Remember that book of poetry that was written about the New York vs. New Jersey coolness dispute? No? Oh, right, because no one would ever touch that with a ten-foot pole. Not so in the ancient world. Psalms is the most poetic description of a regional border dispute ever.
Things were getting feisty in the region where it all went down. Egypt and the Eastern powers (Babylonians, Persians, etc.) were always jockeying for influence on this crossroads area. Make no mistake though: the Biblical writers were out for blood. The neighboring people are described in Psalms as vicious, bloodthirsty, and animalistic. No room for mercy here—it's total annihilation or bust.
Talking the Talk
Examples? Why, of course:
- The enemies of the Israelites are like animals, "assailing" the author "to devour [his] flesh" (27:2).
- The writer laments, "Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. There they are, bellowing with their mouths, with sharp words on their lips—for 'Who,' they think, 'will hear us?'" (59:6-7).
- The enemies of Israel are even likened to snakes: "They make their tongue sharp as a snake's; and under their lips is the venom of vipers" (140:3).
At least one thing is clear: whatever these people are saying, the writers don't like it one bit. That's right—it's not as much about military conflict as verbal assault. The biblical writers are waging a war for the hearts and minds of their people. And to stop people from worshiping idols, they have to discredit what the enemy is saying.
Psalm 109 is all about the "lying tongues" of the wicked: these are people who say one thing and do—or secretly believe—another. You know when they think "[t]here is no God" (10:4, 14:1, and 53:1), they're not going to get on the Israelites' good side.
Okay, so the enemies of the Israelites like to lie and curse God. But what are their other sins?
- Treaty breaking (28:3-4)
- Cursing and oppressing the poor (10)
- Bribery (26:10)
- Judicial corruption (109:5-10)
Shall we continue? Worse than any of this, though, is their denial of God's power and existence. Duh.