The Imprecatory Psalms

by | Sep 19, 2023 | Poimenas

There are times in the reading of God’s Word when one may encounter controversial language or words that cause discomfort. Such situations may include descriptions of violence and judgment in the historical narratives and prophecies of the Old Testament, or the future judgment of God in the New Testament.

In the book of Psalms, one will find many curses called upon enemies based on perceived injustice. Erich Zenger highlights the controversy of such curses in stating, “If one freely and openly admits the emotions and associations that arise on reading or hearing these sections from the psalms, what one feels are irritation and resistance.”[1] The psalms that contain these curses have been classified into a specific category within the Psalter. As J. Clinton McCann notes, “The theme of retribution or vengeance is so prominent in some psalms that they have traditionally been known as imprecatory psalms, or more simply, as psalms of vengeance.”[2] Upon reading these psalms, one may question whether it is appropriate for the afflicted ones to curse their enemies. Accordingly, how does one respond to these petitions for retribution?

The purpose of this article is to provide a reflection of the imprecatory psalms, including common issues with the curses, as well as the theological context of these cries for vengeance. The objective here is to examine the overall theme and justification for these imprecations, establishing the foundation upon which a Christian should respond to these controversial psalms.

The study will begin with an overview of the imprecatory psalms, including a definition of imprecations and a brief review of select verses from several individual psalms. The study then moves to a discussion of issues concerning the imprecatory language of the Psalter.[3] The main portion of the study will involve a presentation of the theology of the imprecatory psalms, which will help to address issues with the imprecations and determine the perspective through which one should evaluate these psalms. The study then will conclude with considerations for the Christian’s response to the imprecatory psalms, including whether it is appropriate for a Christian to pray these imprecations today.

 

WHAT IS AN IMPRECATORY PSALM?

Before exploring issues with these psalms, it is important to define what gives them the imprecatory distinction. The word ‘imprecate’ means “‘to pray evil against’ or ‘to invoke disaster upon.’”[4] Michael Grisanti helpfully clarifies, “Imprecatory language, then, signifies calling down divine judgment on an enemy of the psalmist.”[5] The existence of such imprecatory language is the first indicator of an imprecatory psalm. A psalm becomes an imprecatory psalm when “the imprecation is a major element or leading feature of the psalm.”[6] Each imprecatory psalm contains an imprecation, but every psalm that contains an imprecation may not be considered an imprecatory psalm. In addition, there are differences of opinion regarding the number of imprecations in the Psalter.[7] Regardless, for purposes of this study, the examination will focus on the context of imprecatory language found in the psalms.

The exact number of imprecatory psalms is up for debate.[8] Several psalms, however, consistently are identified as imprecatory: Psalms 35; 59; 69; 109; and 137.[9] A brief overview of select verses in these psalms will show the imprecatory language that has become their hallmark.

In Psalm 35, the psalmist cries, “Contend, O LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!” (Ps 35:4 ESV). He later adds, “Let them be put to shame and dishonor” (v. 4) and “let destruction come upon him” (v. 8).

In Psalm 59, David asks God to deliver him from his enemies (v. 1) and pleas for God to consume his enemies in wrath (v. 13).

Psalm 69 contains some of the more serious imprecations. In v. 24, the psalmist asks of God, “Pour out your indignation upon them, and let your burning anger overtake them.” He continues, “Add to them punishment upon punishment; may they have no acquittal from you. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous” (vv. 27–28).

Psalm 109 escalates the intensity of the imprecations. David here petitions of his enemies, “may his days be few” (v. 8), “may his children be fatherless and his wife a widow” (v. 9), “may the creditor seize all that he has” (v. 11), and “may his posterity be cut off” (v. 13).

In Psalm 137, the psalmist declares, “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us!” (v. 8). He adds, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (v. 9).

In most of these psalms, the psalmist appeals to a characteristic of the LORD as justification for the imprecation (His righteousness – 35:24; His steadfast love – 59:10; 69:16; 109:21). Alex Luc provides a helpful summary in stating, “The elements of punishment called for in the imprecations may include shame, physical infliction, death, misfortune for family members, and unspecified retributive punishment.”[10] In review of the imprecations here, it is understandable that these psalms may cause a sense of unease.

