Man Pouring Out His Heart to God in Prayer
Folksongs of Faith

When You are Falsely Accused

Author: Ray C. Stedman

Psalm 109 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. The psalm also is a problem psalm. One need only read it to be troubled about this psalm. Why should this strange, extravagant language of hostility against another human being be included in the Book of Psalms. We shall attempt an answer to that as we go through the exposition of this psalm.

Notice that it is a psalm of David and therefore reflects an experience which David went through. It is difficult to tell exactly which of his recorded experiences is referred to. Personally I think it probably is the time when he was railed upon by Nabal, the husband of Abigail, as recorded in the twenty-fifth chapter of First Samuel. Later, God judged Nabal and took him in death and David married Abigail. I think this psalm best fits on that occasion. It is clearly a psalm of someone who is deeply, deeply disturbed.

The opening words of the psalm set before us the problem this man faces.

Be not silent, O God of my praise!
For wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me,
  speaking against me with lying tongues.
They beset me with words of hate,
  and attack me without cause.
In return for my love they accuse me,
  even as I make prayer for them.
So they reward me evil for good,
  and hatred for my love. (Psalms 109:1-5 RSV)

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," i.e., they are determined upon evil, and they are thoroughly unscrupulous; they do not care what they say or what they do. With lying tongues they are out to destroy.

Perhaps some of you have had this experience. You have been unjustly accused by someone who has deliberately sought to slander you, to besmirch 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 a 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,

In return for my love they accuse me,
  even as I make prayer for them.
So they reward me evil for my good,
  and hatred for my love. (Psalms 109:4-5 RSV)

This man understands that "a soft answer turns away wrath," and he has tried that with them. He has followed the New Testament standard of praying for those who hate him and despitefully use him. It is remarkable, is it not, that here in the Old Testament you find such a clear demonstration of the fulfillment of the New Testament requirement to pray for our enemies. 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 vitriol that pours out!

Appoint a wicked man against him;
  let an accuser bring him to trial.
[Literally it is, "stand at his right hand" and means to accuse him in court.]
When he is tried, let him come forth guilty;
  let his prayer be counted as sin!
May his days be few;
  may another seize his goods!
May his children be fatherless,
  and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg;
  may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
  may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
let there be none to extend kindness to him,
  nor any to pity his fatherless children!
May his posterity be cut off;
  may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
  and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out!
Let them be before the lord continually;
  and may his memory be cut off from the earth! (Psalms 109:6-15 RSV)

What strong language! What hostility! How fierce is the invective here! Some of you are trying to memorize this so you'll remember to say it the next time a suitable occasion arises! This passage has raised the problem of so-called "imprecatory psalms," these psalms which seem to heap imprecations, maledictions, against people. Many have been troubled by these, and this is the worst of them all. There is no stronger language in the Psalms. We have chosen the toughest one of all to deal with.

How do you explain language like this in the Psalms? What do you do with this? Well, it seems to me that the clearest and simplest answer is, this is not one of the imprecatory psalms at all. 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 here:

First, you will notice a very remarkable and immediate change of attitude between Verses 5 and 6. In Verse 5 he says, "They reward me evil for good," (i.e., 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 invective. 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. This is confirmed by the fact that in the Jewish version of the Old Testament, Verse 20, which is the conclusion of this quoted portion, instead of reading "May this be the reward of my accusers from the Lord," says instead, "This is the reward which my accusers seek from the Lord, those who speak evil against my life!"

This would confirm, therefore, 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...
May his children be fatherless,
  and his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg...(Psalms 109:8-10 RSV)

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 creditor seize all that he has...
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
  nor any to pity his fatherless children! (Psalms 109:11-12 RSV)

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;
  may his name be blotted out in the second generation!
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
Let them be before the Lord continually;
  and may his memory be cut off from the earth! (Psalms 109:13-15 RSV)

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 vituperation. 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,

For he did not remember to show kindness,
  but pursued the poor and needy
  and the brokenhearted to their death. (Psalms 109:16 RSV)

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 struck by how prevalent this is in human nature. Some of you may remember that just a few weeks ago a trial was concluded in San Mateo where a man 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,

He loved to curse; let curses come on him!
  He did not like blessing; may it be far from him!
He clothed himself with cursing as his coat, (Psalms 109 17-18a RSV)

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? I remember seeing two children fighting, one of whom happened to be my own. I broke up the quarrel and said 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.

