How Should Christians View the Imprecatory Psalms?

This is a very interesting question and one that should not be taken lightly. There are so many differing views on how to answer this question, but before that can be done there has to be a defining of the what an imprecatory psalm is. According to John N. Day, “These psalms express the desire for God’s vengeance to fall on His (and His people’s) enemies and include the use of actual curses, or imprecations.”[1]  While that definition is okay it would benefit the readers understanding more if the definition used by C. Hassell Bullock is compounded on top of Days description. In regards to calling imprecations curses Bullock says, “it is a rather strong term and perhaps not the most accurate one. “Psalms of anger” or “psalms of wrath” would be a better phrase….”[2]
If you truly want to have an in depth understanding of imprecations and their original setting I would highly recommend you read its entry in “The Dictionary of the OT: Wisdom, Poetry and Writings” edited by Tremper Longman III and Peter Enns. In dealing with the imprecatory psalms in their OT surroundings, there are some like C.S. Lewis for example who try and ease the blow of the harshness by referring to these psalms as allegory.[3]However, it would be most beneficial to understand and take each individual psalm of imprecation and examine it.  There are some that deal with completely personal vengeance, while other deal with national tragedy. According to Day, “the Book of Psalms includes almost one hundred verses with imprecations, this article discusses three representative psalms: Psalm 58, and imprecation against a societal enemy; Psalm 137, an imprecation against a national or community enemy, and Psalm 109, an imprecation against a personal enemy.”[4]
The thing that should be understood most though is no matter how uncomfortable we as Christians are with these specific Psalms the Lord felt it proper to include them in the Holy Scriptures. According 2 Timothy 3:16 all Scripture is inspired of God and usefully for all aspects of life (my summary of the verse). This does not mean we have to understand it or find a way to resolve it. Again depending upon the author you are reading at the time, it can influence whether or not you think Christians should pray imprecatory psalms. What needs to be learned as Bullock has stated in several of his works is that as Christians we should “…confess our negative feelings while at the same time acknowledging how inappropriate and how much a part of our sinfulness they are.”[5]He also goes on to say in another paragraph, “They give to God not only their lament about their desperate situation, but also the right to judge the originators of that situation. They leave everything in God’s hands, even the feelings of hate and aggression.”[6]
Psalm 137 is one of the most difficult sections of Scripture for Christians to deal with because of the intense cruelty that takes place in it. Before expounding on the psalm in his commentary Broyles starts off by saying, “Most psalms are cherished by Christians; this one is not. Its closing verses strike us as unimaginable cruelty.”[7]As modern day readers we need to understand the pain that is being expressed in this Psalm the Isrealites are being taken from their home and watching everything they love be destroyed; their homes, the temple, and even their infants being murdered upon rocks. They were using this psalm asking God to stand up for his name sake, not just for their own. Broyles says in regards to the execution of children, “these expressions referring to the slaughter of children are a way of depicting the end of an oppressive dynasty.”[8]
Before modern day readers condemn anything we should first understand where it is coming from and does it fit our context. As Bullock tells us we should be able to take everything before God and leave it on the table for Him to deal with. We can be upset, but be so without sin.
<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY  \l 1033 <![endif]–>Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.
Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2001.
Lewis, C.S. Reflections on the Psalms. Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1958.
<!–[if supportFields]><![endif]–>Day, John N. “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 1, 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 2, 2013).


[1]John N.Day, “The imprecatory psalms and Christian ethics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 159, no. 634 (April 1, 2002): 166-186. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed September 2, 2013)166.
[2]C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic , 2001)228.
[3] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms. (Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1958)22.
[4]Day, Imprecatory Psalms., 169.
[5]Bullock, Encountering., 237.
[6]Ibid., 237.
[7]Craig C.Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentay Series- Psalms. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999)479.
[8]Ibid. 480.
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