One important aspect to note is the fact that the imprecatory psalms are prayers addressed to God as appeals from the psalmist.[11] Though these psalms are prayers, they are not exempt from controversy. The study now addresses the main issues with the imprecations of the Psalter.

 

ISSUES WITH THE IMPRECATIONS

Given the serious nature of the imprecatory language, it is understandable that one may recoil at these requests for curses. As Charlie Trimm asks, “How can the beautiful and inspiring Psalter contain such statements of hate?”[12] The existence of such words causes one to question the inclusion of these psalms in Scripture. In addition, “the basic problem with the imprecatory psalms is an ethical one,”[13] primarily as it relates to other commands of Scripture. Eugene Merrill highlights the juxtaposition between these psalms and the Christian witness when he states, “Even the Psalms betray human attitudes about suffering, vindictiveness, and revenge that seem somewhat less than the ideal reactions to life that should characterize those created as the image of God and called to represent Him in the world.”[14] These viewpoints convey the two main issues at the heart of the controversy with the imprecatory psalms: (1) the words expressed in these psalms are not inspired; and (2) the imprecatory language is not consistent with the language of the New Testament.

The first issue under consideration is the claim that the imprecatory psalms are not inspired Scripture. This issue arises when one asserts that such negative language could not come from God. C. Hassell Bullock effectively explains, “Some have simply written the imprecatory psalms off the ledger of divine inspiration. They insist that the psalmists are literally expressing their own vindictiveness toward their enemies, and God had nothing to do with inspiring their words.”[15] Similarly, James Adams declares, “Some people have found it so difficult to understand these perplexing prayers that they have concluded these segments were mistakenly included in the Word of God.”[16] This is a dangerous accusation to hurl at the Bible, especially considering that all of Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Tim 3:16). One nuance of this issue is the claim that these psalms express the full humanity of the psalmists, which “appears to deny the divine authorship . . . in an arbitrary attempt to distinguish between that which is the expression of humanity and that which is the expression of the Spirit.”[17] Luc aptly speaks to this issue in stating that “viewing the imprecations as merely the psalmists’ own sentiments ultimately has to rely more on the interpreter’s own judgment of the imprecatory language than on Scriptural judgment.”[18] The reader does not get to determine which parts of Scripture are inspired. This issue will be addressed in greater detail when discussing the theology of the imprecatory psalms.

The second main issue with the imprecatory psalms concerns a New Testament ethic. J. Carl Laney explains that these psalms pose “the problem of reconciling the apparent spirit of vengeance with the precepts of the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus.”[19] Specifically, it is a challenge for one to balance the request for a curse with the call to love one’s enemies or to turn the other cheek. The issue here is based on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44, where He commands, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” How does one reconcile this New Testament command with a request for judgment on one’s enemies? It must be noted that the psalmist did not have this command of Jesus at the time that the psalms were written; however, the Old Testament contains a similar command in Leviticus 19:18, which instructs to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Hence, citing the command of Jesus in Matthew 5:44 is not a sufficient repudiation of the imprecations. In addition, imprecations are not limited to the psalms or the Old Testament. J. A. Motyer expounds, “Imprecations are found in the New Testament also, not least being maledictions issued by Jesus Himself (e.g., Matt 23:13–32) and the apostolic anathema (1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8–9; cf. Rev 6:10; 18:20).”[20] Furthermore, Grisanti notes that “some imprecatory statements in the psalms are quoted in the New Testament (e.g., Acts 1:20 cites Psalms 69:25 and 109:8).”[21] Given the presence of imprecatory language in the New Testament, either by direct imprecation or by reference to these psalms, this issue may be refuted. With these issues settled, the study turns to matters of theology.

