The Imprecatory Psalms

Within the confines of Scripture there are a few issues that require serious contemplation, commitment, and prayer to truly understand. Beyond that even, there are concepts that surpass our own understanding, which are known only to the Everlasting God (Deuteronomy 29:29). When it comes to the Imprecatory Psalms, skeptics are asking the question: How can these fit into modern day Christianity?

To begin answering that question we must first look at some key points of understanding when it comes to the Imprecatory Psalms. First, the psalmist did not simply seek to destroy his enemies out of hate, rather his heart burned for God’s justice. Gary Crampton stated this in his article on the imprecatory Psalms, “The imprecatory Psalmists are to be seen as men who expressed a burning desire that God be glorified. They earnestly sought the vindication of God’s name (Psalm 9:19-20; 83:16-18). As sin is an affront to the holiness of God, states David, it must be judged accordingly (Psalm 139:19-20).”[1] If we seek to mirror the heart of God as the Psalmists did, than we must realize that a part of His heart is justice against evil. Second, the end goal of the imprecatory psalms was to turn the wicked to God through punishment, so that they might seek Him.[2] Psalm 83:16-18 says, “Fill their faces with shame that they might seek your name…O Lord that men may know that You, whose name alone is the Lord, are the Most High over all the earth.” That passage makes it clear that the psalmist did not take eternal justice into his own hands, but that he sought for God to give the wicked a serious wake up call. Third, we must understand that the vehicle that brought the imprecatory psalms out of the authors had more to do with heartfelt emotional expression, than a hateful “name it and claim it” expectation. The psalmist communicated to God with his entire being, which included his sometimes fallible emotions. Therefore, the psalms should not be viewed as a book of model prayers, but an incredible example of the intimacy that should occur between God and man. When David prayed, “Oh God smite the teeth of the wicked,” I do not believe he was actually requesting for that specifically, but that he was communicating his emotions to God in the form of those words. Fourth, within the imprecatory psalms, it is clear that justice is reserved for God to exact, not man. In his article on the imprecatory psalms, William Ross states, “We must distinguish between cursing our personal enemies ourselves (Col. 3:8) and calling upon God to curse his enemies. This distinction is evident in Romans 12:14. While Paul instructs us not to curse others, he does not prohibit asking God to pour out his justice.”[3] This statement flies in the face of another viewpoint championed by John Day stating that since we have been adopted as sons of Abraham, we have been given the power to curse.[4] While the reasoning behind this viewpoint can be respected, it misses the point that God was and is the One who curses and blesses (Genesis 12:3).

Beyond these 4 points of understanding, we must dig deeper and ask the question: What should we take away from the imprecatory psalms as believers today? In the beginning of his article on the imprecatory psalms, William Ross states, “While we profess that all Scripture is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16), we must carefully consider the ways in which that is true of these psalms.”[5] Much like the Canaanite Genocide, there are ways in which Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant that we cannot ignore in our interpretation of the imprecatory psalms. In the Old Testament, God sought to bring His chosen people to the Promised Land, therefore God exacted His providence and Justice through war. The people of God were not yet the temple of the Holy Spirit, rather they were a theocracy. That realization is monumental in understanding these psalms. Now, Gods chosen people are all over the world, saved by the blood of Jesus, which was shed for all. His sacrifice was complete…all of God’s justice was put onto the cross as Jesus died. Jesus paid it all. Under the Old Covenant, Jesus had not yet paid it all, and animals were sacrificed to cover over the sins of the people. It was incomplete. As the sacrificial system was fulfilled through Jesus, so was Gods justice. The reason that matters is because the imprecatory psalms were written during the time of incomplete justice. We now realize what had not been revealed to David yet: that those who remain wicked and never turn to Jesus will be served complete justice in the day of the Lord’s second coming. I believe that in light of this understanding Paul wrote, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12). While this message can be found through Gods word, the fulfillment of the New Covenant brought this concept into words. So, when we look at the imprecatory psalms, we learn that it is righteous to pray for God to stop evil and wickedness in both specific and universal circumstances.[6] We also learn to pray with our whole hearts in regards to every situation. While issues like this can be hard to sort through, Gods Word does not fail. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16).

 

[1] Gary Crampton, “What About The Imprecatory Psalms?,” accessed February 2, 2017, The Trinity Foundation.

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Ross, “Should We Pray the Imprecatory Psalms?” (March 2015), accessed on February 2, 2017, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms.

[4] John Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” Biblioteca Sacra 159 (April-June 2002): 86-166, accessed February 2, 2017, mbts.edu.

[5] William Ross, “Should We Pray the Imprecatory Psalms?” (March 2015), accessed on February 2, 2017, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms.

[6] Gary Crampton, “What About The Imprecatory Psalms?,” accessed February 2, 2017, The Trinity Foundation.

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