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Psalm 140 ~ The Righteous One’s Prayer Of Exasperation Against Evil Men

The Righteous One’s Prayer Of Exasperation Against Evil Men

a brief study of Psalm 140, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 24 Feb 2012

Psalm 140 may be classified as an imprecatory psalm because it contains some strong words of imprecation against wicked and violent men.

We don’t know when it was written, but apparently it was written by David when he was daily exasperated by malicious persons seeking his ruin. Perhaps it was during the time that Saul was seeking his life. Or perhaps it was when Absalom his son had risen up against him. Or perhaps it may be the daily vexations that David must have felt as a king because not every one in the kingdom was happy with his reign. We can’t be sure. But one thing we can be sure is that this psalm is given in the Spirit of Christ for believers throughout the ages to sing in union with Christ while we dwell in the midst of sin and sinners. David who was inspired by the Spirit of Christ to write this psalm could use it to collect his thoughts and calm his spirit as he faced daily conflicts. Christ who inspired this psalm would surely have meditated and sung it to encourage Himself as He faced many enemies day by day. And we who are united to Christ may also use this psalm as a prayer and a means of encouraging one another whenever we face conflicts due to enemies of the Cross and the Cause of Christ.

We may entitle it: “The Righteous One’s Prayer of Exasperation against Evil Men.”

It has three main parts. We may subtitle the first part, verses 1-8, as “Supplications.” Here we will see three petitions unto our Father. The second part, verses 9-11, may be subtitled as “Imprecations.” Here is where we will find the bulk of the imprecatory statements against the wicked. The third part, verses 12-13, may be subtitled, “Affirmations.”

1. Supplications

You may notice that there are three ‘selahs’ in this section--at the end of verses 3, 5 and 8. A ‘selah’ is a musical notation, that probably calls for a pause to reflect on the words, or a pause to collect emotions.

In each of these three paragraphs punctuated by a ‘selah’, we have a description of the wicked and their wicked deeds, as well as a petition to the Lord with respect to them.

The first petition is “Deliver me [and] preserve me,” verse 1—

1 Deliver me, O LORD, from the evil man: preserve me from the violent man; 2 Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; continually are they gathered together for war. 3 They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah.

The violent man and the evil man may or may not be the same person. But the violent man is usually evil, and the evil man is often violent. Some evil men may indeed not engage in physical violence. Yet, they would entertain malicious and suspicious thoughts; they would engage in quarrelsome and divisive behaviour; and they might even resort to character assassination. This is what verses 2-3 are describing graphically. To imagine mischief in the heart (v. 2a) is to have malicious and suspicious thoughts. To gather for war (v. 2b) is to be quarrelsome. To have sharp tongues and poison under the lips is to slander and scandalise.

If there are such persons surrounding us in the church or outside the church, what should we do? Shall we not ask the Lord to rescue and protect us?

The second petition, verse 4, is “Keep me [and] preserve me.” The wicked and violent man plots to overthrow the righteous (v. 4) because they hate righteousness. For righteousness exposes and highlights their wickedness. So they set traps and nets (v. 5) in order to make the righteous look bad.

The Lord Jesus would have known all about it. The Pharisees and Scribes were constantly trying to trap Him. So too when we sense that there are some who are trying to do that to us, then let us learn to petition the LORD to keep and preserve us—in the knowledge that Christ our Saviour would have had the same experience and prayed the same prayer.

In this civilised world, it is hard for us to imagine that there will be people who want to trap us and see our downfall. But let us remember that the heart of man has not changed. Anyone who has been caught in the crossfire of church or office politics will know this as a fact. Proud and selfish men who disagree with us will often do things which cause us much grief. Often times, we can’t even talk about it because it is very hard to prove malicious intentions; and sometimes we are not even sure if we are being too suspicious.

But thank God we can sing the words of Christ in union with Him who knows the heart of man. The Father will hear our cries, and answer us whether we prayed aright or amiss.

