Psalm 109: The Trial to End All Trials

Read Psalm 109.

During Jesus’ trial at the home of the high priest, He had no lawyer, no advocate, no one at His side. Peter was there, in the courtyard, but He didn’t say a thing that might have helped the Lord. He was too busy denying He ever knew Him (Matthew 26:69–75).

It wouldn’t have mattered if Simon Peter had mustered the courage to speak up for Jesus though. The point of this meeting was not justice; it was murder. The religious authorities in Jerusalem had decided in advance that Jesus had to die. So false witnesses came forward with stories to tell, and no one seemed to mind that the testimonies didn’t match (Mark 14:56). The trial was just a formality before handing Jesus of Nazareth over to Pilate.

As I read Psalm 109, I can’t help but think of Jesus in that moment, being verbally (and physically) assaulted by members of the Sanhedrin: “People who are wicked and deceitful have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause” (109:2–3).

A thousand years before Jesus faced His trial, David knew the same kind of pain. For Jesus, it was part of God’s plan of redemption. He needed to die to save the world. Jesus’ response to the hatred of his accusers, torturers, and haters? “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). David’s response was slightly different:

When he is tried, let him be found guilty, and may his prayers condemn him. May his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. (Psalm 109:7–9)

It’s hard to read these words in Scripture, especially from someone who is supposed to be a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). They just don’t sound like they echo the heart of God. But, as with all of David’s imprecatory prayers in the psalms, he’s leaving the judgment up to God. Though he’s offering up very specific suggestions for how to handle his enemies, David is still asking God to step in and punish those who seek to do him harm. He’s not seeking his own vengeance.

When I step into David’s sandals, two things become immediately clear. First, I’ve been where David is in this psalm. Even if I haven’t experienced the same sort of legal battle, I’ve faced false accusations, and I’ve wanted God to hurt those who’ve hurt me. Second—and more importantly—we’re all on trial.

In a very real sense, life is preparation for the day when we will face God, our great Judge. Romans 14:10 tells us this plainly: “We will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” Jesus Himself said, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37).

The New Testament also reveals that God the Father has placed the judgment in the hands of His Son: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31; see also 10:42). When this life is over, we must give an account to Jesus. He will judge us by our words and our actions, but it won’t involve a set of scales with our good deeds on one side and our sins on the other. If that were the case, no one would get off. The scales would break from the weight on one side. We’d all be found guilty.

The deciding factor in each of our cases will be what we did with Jesus. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18). Jesus is our hope, our one shot at escaping condemnation.

David’s words in Psalm 109 offer us a preview of the final judgment. David prays that his enemies, described in terms of a singular figure, would be given the sentence of someone beyond hope, someone who has rejected the goodness of God. “May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may blot out their names from the earth” (Psalm 109:15). It’s a horrible image, one that makes us cringe when we read it. And rightly it should. It is an unbearable judgment, one Jesus died to save us from.

But Psalm 109 doesn’t end on this dark note. David is also on trial, but he knows he is not alone: “With my mouth I will greatly extol the LORD; in the great throng of worshipers I will praise him. For he stands at the right hand of the needy, to save their lives from those who would condemn them” (v. 31).

In many ancient trial settings, both the accuser and the advocate would stand to the right of the plaintiff. In the trial of David’s enemies, David asks, “Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy; let an accuser stand at his right hand” (v. 6). But in David’s own trial, he expects the Lord to stand at his right hand as his defense attorney and defend his cause. David, in his own prophetic way, is absolutely right. The New Testament reveals that believers “have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

Our hope lies not in our works, our goodness, or our successes in this world. Rather, it lies solely in Jesus Christ. He stood trial for crimes He did not commit and paid the price for ours. Now He lives to intercede for us, even as we await His final judgment. For Christians, all fear is gone. The verdict has been handed down. We have been forgiven.

What’s this all about?

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