On this blog I try to cover tough issues that can make people doubt or question their faith. Recently in a class I’m taking that covers the Psalms, we discussed the challenge of the “imprecatory Psalms.” [There are a variety of Psalm types: praise, thanksgiving, lament, wisdom, royal, etc.] Imprecatory is one type of Psalm. It is from a Latin word that refers to invoking evil or calling a curse upon someone. So…how do we reconcile this with Jesus telling us to bless our enemies? Is this a contradiction? Is it evidence that we must be dealing with 2 different gods in the Old and New Testament? Etc.
Here are a few examples of imprecatory Psalms:
“O God, break the teeth in their mouths.” Psalm 58:6
“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.” Psalm 109:9
“How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”
Oh dear! Maybe you didn’t even know that stuff was in there?! Essentially, zap them God! Whenever I have posts on tough issues, I emphasize that I am not providing a “slam dunk” solution, but rather trying to offer some thoughtful possibilities. Well, here are some thoughts specifically in regards to the imprecatory Psalms:
- Hyperbole (exaggeration to make a point) is clearly in use at times. Remember that the Psalms are poetry, and poems are written and interpreted differently than other types of writing such as a philosophical essay, news report, or “how to” manual! The Psalms are none of these things, so keep in mind you are reading poetry.
- Also keep in perspective that the imprecatory Psalms are infrequent, and not the majority type of Psalm by any means.
- It should be noted that when the Psalmist calls for judgment, the judgment is left in God’s hands. The Psalmist is expressing his real and raw feelings, but does not go out and actually act on it. It is not about personal revenge, but about the Psalmist having an awareness of God’s justice and wanting to see justice done.
- Similarly, we need to remember that there are times that wickedness or evil in society needs to be confronted. The Psalmist wasn’t crying over spilled milk or hurt feelings, but more significant wrongdoing. This is not a contradiction with the New Testament emphasis on love and forgiveness, as it is also a Christian value to stand up for injustice in society. Jesus taught us to love our enemies but we can also see Him disturbed by injustice too. In light of modern day evils such as the child sex slave trade, I don’t think Jesus would have us sit around and pray blessings on the sex traffickers. There are times when “righteous anger” is appropriate. Remember, Jesus said:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
but he also said things like:
“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” -and- “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Hmm, this second statement reminds me a bit of an imprecatory Psalm.
- On a similar final note, my professor made a point I appreciated. For people to say that the Old Testament is all about wrath and judgment, and the New Testament all about love and forgiveness – they have not read either testament very well. It is both. Yes, we can see disturbing cases of what seems like a wrathful God in the Old Testament but there is evidence of a patient and merciful God too. Likewise, the New Testament also has content about God’s wrath and judgment. Consider…the opening chapters of Romans, the Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24) and the book of Revelation. The New Testament is clear that judgment and final justice is coming.
But I begin to drift into other complex issues, which needs to be developed in other blog posts. I have a interesting book entitled: “God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?” by David Lamb. Along with another book on the Canaanite genocide, I plan to have a series on these issues. So if these thoughts on the imprecatory Psalms got your wheels turning in that direction, hold on…the series is coming.