These are the Psalms where we find the longing of God’s people for God’s enemies to be defeated so that the glory of God’s name may not be tarnished or diminished.
There is an urgency in the Psalms with which we are too often unfamiliar. An urgency to protect God’s honor and his position. The closest that we may be able to get to this is the instinct that a husband might have to protect the reputation and honor of his wife were her reputation and name to be called into question.
Though we will be looking at the Psalms this morning we see some of this urgency to protect God’s honor and his position when the Lord Christ, by means of violence, clears the Temple of the money-changers. God’s name was being brought into disrepute and the Lord Christ rose up to defend His name.
This type of mindset, minus the violence that the Lord Christ brought to the Temple, is what is driving the Psalms of imprecation. He sees God’s name being overcome. He longs for God to be vindicated against those who are God’s sworn enemies and in that context he calls down imprecations and curses upon the wicked.
When we consider, what moderns consider to be the Harshness of these Psalms we agree with D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
“Look at the Psalmist. Look at some of those imprecatory Psalms. What are they? There is nothing wrong with them. It’s just the zeal of the Psalmist. He’s grieved and troubled because these people are not honoring God as they should be. That is His supreme concern.”
Moving on we understand that “Imprecate”, “Imprecatory”, and “Imprecation” are words that we seldom use any more so we briefly pause to define what these words mean.
IM’PRECATE, L. imprecor which means “in”(precor) to pray.
So, to imprecate is to invoke, evil upon any one.
It is to pray that a curse or calamity may fall on one’s self or on another person.
So, in the inspired prayer book and song book that God left to us one finds these Imprecatory Psalms. These imprecatory Psalms are those that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies
We find these Imprecations sprinkled throughout the Psalms
Psalms 5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40, 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 109, 137, 139, and 143
Besides what was read this morning from Psalm 58 I offer just a few samples of what we are speaking of,
“Pour out Your indignation on them, and let Your burning anger overtake them” — Psalm 69:24
“Happy the one, who taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the rock.” — Psalm 137:9
“Let death take my enemies by surprise; let them go down alive to the grave.” Psalm 55:15
“O God, break the teeth in their mouths.” Psalm 58:6
“May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous.” Psalm 69:28
“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” Psalm 109:9
Well, here we have these Imprecatory Psalms. They are Psalms that typically offend modern sensibilities. They are Psalms that don’t comport either with our vision of God or our vision of Christians. How should we understand them?
Well, there have been different approaches to understanding them.
A.) Some folks just want to ignore them as being repulsive.
Well known Bible teacher of the 20th Century Bill Bright speaking of these Psalms said,
“We cannot demand that the Bible give us nothing but correct teachings and safe moral instruction and be offended when it does not.”
A 19th century Bible teacher, John J. Owen could write,
(These) “forms of expression are of such cold blooded and malignant cruelty, as to preclude entertaining the idea for a moment that they were inspired by God.”
Another popular evangelical bible handbook of the 20th century offers,
“In OT times God, in measure, for expedience’ sake, accommodated Himself to men’s ideas. In NT times God began to deal with men according to his own ideas.”
C. S. Lewis spoke of these Psalms as “devilish” and “diabolical.”
C. I. Scofield could say — these are a “cry unsuited to the Church.”
Examples like this could be multiplied but the point is that there has been a large contingency of men who have basically said that these Imprecatory Psalms do not count. They are, so they say, unworthy of God and of Scripture.
The problem here of course is that man’s fallen sensibilities are being used as a guide to what God can and cannot say. To refuse these Psalms is to fall to the ancient ploy of the Serpent when he came to Eve planting doubt in her mind by hissing, “Hath God really said?” If we do not allow these Psalms to be God’s voice then haven’t we become God, determining good and evil? How can we fault those who claim to be Christian and yet who deny the Virgin Birth, the divine creation of the world, the resurrection of Christ, and all the miracles of Scripture if we just, on our own whim, read these Psalms out of Scripture?
A second problem is that one doesn’t get away from Imprecatory sentiments in Scripture by getting rid of the Imprecatory Psalms. The imprecations of God continue throughout the OT right into the NT. The point here is that we couldn’t get rid of, what we consider to be the unsavory character of God, by eliminating the Imprecatory Psalms. Imprecation is everywhere throughout the Scripture including the NT.
Matthew 23:13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
(These “Woe Passages” are a Imprecatory prophetic pronouncement against God’s enemies in which a Divine lawsuit is being brought against God’s enemies)
Matthew 26:23-24 And he answered and said, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me. 24 The Son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it had been good for that man if he had not been born.
1 Corinthians 16:22 If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema (accursed) Maranatha.
Galatians 1:8-9 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
Galatians 5:12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you.
2 Timothy 4:14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works:
II Thes. 1:6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from[b] the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Revelation 6:10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?
More than that many of these Imprecatory Psalms are quoted in the New Testament. The Lord Christ quotes from them in John 15:25, and John 2:17, while Paul the Apostle quotes from Psalm 69 in the Epistle to the Romans 11:9-10 and 15:3.
So, again we say that we don’t relieve God of His “meanness” by just eliminating the Imprecatory Psalms. Even without these Psalms God remains “mean.” And we do see that summarily removing parts of the Scripture we don’t like ends up with us being sovereign over Scripture.
B.) Another tack that some have taken with these Psalms is to admit that they are inspired and so legitimate. However they then immediately insist that these Psalms were for a different time … a different era. They suggest that we must understand that God has changed with the coming of Christ.
A noted white hat “Reformed” Theologian who is a Professor on the West Coast, for example has written,
“The imprecatory Psalms, invoking God’s judgment on enemies, are appropriate on the lips of David and the martyrs in heaven. However, they are entirely out of place on the lips of Christians today, guided as we are not by the ethics of intrusion but by the ethics of common grace.
