“Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.” (Psa. 7:6) As we continue to think together about the Imprecatory Psalms, remember that the Imprecatory Psalms express zeal for God’s name. This is one of the most important things that we can learn from these psalms. Righteous indignation is the right response toward the belittling of God.
However, I also said something that wasn’t right. I said that the psalmists are calling down God’s wrath on the enemies of God not our enemies as though this is the case in every Imprecatory Psalm in the Book of Psalms. While that is true in many cases, sometimes they are explicitly asking God to judge the Psalmist’s enemies. As in the case of Psalm 7, which was read last Sunday.
In order to think deeply about these Psalms, I want to point out several more things that are, I think, relevant as we read these Psalms:
- The Imprecatory Psalms are not peevish angry outbursts. The psalmists are going to great lengths to shape their words into poetic structures. They are not angrily scribbling down their emotional outbursts. These are words that are well thought through and intentional.
- Jesus told us, in Luke 24, that he is the fulfillment of all of the Hebrew Scriptures. There is some sense in which the Imprecatory Psalms can be read as an expression of the Messianic King against his enemies. In that case, the imprecations are calls for justice against God’s true enemies whether the Psalmist says “my enemies” or “your enemies”, referring to God.
- There is something right about desiring justice, and there is certainly justice in the enemies of God and of God’s Righteous One receiving swift judgement. We will miss out on an important lesson if we insist on our human definitions of what is just and reject God’s definition. According to God’s definition of justice, we deserve death. It is all of grace that we find mercy. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23)
- The Imprecatory Psalms are prayers. As prayers, they implicitly leave the execution of God’s justice up to God. When we pray for God to bring justice to either his enemies or ours, we are leaving vengeance to God. This is exactly where it belongs. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”” (Rom. 12:19) Most importantly, it leaves it to the eternal decree of God whether justice for any one individual is carried out at the cross or in hell.
Remember, one of the most important things that we can learn from these psalms. Righteous indignation is a right response toward the belittling of God. Indignant anger is right when we encounter people or events that fail to give God the glory that he deserves. When sin, whether it be “small” or seem especially egregious, ignores or defaces the image of God in human beings, we ought to feel anger. When marriage between one man and one woman, a portrait of Christ’s good relationship with the Church, is cast aside in favor of sexual immorality (in whatever form it takes), we should feel indignant. Zeal for the name and reputation of God is right.
Lastly, what we do with this righteous indignation is as important as feeling it in the first place. We follow in the footsteps of the psalmists. We give it to God. We cry out for the justice of God and then leave that justice to him. You never know if the person involved will turn out to be one whose sin is justly judged at the cross instead of in hell.
Striving side-by-side for your faith,