Why the Imprecatory Psalms?

I don’t want to wish ill on anyone. I don’t even like the idea of having enemies. Teachings like “love your enemies,” and “bless those who persecute you” ring in my head.

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
– Matthew 5:43-45, NIV-1983

Where this gets weird for me is that we find a plethora of what we call “imprecatory psalms” in our Bibles. No fewer than twenty of the psalms contain imprecations, prayers for God to take out, blast, annihilate, bring pain and judgment to our enemies. Let me give you just one example.

Make them pay, God;
Have them fall by their own schemes!
Scatter them in the multitude of their wrongdoings,
For they are rebellious against You.

– Psalm 5:10, NASB

So, why would God allow inclusion of these vindictive requests to be included in scripture? They seem so discrepant with the call for love and mercy we hear from the lips of Jesus.

As we read through the Old Testament, there are events we encounter that are brutal, grisly, and seem to portray God as exceedingly wrathful. But if we read it in its entirety, the picture of God I come away with is one of holiness, patience, mercy. I see a loving Creator who has been rejected by the very ones he created. I see a God who is so holy that he cannot tolerate sin and remain holy. He is a God who, in his justice, must judge sin.

This is particularly true of the sin of rebellion.

It is one thing to sin when we fall to temptation. It is an entirely different matter to commit open-eyed, fully-conscious rebellion against God. Scheming against God. Working to cause others to rebel against him. Working to discredit him and his word.

It was happening in the time of David with the ancient pagan leaders and it is happening everywhere we turn today with modern-day evolutionary humanism and a post-truth societal worldview. It is something we can and must pray against in our own imprecatory pleadings with God.

We pray that God will defeat them, cause their schemings to fail, to fall on their own heads. We pray that they will be scattered in the multitude of their own wrongdoings, lest they continue to drag multitudes into the mire with them.

They return in the evening, snarling like dogs
    and prowling around the city.
See what they spew from their mouths—
    sharp words from their lips:
    “For who can hear us?”
But You, O LORD, laugh at them;
    You scoff at all the nations.

– Psalm 59:6-8, BSB

Is there still room for forgiveness for the “snarling dogs?” Of course there is, if they come to a place of humble repentance. But we know from many statements from Jesus that there is a point where a mind is closed, pearls before swine, wiping the dust off our feet against them.

There is a heart that is decisively hardened against God and his Word. What I am learning from David is that it is appropriate to pray against such things and such people. It is appropriate to pray for failure in their plotting and scheming.

Do not kill them,
    or my people will forget.
Scatter them by Your power,
    and bring them down,
    O Lord, our shield.
By the sins of their mouths
    and the words of their lips,
let them be trapped in their pride,
    in the curses and lies they utter.

– Psalm 59:11-12, BSB

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon

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Damon J. Gray

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