“Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.” (Psa. 139:19–20)
Last Sunday, I (Charles) prayed through Psalm 139 during our prayer time in the worship service. As I began to read, I knew that verses 19 through 22 are a kind of psalm that is called an imprecation, or Imprecatory Psalm. Imprecatory Psalms usually call down God’s judgement on his enemies or speak of hating God’s enemies. I must admit, that I was tempted to just stop praying at verse 18.
However, I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to imply that I am ashamed of something the Bible says. Instead, I prayed through it and am now addressing the issue here.
So, what are we to make of the Imprecatory Psalms? In answer to that question, I want to point out a few things.
The Imprecatory Psalms express outrage and a desire for judgement against God’s enemies, not OUR enemies. The Bible calls for us to love our enemies, not hate them. There is a clear principle in the Bible that our enemies and God’s enemies are not identical categories. Think of Joshua 5, “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD.” (Josh. 5:13–14).
While it is certainly inappropriate for us as Christians to pray for God to judge Mr. Jones who lives down the street because he did something mean or hurtful to us, that is not what the Psalmists are doing in the Imprecatory Psalms. Rather, the Psalmists are expressing outrage against a specific group, those who are God’s enemies. They are also expressing outrage against the true horror of sin, because it brings dishonor to God’s name. Said positively, they are expressing a zeal for the honor of God’s name.
As finite creatures, we cannot know who is and who is not going to be God’s enemy in the end. Therefore, when we pray for individual unrepentant sinners, like Mr. Jones, we pray for repentance and faith and blessing. However, when we read and even pray the imprecatory psalms, we are expressing the zeal that God shares against those who are truly his enemies. This is a group, that only God knows, who will never come under the redeeming blood of Christ. This is certainly appropriate given the response that God has promised to this group, hell.
As you think about these things, I pray that you will see what is good and right about the zeal for God’s name that is expressed in these Psalms.
Looking forward to worshiping with you,