Friday, December 15, 2006

A plague on both your houses; a pox upon ye

There is something about a good curse that is extremely satisfying. In high school, R. and I used to amuse ourselves by making up curses: "May goats urinate on your grandmother's grave, and on the graves of your children's children." My brother once called me laughing to recite in a Monty-Python voice some imprecatory passage in one of the prophetic books of the Bible.

Perhaps, it is somewhat sacreligious to find such humour in the sacred psalms, but I can't help thinking that God finds these things somewhat funny as well. Not that the historical situation in which David was suffering false accusations was funny, but the language that remains behind is...
Plus, so much of it is cultural hyperbole. David may have called down curses on his enemies and their children's children, but he took in Saul's grandchild Methibosheth and treated him like one of his own children--so, in some ways, the language acts like a good Hausa curse to someone who cuts you off in traffic: "Uwarka, Ubanka .... etc." I got an earful of that once when someone called me on my cellphone and gave me a good cussing out in Hausa. I hope it was a wrong number because i'd hate to think that I could have done anything to bring down such venom on my head.

So, without further ado, I will share parts of the imprecatory psalm that had me giggling this morning. This is from the NIV:

Psalm 109
(For the director of music. Of David. a psalm)

O God, whom I praise,
do not remain silent,
for wicked and deceitful men
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.
In return for my friendship they accuse me,
but I am a man of prayer.
They repay me evil for good
and hatred for my friendship.
(The NRSV inserts a "They said," here which makes the psalmist a little more righteous, but the NIV note says that "They said" is is not in the original Hebrew and thus is is not a universal interpretation.)
Appoint an evil man to oppose him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.
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.
May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.
May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.
May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.
For he never thought of doing a kindness,
but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.
He loved to pronounce a curse-- may it come on him;
he found no pleasure in blessing--may it be far from him.
He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.
May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
like a belt tied forever around him.
May this be the LORD's payment to my accusers,
to those who speak evil of me.
(the psalm goes on for another 11 stanzas, but this is the end of the curse, so i'll end here.)

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