Psalm 69 includes a shocking request that might make one wonder if names can be blotted out of the book of life: “May [my enemies] be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous” (Psalm 69:28).
Psalm 69 is an imprecatory psalm because in it the writer seeks justice and pronounces judgments (imprecations) on those who do evil and harm the righteous. In Psalm 69 the judgments that David requests for those who are trying to destroy him are indeed severe, even to the point of blotting out names from the book of life (Psalm 69:28).
David cries out to God to save him, as his life is being threatened (Psalm 69:1). He describes the difficulty he is having as he waits for God to deliver him (Psalm 69:2–3). David proclaims his innocence and explains to God that the enemies’ threat is in response to David’s zeal for God (Psalm 69:4–9). In this section the anger, frustration, fear, and heartache of David are evident, and he implies that God is not working quickly enough for his liking. This is a helpful clue that this psalm (like other imprecatory psalms) is in part an expression of great frustration and is not entirely prophetic or predictive of what will take place.
David asks for God to deliver him at the right time (Psalm 69:13–15) and then adds that he is requesting that deliverance come quickly (Psalm 69:16–18). Emphasizing the severity of the situation, David explains how shamed, dishonored, and reproached he is (Psalm 69:19–21). David then begins his imprecations, or prayers for the judgment of those who were harming him—including his statement implying that names can be blotted out of the book of life (Psalm 69:28).
David asks that the table of his enemies will be a snare to them (Psalm 69:22) and that they would become blind and shake with fear (Psalm 69:23). He asks that God would be angry with them (Psalm 69:24) and make their camps desolate (Psalm 69:25). This is a poetic way of asking that God would kill them all. David reminds God of His responsibility in all this (Psalm 69:26) and demands that his enemies not be given salvation (Psalm 69:27); in fact, he desires that they would be blotted out of the book of life and that they would not be recorded with the righteous (Psalm 69:28).
While the English translations usually translate the Hebrew phrase as “the book of life,” it can be literally translated as “the book of the living ones”; if that literal translation is best, then David’s request would simply be that God would take their lives, a rewording of his request in Psalm 69:25. The idea that David is requesting that their names be removed from God’s book of the living ones—that they be killed physically—seems to be supported by earlier references to blotting out names from God’s book.
After God delivered Israel in a miraculous victory over Amalek, God instructed Moses to write the account in the book and to recite to Joshua that God would blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven (Exodus 17:14). After Israel sinned by worshiping the golden calf, Moses asked God to either forgive them or to blot out his own name from God’s book (Exodus 32:32). God responds by saying that only those who sinned He would blot out from His book (Exodus 32:33), and then He immediately acts on that promise. He punished those who did evil by smiting them (Exodus 32:34–35). This book, also mentioned in several other places (including Deuteronomy 29:20), is not called the book of life, but seems to simply reference the history that God was having Moses record. God asserts that people can be blotted out from under heaven and from that book (Exodus 32:33; Deuteronomy 29:20). In other words, the people blotted out or removed were killed. They were no longer living “under heaven.”
Nowhere in these Old Testament contexts is the book of life directly mentioned (if indeed Psalm 69:28 is best translated as “the book of the living ones”). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul mentions a book of life in which the names of his fellow workers are written (Philippians 4:3). John records Jesus’ description of the book of life from which Jesus would not erase the names of those who have overcome (Revelation 3:5). John adds that all who have believed in Jesus have overcome (e.g., 1 John 5:4–5) and that their names have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8; 17:8). Finally, at the Great White Throne Judgment, John describes that there are “books” opened—including the book of life (Revelation 20:12). People are judged according to their deeds recorded in the books, and if their name is not written in the book of life they are sent to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14–15). Only those whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of life would be allowed into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:27), where God would dwell.
In none of these contexts does the Bible describe that the names of people written in the book of life can be blotted out. In fact, Jesus says He will not erase the names of those who are written in the book (Revelation 3:5), who have overcome because He has overcome. Even if David’s request was that God blot out names from the book of (eternal) life rather than from the book of the (physically) living ones, the Bible never indicates that God would do such a thing. It seems more likely that David’s request is simply that God blot out the names of his adversaries from the book of those living on earth. David is asking that God would take the lives of those who were reproaching him and seeking to take his life.