But if what he is doing is quoting what they say about him, it makes perfect sense. The harsh words fit best in the mouths of the psalmist's accusers.
So we see that this entire portion from verse 6 through verse 19 should be put in quotation marks. Perhaps you might like to mark your own Bible that way. He is simply revealing what these people have said about him that distresses him so, and which makes him cry out before God. They are so fierce and unrelenting in their hostility, and from their language, we get a glimpse of the intensity of their hatred.
In verses 6-15 there is a revelation of the strategy they have devised against him. Notice what they are after.
First, they want to rig a false trial. They want to get him before the law on a false charge and arrange a false witness to accuse him and thus gain a legal condemnation. Note the cleverness of these people. They are not going to waylay him and murder him; they would be open to charges themselves if they did that, but they are going to destroy him legally. They have figured out a way by which they can rig the trial and get him condemned, and do it all legally. Then they mean to accomplish his death. They want a death sentence.
May his days be few: and his bishopric let another take. May his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be carried about vagabonds, and beg; and let them be cast out of their dwellings....(Psalms 108:8-10)
Clearly they are out to destroy him physically.
Then they want to take everything he has. Their hatred is so terrible that they want to leave nothing for his wife and children but wish to destroy them as well.
May the usurer search all his substance: and let strangers plunder his labours. May there be none to help him: nor none to pity his fatherless offspring. (Psalms 108:11-12)
Finally, so fierce, so appalling is their revenge that they even want to carry it on before God himself. The attempt is made on their part to seek his eternal damnation. Their prayer is,
May his posterity be cut off; in one generation may his name be blotted out. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered in the sight of the Lord: and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out. May they be before the Lord continually, and let the memory of them perish from the earth: (Psalms 108:13-15)
To put it bluntly, what they are asking for is that God should damn this man. They are saying, "God, damn him!" Now is it not rather revealing that this is the most common oath heard today? When hatred rises in the heart, the easiest thing for men to say is "God, damn him!" Hatred seeks the ultimate destruction, even the eternal destruction of an individual. The ultimate wish of hate is that God would damn.
Now the psalmist lists the reasons his enemies give for this bitter and abusive language. What is it this man has done that makes them so vindictive, so filled with fierce hatred? He lists the two reasons they set forth. First,
...because he remembered not to shew mercy, But persecuted the poor man and the beggar; and the broken in heart, to put him to death. (Psalms 108:16)
From their point of view that was the way it looked. You can see in this that strange twisting of reason that occurs when we act in self defense; that strange rationalizing by which we appear to be ourselves the victims of injustice, even though we may well deserve what is happening to us. This is what these men are feeling. They are blaming this poor man, saying that he did not remember to show kindness but pursued the poor and needy and brokenhearted to their death, but all the time it was they who were doing it.
I am blown away by how prevalent this is in human nature.
A while back a trial was concluded in a city in California.The trial was about a man who was on trial for his life. He was charged with the rape and murder of a young woman who stopped by his service station late one night to get the lights on her car fixed. In a very cruel and terrible manner he had destroyed this woman. All the ugly facts were brought out at the trial and the jury brought in their verdict. He was found guilty and the judge sentenced him to death. According to the papers, when the sentence was pronounced the parents of this man stood up and shook their fists at the judge and the jury and threatened them, charging them with injustice, although the man was caught red-handed in his guilt. There is this strange reaction in humanity which blames another for the things we ourselves have caused.
The second reason for his enemies' hatred is like the first. They said of him,
And he loved cursing, and it shall come unto him: and he would not have blessing, and it shall be far from him. And he put on cursing, like a garment: (Psalms 108 17-18a)
Again they are blaming him to justify their own cursing. They have just cursed him, they have just said, "May God damn you!" But to justify it they say, "Well, that's what he said to us!" Again, this is human nature, is it not?
There were two children, a boy and a girl fighting. the Parent of one of the children saw it and broke up the quarrel saying to them, "Who started this?" The boy said, "She did! She hit me back!" How true that is to our nature. We love to blame the other. We accuse others of the very things for which we are guilty. That is what is happening here.
