Impenitence and Imprecation

Today’s reading is Psalm 35.

We call them imprecatory psalms. They give us no end of consternation. To imprecate someone is to invoke a curse on them. Thus, imprecatory psalms are psalms that call for people to be cursed by God. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to pray for them, to bless them. Rather than wanting them to be judged and condemned, we should want them to repent and be justified. Yet, David calls down the curses of God on his enemies. What is that about?

While there are quite a few statements that are imprecatory in the Psalms, there are only a handful of psalms that get so deep into this that the psalm is called imprecatory. Psalm 35 is pretty universally accepted as being one of those psalms.

David asks God to take a spear and javelin (some translations say battle-axe) against his pursuers. He wants them to be driven away like chaff. He wants their way to become dark and slippery. He wants destruction to come on them. He wants them to fall into their own pits. Let’s be honest. That’s pretty intense.

While some take Psalm 35 as the first of the imprecatory psalms. Others attribute that honor to Psalm 7. Obviously, these psalms didn’t come labeled with our modern labels. Whether Psalm 7 is the first imprecatory psalm or not, there is a statement in that psalm we need to remember with all of the imprecatory psalms and statements we read.

If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.

Psalm 7:12-13

It is interesting to note that Psalm 7 goes on to say of the wicked, “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.” This sounds a great deal like the imprecations of Psalm 35:7-8.

There are many things we can say about imprecations in the psalms, but at the top of the list needs to be this. Very early in the Psalms, the template for curses and imprecations is established. These curses are for those who refuse to repent. Underlying every imprecation is the understanding that just as we were forgiven when we repented, if others repent, they will be forgiven. Undergirding every imprecation is the understanding that the one praying the imprecation would rather see repentance in others, just as God allowed it in us.

However, if someone continues impenitently in rebellion against God and in their attacks on God’s people, then cursing is what will come. While our first line of prayer for people is for their salvation and well-being, as David’s was in Psalm 35:13-14, we recognize it is right to pray for God to bring justice for God’s people and bring judgment on the impenitent enemies of God’s people (see Paul in 2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Corinthians 16:22; Galatians 1:8-9; Revelation 6:10).

And, of course, it is always proper to notice that these imprecations are not saints meting out their personal revenge on others. In each case, these writers are leaving room for the judgment of God. They are bringing these prayers to God for Him to answer in the way He sees as best.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 35.


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Judge My Enemies

Today’s reading is Psalm 7.

In the New Testament, we are told to love our enemies and pray for them. Thus, when we read David’s request for his enemies to be judged, that leaves a bad taste in our mouths. Is something wrong? Is this a change between the Old Covenant and the New? There are two principles that help me with this. First, as we will say again and again, psalms are snapshots of the emotions a psalmist was experiencing in a given moment. They are not doctoral dissertations about doctrinal dilemmas. David was facing enemies. No doubt he was angry with them and confused about why God hadn’t done anything yet. The key to notice is what David did with these emotions. He took them to God in prayer. He didn’t take them to Cush in battle. This is especially so if Cush is bringing these charges and attacks against David when he was running from Saul. Imagine the fear, anger, sadness, distress, anxiety David must have felt during that time. But he never took his own vengeance (well, almost with Nabal, but Abigail helped his calmer self prevail). He took these prayers and desires to God in prayer, and he let God decide if Cush needed to be judged. Second, notice his statement about those who refuse to repent (vs. 12, ESV). Notice that David sees not just an enemy but a wicked man who is pregnant with mischief and giving birth to evil. Yes, we are to love our enemies and pray for them that they may bring glory to God, but there is a place to recognize that someone who is pursuing a path of sin is an enemy of God and judgment is the right outcome for them. None of us want that. We know God doesn’t want that. He sent Jesus to die for them just as He did for everyone else. But those who, like Pharaoh and other enemies of God who will not relinquish their sin and repent, will be judged. One of the comforts of serving the righteous Judge as our God is knowing He will be faithful to judge those who wage war against us and persecute us without repentance. Praying that God will do what He has promised in these circumstances is allowed even under the New Covenant (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12).

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 7.

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