Now, the third petition in this section, is “hear the voice of my supplications… Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked” (v. 6, 8). Our God and Father has protected our head in the day of battle (v. 7). He will surely hear us; but He would have us pray. Let us learn not to sweep the wicked devices of the wicked under the carpet. Let us learn to ask the Lord to put a stop to the devices of the wicked lest they exalt themselves: “Grant not, O LORD, the desires of the wicked: further not his wicked device; lest they exalt themselves” (v. 8).

Indeed, let us be bold not only to pray that they will not able to carry out their wicked design, but that they may face God’s judgement for their wickedness. This is what we are led to do together when we use the words of the second part of this psalm. For here are words of…

2. Imprecations

9 As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them. 10 Let burning coals fall upon them: let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits, that they rise not up again.

The wicked often do most damage with their lips as they spread falsehood about the righteous. But what can we do about that? We can’t protect ourselves by wearing a helmet or a biohazard suit. And usually we can’t confront those who have spread wicked words, for they will deny any malice. And we may even be wrong. What can we do?

Thank God for Christ Jesus our Compassionate High Priest who not only understands our exasperation, but has appointed a means to help us to deal with those emotions that arise in our heart due to a sense of injustice against us.

James says: “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (Jms 5:13). He is not saying that we should not sing psalms if we are afflicted. What he is saying is that the psalms and prayers are the two things that Christ has appointed for us to deal with our emotional ups and downs. Prayer is an outpouring of our hearts with our own words. The Psalms provide us an outpouring of our hearts with the words of Christ.

Thank God for the words of imprecation that we can sing to express our feelings. Thank God that we can use the words of Christ to ask Him to deal justly and firmly with those who have sinned against us and against God.

We may be wrong about how we feel about certain individuals. But that is the beauty of the psalms. It does not include any specific names, but God knows all things so that if it is true that the individuals who vex us are indeed guilty of the sin condemned in the psalm, than He will hear our cries to deal with them.

He will deal severely according as Christ has given us the words to ask the Father to deal severely. He will hear our cries and see to it that those who seek to cause trouble maliciously with their tongue will experience much trouble because of their tongue (v. 9). Who knows if some of these might be turned away from sin unto repentance? Again, God will hear our cries and see to it that burning coals, as it were, would fall on their heads and they be cast into the lake of fire for their wickedness unless they repent (v.10). He will see to it that those who sin with their tongue and those who have violent or malicious intentions do not get away scot-free and prosper (v. 11).

Therefore, as we sing these words of imprecation, not only do we receive a measure of emotional relief from the sense of injustice, but we are also committing the whole matter to the LORD.

The words of imprecation, in other words, allow us to let go of our anger and exasperation in a controlled manner that cultivates our faith and hope in the LORD. Thus we are taught to end with a positive note of affirmation.

3. Affirmation

12 I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and the right of the poor.

Sometimes when we are going through life in this world, it seems like there is no justice. It seems like the righteous are trampled underfoot and have no recourse. It seems like the wicked can do what they want and get away with it.

But thank God this is not the true reality. The true reality is that the LORD, our heavenly Father, the Living and True God is not only aware of all that is going on, but is making sure that the cause of the afflicted and the right of the poor be maintained (v. 12).

No one who takes advantage of the poor or afflicts the powerless can expect the LORD to leave him alone. Thus Solomon exhorts:

22 Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: 23 For the LORD will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them” (Prov 22:22-23).

This would especially be so if the poor and afflicted is a child of God. God will see to it that the wicked men are dealt with according to what they deserve.

On the other hand, the righteous will receive a just recompense. If they suffer for the Gospel’s sake, they can be sure that the glory that shall be revealed in them would far far exceed the sufferings that they have to endure at this present time (Rom 8:18). Eternity will be beautified by praise and thanksgiving in the presence of God.

13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks unto thy name: the upright shall dwell in thy presence.

While the wicked is cast away to endure darkness and the wrath of God forever, the righteous and the upright in Christ shall dwell in God’s holy presence, praising and thanking Him forever and ever.


This is Psalm 140. It is not very well-known. It is seldom sung. But I think you can see how needful it is, and how with the application of the Holy Spirit to our hearts, we can be helped in the right way in regards to exasperation that results from politicking and the malicious deeds of those who walk not according to the way of the Lord. Amen. W