Notice how they intensify this.
.......and it went in like water into his entrails, and like oil in his bones. May it be unto him like a garment which covereth him; and like a girdle with which he is girded continually. (Psalms 108:18b-19)
So terrible is their hatred, so venomous is their fierce reaction, that they intensify language to the ultimate refinement of malice. They pour out insults upon him to justify their own hate.
Before we go on to look at the psalmist's reaction perhaps it might be well to note one further thing in this section. In verse 8 are words which are taken by the Holy Spirit and applied, in the New Testament, to Judas Iscariot.
May his days be few: and his bishopric let another take. (Psalms 108:8)
Or literally, "May another take his office!" You will recall that in the first chapter of Acts the eleven apostles are gathered together to appoint a successor to Judas. St. Peter quotes from two of the psalms to justify that appointment. One of them is Psalm 68 which stated, "Let their habitation be made desolate," and the other is this verse from Psalm 108, "and his bishopric let another take!" This has raised the suggestion that perhaps this whole passage applied to Judas, that it is all a prediction of the terrible fate that would await Judas Iscariot; his wife and children would be left desolate and he himself would be damned of God.
Perhaps that view is justified in the light of the New Testament. Remember that it was Jesus who said,
"The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born." (Matthew 26:24).
At any rate this indicates that cursing, though men do it rather lightly, has a terrible reality about it. There is really such a thing as being cursed. There is such a thing as being damned. What makes cursing so terrible is that men take it upon themselves to pronounce this sentence of damnation and they do it in the lightest way, as though it were nothing. When you hear someone say, "God damn you!" remember that it is a terrible thing to say, an awful thing which only God has the right to say.
Now let us look at the reaction of the accused. Here he is in this terrible situation with his enemies attempting to take his life. He has tried the right way to react but it does not seem to work. He does not know what to do now. He cries before God.
This is the work of them who detract me before the Lord; and who speak evils against my soul. (Psalms 108:20)
What shall he do? Well, what he does is beautiful. He commits the whole matter to the Lord in prayer.
This closing prayer of the psalm is a marvelous picture of the right attitude, the right reaction, the right way to handle this kind of a situation. Listen to it.
But thou, O Lord, do with me for thy name' s sake: because thy mercy is sweet. Do thou deliver me, for I am poor and needy, and my heart is troubled within me. I am taken away like the shadow when it declineth: and I am shaken off as locusts. My knees are weakened through fasting: and my flesh is changed for oil. And I am become a reproach to them: they saw me and they shaked their heads. (Psalms 108:21-25)
Notice that the first thing he does is to commit the cause to God. "But thou, O Lord, do with me for thy name' s sake:!"
Here is a man who understands the nature of reality. He understands how life operates. He understands the truth behind the admonition of Scripture,
"Revenge is mine, and I will repay them in due time," (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19).
Revenge is mine! Don't you try it, don't you attempt it. Don't try to "get even" because if you do you'll only make the matter worse. You will perpetuate a feud that may go on for years, even for centuries, destroying, wrecking, damaging others and creating all kinds of difficulties both for them and for you. No, no, revenge is mine, says the Lord. I am the only one who has the wisdom adequate to handle this kind of a problem. This man recognizes that and commits the cause to God.
But he also understands something else. He understands that God's name is involved in all this.
When God's people are being persecuted then God is also being persecuted.
His name is involved in it. It is up to God to defend that name, not man. Recall that when St. Paul, then called Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Damascus road and the Lord Jesus appeared to him in light brighter than the sun, that Saul cried out to him and said, "Lord, who are you?" Jesus said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." Saul was persecuting the Christians, but when he was persecuting them he was also persecuting the Lord. God is involved in his people's trials. God is involved in what happens to his own.
