PSALM 109
 
Samuel Lampert, Rosalie Tepper, and Kimberly Wachs
 
Text
 
Explication  
 
Response
 
Of Robin
 
Re-Texting
 
TEXT
 
(An eclectic text)
 
God Whom I praise, do not be silent.
For the mouths of the wicked and the deceitful
have been opened against me;
they speak to me with lying tongue.
They encircle me with words of hate;
they fight against me for no reason.
Instead of loving me they detest me
and I must stand for judgement.
They repay me with evil for good,
with hatred for my love.
 
Appoint a wicked man over him;
may an accuser stand at his right side;
may he be tried and convicted;
may he be judged and found guilty.
May his days be few;
may another take over his position.
May his children be orphans,
his wife a widow.
Let his children be continually on the move, begging;
let them seek alms
from within the decrepit buildings they inhabit.
May his creditor seize all his possessions;
may strangers plunder his wealth.
May no one show him mercy;
may none pity his orphans;
may his end be to be cut off;
may their names be blotted out in the next generation.
May God be ever mindful of his father's iniquity,
and may the sin of his mother not be blotted out.
May the Lord be aware of them always
and cause their names to be cut off from the earth.
 
Because he did not remember
to act in lovingkindness
but persecuted the suffering poor
to deal the death blow to the crushed in heart.
He loved to curse
may a curse come upon him!
He would not bless
may blessing be far from him!
May he be clothed in a curse like a garment,
may it enter his body like water,
his bones like oil.
Let it be like the cloak he wraps around him,
like the belt he always wears.
May the Lord thus repay my accusers,
and all those who speak evil against me.
 
Now You, O God, my Lord,
act on my behalf as befits your name.
Good and faithful as You are, save me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is hollow within me.
I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
I am shaken off like locusts.
My knees give way from fasting;
my flesh is lean, has lost its fat.
I am the object of their scorn;
when they see me, they shake their head.
Help me, O Lord, my God;
save me in accord with Your faithfulness,
that men may know that it is Your hand,
that You, O Lord, have done it.
Let them curse, but You bless;
let them rise up, but come to grief,
while Your servant rejoices.
My accusers shall be clothed in shame,
wrapped in their disgrace as in a robe.
 
My mouth shall sing much praise to the Lord;
I will acclaim Him in the midst of a throng,
because He stands at the right hand of the suffering,
to save her from those who pass judgement against her very being.
 
EXPLICATION
Kimberly Wachs 
 
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God Whom I praise, do not be silent.
For the mouths of the wicked and the deceitful
have been opened against me;
they speak to me with lying tongue.
They encircle me with words of hate;
they fight against me for no reason.
The psalmist is asking God's help because a group of people is causing him harm by lying and saying malicious things. The speaker feels he has done nothing to provoke it.
 
Instead of loving me they detest me
and I must stand for judgement.
They repay me with evil for good,
with hatred for my love.
The relationship between the psalmist and his antagonists should be one of love, thus increasing the pain caused by the situation.
 
Appoint a wicked man over him;
may an accuser stand at his right side;
may he be tried and convicted;
may he be judged and found guilty.
Here he refers to his opponent in the singular, implying that one person is leading the group in their actions. This is the beginning of a long passage of curses stating how the speaker wishes his enemy to be punished. The first curse is for the enemy to be convicted of a crime in court.
 
May his days be few;
may another take over his position.
The speaker is so enraged that he wants his enemy to die and be replaced by someone else.
 
May his children be orphans,
his wife a widow.
Let his children continually on the move, begging;
let them seek alms
from within the decrepit buildings they inhabit.
The psalmist even wishes evil for the family of his enemy. Not only does he want the children to be orphaned by their fathers' death, but he wants them to be reduced to homeless beggars.
 
May his creditor seize all his possessions;
may strangers plunder his wealth.
The speaker wants his enemy to leave no inheritance.
 
May no one show him mercy;
may none pity his orphans;
may his end be to be cut off;
may their names be blotted out in the next generation.
Again, we see that the psalmist wishes harm for his enemy's children. He hopes that the lineage will be cut off so there will be no descendants of the evildoer.
 
