7. Imprecations in the Psalms

A. What they are

  • strong words or curses against enemies
  • e.g. Ps. 137
    1. Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites
      the day of Jerusalem,
      how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare,
      down to its foundations!”
    2. O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
      blessed shall he be who repays you
      with what you have done to us!
    3. Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
      and dashes them against the rock!
  • Also look at Psalm 109:6-15
  • Other Psalms 5:10; 10:15; 27:4; 31:17, 18; 40:14,15; 140:9,10.
  • strongest are Psalms 35, 69, 109 & 137

B. Where they are and how frequent

  • There are no more than 18 psalms with curses in them
    • of the 368 verses of those psalms only 65 include anything that might be called imprecation. (Ross)

C. What is the problem?

  • These are Spirit-inspired words, written out as an art-form for everyone to sing
  • This seems to be the opposite of the forgiving spirit that Jesus told us to have

D. Poor solutions

1. Use these Psalms to vent our feelings (e.g. Fee)

  • We can’t “vent our feelings” on our enemies in order to clear the air so we can forgive them and love them
  • These are actual curses. These are prayers that the catastrophes will come upon them
    • It is not just a dumping exercise

2. The Psalms simply record the curses of the Psalmist accurately, but they were sinful curses

  • But they were put in a song-book for everyone to sing and Jesus even quoted some of them

3. There was a lower standard of morality in the O.T., e.g. polygamy, eye for an eye

  • But the Law of Moses even commanded us to love our enemies Lev 18:19
  • Prov. 25:21,22: “If your enemy hunger, give him bread to eat...”
  • David (who wrote 13/18 of these psalms) was not a vengeful person in his lifetime, but very gracious and forgiving
    • He repaid evil for good: Saul, Shimei (who through stones at him)

E. Good Solutions

1. Poetic Language

  • Bear in mind that this is poetry and part of the poetic genre is to use exaggeration for effect (hyperbole)
  • e.g. Psalm 27:2 “When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall.”
  • of course this is only a partial explanation

2. They never name an individual

  • They were always against a class of people
  • There is always the assumption that if an individual repents, they will escape the judgement

3. The Kingdom of God took an external form

  • The imprecations are not against personal enemies, but against enemies of the Kingdom (see Ps. 137 above)
  • When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it was in heaven” we are praying essentially the same prayer but with a New Covenant understanding of the Kingdom
  • The grace of the gospel message is the sword that destroys the kingdom of darkness
  • The final kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was a prophecy of the coming of Jesus
    • the stone smashed and destroyed all the other kingdoms in the dream
    • but in the fulfillment, it was by missionaries like Paul, bringing light and hope and “turning the world upside down”
  • So we can read these Psalms as prophetic of the radically superior kingdom victory of Jesus

4. Following on from this: The psalms do not clearly distinguish evil men from the evil forces behind them

  • In the New Covenant we see that even the foulest sinner can be forgiven
  • What Jesus has done is to “bind the strong man”
  • Now we more clearly understand that the warfare is not against humans but spiritual powers: Eph 6:12 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
  • We can pray these psalms against the forces of darkness while at the same time pray for our persecutors: “forgive them father for they know not what they do”
  • In fact, our persecutors are brought to forgiveness and freedom precisely when the spiritual powers that enslave them are crushed by God

5. These imprecations are prophetic of the final judgement

  • We do want all wrongs to be put right
  • We do want God to be just and to put down all the forces of evil