Psalm 109: Steadfast Love
as Social Solidarity
IN ITS MAIN ASSERTIONS, the book of Psalms divides into hymns of praise and songs of complaint and lament.1 For most of us, this second group is much more difficult theologically and liturgically because those psalms articulate themes that are not congenial to popular and habitual religious notions. In the general grouping of songs of complaint and lament, a number of different voices are heard, including songs of grief and abandonment (Psalm 22), songs of remorse and guilt (6; 32; 38), communal laments (74; 79), and Yahweh's responding voice of judgment (50; 81). Perhaps the most difficult are the psalms that voice raw, unrestrained vengeance, which surprises us in the Bible. Obviously this voice contradicts the invitation of the gospel that we should love our enemies (Matt. 5:4348; Rom. 12:17, 21).2 That these psalms are difficult for us is evident in the way they are ignored and often skipped over in the liturgical sequence. In what follows, I shall argue (a) that these psalms are an undeniable part of serious piety and liturgy in the Psalter and cannot be ignored, and (b) they are crucial resources for faith and for pastoral activity in our own time. Psalm 109 is considered as an extreme case of the meaning and value of such resources.
1. Glaus Westermann, The Praise of God in the Psalms (see chap. 1, n. 4) has
pursued this simple organization of Gunkel's more precise delineation. While this
twofold grouping is somewhat reductionistic, it is a helpful way to organize the
Psalms for beginning in theological reflection.
2. See my general comments on vengeance in the Psalms in Brueggemann,
Praying the Psalms (Winona, Minn.: Saint Mary's Press, 1982), chap. 5.