The Imprecatory Psalms
Imprecation is the invoking of evil upon others:
- examples of lengthy imprecatory Psalms are: Psalms 35, 58, 59, 69, 83, 109 and 137.
- examples of lesser passages are: Psalms 5: 10, 6: 10, 28: 4, 31: 17-18, 40: 14-15, 41: 10, 55: 9 & 15, 70: 2-3, 71: 13,
79: 6 & 12, 129: 5-8, 139: 19-22, 140: 9-10, 141: 10 and 149: 7-9.
Objections – Four elements to the objections:
1. Contrary to the higher feelings of human nature, such as the common compassion within us.
2. Against the spirit of the News Testament (Matt 5: 43-48, Luke 23:34), which teaches love your enemies and forgiveness.
3. Against the idea that God sends His rain to the just and unjust and does good to the worst of men.
4. Inconsistent with the psalmists’ own profession of ardent trust in God.
The way to look at these imprecatory psalms is to examine the attitude, motive, standpoint and spirit:
1) Attitude: Is the attitude expressed in the imprecatory psalms wrong? If it is wrong then whatever the imprecations themselves may be, it is wrong. Using the well established principle of Scripture interpretation that the first mention of any given subject provides the key to all that is afterwards said about it.
Refer to Psalms 5:10, where David says: “Destroy Thou them, O God; let them fall by their own counsels. Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions; for they have rebelled against Thee.” The imprecation here is against rebellious transgressors; and it is against them solely because they are such, as we see from the last clause-“for (or because) they have rebelled against Thee.”
The Imprecation is against ungodly wicked-doers: David’s words here are those of a man who has identified himself with God against sin, and who hates sin because God hates it.
It is the attitude crystallized in Psalm 139-‘Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee? I hate them with prefect hatred; I count them mine enemies,”
2) Motive: It is not, like many other human imprecations, the evil wish of a bad man against a good man whose goodness condemns him. Nor is it the evil wish of an ambitious man against some other, either good or bad, who stands in his way. It has nothing to do with jealousy or spite or ambition. The imprecation is not against these men simply as men, but as evil doers.
Two thirds of the imprecatory psalms are especially against evil-doers as such; and even in the remainder the motive seems to be there by implication.
3) Standpoint (position): Another fact which should be noted is that out of the twenty-one instances of imprecation cited here, sixteen are from David, David was a Theocratic king. Unlike Saul, David had keen sense of theocratic responsibility. This reveals itself in the fact that, despite personal delinquencies, he never set himself above the Law or tried to pervert it to his own use.
As a theocratic king, he knew that he was anointed by God, that he ruled for God, and that he was directly responsible to God.
Those who were fighting him, betraying him, contriving his downfall, were assaulting God; for he, David was Jehovah’s anointed. Psalms 59: 11, 69: 6, 40: 9, 10.
The position or standpoint is not merely personal but theocratic. These Davidic imprecations are uttered from the standard point of public justice and not of private vengeance.
There are five imprecatory passages which are not Davidic; these are in each case national and not personal. Psalms 83; 137, 79: 6, 12; 129: 5-8, 149:7-9.
4) Spirit: Why did not the psalmist show a spirit of kindness to those maltreating him? The answer is that he had already done so, and it has been abused. “They have rewarded me evil for good”; “I restored that which I took not away”; “They have rewarded me evil for good and hatred for my love” (35: 12, 69: 4, 109:5).
Two other important points to help in the understanding of these imprecatory Psalms –
1) Moral Sense of human nature: it is an intuitive anger against the wrong-not merely the sort of mental disapproval which comes after reflection and reasoning, but a spontaneous upsurge of protestation which is instinctive as it is instantaneous. A second ingredient is that of sympathy-immediate sympathy with the victim or victim of such cruelties. By our own very nature we side at once with the injured party, And again, there is a perturbing consciousness of desire-desire springing from that sense of justice which is inherent in our moral constitution, that righteousness retribution shall square things out.
2) Supernatural predictive element: Quote from Bishop William Alexander” it may be plausible to deny, not without bitter indignation, the Messianic application of the 110th psalm, or the subjectively Messianic character of the 69th or 109th psalm, on the ground that imprecation can never issue from those gentle lips; that images of war and carnage have nothing in common with the Messiah of the New Testament. Yet, after all, who uttered the sentence, “Those Mine enemies who would not that I should reign over them, bring hither and slay before me”? Who is to say, “Depart from Me, ye cursed,” Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity,” in the words of the 69th psalm?
“O daughter of Babylon! Who art to be destroyed, Happy he who shall reward thee as thou hast rewarded us; Happy he who will take and dash thy babes against the rock.” —-137th psalm, refer to the Revelations 18: 2, 6, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, Reward her even as she rewarded you; double unto her double according to her works.”
There is still a remaining prophetic significance in the words, relating to something even yet to happen. In the long ago fall of the actual ancient Babylon, there was a startling fulfillment of the strangely prophetic import of the psalmist’s words; for as things eventuated, such were the terrible doings at the overthrow of Babylon, that he would have been a kind friend, truly enough, who had dashed little ones against the rock and thus saved them from a fate even worse!
Bishop Alexander adds: “Unless it is wrong and incredible that God should punish terribly, it is not wrong and incredible that His Son should give warning of it in the most vivid and impressive way.”
This prophetic strain latently present in the so called imprecatory psalms; no matter whatever men may think or say, the prophetic seal on Scripture is the seal of God Himself.
The imprecatory Psalms are sound in their attitude and motive, in their standpoint (position), and in their spirit.
They express a constitutional moral sense of human nature, and not an individual desire for revenge.
The supernatural predictive element in them seals them as genuinely inspired.
There are also passages in the New Testament which fully correspond. Objections to these Psalms arise from the sentimental susceptibilities of human nature rather than from sound logical reasoning.
Reference: Explore the Book. Baxter