  ...may it [these curses] soak into his body like water,
  like oil into his bones!
May it be like a garment which he wraps round him,
  like a belt with which he daily girds himself! (Psalms 109:18b-19 RSV)

So terrible is their hatred, so malevolent is their fierce reaction, that they intensify language to the ultimate refinement of malice. They pour out invective 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;
  may another seize his goods! (Psalms 109:8 RSV)

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. Peter quotes from two of the psalms to justify that appointment. One of them is Psalm 69 which stated, "May his habitation be left desolate," and the other is this verse from Psalm 109, "May another take his office!" 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, "Woe unto that man by whom the son of man is betrayed. It were better for that man that he had not been born," (Matthew 26:24 KJV). 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 malediction, an awful thing which only God has the right to say.

Now let us look at the reaction of this man. 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, in the literal rendering of Verse 20,

This is the reward which my accusers seek from the Lord,
  those who speak evil against my life! (Psalms 109:20 Literal)

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 God my Lord,
  deal on my behalf for thy name's sake;
  because thy steadfast love is good, deliver me!
For I am poor and needy,
  and my heart is stricken within me.
I am gone, like a shadow at evening;
  I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting;
  my body has become gaunt.
I am an object of scorn to my accusers;
  when they see me, they wag their heads. (Psalms 109:21-25 RSV)

Notice that the first thing he does is to commit the cause to God. "Thou, O God of my life, deal on my behalf 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, both in the Old and New Testament, "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord; I will repay," (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19). Vengeance 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, vengeance 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 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 Christian reaction? Listen to Peter as he shows us that this was exactly the reaction of the Lord Jesus, himself.

He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he trusted to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:22-23 RSV)

Peter says he has left us an example that we should follow in his steps. He trusted himself to him who judges justly.

Dr. F. B. Meyer has said,

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 striken within me.
I am gone, like a shadow at evening,
  I am shaken off like a locust.
My knees are weak through fasting;
  my body has become gaunt. (Psalms 109:22-24 RSV)

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 steadfast love!
Let them know that this is thy hand;
  thou, O lord, hast done it!
  let them curse, but do thou bless! (Psalms 109:26-28a RSV)

The version as we have it puts the next two sentences in the optative mood, i.e., "may this happen," "let this happen." It should, however, be stated in the indicative: it is really a statement of fact.

My assailants shall be put to shame,
  and thy servant shall be glad!
My accusers shall be clothed with dishonor;
  they shall be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle! (Psalms 109:28b-29 Indicative Mood)

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, Peter says,

And [you who are abused] keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16 RSV)

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 impugned 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. "Thanks be to God who causes me to triumph through our Lord Jesus Christ!"

This is the note on which this psalm closes. It is a note of ringing affirmation, of confidence.

With my mouth I will give great thanks to the Lord;
  I will praise him in the midst of the throng.
For he stands at the right hand of the needy,
  to save him from those who condemn him to death. (Psalms 109:30-31 RSV)

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.


Our Father, these words have found every one of us this morning. We have all been guilty, we have all felt feelings of resentment rising up within us. We have all wanted to strike back, to pour invective against another. And we have done it, too, at times, Lord. We ask you to forgive us that, and to teach us from these psalms how to handle such problems. Help us to have confidence in the fact that you, Lord, know how to work these things out, and that we do not need to have our little pound of flesh. Rather it is you, Lord, your great cause and your great name which needs to be vindicated and justified. Help us to follow the example of this Psalmist to turn these issues over to you and quietly go on trusting you, just as the Lord Jesus did, to work it out to your glory. We ask in your name, Amen.