Why Imprecatory Psalms?


Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through Christ Jesus. All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:12-17 ESV

Imprecate – n. To call down, or invoke curses upon, as on a person (dictionary.com)

If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all. — Thumper the rabbit, Bambi’s friend

I have heard (and read) that Imprecatory psalms are valuable and necessary because we need to know that God can handle our raw emotions. But if it is true that all scripture is profitable (and I believe it is), then there must be more to learn from the psalmist’s 14 or so cries for God to rain down his wrath on the enemy.

Currently I am reading through the Psalms chronologically, which is probably why “imprecatory” is on my radar. Many of David’s early psalms were written when he was a fugitive, running from an unpredictable king Saul who wanted him dead, and had the resources and military power to make it happen. David knew that God was in control, that God was “for him” and that God would “fulfill his purpose for him” (psalm 57:2), but in the meantime. . .

We so long for life to be fair. If I do the right things, then good things should happen. If I desire to do God’s will, there should be no obstacles or hindrances. That thinking is “prosperity gospel.” It isn’t true. It leads to death and destruction. Life is not fair. Not everyone plays by the rules. Devoted Christ-followers get sick. Believers are persecuted.

The despair of “how long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” of Psalm 13:1 is real. When life is difficult, when evil goes unpunished, when healing doesn’t happen, we want to make sense of the situation. But David’s declaration in psalm 13:5 is equally true — “I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”

And therein lies a key lesson. When I am feeling “Imprecatory” because life is not fair and I feel abandoned and alone, I must “preach the gospel” to myself:

  • “There is none righteous” means that life will not be fair
  • “for all have sinned” means that I am no more deserving of God’s grace  than anyone else
  • Jesus took all the evil, all the unfairness, all the sin onto himself, satisfied the payment of God’s righteous wrath, and gave me his righteousness as a free gift (see Romans 3; 2 Corinthians 5).
  • God will fulfill His purpose for me (Psalm 57). He will never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13)

When I consider my lack of love, my grumblings, my discontent, etc. — oh, how grateful I am for Jesus! I am grateful for the gift of repentance. God is teaching me, in my physical weakness and “unhealth,” that I truly need Him every moment of every day. My times are in his hands (psalm 31)  C. H. Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace his hand, I can always trust his heart.”

since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16



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