 

THEOLOGY OF THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS

In reaction to these issues, it is important to consider the theology of these sections of Scripture, as this will help set the proper perspective for the Christian’s response. Robert Chisholm raises an important question when he asks, “Can these aspects of the psalmists’ prayers be harmonized with other Biblical teachings, or should they be dismissed as excesses characteristic of desperate men living in a less enlightened era?”[22] A review of three theological considerations will reveal that there is harmony between these imprecations and the rest of the Bible. Specifically, the study now will address the inspiration of Scripture, the covenant basis for the imprecations, and the attributes of God, to provide justification for the imprecations.

 

The Inspiration of Scripture

The first theological matter to consider is the inspiration of Scripture. Millard Erickson explains, “By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers that rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.”[23] The key here is that God is the source of Scripture. Charles Hodge helpfully adds, “The sacred writers were the organs of God, so that what they taught, God taught. It is to be remembered, however, that when God uses any of His creatures as His instruments, He uses them according to their nature. The sacred writers were as pens in the hand of the Spirit.”[24] This dynamic explains why the imprecatory psalms appear to be written from a human perspective. The psalmists express emotion, but ultimately their words come from God. The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is based on claims found in the Bible. Three specific verses will prove instructive for this study.

In 2 Timothy 3:16, the apostle Paul states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As Adams notes, “This statement does not allow us the freedom to doubt the inspiration of the Scriptures, or any part of them, for any reason.”[25] This verse efficiently notifies the reader that God is the source of all Scripture, which includes the imprecatory psalms. Wayne Grudem notes that “‘Scripture’ (graphē) [in this verse] must refer to the Old Testament, for that is what the word graphē refers to in every one of its fifty-one occurrences in the New Testament.”[26] Thus, this New Testament verse testifies to the source of the Old Testament. Grudem explains, “For every word of the Old Testament, God is the One Who spoke (and still speaks) it, although God used human agents to write these words down.”[27] The Bible explains that its words come from God.

The second verse is 2 Peter 1:21, where the apostle Peter declares: “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Erickson states, “Peter’s readers are to pay heed to the prophetic word, for it is not simply humans’ word, but God’s Word.”[28] This verse again explains that God is the source of Scripture.

A third verse confirming the inspiration of Scripture has a link to the imprecatory psalms. Acts 1:16 states, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas.” Here the Bible informs the reader that God spoke through David. In commenting on this verse, Grudem states that “the words of Psalms 69 and 109 are said to be words”[29] that are referenced as spoken by the Holy Spirit. With regards to Psalm 69, Motyer adds that its “divine inspiration is affirmed (Acts 1:16, 20; also Rom 11:9­–10).”[30] The Holy Spirit is the One Who speaks through the authors in these psalms.

One may argue against the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture on the grounds that the source itself claims that it comes from God. However, one must note that the testimony of these verses in the New Testament occurred hundreds of years after much of the Bible was written. If the Bible were written by human authors alone, how would this be the case? This attestation regarding the inspiration of Scripture can occur only if the author of the entire Bible is one source, which is exactly the case with the Word of God. Erickson suggests, “It is permissible to use the Bible as a historical document and to allow it to plead its own case.” [31] The reader can trust that the Bible is inspired because of its own statement.

The existence of a passage that causes discomfort for the reader does not render it an illegitimate section of Scripture. Adams states that “the Psalms are not just words and acts of men. They are part of God’s revelation of Himself and His attributes, and they are reaffirmed by the New Testament as the authoritative Word of God and of His Christ.”[32] With regards to the imprecatory psalms, Johannes Vos adds, “These Psalms were given by divine inspiration and were therefore not simply the personal desires or petitions of men, but prayers offered under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit of God.”[33] Accordingly, these psalms should be accepted as inspired.[34] With the source of the imprecatory psalms established, the study now focuses on the basis for the imprecations.

