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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The Lord Sustained Me

Today’s reading is Psalm 3.

“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.”

Wait! What?

Absalom has just taken Jerusalem by force. All Israel seems to be following after him. There is a good chance he will strike while the iron is hot and attack you. One of his counselors has even told him to do so (see 2 Samuel 17:1-4). And you decide to sleep? You won’t even stay awake to keep watch over one night? Even if trying to go to sleep and let others keep watch–after all you are king, surely someone else has that job–you are really able to get to sleep? You aren’t tossing and turning all night long? This psalm is the morning prayer of a man with true faith. And it has significant reality within the account of Absalom’s rebellion against David. When you read 2 Samuel 17, you discover the only reason David survived that night when he fled Absalom is because God had granted David’s earlier prayer. David had sent Hushai the Archite to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel and then prayed that God would thwart Ahithophel’s counsel. Guess what! Hushai thwarted the counsel of Ahithophel. Everyone believed Ahithophel when he told Absalom to go after David that very night. That is, they did until Hushai spoke up. Then they turned against Ahithophel’s counsel. And that cost Absalom his victory. David was able to sleep that night because the Lord was on his side and for no other reason. I don’t know what you are facing. But tonight (unless you are working the graveyard shift or driving an overnight trip in the car) is a time for sleeping, for trusting in the Lord, for knowing that He will sustain you. Praise the Lord!

Next week’s reading is Psalm 4.

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Faith in the Midst of the Lord’s Discipline

Today’s reading is Psalm 3.

The heading of this psalm claims it was written when David fled from Absalom. 2 Samuel 12:11-12 makes one thing painfully clear. Absalom’s rebellion was part of God’s discipline against David over his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah. As David flees Jerusalem, he seems to have a painful awareness he deserves these circumstances and it may be that God has decided to fully turn the kingdom over to Absalom (see 2 Samuel 16:5-14). In this context, David writes this psalm. Does that shock you like it does me? He knows he is being disciplined for his own sin. He knows he deserves everything he is receiving. But what does he do? He prays for mercy, deliverance, and salvation anyway. Because that is the kind of God he believes in. He believes in a merciful, saving, delivering God. Honestly, I don’t know what you are facing right now. I don’t know; you may be in a mess of your own making. You probably do deserve every bit of hardship, suffering, and trauma you are experiencing. Maybe not, but maybe. But our God isn’t one who saves people who deserve it. Our God isn’t one who delivers those who have earned it. He saves those who call on Him, those who know they have no place to turn but Him. Praise the Lord! He saves and delivers people like David, people like you and me.

Tomorrow’s reading is Psalm 3.

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