May God be ever mindful of his father's iniquity,
and may the sin of his mother not be blotted out.
May the Lord be aware of them always
and cause their names to be cut off from the earth.
He condemns his enemy's parents for the sin of raising a child to be such a terrible person.
 
Because he did not remember
to act in lovingkindness
but persecuted the suffering poor
to deal the death blow to the crushed in heart.
Here we see that the evildoer has done more than just acts of speech such as cursing and lying. He has also persecuted the poor, sometimes leading to their death.
 
He loved to curse
may a curse come upon him!
He would not bless
may blessing be far from him!
The speaker wants his enemy to endure the curses he says about others, and not have the benefit of blessings he does not say for others.
 
May he be clothed in a curse like a garment,
may it enter his body like water,
his bones like oil.
Let it be like the cloak he wraps around him,
like the belt he always wears.
The psalmist gives physical attributes to curses, metaphorically stating how he wants them to harm his tormentor. The curses should permeate his body, affecting him internally, and his clothing as a sign to all who see him.
 
May the Lord thus repay my accusers,
and all those who speak evil against me.
Here he mentions his opponents in the plural again, indicating that he wishes these curses to befall all of them.
 
Now You, O God, my Lord,
act on my behalf as befits your name.
Good and faithful as You are, save me.
The psalmist reminds God of His covenant and asks for help.
 
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is hollow within me.
I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
This is the beginning of several statements in the first person describing the speaker's condition. He is poor and emotionally drained.
 
I am shaken off like locusts.
He is carelessly pushed aside by others.
 
My knees give way from fasting;
my flesh is lean, has lost its fat.
He has been unable to eat; his health is suffering as a result.
 
I am the object of their scorn;
when they see me, they shake their head.
His reputation has been damaged.
 
Help me, O Lord, my God;
save me in accord with Your faithfulness,
that men may know that it is Your hand,
that You, O Lord, have done it.
Again he asks God for help. He mentions that it would benefit God in addition to himself because it would be a sign of God's power.
 
Let them curse, but You bless;
let them rise up, but come to grief,
while Your servant rejoices.
He will celebrate when his enemies are finally defeated.
 
My accusers shall be clothed in shame,
wrapped in their disgrace as in a robe.
This is the last curse, reusing clothing as a metaphor. He wants his enemies' disgrace to be visible to the public.
 
My mouth shall sing much praise to the Lord;
I will acclaim Him in the midst of a throng,
because He stands at the right hand of the suffering,
to save him from those who pass judgement against his very being.
In these last lines the psalmist celebrates God in anticipation of the defeat of his attackers and the resulting deliverance from his suffering.
 
RESPONSE
Rosalie Tepper
 
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(based on the JPS translation)

Psalm 109 confronts the reader with rage, with revenge, with pain and hatred. This presents a problem. Surely biblical poetry should be more sophisticated and gentle than Psalm 109, so there must be some sort of misunderstanding or mistake, right?

There are several ways of dealing with the problem of outright rage in this psalm. One is to take the "curse" section of psalm 109, verses 6 through 20, and ascribe them to a different voice than the rest of the verses. By introducing a second character, one can say that the curse section is spoken by the one who is doing evil to the speaker of the rest of the psalm. This is plausible since it is characteristic of psalms to change voices often and without warning or explanation. However, this method also creates problems of its own. The curse section lists several evil doings of the person to whom the curses are directed, yet we are led to believe by the rest of the psalm that the speaker is an honest, righteous man. It is therefore unlikely that such things would be said about him. Secondly, the curse section ends with an appeal to God, asking that the aforementioned list of curses should be sent upon those who "speak evil against" the speaker. It is likewise unlikely that an evildoer would be addressing God in this way. So several inconsistencies become evident when trying to explain the curses by voicing them from the enemy's point of view.

A second way of dealing with the curse section is to explain away the severity of the words. One could say that the psalmist is merely venting anger. He would never actually wish an enemy's children to be orphans and beggars unless he was still caught in the heat and anger of the moment. Or one could say that the psalmist is praying these curses knowing that God would never actually deliver something so evil on his behalf. Explanations such as these serve to comfort the reader. Surely it is easier to deal with a psalm that doesn't truly mean these awful things. Certainly it is inappropriate to pray these things.