 

The Covenant Basis

The second theological matter to consider is the covenant basis of the imprecatory psalms. In seeking justification for the imprecations, one must understand the covenantal backdrop of the Old Testament. Allan Harman observes, “The Psalter arose out of a believing covenant community. It is the expression of the faith of Israel as the covenant community of the LORD.”[35] This community is based on the covenants that the LORD established with Israel. Grisanti narrows the focus and provides the link to the study at hand in stating, “The imprecatory language must be seen in light of Israel’s covenant relationship with God and the cursing that was an integral part of that covenant allegiance.”[36] Accordingly, a review of specific covenant language and themes will reveal the grounds on which the psalmists’ prayed their imprecations.

The Abrahamic Covenant provides the primary covenantal context for these psalms. In Genesis 12:3, the LORD declares, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” When the psalmist experiences injustice, his reaction is to cry out to God for Him to curse the psalmist’s enemies, just as He said He would. Allen Ross notes that “the psalmists did not hesitate to avow their loyalty to God and His covenant.”[37] In the imprecations, the psalmist is calling on God to remain loyal to His covenant. Laney explains that the psalmists “merely appealed for God to fulfill His covenant promise to Israel.”[38] This covenant was unique to Israel, and the psalmists are justified in asking God to keep His word.

In Deuteronomy 32, which highlights the Mosaic Covenant, the LORD declares, “Vengeance is mine” (v. 35), and “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me” (v. 41). John Day states, “Since God has given these promises, His people are not wrong in petitioning Him to fulfill those promises.”[39] The psalmists plea for vengeance based on God’s promise of vengeance.

Given what the LORD promised in these two foundational covenants of the Old Testament, the psalmists’ cries for curses make sense. This covenant basis is critical to an accurate understanding of the context in which the imprecations are prayed. Harman advises, “The imprecations of the Psalter require a biblical-theological perspective so that they can be viewed as an integral part of the covenantal expression of Old Testament faith.”[40] Laney summarizes well this perspective as it applies to this study, “The fundamental ground on which one may justify the imprecations in the Psalms is the covenantal basis for a curse on Israel’s enemies.”[41] With the basis of the imprecations established, the study now turns to the attributes of God, the Guarantor of the covenants.

 

The Attributes of God

The third and final theological matter to consider is the attributes of God, which are truths about His essence based on what He has revealed about Himself. They may be defined as “His perfections, properties, virtues, and predicates [and] His being itself as facing us and shown to us in biblical revelation.”[42] Louis Berkhof adds that the attributes are “visibly exercised by Him in His works of creation, providence, and redemption.”[43] Accordingly, the attributes of God reflect Who He is and impact what He does. Since God is the One to Whom the psalmists address their imprecations as the Author of the covenants, several of these attributes are applicable to the study at hand.

The first attributes under consideration are the truthfulness and faithfulness of God. In Hebrews 6:18, the writer asserts “it is impossible for God to lie.” The apostle Paul affirms the truthfulness of God in Titus 1:2 (God “never lies”) and in Romans 3:4 (“let God be true”). In the Old Testament, Scripture proclaims “God is not man, that he should lie” (Num 23:19) and “the word of the LORD proves true” (Ps 18:30). Each of these passages attests to God’s inability to profess anything false. John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue note that “all of God’s words are true and faithful”[44] based on this testimony of Scripture. God’s faithfulness, which is great (Lam 3:23), pertains to His commitment to what He has said. Erickson proclaims, “His faithfulness means that He proves true. God keeps all His promises.”[45] Deuteronomy 4:31 declares that God will not forget His covenant. In addition, the Bible states that God is One Who “keeps covenant” (Deut 7:9; Neh 1:5; Dan 9:4).[46] Because the psalmists can rely on God’s truth and faithfulness, they can appeal to the promises He has made in His covenants.

Another attribute under consideration is the justice of God. Maxie Burch notes, “The Christian concept of justice is found on God’s character and will as revealed in Scripture.”[47] Deuteronomy 32:4 proclaims, “The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is He.” With regards to how God acts in accordance with His justice, Genesis 18:25 questions, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” Erickson explains, “God’s justice means that He administers His law fairly, not showing favoritism or partiality. Only a person’s acts, not his or her station in life, are considered in the assignment of consequences or rewards.”[48] It is this aspect of justice that explains why the psalmists would cry for vengeance. They seek just punishment for the evils committed against them. Chisholm expounds, “If God was indeed the just Ruler of the universe, then He must intercede for the innocent and oppressed.”[49] The psalmists appeal to the justice of God to counter the injustice from their enemies.

