May his days be few; may another seize his goods (or take his office). [Psalm 109:8]
Now that the biblical verse John 3:16* has become standard fare at every public event from the Super Bowl to world league dwarf-tossing, somebody had to haul up a new verse for the scripturally-inclined to beat the rest of us over the head with. But this time it’s a nasty little tidbit from the Old Testament and, frankly, something of an embarrassment. That’s because the next verse reads:
May his children be fatherless,
And his wife a widow! [Psalm 109:9]
Makes you feel all Christian inside, doesn’t it?
The excuse-makers claim that it’s nothing more than a wish that Obama be a one-term president. But it sure sounds like a not-so-coded prayer for an assassination. Or a least a heart attack.
The verse is the sort of thing most churches would rather we ignore because it makes the rest of us squirm to think of it as holy writ. It’s what they call an “imprecatory prayer.” It’s the kind of material you’re not supposed to find in the Bible—a profound plea for God to tear someone a new one. Good Christians are not supposed to want this. God’s final Judgment, and maybe a few semiautomatic weapons, should do it. It’s bad form to beg the Almighty to open up a cosmic can of whoop-ass on the guys who pick on you.
Offered up as a prayer for President Obama by right-wing Twitterer, or Tweeter, or Twick-or-Tweeter Cheri Douglas, Psalms 109:8 is now popping up on bumper stickers, T-shirts, and the usual media for such profound thought. Douglas claims she didn’t mean it in a hostile way, and says she was unaware of the verse following 109:8 when she shared it online—which tells you something about the intellectual firepower behind this sort of thing. How do you copy a verse like that and not see the next line? Or not care about what it means in context instead of floating freely on a baseball cap nestled on a largely empty head?
Spookily, firebrands are promoting it with the kind of dark righteousness the Klan often does when it cites the Bible to stoke their cause, like this one I found on a KKK website:
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus which are in Judea; for you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out… [1 Thessalonians 14-15]
Brrrr… Just goes to show you that pretty much anything you’re selling, no matter how noble or vile, has a line or two in the Bible that’ll back you up. This is why it’s lasted so long. There’s something in there for anyone, and I mean anyone. You can call this spin. But that's a hard thing to control, isn't it?
Actually, conservatives shouldn’t get too cocky using Psalm 109 in their prayers for the president. If you read the rest of the Psalm and apply it to the head of our affairs…
May his children wander about and beg;
May they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit! [Psalm 109:10]
Are these the homeless children and the ruins of the housing market left by George W. Bush? You want more of that? (See what I told you about spin?)
May the creditor seize all that he has;
May strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! [Psalm 109:11]
This sounds like a prayer for the Chinese to drop by with repossession orders. The Klan-ish part of this wish list kicks in around verse 14:
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
And let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! [Psalm 109:14]
Apply this to Obama and…whoa, sounds like somebody may have a little problem with that Kenyan dad, or his white mama’s decision to marry him? Tell me with a straight face that nobody out there in cyberland reads this verse that way. Hello?
Actually, verse 109:8 is taken from A Psalm of David, one of many found in Psalms, and allegedly—very allegedly—written by ancient Israel’s King David (ca. 1000 B.C.). David is at one of the downturns in his career. He laments his bad fortune, wishing for a heap of bad mojo to befall those who hate him just because he tried to conquer and rule them. It’s David who is asking God for help, not know-nothing Tea-Baggers for whom tax cuts are the cure for everything from illegal immigration to erectile dysfunction. And it's use, while written off as a joke by most rational Americans, is a red flag given the secessionist talk coming out of some governors’ mouths and the slavering anti-government hatred that’s welled up ever since a Democrat took office.
These are folks who saw no threat to the Constitution in unwarranted wiretaps, arrest without charge, imprisonment without trial, torture, paying off reporters to spin the news, arresting other reporters who won't rat on their sources, searching personal records, launching two wars with no declaration by Congress, and trying to do most of this in secret. It's making sure you don't go broke when you get sick that has the Founders turning in their graves.
Criticizing is one thing, guys. Demonizing is another. I can only recall a sign written in a similar spirit posted in Dallas, Texas on a November 22nd some years ago:
Do we really need to learn this lesson all over again?
*For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life. [John 3:16]