Therefore, moderns are wrong for dismissing such episodes as immoral, and fundamentalists are wrong for invoking them as if they were in effect during this intermission between Christ’s two advents.”
Michael Horton, The Christian faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Grand Rapids, 2011), pp 961-2.
Here the idea is that the Imprecatory Psalms are true but they are to be regarded as only appropriate to the OT saints or to the Martyrs in heaven. The idea is that we live in an age of common grace that does not allow us to pray this way, whereas in the OT they lived in a time when
We are explicitly told we would be wrong to pray that God would vindicate His name by crushing His enemies today.
Wrong to pray that God would crush those who “put women and children under the ground who were alive,” as it is being reported is being done to Christians in Iraq.
Here is another description of what is going on in the World and remember we are told that we are wrong to pray Imprecatory Psalms against these people.
“They tied the hands of one woman to the back of a car and her legs to another car and they split her into two,” another said. “Have you seen anything like this? This is all because she is not Muslim and did not want to be converted.”
What I’m seeking to do here is to tease out the real life implications of suggesting that we should not pray the Imprecatory Psalms asking for God to visit justice upon His enemies who will not relent.
Here is another case where we are told it is wrong for God to rise up to defeat His enemies.
One of our family members has abandoned his wife and children to pursue a lifetime of perversion, which he apparently has been engaging in for the last seven years. He moved out in January to go live with the new friend but continued attending church with the family and picking up the children (ages 14, 12, and 5) to go spend time with his new paramour. The wife is moderately sick from a Tick bite and relies on expensive medications to suppress the symptoms, but they no longer have medical insurance because he’s unemployed due to his new instability. She can’t pay the kids’ private school tuition; they’re about to lose the house and go bankrupt; and she just applied for welfare. The church is in the process of excommunicating him; no facility is willing to hire him; the older two kids hate him; and he is trying to get a divorce so he can move to Texas with his new paramour.
Those who say that we cannot pray against God’s enemies and petition God to destroy those who would destroy him or His people have forgotten that, in the words of Cornelius Van Til,
It is at all times a part of the task of the people of God to destroy evil. Once we see this we do not, for instance, meanly apologize for the imprecatory Psalms but glory in them.
C. Van Til
Christian Theistic Ethics
We agree with Theologian Dabney that,
This age has witnessed a whole spawn of religionists, very rife and rampant in some sections of the church, who pretentiously declared themselves the apostles of a lovelier Christianity than that of the sweet Psalmist of Israel. His ethics were entirely too vindictive and barbarous for them, forsooth; and they, with their Peace societies, and new lights, would teach the world a more beneficent code.
R. L. Dabney
Discussions– Evangelical and Theological (Vol. 1, pg — 709-710)
Of course the major obstacle to the reasoning that the Imprecatory prayers are not for us to pray has already been mentioned. The major obstacle is that we find the same type, though not the same degree, of Imprecation going on in the NT. Anathemas and Woes are pronounced upon people by Jesus and Paul. Portions of the Imprecatory Psalms are quoted by the Lord Christ and others. Alexander the Coppersmith is explicitly inveighed against in an imprecatory fashion. The principle of imprecation is found in the NT and if in the NT that suggests the idea that Imprecations are only for the NT age is a theory that is not satisfactory.
It all really comes down to this. Do we love God and His Kingdom enough to not love those who viciously oppose God and His Kingdom? Do our hearts burn within us to see God’s name exalted by the leveling of Satan’s Kingdom?
God’s Kingdom cannot come without Satan’s kingdom being destroyed. God’s will cannot be done on earth without the destruction of evil. Evil cannot be destroyed without the destruction of men who are permanently identified with it. Instead of being influenced by the sickly sentimentalism of the present day, Christian people should realize the glory of God demands the destruction of evil. Instead of being insistent upon the assumed, but really, non existent, rights of men, they should focus their attention upon the rights of God. Instead of being ashamed of the imprecatory Psalms, and attempting to apologize for them and explain them away, Christian people should glory in them and not hesitate to use them in the public and private exercises of the worship of God.
Johannes G. Vos
The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms
Westminster Theological Journal
Now, what is the danger of praying these Psalms? The danger is that we will be praying them with a lack of love. You see it is love that drives us to pray in such a way. Love for God and others.
Puritan David Dickson gets at this point when he offer
If any of the enemies of God’s people belong to God’s election, the Church’s prayer against them giveth way to their conversion, and seeketh no more than that the judgment should follow them, only until they acknowledge their sin, turn, and seek God.
So we pray God’s judgment against them as God’s enemies fully realizing that should they turn and be saved that our Imprecatory prayers against them immediately cease.
We pray Imprecatorily with hopes that God will crush His enemies the same we He crushed us when we were enemies and that is by granting repentance.
At this point we are one with Luther who said on this score,
We should pray that our enemies be converted and become our friends, and if not, that their doing and designing be bound to fail and have no success and that their persons perish rather than the Gospel and the kingdom of Christ.
Our tendency to pray Imprecatorily, as our tendency to love unbiblically is too often forgetful of a genuine love to God and His Christ. Whether praying imprecations or loving unbiblically what to often drives us is love for self. When we pray imprecatorily we have ourselves at the center thinking only of the wrong done to us personally and forgetting the injury to thrice Holy and Glorious God. Similarly, when we love unbiblically we have ourselves at the center. We refuse to oppose others, via imprecatory praying or in other ways, because we love ourselves to much to want to risk being widely disliked. And so, too often both in our Imprecatory praying and in our unbiblical loving we have self at the center.