The final attribute under examination is the sovereignty of God, which means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone. Whatever happens stems from His decisions and control.”[50] Daniel 4:35 and Ephesians 1:11 state that God works according to His will. Psalm 115:3 declares that God “does all that He pleases.” Because God is sovereign, nothing can thwart Him from keeping His promises. This sovereignty is linked to His power. In 1 Chronicles 29:11, David asserts, “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty.” Erickson expounds, “Because of His unlimited power and capability, He could never commit Himself to do something of which He would eventually prove incapable.”[51] The sovereignty of God means that He always is in control of all persons and things, and that He is able to uphold His covenants. When the psalmist prays imprecations, he is relying on the truthfulness, faithfulness, justice, and sovereignty of God to act according to His promises.

 

THE CHRISTIAN’S RESPONSE TO THE IMPRECATIONS

Though the theological context justifies the imprecatory psalms, the harshness of the imprecatory language remains difficult to confront. C. S. Lewis suggests, “It is monstrously simple-minded to read the cursings in the Psalms with no feeling except one of horror at the uncharity of the poets.”[52] How does one handle such a feeling? Is it acceptable for believers to pray these psalms? The study now concludes with thoughts on how the Christian responds to these imprecations.

The universal response is to acknowledge that these psalms are part of inspired Scripture. As Adams notes, “We cannot base our acceptance of these psalms as the true Word of God upon our own response to them. Too many Christians have allowed instinctive feelings of repulsion or shock at the language to cause them to reject these words as Scripture.”[53] Because they are part of Scripture, this means they are profitable (2 Tim 3:16). That profit, however, may be found in what these psalms teach rather than in their recitation as an active prayer.

Upon recognition that these psalms are part of God’s Word, there are three main responses available for the Christian: (1) avoid them or leave them alone; (2) use them, either in public or private; or (3) learn from them. Most commentators address the Christian response in consideration of whether it is appropriate for a believer to pray these imprecatory prayers.

The first option for the Christian is to avoid these psalms altogether. The believer could skip over the reading of these psalms. Lewis proposes a similar alternative in stating, “One way of dealing with these terrible or (dare we say?) contemptible Psalms is simply to leave them alone.”[54] Either of these approaches would preclude one from learning some beneficial lessons, as detailed under the third option below.

A second option for the Christian in response to the imprecatory psalms is to use them, either in public or private. Several commentators suggest that it is acceptable for Christians to use the imprecatory psalms in prayer or in the worship of God.[55] This perspective is founded on the covenant basis of the psalms, the existence of imprecations in the Old and New Testaments, and the fact that the psalmists are asking God to carry out the vengeance.[56] While compelling, this option still seems at odds with the Christian witness. Should a believer engage in voicing these imprecations in a public setting? Other commentators suggest that it is acceptable to use these psalms as prayers, but only in a private manner.[57] This perspective provides a balanced response in which the Christian voices a plea for vengeance but keeps the feeling between himself and God. This approach seems more palatable; however, even such private prayers may leave the Christian with a sense of guilt in asking for vengeance.

A third option for the Christian is to not use the imprecatory prayers, but to glean some valuable lessons from these psalms. Some commentators state explicitly that these prayers should not be used, based on numerous references in the New Testament, such as Matt 5:39–48 and Rom 12:14.[58] Others suggest there are lessons to be learned.[59] This approach of learning from the imprecatory psalms seems to be the most appropriate option. These psalms remind the Christian that sin exists and that he is not immune to injustice. The Christian must acknowledge that he is not innocent, and that he needs Christ just as much as his enemies. In addition, these prayers convict the Christian to pray that his enemies would come to know the Lord.