Personally, I find fault with diluting a psalm until it is easy to swallow. It is true that this psalm contains the very worst one could ever wish on another human being. This psalm was written to be forceful and perhaps shocking. Did the psalmist actually mean to ask this horrible revenge from God? The evidence is in the language of the psalm. These curses are not clothed in metaphor. They are direct, saying "may his days be few," (verse 8) and "may none pity his orphans." (verse 12) These are not wishy-washy ideas, and the psalmist asks God directly to "thus repay my accusers." (verse 20) There is no denying what the psalm actually says. Any type of dilution of the meaning serves to weaken the psalm, and what is the purpose of reading a psalm after you have weakened it? Why not read something else?

The Hebrew Bible is not a "nice" book. It was not written to be comforting and sweet. There are many stories that would be far too violent or explicit to read to a child at bedtime. The fact remains that Psalm 109 was chosen, perhaps out of thousands of others, to be included in the one-hundred-fifty that appear in the scriptures. Like all psalms it is meant to be said in the presence of God. Is this theologically dangerous ground? Of course. But theology is not an easy matter. What is the use of a Bible that does not help us deal with base rage? If the Bible does not span the entire breadth of human feeling, than it will become useless to us in the most important of times. By weakening this psalm, one only serves to weaken human emotion.

Is it ethically correct to ask these curses to come down from God onto another human being? Most would agree that it is not, at least not in any situation that most people can imagine. This is beside the point. If there is a possibility for such a situation to exist where these curses would be warranted, there must be a way to express the subsequent rage and deal with it together with God.
 
OF ROBIN
 
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From the failure's collection. Of Robin.
 
O praiseworthy God,
keep still no longer.
For I, wicked and deceitful,
am about to open my mouth.
 
I will speak with lying tongue
and encircle myself with words of hate;
I will needlessly attack myself.
Although, instead of loving myself, I will detest myself,
I must intercede.
For I will impose evil upon myself in place of good,
hate in place of love.
 
Appoint a wicked man over me;
may an accuser stand at my right side;
may I be tried and convicted;
may I be judged and found guilty.
May my days be few;
may another take over my position.
May my children be orphans,
my wife a widow.
May my children wander from their hovels,
begging in search of [bread].
May my creditors seize all my possessions;
may strangers plunder my wealth.
May no one show me mercy;
may none pity my orphans;
may my posterity be cut off;
may their names be blotted out in the next generation.
May God be ever mindful of my father's iniquity,
and may the sin of my mother not be blotted out.
May the Lord be always aware of my parents
and cause their names to be cut off from the earth.
Because I did not remember
to act in loving-kindness,
I have hounded to death a poor and needy man.
I have crushed him in spirit.
 
Because I love to curse, a curse will come upon me!
Because I do not ask for blessing, blessing will be far from me!
 
May I be clothed in a curse like a garment,
may it enter my body like water,
my bones like oil.
 
Let it be like the cloak I wrap around myself,
like the belt I always wear.
May the Lord thus repay me,
for I detest myself,
for I speak evil against my very being.
 
Now You, O God, my Lord,
act on my behalf as befits Your name.
Good and faithful as You are,
please save me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is pierced within me.
I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
I am shaken off like locusts.
My knees give way from fasting;
my flesh is lean, has lost its fat.
 
I am the object of their scorn;
when they see me, they will shake their head.
 
Help me, O Lord, my God;
save me.
By the standard of Your loving-kindness, save me.
Let men know that it is Your hand,
that You, O Lord, have done it
when it was time.
Let me curse but You bless.
Let me rise up and be ashamed
Your servant will nevertheless rejoice.
 
I shall be clothed in shame,
wrapped in my disgrace as in a robe.
 
Yet, my mouth shall sing much praise in the Lord;
I will acclaim Him in the midst of a throng.
because He stands at my needy right hand,
to save me from my own condemnation.
Student Dies in Apparent Suicide
 
On Tuesday morning, our campus was once again struck by tragedy. Robin Silber, a sophomore in the college, was found dead in his room.
 
His roommate, Nathan Knake, discovered his body.
 
Knake first suspected that something was wrong when Silber, who is typically an extremely responsible student, failed to wake for class.
 