The Psalmist, understanding this, commits the whole cause to God and says, "God, you deal with it. It is your problem. Your name is involved; you handle it on my behalf for your name's sake." Is that not a thoroughly Catholic reaction? Listen to St. Peter as he shows us that this was exactly the reaction of the Lord Jesus, himself.
Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth. Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly. (1 Peter 2:22-23)
St. Peter says he has left us an example that we should follow in his steps. He delivered himself to him who judges justly.
We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us. "He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day." There may come hours in our lives when we shall be misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court and lays it before his God.
That is what this man has done. He has laid it before God. Then he cries out for strength. He himself is in need.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is troubled within me. I am taken away like the shadow when it declineth: and I am shaken off as locusts. My knees are weakened through fasting: and my flesh is changed for oil. (Psalms 108:22-24)
It is a difficult thing to endure slander. It is hard; it does something to you; takes something out of you. When I read this my reaction was, "Lord, is this what I do to people when I accuse them? Is this what I have done to others? Made them feel like this? What an awful thing!" This man cries out to God for help in his physical weakness, in his humiliation and the scorn that he feels heaped upon him.
Then he asks for vindication, and he does it on two grounds:
Help me, O Lord my God; save me according to thy mercy. And let them know that this is thy hand: and that thou, O Lord, hast done it. They will curse and thou will bless: let them that rise up against me be confounded. (Psalms 108:26-28a)
.....but thy servant shall rejoice. Let them that detract me be clothed with shame: and let them be covered with the their confusion as with a double cloak. (Psalms 108:28b-29)
Now notice what this man is doing. He is asking God to vindicate him, but to do it in such a way as to reveal the fact that God is doing it.
He says, "Now, Lord, let them curse. I can't stop them, and you may not choose to, but if you let them curse, bless me anyhow so that they will see that you are not cursing me; it is they who are doing it. Give me inner strength, inner blessing, so that I can remain calm, untroubled and undistressed in the midst of the cursing. Then men will see that it is your hand that is holding me up, your hand that is strengthening me.
Second, do it in such a way as to make the accusers ashamed of themselves." Now he does not mean "put to shame" in the sense of heaping scorn and humiliation upon them; he means let them be ashamed of themselves, let them see the facts in such a light that eventually they'll be sorry, be ashamed, that they ever attempted anything like this, because it is so unjustified. "Lord, vindicate me in that way."
Once again this is exactly in line with the New Testament. Again in First Peter, Chapter 3, St. Peter says,
But with modesty and fear, having a good conscience: that whereas they speak evil of you, they may be ashamed who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. (1 Peter 3:16)
It is the same thing, you see. If you are in this situation, keep your conscience clear. Don't return in kind. Don't strike back. Don't curse, don't revile, don't attack, don't try to get even, don't avenge yourself; but walk with God. Those who revile your good behavior will be brought to shame, brought at last to the place where they are ashamed of themselves.
Someone has beautifully expressed that truth this way:
When you are neglected or snubbed or insulted, and you're able to thank God for the experience, accepting it as allowed by him for your spiritual development, that is victory.
When you're seeking to serve him faithfully and you find yourself criticized severely for the way you do it, and you accept the criticism patiently for his sake -- that is victory.
When you are slandered and your motives are disputed and you do not complain but receive it in love and as a measure of the filling up of that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ -- that is victory.
Such a victory can only be won in the yieldedness of self to Christ.
This is the note on which this psalm closes. It is a note of affirmation, of confidence.
I will give great thanks to the Lord with my mouth: and in the midst of many I will praise him. Because he hath stood at the right hand of the poor, to save my soul from persecutors.(Psalms 108:30-31)
Recall that in verse 6 this man's enemies had wanted to appoint an accuser to stand at his right hand and condemn him. But he closes the psalm by saying that he realizes it is God who stands at the right hand of the needy, God who makes their cause his own, God who knows a thousand ways to work it all out without violence, without the perpetuation of hatred, without the destruction of lives; to bring truth to light and to establish the facts in such a way that even the accusers will be ashamed of themselves that they ever attempted such a thing. How wise it is to commit our cause to God in times like this.