One final point to note in response to the imprecatory prayers is that action is based on God’s will. Grisanti explains, “Even though the psalmists prayed for the demise of the wicked, they left the doing of that prayer in God’s hands.”[60] Bruce Waltke adds that the psalmists “trust God, not themselves, to avenge the gross injustices against them.”[61] Just because one prays for vengeance does not ensure it will happen. McCann encapsulates well this point in stating that these psalms “amount to praying the prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Matt 6:10).”[62] May the Christian similarly seek God’s will in response to these imprecations.

 

CONCLUSION

Are the imprecatory psalms sometimes uncomfortable to read? Yes. Are these psalms, nevertheless, inspired by God? Yes. Are these cries for vengeance justified? Yes. Should Christians use these prayers today? Not necessarily. These questions likely will continue to be asked as long as the Psalms are read. All the while, God’s Word will continue to be profitable (2 Tim 3:16) and living and active (Heb 4:12).

Perhaps the greatest lesson in a study of the imprecatory psalms is to continue to trust in God. This fallen world is unjust, but ultimately everything that happens is under the providence and sovereignty of God, Who has promised a future in which there will be no more death, mourning, crying, nor pain (Rev 21:4). May all believers take comfort in this promise, “for He Who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23).

ENDNOTES


[1] Erich Zenger, A God of Vengeance? Understanding the Psalms of Divine Wrath (trans. Linda M. Maloney; Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 10.

[2] J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “Psalms,” in Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey (ed. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Craig G. Bartholomew, and Daniel J. Treier; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 163.

[3] Due to the brevity of the study, it will not include an exhaustive list of issues, but will be limited to two main issues with these psalms.

[4] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds., “Psalms,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2014), 746.

[5] Michael A. Grisanti, “The Book of Psalms,” in The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (ed. Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti; Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2011), 518.

[6] J. Carl Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” BSac 138 (1981), 36.

[7] Alex Luc, “Interpreting the Curses in the Psalms,” JETS 42 (1999), 396, declares “there are twenty-eight psalms that contain one or more verses of imprecation.” Alternatively, Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 878, states that “thirty-five of the petition psalms ask God to punish the enemy.”

[8] C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Encountering Biblical Studies Series; ed. Walter A. Elwell and Eugene H. Merrill; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 228, claims “there are at least seven psalms that fall into this category, in a greater or lesser degree.” Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 36, usefully says that “although opinion varies as to the number and identity of the imprecatory psalms, at least . . . nine may be included” based on his definition that the imprecation is a major element.

[9] Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 228; Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 36; Rydelnik and Vanlaningham, “Psalms,” 746.

[10] Luc, “Interpreting the Curses in the Psalms,” 396.

[11] Allen P. Ross, “Psalms,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament (ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck; Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1985), 872, states, “These are the zealous prayers of the righteous who stand for God’s cause on earth.” Similarly, Rydelnik and Vanlaningham, “Psalms,” 746, declare, “These prayers are the plea of God’s people for justice for atrocities committed against them personally or against the nation of Israel by the Lord’s enemies.”

[12] Charlie Trimm, “Praying for the Peace or Destruction of Babylon? The Intersection of Enemy Love and Imprecatory Psalms in the Old Testament,” CTR 17 (2020), 13.

[13] Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 37.

[14] Eugene H. Merrill, Everlasting Dominion: A Theology of the Old Testament (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2006), 569.

[15] Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 231.

[16] James E. Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms (2d ed.; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2016), 2, emphasis original.

[17] Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 40.

[18] Luc, “Interpreting the Curses in the Psalms,” 398.

[19] Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 43.

[20] J. A. Motyer, “Imprecatory Psalms,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (3d ed.; ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 423.

[21] Grisanti, “The Book of Psalms,” 519.

[22] Robert B. Chisholm, Jr., “A Theology of the Psalms,” in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament (ed. Roy B. Zuck and Eugene H. Merrill; Chicago, IL: Moody, 1991), 281.

[23] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (3d ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 169.

[24] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology – Volume One (3 vols.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2020), 156.

[25] Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 15.

[26] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (2d ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2020), 63.

[27] Ibid., 64.

[28] Erickson, Christian Theology, 171.

[29] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 65.