Knake noticed that Silber's mouth was open, but that he was not breathing. At this point, he called 911.
 
Paramedics pronounced Silber dead at the scene, apparently for an intentional drug overdose.
 
Silber's death shocked the campus. He was widely perceived to be a happy and successful student, well liked by his professors and his peers.
 
While the administration has not yet made an official statement, Silber's professors describe the 19-year-old as "engaging, funny and passionate".
 
"He was highly motivated and did solid work. He showed incredible promise as an intellect, as a historian and as a human being. His death is a tragedy of the highest degree," said Dr. Howard Peck of the History department.
 
Other professors were either unable or refused to comment.
 
Silber's suicide has been particularly disturbing because of its unexpected nature.
 
Friends describe Silber as energetic and outgoing. "He seemed to always be involved, always busy," said Luke Ratigan, a friend from his hall.

 "I rarely saw him. He always seemed to be going somewhere. We always said 'hi' and that was about it."

 
The Herald has learned that the police have not found a suicide note, although they have seized Silber's computer and will access his school email account.
 
"Robin's death raised innumerable questions," Dr. Peck told the Herald. "I believe that we must look closely at this horrible circumstance and take steps for it never to happen again."
 
Silber's death recalls painful memories of Jessica Seed's death last year.
 
Seed hung herself last spring.
 
Following her death, there was an outcry for a close look at steps the university could take to prevent a crisis from reaching this level again. However, no action was taken.
 
Suicide on college campuses is a growing phenomenon. According to the US department of Heath and Human services, in 1995, the suicide rate for 20 to 24 year-olds was 16.2 per 100,000. This is a significant statistical increase from 15.1 per 100,000 in 1990.
 
Various proposals have been presented, including expanding the counseling center and giving Residence Hall Advisors increased training so that they would be better equipped to spot potential problems.
 
However, while these measures have broad support, they have also been heavily criticized for not doing enough.
 

There will be a memorial service in Robin's memory on Friday in Cannon Chapel.

RE-TEXTING
return to head of document
Samuel Lampert
 
From the divine collection. Of God.
 
O praiseworthy children:
do not keep aloof,
for the wicked and the deceitful
open their mouth against Me;
they speak of Me with lying tongue.
They encircle Me with words of hate;
they attack Me without cause.
They answer My love with accusation
and stand in judgement.
They repay Me with evil for good,
with hatred for My love.
 
Appoint a wicked man as an accuser.
Try and convict;
judge and find guilty.
Days will be few;
Those in power will be replaced.
Children will become orphans,
wives will be widows and husbands will be widowers.
 
My children will wander from their hovels,
begging in search of [bread].
Their creditors will seize all their possessions;
strangers will enjoy their wealth.
 
No one will show them mercy;
None will pity My orphans;
My posterity will be cut off;
their names will be blotted out in the next generation.
For I never forget the transgressions of the fathers,
and the sin of the mothers will not be blotted out.
I will be against them always
and cut off their memory from the earth.
 
Because they were not minded to act kindly,
and hounded to death the poor and needy man,
one crushed in spirit.
They love to curse -- may a curse come upon them!
They would not bless -- may blessing be far from them!
They wear cursing like a uniform;
it will penetrate their innards like water
and their bones like oil.
It will be like the cloaks they wrap around themselves,
like the loincloths they always wear.
 
Thus repay My accusers,
and all those who speak evil.
 
O chosen ones,
Deal with Me for the sake of your name.
Good and faithful as you are, save Me.
For I am poor and needy,
and My heart is pierced within Me.
I fade away like a lengthening shadow;
I am shaken off like locusts.
My knees give way from fasting;
My flesh is lean, has lost its fat.
I am the object of your scorn;
when you see Me, you shake your head.
 
Help me, O children, My saviors;
save Me in accord with your faithfulness,
and men will know that it is your hand,
that you, O children, have done it.
 
Let them bless -- I will curse.
Let them rise up -- but come to grief.
I will rejoice.
My accusers will be clothed in shame,
wrapped in their disgrace as in a robe.
 
But only if your mouth sings much praise,
will I acclaim you in the midst of a throng.
Only if you stand at the right hand of the needy,
do you save those who are condemned.
 
 
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