Psalm 109:8 and Good Faith Biblical Interpretation

The latest popular religious-political brouhaha to erupt involves a new conservative slogan, which is being featured on bumper stickers, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other items of internet kitsch. The slogan is, “Pray for Obama, Psalm 109:8.”

On the face of it, Psalm 109:8 does seem like an appropriate sentiment for a right-leaning Christian to pray for God to bring onto Obama: “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.”

But the slogan might be worth reexamining when taken with the rest of the text of Psalm 109:

6 Appoint an evil man to oppose him;
let an accuser stand at his right hand.

7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
and may his prayers condemn him.

8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.

11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.

13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.

14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.

15 May their sins always remain before the LORD,
that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.

Bible verses are often quoted in a way that obscures or sanitizes the meaning if taken in context, and the vast majority of the time the “true” meaning is adamantly not implied or suggested by whoever is using the quotation. However, while undoubtedly some people purchasing the Psalm 109 products do so with unawareness of the double meaning, I do not think all who advocate the slogan’s use do so in good faith.

People are defending the “Pray for Obama Psalm 109” slogan even after being informed of the larger and more sinister context of the verse. Those in favor of the slogan argue that they don’t mean the slogan “like that,” so the shirts are merely expressing a benign sentiment. However, what this argument basically boils down to is that it is acceptable to deliberately spread about misinterpretations of the Bible and to obscure the true meaning of God’s word. Somehow, I don’t think that argument is entirely coherent with certain other Biblical passages.

At least one online company has announced it will no longer sell Psalm 109 shirts, although when I checked earlier, the shirt pictured in the image above was still available for purchase. Zazzle says:

With that in mind, it is only after great thought that we have determined that these products, in the context of the full text of Psalm 109, may be interpreted in such a way as to suggest physical harm to the President of the United States. In deference to the Office of the President of the United States, and in accordance with federal law prohibiting the making of threats against the physical wellbeing of the President of the United States, Zazzle has therefore determined that these products are in violation of the Zazzle User Agreement and not appropriate for inclusion in the Zazzle Marketplace. We have begun efforts to remove them from our website, and we will be vigilant to the publication of similar products moving forward.