[30] Motyer, “Imprecatory Psalms,” 423.

[31] Erickson, Christian Theology, 170.

[32] Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 12.

[33] Johannes G. Vos, “The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms,” WTJ 4 (1942), 133–34.

[34] Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 17, declares, “The rejection of any part of God’s Word is a rejection of the Giver of that Word, God Himself.” Similarly, Grudem, Systematic Theology, 71, states, “To disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”

[35] Allan M. Harman, “The Continuity of the Covenant Curses in the Imprecations of the Psalter,” RTR 54 (1995), 65.

[36] Grisanti, “The Book of Psalms,” 521.

[37] Ross, “Psalms,” 788.

[38] Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 43.

[39] John N. Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” BSac 159 (2002), 169.

[40] Harman, “The Continuity of the Covenant Curses in the Imprecations of the Psalter,” 72.

[41] Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 41.

[42] Timothy George, “The Nature of God: Being, Attributes, and Acts,” in A Theology for the Church (Rev. ed.; ed. Daniel L. Akin; Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2014), 190.

[43] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (4th ed.; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1941), 52.

[44] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 180.

[45] Erickson, Christian Theology, 261.

[46] MacArthur and Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, 180.

[47] Maxie Burch, “Justice,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (3d ed.; ed. Daniel J. Treier and Walter A. Elwell; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 454.

[48] Erickson, Christian Theology, 259.

[49] Chisholm, “A Theology of the Psalms,” 282. He later adds, “The specific judgments called down on the wicked, while at times sounding unduly harsh and suggesting a vindictive spirit, attest instead to the psalmists’ strong sense of justice and their concern for God’s character,” 283.

[50] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series; ed. John S. Feinberg; Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), 294.

[51] Erickson, Christian Theology, 261.

[52] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York, NY: Harcourt Brace, 1986), 25.

[53] Adams, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace, 7, emphasis original.

[54] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 21–22.

[55] Grisanti, “The Book of Psalms,” 521, declares, “Believers should be just as passionate about demonstrating the surpassing nature of God’s character to the world as were the psalmists. Believers should also be just as offended by acts of treachery against God’s sovereignty. To long that God would punish the wicked so as to vindicate His righteousness is totally proper.” Vos, “The Ethical Problem of the Imprecatory Psalms,” 138, adds, “Instead of being ashamed of the Imprecatory Psalms, and attempting to apologize for them and explain them away, Christian people should glory in them and not hesitate to use them in the public and private exercises of the worship of God.” Similarly, Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” 186, suggests that Christians should “seek to use them, as appropriate, in their worship of God.”

[56] Day, “The Imprecatory Psalms and Christian Ethics,” 168–69.

[57] With regards to the justice of God and the Christian’s use of these psalms, Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 237, questions, “Does God not already know what we are thinking? And would it not be more honest if we laid it all out before Him and dealt with our feelings in the presence of God and through the power of prayer?” Relatedly, Patrick D. Miller, The Way of the Lord: Essays in Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 200, suggests, “We might better ask whether such thoughts as expressed [in these psalms] have any other permissible context than conversation with God, from Whom no secrets are hid, from Whom no rage or anger can be concealed,” emphasis original.

[58] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 880, claims, “Though theologically sound, these petitions for retribution are nevertheless inappropriate for the church in the present dispensation.” Similarly, Laney, “A Fresh Look at the Imprecatory Psalms,” 44, states, “Like the ceremonial dietary laws of the Old Testament, the imprecations in the Psalms should not be applied to church-age saints.”

[59] Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 33, says, “The ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God.” Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 237, states that the imprecatory psalms may “remind us that the world is full of injustice and God is just, so we can leave the wrongs that others have delivered to us in His gracious hands.”

[60] Grisanti, “The Book of Psalms,” 520, emphasis original.

[61] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 879.

[62] McCann, “Psalms,” 163.

Kevin Welch is the Chief Administrative Officer and an elder at The Shepherd’s Church in Cary. He has Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in accounting from Wake Forest University, and a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree from Shepherds Theological Seminary.

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