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Enjoying God Blog


The so-called imprecatory psalms have always posed a problem for Christians who wonder if it is permissible for them to pray a curse or ask for judgment on the unbelieving of the world. I’ve written extensively on this in my book, More Precious Than Gold: 50 Daily Devotions on the Psalms (Crossway).

Yesterday (October 27), Crossway published a short article by C. John Collins addressing this question in light of Psalm 5. Here is the portion of the psalm that Collins explains.

9 For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
10 Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

I encourage you to read the entire article ( Below is an excerpt from it that I think is exceedingly good in helping us understand what the psalmist is saying and how we today should respond to it.

Some have supposed that this is an area in which the ethics of the NT improve upon and supersede the OT. Others suggest that these apply only to the church’s warfare with its ultimate enemy, Satan. Others have reckoned these psalms to be filled with sinful hate, recorded for our admonishment. None of these is fully satisfying, both because the NT authors portray themselves as heirs of OT ethics (cf. Matt. 22:34–40) and because the NT has some curses of its own (e.g., 1 Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:8–9; Rev. 6:9–10), even finding instruction in some of the curses in the Psalms (e.g., Acts 1:20; Rom. 11:9–10, using Psalms 69; 109).

Each of the psalm passages must be taken on its own. At the same time, it is helpful to gather some principles together in one place.

First, one must be clear that the people being cursed are not enemies over trivial matters; they are people who hate the faithful precisely for their faith. They mock God and use ruthless and deceitful means to suppress the godly (cf. Ps. 5:4–6, 9–10; Ps. 42:3; 94:2–7). Second, it is worth remembering that these curses are poetry and thus can employ extravagant and vigorous expressions. (Hence, the exact fulfillment is left to God.) Third, these curses are expressions of moral indignation, not personal vengeance. For someone who knows God, it is unbearably wrong that those who persecute the faithful should not only get away with it but even seem to prosper. Zion is the apple of God’s eye, and it is unthinkable that God himself could tolerate cruel men’s taking delight in destroying it. Thus these psalms are prayers for God to vindicate himself, displaying his righteousness for all the world to see in this life’s arena (cf. Ps. 10:17–18). Further, these are prayers for God to do what he said he will do: for example, Psalm 35:5 looks back to Psalm 1:4, and even Psalm 137:9 has Isaiah 13:16 as its backcloth. How could any reader of, say, The Lord of the Rings not rejoice when Sauron is defeated and his tower falls? Most of these prayers assume that the persecutors will not repent; in one place the prayer actually looks to the punishment as leading to their conversion (Ps. 83:17–18). This enables us to suppose that the wish for the enemies’ repentance is implicit in the other places. Kidner observes that Paul applies some of these curses in his argument (Rom. 11:9–10) in a context in which he expects his fellow Jews eventually to turn from resisting the messianic message to embracing it. Paul, he says,

clearly regards the clause “forever” as revocable if they will repent, as indeed he expects them to do. So we gain the additional insight into these maledictions, that for all their appearance of implacability they are to be taken as conditional, as indeed the prophets’ oracles were. Their full force was for the obdurate; upon repentance they would become “a curse that is causeless”, which, as Proverbs 26:2 assures us, “does not alight.”

This implied revocability for the penitent can also serve any of the would-be oppressors who might happen to be present at the worship by inviting them to consider their ways.

Fourth, the OT ethical system forbids personal revenge (e.g., Lev. 19:17–18; Prov. 24:17; 25:21–22), a prohibition the NT inherits (cf. Rom. 12:19–21). Hence this is not a likely avenue for interpreting these passages, and certainly not a viable way of applying them. As Kidner puts it, these are instead “the plea that justice shall be done, and the right vindicated.”

Finally, these psalms give Christians in all lands the opportunity to express their solidarity with their brethren across the globe, especially those who are persecuted. Persecution is on the rise in many parts of the world, and those who live in relative safety ought to pray on behalf of those in danger for their faith.

Thus, when the NT writers employ these curses or formulate their own (as above), they are following the OT pattern. After all, any prayer for the Lord to hasten his coming must mean disaster for the impenitent (2 Thess. 1:5–10). As Franz Delitzsch puts it,

As to the so-called imprecatory psalms, in the position occupied by the Christian and by the church towards the enemies of Christ, the desire for their removal is certainly outweighed by the desire for their conversion: but assuming, that they will not be converted and will not anticipate their punishment by penitence, the transition from a feeling of love to a feeling of wrath is warranted in the New Testament (e.g. Gal. v. 12), and assuming their absolute Satanic hardness of heart the Christian even may not shrink from praying for their final overthrow.

It is therefore possible that the faithful today might use them if they do so in a service of worship, under wise leadership, for the good of the whole people of God.



Very good questions by Pastor Dave. Looking for answers to those, as well. Thank you.
Dr. Storms. Am reading the 4-views of gifts where you are included. Just saw the panel at Bethlehem Baptist. I'm a Reformed Pastor and was prayed for regarding HS Baptism and received a tongue 2 days later. I'm studying HS Baptism theologically and know you are a concurrentist vs. a subsequentialist. Here's my question if you have time to answer me -- have you seen people receive tongues who hold to HS Baptism at conversion? If so, what's the pattern of how that happens -- asking for it, etc. Thanks, Dave Grissen, Oregon

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