17 December 2011

Another look at the Imprecations in the Psalms

As a preface to looking at the imprecations found in the Psalter perhaps it should be first stated that we do not find imprecatory psalms but rather we find imprecations within the psalms. We will only find eighteen psalms that contain imprecations and in most cases they are minor. Only three psalms (Psalm 35, Psalm 69, Psalm 109) have a significant amount of imprecations and these total just twenty three verses. So, it can be justly said that we have imprecations within the psalms and not imprecatory psalms found with in the pages of Scripture.

Another critical factor in studying these "hard sayings" is these were written as poetry, not prose. Moreover, it is Oriental poetry which is filled with hyperbole, color, & over-statement which is common to its people. Recalling this fact will lead us to a proper understanding that these verses are not the ramblings of an angered psalmist.

 So then, if these hard sayings then are not wishful statements of vengeance, then what are they?

First and foremost these imprecations are a desire of the psalmist for the vindication of God's righteousness. "...[A]s to the real nature of these so-called imprecatory expressions is that they are, particularly in the mouth of David, utterances of zeal for God and God's kingdom."* As David was God's representative, his enemies were no longer his alone, but were the enemies of the Creator and all his plans. As such David could rightfully declare a desire for their fate that he could not do for his own enemies. We read of Paul ding the same in 1 Corinthians 16:22.

Secondly, these hard sayings display the ultimate hatred of sin. Similar the point above, these enemies of God were the epitome of evil* and therefore these pronouncements were fully justifiable.

Third, these imprecations are "prophetic teachings as to the attitude of God toward sin and impenitent and persistent sinners."* Hence, we gain an understanding of God's view of such sinners. A frightful understanding, indeed. "David no doubt felt it to be an important part of his duty to warn men of the Divine wrath against sin and persistent sinners."* In view of these facts then can we not understand how David penned these words?

And how did our Lord understand these particular psalms? "...'The 69th, which bears more of an imprecatory nature than any other except the 109th, is expressly quoted in five separate places, besides being alluded to in several more. ...'The nature of the quotations is even more significant than their number. It would seem that our Lord appropriated the (69th) psalm to Himself, and that we are to take it as a disclosure of thoughts and feelings which found  a place in His heart during His ministry on earth.'"*

Lastly we can say that if our Lord excepted and endorsed these hard sayings then we must also. "All this proves that, if we are not to reject the authority of Christ and His apostles, we must take this imprecatory psalm [Psalm 109] as having been spoken by David as the ancestor and type of Christ."*

*Much of this information has been gleaned from an article by Chalmers Martin in the Princeton Theological Review, 1903. For a fuller discussion on this issue, please refer to the article there.

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