At thanksgiving gatherings with Linda’s folks, Linda and I are usually the token religious. Not that her family is completely pagan, but the religious are vastly outnumbered by those who are either skeptics or agnostics. Within an hour or so of our arrival, I was asked for my opinion on the new prayer for Obama from Psalm 109:8.
If I had seen the bumper sticker, I might have assumed that this was a sincere prayer for the president. However, a quick check on the internet revealed something a bit different:
“May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership.” (NIV)
The verses that follow are even more sinister:
“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.
May his children be wandering beggars; may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has; may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the Lord, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.”
Although little surprises me these days, it is hard for me to believe that Christians would either forward this prayer to friends or stick it on their bumper. I thought about carrying a giant black marker in my car, just in case I ran across one. Too late. It seems that God, in his infinite wisdom, has already provided some help. On a deeper look, the prayer within the psalm, like much of scripture, has a wonderful way of biting back those who misuse it.
Now stay with me on this. Scot McKnight, biblical scholar and author of the “Jesus Creed” blog, recently offered a short interpretation of Psalm 109. The Psalm is part of a group of psalms, called imprecatory psalms. Basically, they’re psalms that cry out for justice and for the defeat of God’s enemies. David is telling God how he feels, and is denouncing those who defy him, God’s chosen leader.
Now get this: most interpreters agree that verses 6 through 19 are not David speaking, but they are the very insults that are being hurled at David by the enemies of God. Go back and check the psalm out and it makes perfect sense. Since there were no quotation marks in the original Hebrew text, these kinds of things have to be interpolated. But they are clearly directed not toward a group of enemies, but toward one person in leadership: King David. So Psalm 109:8 and what follows are not the words of God, or even the words of David, but the words of the ones who oppose God and hoped for the death of David and his family.
So in an odd, ironic twist, those who are praying the prayer are actually using the words of God’s enemies to pray. Strange that anyone who professes to follow Christ would align themselves with those who are actively working against God and God’s purposes.
Moral of the story? We best take care how we pray and what we pray for.